On Friday, October 26, at the Gettysburg College Honors Day ceremony, the students of Gettysburg College awarded me the Ralph Cavaliere Endowed Teaching Award. This award was endowed in honor of Emeritus Professor of Biology, Ralph Cavaliere (left in the photo), and is voted on by the student senate of Gettysburg College. I cannot imagine a greater honor to have bestowed upon me, than to have the appreciation and recognition of the student body of Gettysburg College. In my time here they have challenged me as much as or more than I have challenged them, and I feel as though I have learned from them far more than I have taught. This was a profoundly beautiful moment in my career, and I am forever grateful to the students.
And these are just the highlights... just a fraction of the daily crapshow that is our current presidential administration.
One month on from the mass murder in Las Vegas, and the bump stock - that law-skirting piece of ingenuity that enables someone to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a de facto automatic weapon, enabling Stephen Paddock to murder 58 people and paralyze and wound hundreds more - is not only not illegal; it is back out there on the market. Way to go, NRA!
Now, before anyone's feathers get ruffled by my title, let me state at the outset, I am not going to defend the German National Socialist Party. Nor do I intend to argue, as our president said a few months ago, that there were some 'very fine people' among the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, chanting 'Jews will not replace us.'
No, I am interested in a recent to-and-fro that took place between the New York Times and Fox News. In this Times Op-Ed piece, Charles Blow argues that President Trump employs deceptive rhetorical strategies akin to those used by Adolf Hitler. One such strategy consists of telling lies of such magnitude that they seem to followers almost impossible to concoct, giving a new meaning to the old adage, 'you just can't make this stuff up.' Another strategy involves the constant use of caveats to preface his ridiculous and demonstrably false claims, as when Trump says, 'A lot of people are saying...' or 'I have heard that...' or the like. This provides just the right amount of discursive cushion between himself and the claim that he's making, such that he can never be accused, not with any legal force, at least, of lying or defamation. (An odd strategy, given that this president has also said, on numerous occasions, that journalists should be required to out their sources... then again, integrity is not Donald's strong suit). This amounts, Blow argues, to a 'weaponizing of untruth' that ought to scare citizens living in the most militarily powerful nation in the world. (We have long ago surrendered any putative moral power).
Cue the righteous indignation. Predictably, Amanda Head of Fox News, the de facto media arm of the Trump administration, returned the favor with this piece, titled, 'Sorry, New York Times, Trump Isn't Hitler. Not Even Close.' Now, leaving aside the fact that the title of Blow's piece is literally, 'Trump Isn't Hitler...' and leaving aside the fact that Head only circuitously addresses Blow's central premise about Trump's weaponized lying, I'll get right to my point: Head claims that 'to evoke Adolf Hitler - the most reviled dictator in the history of the world - is a bridge too far, even for the New York Times.' So I did a quick Google search, 'Fox News Trump Hitler' - it turns out, Fox News is downright sick and tired of the comparisons between Hitler and Trump.
*Sigh* To quote Head, 'Where to even begin?' For starters, for anyone who is in any way affiliated with Fox News - whether as a pundit, anchor, contributor, racist grandparent, or casual viewer - to cry foul over Hitler comparisons, is positively laughable. We should remind ourselves that when Barack Obama was president, the Hitler comparisons on Fox were a dime a dozen. As a matter of fact, here's a short compilation, in case you've forgotten.
