Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Photo: Allan Amato
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Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer to guest-edit the New Statesman

The theme of the issue, due out on 28 May, will be "saying the unsayable". 

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman will guest edit an issue of the New Statesman on 28 May, with the theme of “saying the unsayable”.

The guest-edit will be accompanied by an event at the Hackney Empire, which has already sold out.

Palmer is a ground-breaking musician and the author of the bestselling book The Art of Asking, which began as a TED talk which has received 6.8 million views. She discussed some of the issues raised - about the evolving relationship between artists and their fans - in this New Statesman piece from 2013.

Gaiman is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories, comics and television; his books Coraline and Stardust have been turned into films, and he has written two acclaimed episodes of Doctor Who. In 2013, he was interviewed by Laurie Penny for the New Statesman, which you can read here

The issue will address the ideas of censorship, taboos, offence and free speech, and contributors include Art Spiegelman, Michael Sheen, Kazuo Ishiguro and Stoya. 

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, said: “Together and separately, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are two of the most talented, innovative and unpredictable artists in our culture. In the wake of the debates around Charlie Hebdo, 'call-out culture' and hate speech online, and with so many governments around the world repressing their citizens' ability to speak freely, this issue is incredibly timely.” 

Amanda Palmer said: “As a long-time devourer and admirer of the New Statesman, it’s thrilling to be able to curate an issue like this. We’re aiming to make it read like the footnotes to a great dinner party with an eclectic bunch of friends - where politics collide with art and economics collide with human feelings. I hope the New Statesman folks don’t regret giving over the wheel of their respectable vehicle to the artists, as we tend to drive off-road . . . but hopefully we’ll at least crash somewhere interesting. Neil and I have been working together (sometimes side-by-side, sometimes on opposite sides of the planet) to make this a real reflection of who we believe, who we trust, who we’d want over for wine at our place to discuss the state of things.”

Neil Gaiman said: “I persuaded my slightly baffled parents to get me my first subscription to the New Statesman when I was 12. I was willing to put up with the political writing, and the people who wanted to change the world* because I loved reading the competition results in the back: I liked watching people playing with literature. And I liked the points of view. I still love the New Statesman, although I'm slightly more interested in the political writing these days than I was when I was 12.

“Guest editing an issue with Amanda Palmer has been a delightful, strange, occasionally frustrating, never boring process. We have agreed and we have argued and we have carved out our respective territories. Fortunately our interests overlap, along with our desire to curate a conversation about the things people do and do not talk about, the things we can and can't say, the culture of offence vs. the notion of free speech... and then there's rock, literature, refugees and so many other things. We have as many points of view as we have contributors (and a motley and glorious bunch of contributors they are). ” 

Previous guest editors have included Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury; comedian Russell Brand, whose essay on why he was not voting went viral and led to his appearance on Newsnight; Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei; Jemima Khan, who sent Hugh Grant undercover to investigate phone hacking; and Grayson Perry, who coined the influential term “Default Man”.

The issue will go on sale on Thursday, 28 May, and will also be available on iPad and Kindle. You can pre-order a single-issue by emailing sbrasher @ newstatesman co uk

 

 

*a good thing. 

 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Friedrich Nietzsche, the conqueror with the iron hand

Gavin Jacobson considers the great philosopher’s plan for society as revealed in Nietzsche’s Great Politics by Hugo Drochon.

In 1893 Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche returned to her mother’s adopted home town of Naumburg in Germany. She had been living in Paraguay with her husband, Bernhard Förster, a nationalist and anti-Semite who had founded an Aryan colony to begin “the purification and rebirth of the human race”. Elisabeth’s brother, Friedrich Nietzsche, had condemned her husband’s anti-Semitism and her decision to join him in South America. The experiment failed in any case. Blighted by disease, poor harvests and intercommunal strife, the outpost collapsed in two years. Förster committed suicide in 1889. Around this time, Nietzsche began his final descent into madness and Elisabeth came back to take care of him and his legacy.

Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, published in 1872 while he was a professor at the University of Basel, received marginal attention. It wasn’t until the 1890s that his writings gained a wide readership across Europe. Elisabeth soon took control of Nietzsche’s literary estate and, little by little, transformed him into an instrument of her fascist designs. She began to rework his notebooks and to clip, cross out and fabricate quotations, so that, in the public imagination, her brother went from an opponent of German nationalism to a lover of the fatherland, from the author of The Antichrist to a follower of the gospel, and from an anti-anti-Semite to a venomous ­Jew-hater. Before his death in 1900, Nietzsche had asked his sister to ensure that “no priest or anyone else utters falsehoods at my graveside, when I can no longer defend myself”. He could not have foreseen this betrayal by Elisabeth, as she cast him as the lodestar of National Socialism.

