Guest Post by Adam Dorsey on Nietzsche and Contest

There are some issues involved in closely aligning Dewey and Nietzsche, which must be addressed. For example, it has been argued that, through the call for those who are capable, to relentlessly seek out contestation in order to perpetually ‘self-overcome’, this continuous process can be seen to lead to an unrestrained and anti-political ‘agonism’. In relation to Dewey, one may recall that the ‘public’ was vital; in that only through the formation of a ‘public’, could the types of ‘concerted’ action required in a democracy be realised (Dewey, 1927, p. 211). Now, if individuals are in a continuous state of contestation with one another, then the ‘subject’ can be said to be in a state of constant de-stabilization, which results in the nullification of the possibilities for such a ‘public’ to emerge (Arendt, 1956, cited in Villa, year, p. 288).

However, Nietzsche was aware that, in order for the agon to continue in its creative argumentative form and not to become dominated by a certain party, person, or discourse, which by definition results in its destruction, restraints were necessary. This is evidenced by, as Honig (1993, p. 530) and others (Schrift, 2001, p. 157) have pointed out, Nietzsche’s endorsement of ‘ostracism’ in the essay ‘Homers Contest’ (Nietzsche, 1976, p. 32). Here, he argues that when a particular ‘genius’ grows to dominate the ‘space’ of contestation they must be, forcibly is necessary, removed from it in order to ensure the voices of other ‘geniuses’, with their disparate perspectives, can continue to be given an equal hearing, thus securing the possibilities of those involved to ‘self-overcome’ (Nietzsche, 1976, p. 38).

If one takes the points surrounding Nietzsche’s endorsement of ‘ostracism’ seriously then they seem to imply that, not only are subjects locked in the contest between themselves in the private realm, but also that the public level relations that define what is legitimate in terms of the ‘power’ possessed by those within the agon are also up for constant dispute. Whilst I am sympathetic to Arendt in that this multi-level conflict does seem to be detrimental to the formation of any notion of a ‘public’ and the concerted action such a formation entails. I think she overlooks the fact that in order for the agon to remain in its ‘positive’ form, a great deal of concerted and imaginative effort is required from those who are involved in it.

Indeed, those within the agon are not only required to constantly monitor themselves as well as others in order to retain their position, but must also be able to ‘cooperate’ when a person, party, or discourse has grown too powerful (Honig, 1993, p. 530). Therefore, far from diminishing the possibilities for the emergence of a ‘public’ the agon can in fact be said to offer the very opportunities for concerted action that is required. For although, individuals may be locked in contest with one another, this conflict is not pernicious but constructive, and when the agon is no longer constructive then all those involved, or the citizens, must come together against the oppressive element, or they must ‘reconstruct’ the very terms of the agon itself.


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