But in Obama's case, it wasn't because he arrested en masse persons involved in the protests of his inauguration, or because he suggested that people ought to be forced to behave in certain ways during the playing of the national anthem, or because he said he wanted to strip away the broadcast licenses of every media outlet that dared to question his authority or veracity, or concomitantly, because he only gave interviews to the media outlets who spent their every moment trumpeting his glory, or because he wanted to give national preference to one particular religion, or because he explicitly wanted to disallow members of another religion from entering the country, or because he said that a federal judge of a particular race couldn't be objective in a case concerning himself, or because he touted a false moral equivalency between self-proclaimed racists and the protesters who marched against them, or because he threatened to 'primary' any members of his political party who didn't pledge absolute loyalty to him, or because he falsely and without evidence accused a former president of illegally wiretapping him, or because he threatened to imprison his political opponents if elected, or because he fired the director of the FBI for the express reason that said director was investigating possible collusion in a presidential election between himself and a hostile foreign power. *Deep, restorative breath* No, in Obama's case, the Hitler comparisons were made because of the sizes of Obama's rally audiences, the chimerical seizure of all firearms that Obama had no interest in passing, Obama's efforts to pass universal health care, Michelle Obama's push for healthier food options in public schools, and the fact that, like just like Adolf Hitler, Obama was, brace yourself, democratically elected. (Watch the video, if you don't believe me).
But, we should address the larger point... that Hitler comparisons are simply out of bounds, a 'bridge too far...' as Head put it. As even Blow himself says, 'It is a commonly accepted rule among those who are in the business of argument, especially online, that he or she who invokes Adolf Hitler, either in oratory or in essays, automatically forfeits the argument.' Until just recently, when Nazis have suddenly hit the mainstream once again, it was simply accepted as unassailable fact that the Nazis, and chief among them Adolf, were the paradigmatic example of the most radical evil imaginable in history, an evil so Satanically evil as to be utterly inhuman, almost to the point of otherworldliness. As a teacher of philosophy, I could not even begin to guess how many times I've gotten some version of the Nazi question: 'Spinoza says everything that happens happens as an expression of God's perfect nature - So, Hitler is an expression of God's perfect nature?' 'Nietzsche says that we must affirm life with all its imperfections. So Nietzsche would affirm Hitler?' 'Kant says we must always tell the truth - but does that mean I have to give up to the Nazis the Jews that I'm hiding in the attic?' 'Anselm says that it is better to exist than to not exist - but wouldn't a non-existent Hitler be better than an existent Hitler?' Etc. It is this otherworldly sense of absolute, radical evil that grounds the 'out of bounds' characterization of any Nazi comparisons (provided they're against my political party). As Head writes, 'there is no comparison between a lie and the mass execution of millions of innocent civilians.'
It is high time we drop this veneer of untouchability and incomparability when it comes to the Nazis, and high time that we rehumanize the Nazis. Don't get me wrong. Yes, Hitler was a genocidal racist, a master propagandist, demagogue, and a madman who led Europe into self-destruction; yes, Nazism was (and is) evil; yes, an entire nation (or at least, the lion's share of a certain subset of that nation) was seduced by the poisonous haze of National Socialism. But that is precisely what makes it so interesting, and so potentially instructive. When I say that we must rehumanize the Nazis, I mean that it is of fundamental importance that we treat Nazism for what it was. Nazism did not arise spontaneously one day, ex nihilo. It was not the result of a hypnotism from another planet. It was not the beasts of hell unleashed upon the earth. Nor was it the product of one single madman. Oh, if only it were that simple.