Since the 1950s, scholars have endeavoured to rescue Nietzsche from his asso­ciation with Nazism. Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1950) was a formative work in which the German philosopher became a humanist and progenitor of 20th-century existentialism. His thinking was directed not at the triumph of Teutonic supremacy but at reviving, as he wrote in Twilight of the Idols (1889), an “anti-political” high culture.

The problem was that, in stripping away the layers of external disfigurement that had built up and set over the years, Kaufmann and others denied Nietzsche an interest in politics. The task that Hugo Drochon sets himself is to reinsert some political content into Nietzsche and show that he had a systematic political theory. The result is a superb case of deep intellectual renewal and the most important book to have been written about him in the past few years.

Drochon’s study takes place against the backdrop of 19th-century Europe, as that is where Nietzsche’s account of politics – the fate of democracy, the role of the state and international relations – is best understood. Nietzsche’s sane life coincided with the main political events of his time. He served as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War, witnessed German unification and experienced at first hand the traits of a modern democratic order: party competition, secret ballots, voting and the influence of mass media. He also lived through Britain’s and Russia’s “great game” for control over central Asia. He went mad in the year Bismarck tended his resignation to Wilhelm II.

Drochon traces Nietzsche’s “intelligible account of modern society” in response to these events. Inspired by the Greeks – especially Plato and his mission to legislate a new state and train the men to do it – Nietzsche wanted to establish a healthy culture in which philosophy and great art could be produced. He was certain that slavery was necessary for this (a view that led to his eventual split with Wagner). The “cruel-sounding truth”, he admitted, was that “slavery belongs to the essence of culture”, as the artistic class, “a small number of Olympian men”, is released from the drudgery of daily existence to focus on producing art.

His disagreement with Wagner over the role of slavery led Nietzsche to describe the genesis and decay of the state. He saw clearly, like Hobbes, that the state of nature was “the war of all against all”. But whereas Hobbes imagined the state arising through a contract, Nietzsche saw it originating from a “conqueror with the iron hand”, who “suddenly, violently and bloodily” takes control of a people and forces it into a hierarchical society. Nietzsche then plotted its evolution, from a space within which culture flourished to the modern Kulturstaat, in which culture was appropriated for its own sake. If the state’s birth was violent, its decay was slow and was linked to Nietz­sche’s notorious phrase about the death of God: given that the Christian God was no longer a self-evident foundation of morality upon which societies could support themselves, the state faced dissolution.

Tracing with great forensic skill the minutiae of Nietzsche’s arguments across multiple sources, Drochon never loses the overall narrative thread (an occupational hazard of studying the history of political thought). Nor does he shy away from his subject’s unsavoury views. If Nietzsche’s remarks on slavery were harsh enough, his thinking on eugenics, or his physiologically inflected theories about democracy (which he regarded as the victory of a slave morality – associated with the “dark-skinned and especially dark-haired man” – over a master morality of the “Aryan conquering race”) sound even more repellent. Without wishing to justify these ideas, Drochon reminds us that theories of racial classification were prevalent and acceptable modes of inquiry in the 19th century. It would have been strange if Nietzsche had not drawn on them.

His darker side notwithstanding, many of Nietzsche’s insights speak to our politics now. He foresaw the privatisation of the state, in which “private companies” (Privatgesellschaften) would assume the business of the state, including those activities that are the “most resistant remainder of what was formerly the work of the government” – that is, “protecting the private person from the private person”. He showed how democracies gave birth to aristocracies and could become hostage to a “herd morality”, majoritarianism and misarchism: “the democratic idiosyncrasy of being against everything that dominates and wants to dominate”. He explored the question of wage labour and the increasing hostility between workers and employers and predicted the erosion of trust in
public institutions.

Nietzsche also described how statesmen revive the kind of pathologies that are corrupting European and American societies at the moment: nationalism, racism, intellectual parochialism and political insularity. He knew what he was talking about: Bismarck’s power politics, a tribute to blood (war) and iron (technology), was a “petty politics” that divided nations and peoples. Nietzsche’s “great politics”, by contrast, imagined the unification of Europe led by a cultural elite, the class he termed “good Europeans”, bred by intermixing Prussian military officers and Jewish financiers. Continental union would not only constitute a geopolitical counterweight to Britain and Russia. Good Europeans would, as Drochon writes, create “a new trans-European culture, which itself is specially called on to lead a world culture”.

So, this book has come at the right time. In the light of Britain’s vote for Brexit, which threatens to take us back to a petty politics of nationalism and continental division, Nietzsche’s writings are more significant than ever. Those of us who desire a more integrated and peaceful union with our neighbours cling despairingly – and with receding hope – to his dream that, in spite of “the morbid estrangement which the nationality craze has induced and still induces among the peoples of Europe, owing also to the short-sighted and hasty-handed politicians . . . Europe wishes to be one”.

Nietzsche’s Great Politics by Hugo Drochon is published by Princeton University Press, 224pp, £34.95

Gavin Jacobson is a writer and book critic

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt