skip to content

Rules for the human zoo: Nietzsche’s perfect society

6:00pm-7:00pm on Thursday 14 March

Times shown are in GMT (UTC +0) up to the 26th March. For events on or after 27th March times are in BST (UTC +1).

Alison Richard Building, Alison Richard Building,SG1 7 West Road, CB3 9DP

This will be an interactive 60-minute seminar involving a short (c. 15-minute) presentation and lengthy ensuing discussion. Suitable for anyone older than 15.

Most people consider Nietzsche an apolitical thinker. His concern, they believe, is with culture, not the state, and with the great individual leading an authentic, self-determined life far removed from society. The aim of my lecture is to revise this perception and to present Nietzsche as a philosopher almost obsessively preoccupied with social issues: the creation and maintenance of community values, education, class differences and distinctions, strife and revolution as well as authority and order. His conception of human greatness, in fact, is diametrically opposed to the liberal ideal of the emancipated, autonomous individual. Greatness, for Nietzsche, is a collective endeavour, requiring discipline and coercion, not self-realization free from constraint. Nietzsche’s perfect society is one in which liberal notions such as individual rights, autonomy and dignity have been discarded as figments of the Christian imagination, along with democratic notions such as equality and justice. It is a rigidly stratified, aristocratic society, based on new “orders of rank”. At first sight, Nietzsche’s socio-political vision seems so completely at odds with our contemporary Western ideas and institutions that one is tempted to brush it aside as irrelevant. I will argue, however, that precisely because of its stark otherness, it provides a meaningful challenge to some of our most deeply held liberal-democratic beliefs.

Martin A. Ruehl teaches German Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge. His research concentrates on the ideas and ideologies that shaped German society in the period between Bismarck and Hitler, in particular the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and its reception since the 1890s. He has published books and articles on Nietzsche, Burckhardt and Thomas Mann. His monograph The Italian Renaissance and the German Historical Imagination, 1860-1930 (Cambridge 2015) was shortlisted for the Gladstone History Book Prize of the Royal Historical Society. In 2017, he was awarded the Pilkington Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Booking/Registration is: RECOMMENDED

Additional Information

Age: Young Adults 12 – 18, Adults
Format: Other
Timing: In person
Cost: Free
Theme: Society
Accessibility: Full access
Image copyright: Wikimedia Commons

You might also like...

Read more at: Precious cells

Precious cells

10:00am-6:00pm daily from Wednesday 13 March until Wednesday 20 March
In person
Young Adults 12 – 18

The Precious Cells exhibition delves into the artistic, sociological and linguistic aspects of biological research using human tissues, including...