While Nazism as a political movement may have been the brainchild of Hitler, the elements that constituted the core of Nazism were in no way invented by Hitler. Hitler did not invent the antisemitism that had been part of Western culture since the Roman occupation of Judea (Palestine); nor did he invent Social Darwinism or eugenics. Hitler wasn't responsible for the nationalism that preached the cultural superiority of Germany - a nationalism with philosophical roots that went back at least to the time of Fichte and Hegel; Hitler did not create the conditions of World War I, and it wasn't Hitler who imposed the British naval blockade of ships bringing rations to Germany, believed to be responsible for upwards of 800,000 German civilian deaths during that war. Hitler didn't set the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that later left Germany's economy in tatters. Nor did he invent the human propensity for resentment, tribalism, or that special breed of tribalism known as bent-twig nationalism. This is not to diminish his role, of course. In Hitler these passionate rages and resentments coalesced into a maddening rationality, to quote Jonathan Glover, 'a twisted deontology'; and Hitler was the strategist and orator who harnessed these elements and used them to propel himself to power, and ultimately attempt to exterminate an entire race of people (along with Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and so on). But these elements were in the air for him to exploit, and exploit them he did. By rehumanizing, I mean, it is time we acknowledge that it was not demons, monsters, or otherworldly beings who made up the Nazi party - it was good old-fashioned, flesh and blood human beings. It was human beings who put these persons in power; human beings who helped stigmatize, exclude, and oppress certain classes of human beings; who screamed in fervor as they threw their books into bonfires; human beings who cheered, enraptured, as Hitler spoke about the purity of their blood; human beings who collected the personal effects of the human beings who were being carted to their deaths; human beings who locked up and operated train cars full of human beings; human beings who marched human beings to the ovens; and it was human beings who closed their windows in the summertime to quell the stench of the burning human beings coming from the nearby crematoria. The resentments, brutalities, bigotries, megalomaniacal ambitions, credulity, conformity, and cruelty that made up the phenomenon of Nazism were undeniably human. We ignore this at our peril.
What does any of this have to do with our unrepentant narcissist-in-chief? Well, it seems to me that what is so potentially effective about the Nazi comparison is that, like thoughtful and well-executed science fiction or dystopian fiction, Nazi comparisons operate by identifying structural and tactical similarities between the world we inhabit and the world we all (or most of us) agree we'd like to avoid. The guiding principle is that the more family resemblances that are shared between these two worlds, the closer we are to creating a world that we do not want to inhabit. Just as Nazism didn't emerge ex nihilo, the final solution developed over a period of time, as the political terminus of all those factors noted above. It seems clear that if we must wait, as Amanda Head seems to suggest we should, until we reach the point of mass genocide to begin asking questions, we've waited too long. I agree with Head that such comparisons ought not be made carelessly, but I fundamentally reject the principle that such comparisons are categorically off limits, (and clearly Fox does too, given the aforementioned treatment of President Obama).
So here are some suggested criteria for the assessment of all future Hitler comparisons. These criteria are predicated upon the aforementioned similarities between our current political world, and the world of Nazism. The considerations are: (1) the nature of the similarities - how relevant they are to the implementation of policies. Obviously there are a lot of similarities between President Trump and Adolf Hitler. (They are both males, both white, they both have hair, etc.). Many of these similarities, however, have nothing directly to do with policy. In this way, the fact that Obama and Hitler were both democratically elected ought to be recognized for the blatantly, almost unprecedentedly stupid remark that it is; (2) how distinctively Nazi those characteristics are. There may be other similarities that an American president may share with Hitler that do pertain to policy, and yet, they are the sorts of policies that many other (non-Nazi) governments have pursued. So the fact that the Nazis implemented firearms restrictions in the late 1930s, or that the Nazis were concerned with health care, would not be relevant considerations by this criterion, because many (non-Nazi) governments have implemented gun restrictions (with overwhelmingly positive results), and every industrialized nation in the world has some form of universal health care; (3) the relatedness of the characteristic to the genocidal acts of the Nazis. While Trump's weaponized lying would accord nicely with criterion #2, it alone would not necessarily pass muster for criterion #3, since there is not a strong essential relation between deception and genocide. However, the racism of Trump would; (4) the number of these similarities, and their relations to each other. This one muddies the waters, insofar as it suggests that a characteristic need not fit all of the criteria listed, if that characteristic, partnered with others, is worrisome. With the Nazis, for instance, the sheer fact that they imposed restrictions on gun ownership is not, on its face, worrisome. However, that these restrictions were imposed along strictly racial lines, makes it so. Likewise, Trump's weaponized lying, while not fitting comfortably within criterion #3 on its own, can be mobilized to serve ends that tend in the direction of #3, as happened for instance when he used his brand of weaponized lying to launch an all-out, relentless assault on the legitimacy of America's first black president, or when he lied repeatedly about the thousands of Muslims who celebrated the fall of the towers on 9/11. This sort of lying is weaponized in the sense that it aids Trump in helping stoke and disseminate race- and religion-based hatred, which could potentially lead to more deadly outcomes.
