Does anyone remember April and May of 2005? And the months preceeding them? The Orange Revolution? The Arab Springtime? The Cedar Revolution of Lebanon - all of them seeming to have a fire lit under them, a wonderful fire of liberty. Remember Revolution Babes?

All around the globe, there was a spirit of something that felt a lot like the Will to Power - something that was building in momentum…like we were on the brink of something truly remarkable and historic and new.

Then, suddenly - poof! - it all stopped? It all just seemed to go away. It was like a big giant foot just came down and stomped out all of those wonderful fires…and the White House seems to have just…blink! Forgotten about it. ~The Anchoress

Hat tip to Prof. Stephen Bainbridge.

Checking to see if Prof. Bainbridge had any other epiphanies about the incompetence of the administration, I discovered a post linking to this curious blog. As I do not usually tour the blogs and online sites of the true believers, I was astonished to find that there are people who are actually this devoted to Bush the man (political loyalties to the president of one’s party might be excused, but this cult of personality business is creepy). That is what makes the plaintive, disappointed voice of this devotee so much more striking. Then again, idolising someone as mediocre as Mr. Bush is bound to result in the painful realisation of his considerable limitations.

It is, of course, very amusing that the Anchoress, as she calls herself, believes that the various “revolutions” were anything other than one set of oligarchs being switched out for another (usually with overt or covert U.S. support), but what was more striking was her description of the momentum she now finds woefully lacking today: it “felt a lot like the Will to Power…like we were on the brink of something truly remarkable and historic and new.” How Viktor Yushchenko heralds the dawn of a new age is beyond me, but that was not what struck me.

Will to Power? I don’t know how ostensibly conservative people begin using watered-down, quasi-Nietzschean rhetoric like this, much less why they think we should want anything like the Will to Power, whatever they might mean by it. If one means something like what I believe Nietzsche meant by it, it is a more or less uninteresting endorsement of a particular kind of self-indulgence verging on vitalist nonsense. One need not impute the worst possibilities to the idea of a Will to Power (what we might call the Raskolnikov model, i.e., transgressing all boundaries to prove one’s superior worth or to prove that one can, in fact, transgress those boundaries) to find it extremely distasteful, misguided and even demonic. But perhaps this idea wasn’t simply invoked ignorantly or incorrectly, but reflects something of what a Bush follower understands when Bush prattles on about freedom.

For argument’s sake, let’s take this Wikipedia explanation as a point of reference:

“Although the idea may seem harsh to some, Nietzsche saw the will to power — or, as he famously put it, the ability to “say yes! to life” —as life-affirming. Creatures affirm the instinct in exerting their energy, in venting their strength. The suffering borne of conflict between competing wills and the efforts to overcome one’s environment are not evil (good & evil, for him, was a false dichotomy anyway), but a part of existence to be embraced. It signifies the healthy expression of the natural order, whereas failing to act in one’s self-interest is seen as a type of illness. Enduring satisfaction and pleasure result from living creatively, overcoming oneself, and successfully exerting the will to power.”

This is the vitalism of Social Darwinians or, say, a Teddy Roosevelt with respect to the life-affirming quality of all forms of conflict. Its self-interested quality might recommend it to libertarians. It is an ideological commitment to the rather vague notion of ‘affirming life’ itself rather than ‘denying’ it, which can only be understood in a materialist way as meaning an affirmation of this-worldly life, physical life. Obviously, as we all know, Nietzsche had nothing but contempt for Christianity and asceticism, or for any of the sorts of restraint and self-discipline that were to cultivate virtues by self-denial, sacrifice and humility. Classicist that he was, Nietzsche could not have seriously endorsed any classical ethical system that required continence or moderation for the cultivaton of virtue.

It is sometiems said that Nietzsche hated modernity (and there was much about the modern world he did hate), but in most respects he is quintessentially modern in his prejudices and judgements, especially in that he places the self at the center of his system and makes it the repository of all value. Were he to speak of freedom, I suspect that he would mean by it exalting the self, eliminating barriers to its activity and expression and defining one’s own meaning in defiance of (or really indifference to) all custom, tradition or morality. This is what many moderns conventionally imagine freedom in a higher sense to be, which is to say that they conceive of freedom as escape and emancipation from obligation rather than in the fulfillment of it, and I believe it is fair to say that this is the only thing Mr. Bush can mean by it any longer. For the Christian, however, as for any man of restraint and virtue, freedom lies foremost in obedience and self-control and in the abnegation of one’s own will. Christians should make their choices accordingly as to which vision they will endorse.

If this blogger’s remark about the Will to Power has any greater significance, it is the admission that Mr. Bush’s supporters have become perfectly comfortable with decadent vitalism, a kind of worship of the self and a politics that seeks to overthrow restraint and structure. Finding inspiration in the stage-managed mob of Kiev is bad enough, but finding it in the Will to Power is much worse. It must have been a short road from there to nihilism and the sort of anarchic “set the world on the fire” rhetoric Mr. Bush used in his Second Inaugural Address.