Santayana famously said that 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' While comparisons to mass-murdering megalomaniacs should always be conducted with surgical precision and care, we do ourselves a tremendous disservice of willful forgetting if we declare them, without qualification, 'a bridge too far.'
This evening I moderated a session hosted by the Democracy Matters chapter on Gettysburg's campus. The session was under the blanket of their 'Democracy and Donuts' (two of my favorite things) and was dedicated to the NFL Anthem Protests, and to the question of the role of protest in democracy more generally. I had an interesting conversation with a student after the session. The student thanked me for the way I handled the discussion. He was on the conservative end of the political spectrum, and about three quarters of the way through the session, I (in developing a larger point) revealed that I am on the left end of the political spectrum. The student told me that he was stunned by this revelation, because the way in which I had handled the questions suggested that I was firmly in the middle; and he thought that it was cool that though I disagreed with him, I respected his opinions and made him feel as though they were valuable contributions to the discussion. It reminded me (A) just how much work we educators have to do in openly practicing the art of respectful disagreement and setting that positive example for our students, and (B) that there are still civil avenues of communication between persons of differing persuasions. It was a very human, beautiful moment.
This from Politico: 'Trump Spars With Widow of Slain Soldier About Condolence Call.'
I suppose I should not be surprised anymore. But is there really absolutely no limit to what this bottom-feeding, petulant, narcissistic child will do or say? (Honestly, to call him a 'child' is an insult to children everywhere, because nearly all of the children I know or have ever known demonstrate far more self-control, empathy, integrity, and simple decency than this shameful, shameless, divisive mouth-breather). For as long as I live, I will never understand what it is that his adoring fans see in him. Have we really become such a nation of malcontents that a solid and unwavering 37% of us can admire someone whose only demonstrated 'virtue' is a complete and utter lack of decency, whose only demonstrated capacity for sympathy lies with white nationalists and neo-Nazis? If an NFL player kneels in protest against the objectively verifiable fact of race-based police brutality, it is somehow disrespectful to the military. But this, publicly quibbling with the widow of a dead soldier over how your phone call with her went... surreptitiously accusing her of lying, this is respectful? Every day that this man occupies this office is a blight upon the moral fabric of this nation. But hey, at least he says 'Merry Christmas,' right?
Click here to read the review.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus famously wrote, 'There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest---whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories---comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.' For Camus, this is rooted in the uniquely human experience of what he calls 'the absurd,' which is the great paradox of reason---that it is our reason that demands ultimate explanations for the meaning of life and of suffering, but that it is also our reason that finds itself hopelessly frustrated in these endeavors. As Nicholas Humphrey has argued in a recent Aeon piece, 'Humans are the only animals who crave oblivion through suicide.'
I have recently read Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited, subtitled 'A Novel in Dramatic Form.' Then, I've also just seen the film, directed by Tommy Lee Jones with the constant input of McCarthy himself, and starring Jones as 'White,' and the unparalleled Samuel L. Jackson as 'Black.' The work is a two-person, one-room dialogue, centered on the meaning of life or, more aptly put, on the question of whether or not life is worth living. Though I am speculating without the slightest bit of evidence, I want to think that McCarthy chose the dialogue format for this existential inquiry as an homage to the greats, like Plato and Hume.
White is a professor (of philosophy, we are given to understand), while Black is an ex-convict and ex-addict who found religious faith after a prison brawl nearly took his life. He lives in a tenement building in the ghettos of New York, possessing only the bare essentials because, anything beyond the essentials, he says, 'the junkies'd steal.' White has reached the conclusion that 'Western Civilization finally went up in smoke in the chimneys at Dachau but I was too infatuated to see it. I see it now', and hence, on the morning of his birthday, he attempts to end his own life by throwing himself in front of the Sunset Limited, the famous train that runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles. (By the way, I'm no expert on the United States railways, but my understanding is that for at least some of its illustrious history, the Sunset Limited did indeed offer service to New York City). It is important to note, however, that White's suicidal intentions are not, at least according to his own assessment, rooted exclusively in his own individual unhappiness, but rather, in an honest assessment of the world, 'that the world is basically a forced labor camp from which the workers---perfectly innocent---are led forth by lottery, a few each day, to be executed.' Like Camus' characterization of the absurd, White's is a despair of the intellect. As Black correctly interprets White's view of the world, 'everbody that aint just eat up with the dumb-ass ought to be suicidal.' Black, apparently discerning White's intentions from the platform, interrupted his self-destructive efforts, leading him back to Black's apartment and holding him (by discursive, not physical, force) in an effort to convince him that he is wrong, that life is indeed worth living.
What ensues is an enthralling, completely human, and believable conversation---between the cold and harsh 'realism' of White's intellect and culture, and the simple 'optimism' of Black's faith. White says to Black, 'I gather it to be your belief that culture tends to contribute to human misery. That the more one knows the more unhappy one is likely to be,' to which Black responds, 'I dont believe I said that. In fact, I think maybe you said it.' Through the course of the conversation, the interlocutors, by turns, take the reins, with the perspectives of each alternately assuming the dominant role. Finally, in the end, not drastically unlike Meursault's verbal assault on the priest toward the end of Camus' The Stranger, White unloads his nihilism on Black in an eloquent soliloquy on the hopelessness of the human condition.
In the Third Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche characterizes nihilism in the following way:
'What is to be feared, what has a doomful effect such as no other doom, would not be the great fear but rather the great disgust at man; likewise the great compassion for man. Supposing that these two should mate one day, then immediately something of the most uncanny nature would unavoidably come into the world, the "last will" of man, his will to nothingness, nihilism.'
Taken in the most literal sense possible, 'compassion' means 'suffering with,' and what Nietzsche calls nihilism arises like a plague wherever this suffering-with finds itself coupled with disgust at the human condition. White echoes this diagnosis almost to the letter in the following passage:
'You tell me that my brother is my salvation? My salvation? Well then damn him. Damn him in every shape and form and guise. Do I see myself in him? Yes. I do. And what I see sickens me. Do you understand me? Can you understand me?'
This monologue is portrayed beautifully by Jones and Jackson in the film, as Jones, lost in the dark, seductive beauty, l'appel du vide of his own sickly view of life, soliloquizes while moving triumphantly around the perimeter of the room, with Jackson sitting at the table, head in hands, immersed dizzily in the blinding ressentiment and grotesqueness of White's words. In the end, Black is nearly paralyzed by White's despairing view of life, and, having lost his control over White, allows him to leave the apartment (where he will presumably take his own life). Like Job, who shouts to the heavens, demanding an answer from the divine, Black shouts to God, 'If you wanted me to help him how come you didnt give me the words? You give em to him. What about me?'
But it would be a mistake, I think, to read this dialogue too simply or carelessly. One common way to read it is to draw the conclusion that the professor 'wins' the debate. In the end, Black is forced to accept White's unforgiving view of life and of human nature; that, just as Meursault levels the priest in the final pages of The Stranger, White levels Black with his unapologetically honest presentation of the world, and it is revealed that the only way of staving off the inevitable despair of the human condition is to blindly hide behind religious dogma, as Black has done since his prison days. On this reading, Black retreats to his simple-minded faith in the end, when he says to God, 'That's all right. That's all right. If you never speak again you know I'll keep your word. You know I will. You know I'm good for it.' I think this is a misreading.
It is worth noting, whatever else we might say about Black, he is not merely a passive or unreflective believer (if there is any such thing). He is not as simple internally or intellectually as he lets on to White (and as he might even believe himself to be). While his religious faith is couched in the language of Christian doctrine, Black is a self-proclaimed 'outlaw' and 'heretic' as regards religious orthodoxy. When White asks Black if he believes, literally, in every word of the Bible, Black responds that he disagrees, 'probably' with the notion of original sin. His espousal of the Christian doctrine is rooted more in his conviction of the spark of divinity in the heart of the person than it is in credal recitations. Of the Bible, he says,
'I think whatever truth is wrote in these pages is wrote in the human heart too and it was wrote there a long time ago and will still be wrote there a long time hence. Even if this book is burned ever copy of it. What Jesus said? I don't think he made up a word of it. I think he just told it. This book is a guide for the ignorant and the sick at heart. A whole man wouldnt need it at all.'
Of Jesus he says,
'He couldnt come down here and take the form of a man if that form was not done shaped to accommodate him. And if I said that there aint no way for Jesus to be ever man without ever man bein Jesus then I believe that might be a pretty big heresy. But that's all right. It aint as big a heresy as sayin that a man aint all that much different from a rock. Which is how your view looks to me.'
Black's view of salvation is rooted then in the affirmative embrace of this spark of divinity:
'You dont want it cause to get it you got to let your brother off the hook. You got to actually take him and hold him in your arms and it dont make no difference what color he is or what he smells like or even if he dont want to be held. And the reason you wont do it is because he dont deserve it. And about that there aint no argument. He dont deserve it.'
To be saved means simply to love, according to Black. It means to say 'yes' to life, with all its flaws and imperfections. It means to love, as Deleuze says, 'without remembering ... without taking stock.' This brings us to the final moments of the dialogue. The quick reading says that Black retreats to his religious 'comforts' in order to mask the existential horror with which White has just confronted him. But while Black has a momentary lapse, horrified by White's callousness toward life, Black's concluding words and gestures demonstrate not a weakening, but a restabilization, a regaining of his footing in the world. For as he says 'If you never speak again you know I'll keep your word,' he lifts his head, asking twice, 'Is that okay?' In the film, Jackson's first iteration of this question has him looking upward to the ceiling, while in the second, he looks directly into the camera, at the spark of divinity in the viewer.
It is almost too faint to notice, but against the title of the book, the sun is rising in the morning sky over Black's shoulder. My sense is that in this dialogue, there can be no argumentative 'winner', because the spiritual affirmation that says 'yes' to life is one that transcends and precedes reason and language. The intellect of White, who sees only darkness in the world and in the human heart, cannot be persuaded by argumentation. He cannot be compelled discursively to love or to affirm. His reason sees only the imbalance in the cosmic calculus, skewed heavily in favor of suffering (note also the humorous interaction centered on Black's remarkable mathematical agility). It was this imbalance and the cosmic silence that compelled Camus to characterize the human condition as absurd. But, that same reason, we are led to believe, is self-refuting. Why? Because in the end, White literally kills himself, and as he also notes, the same culture that gave the world Luther, Kant, Beethoven, Goethe, Hölderlin, and Schiller, also gave the world Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald. The cold calculus of reason ultimately negates itself. So there is no discursive 'winner' because the champion of reason and discourse ultimately terminates that discourse. In the end, we are left only with Black's solitary 'yes' to life that says that, even in the absence of reasons, even in the absence of language and discourse, he will continue to love.
I have always thought of Friedrich Nietzsche as a problematic thinker. By 'problematic' I do not simply mean that he wrote things that are worrisome (which is certainly true). Rather, I mean that he is someone whose thought is far more complex and nuanced than he is typically given credit for. For instance, I have more than once taught courses where, when we got to Nietzsche, the atheistic students in the class would feel initially emboldened. After all, Nietzsche is the author of the famous 'Parable of the Madman,' containing the proclamation that 'God is dead.' Overlooking the complex Lutheran milieu in which Nietzsche wrote those words, such students often think of Nietzsche as the precursor to the twenty-first century, scientistically minded folks such as Dawkins and Harris. They are typically appalled when they reach the final essay in Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality, where Nietzsche writes, 'These two, science and ascetic ideal, they do, after all, stand on one and the same ground ... on the same overestimation of truth [Vern's note: and before any readers accuse him (or me) of denying truth (for shame!!!!), let me finish this quote] ... on the same belief in the inassessibility, the uncriticizability of truth...' For Nietzsche, the sciences have become the post-Enlightenment religion du jour, and he is every bit as worried (at times appearing even more so) about the value of the sciences, as he is about the erstwhile and lingering centrality of religion in human lives. Students are shocked to learn that the author of The Antichrist, who characterized Christian morality as 'slave morality,' also wrote the following, citing the Christian Gospels: 'The Kingdom of God does not "come" chronologically-historically, on a certain day in the calendar, something that might be here one day but not the day before: it is an "inward change in the individual," something that comes at every moment and at every moment has not yet arrived---' This is what I mean by characterizing Nietzsche as a 'problematic' thinker.
I was recently reminded of this nuance to Nietzsche's thought when I reread his passage on marriage in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Of course, Nietzsche is notorious for having written some of the most appalling remarks on the institutions of family and marriage. But then one comes across a passage such as this: 'Marriage: thus I name the will of two to create the one that is more than those who created it. Reverence for each other, as for those willing with such a will, is what I name marriage. Let this be the meaning and truth of your marriage.' One is unlikely to find this passage in any list of inspirational quotes about marriage or love, and yet it is one of the strongest and most beautiful representations of marriage I have ever read.
Dissecting it a little bit, Nietzsche roots this sort of love and marriage in an act of the will, an ongoing, unwavering commitment of the spirit. This reminds me of his remarks on the concept of the promise in the Genealogy: 'not simply indigestion from a once-pledged word over which one cannot regain control, but rather an active no-longer-wanting-to-get-rid-of, a willing on and on of something one has once willed, a true memory of the will...' Interestingly as well, marriage is a will of two. These are two individuals who actively and ongoingly choose each other. Love and marriage, according to Nietzsche, ought to derive from strength of character and of will, and from a mutual reverence for one another. (It is worth noting that in this passage Nietzsche does not assign traditionally sexed roles to the marriage partners). Love, for Nietzsche, is based upon strength, as opposed to weakness.
This brings us to the next point. The way that we often think of love, particularly in the West, is that it is a weakness, something that happens to us, some place that we fall, etc. Or we think of it in the terms of a cure for a spiritual sickness -- that human beings are born sickly and incomplete, and require the love of another, reciprocally incomplete person, so that together the two may complete each other. Rather than two strong individuals who mutually strengthen each other, two weak and deficient individuals who need each other just to get by. This is a co-dependent view of love, with all the attendant addiction connotations attached. It is this sort of love, I think, that Nietzsche finds paltry. In that same passage in Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes, 'But that which the all-too-many, the superfluous, call marriage---alas, what shall I name that? Alas, this poverty of the soul in pair! Alas, this wretched contentment in pair! Marriage they call this; and they say that their marriages are made in heaven. Well, I do not like it, this heaven of the superfluous.' A little further down, he writes that 'for the most part, two beasts find each other.' As with so many other concepts and critiques in Nietzsche's writings, it seems that it is a certain type of marriage and of love that Nietzsche rejects.
Jean Wahl is one of the most important figures in twentieth century French philosophy, yet he is also, unfortunately, one of the most overlooked in the Anglophone world. Here is William Hackett's translation of Wahl's landmark 1944 text, Existence humaine et transcendence. This work is based on a 1937 lecture, and deals with the concepts of being, transcendence, and Wahl's unique conceptions of 'transascendence' and 'transdescendence.' This work had a profound impact on later French thinkers of the twentieth century, and an English translation is long overdue.
Here is a Notre Dame Philosophical Review of the work by Edward Baring.