A Discussion with Michael Grenke on Lise van Boxel’s “Warspeak: Nietzsche’s Victory over Nihilism”

by Daniel A. Kaufman


Michael Grenke of St. John’s College, Annapolis and I discuss the late Lise van Boxel’s book, “Warspeak: Nietzsche’s Victory over Nihilism” (Political Animal Press, 2021).


00:35 About Lise van Boxel and St. John’s College 06:00 Nietzsche and Nihilism 12:50 The Good, the Transcendent, and Nihilism 19:00 Philosophy as Genealogy 29:30 On the concept of “Warspeak” 41:00 On the question of Authority and authorities 47:00 Nietzsche and Hume 51:00 What is distinctive about van Boxel’s take on Nietzsche? 58:00 Nietzsche and Mill’s “experiments in living.” 1:05:00 Is it reasonable to characterize modern life as rooted in the transcendent and world-denying? 1:13:40 Nietzsche’s conception of “Superabundant Vitality”


23 responses to “A Discussion with Michael Grenke on Lise van Boxel’s “Warspeak: Nietzsche’s Victory over Nihilism””

  1. s. wallerstein


    Why don’t you invite Brian Leiter or someone else who can actually defend Nietzsche onto the Electric Agora?

    This guy is hopeless. Nietzsche deserves a better attorney. At times I realize I know more about Nietzsche than this guy does.

  2. I was asked by the publisher if I would do something on the late Dr. van Boxel’s book, and I said “yes.”

    I did a dialogue with Brian on Marxism some time ago. I’ve been trying to get him to do another one, but he is hard to schedule with.

  3. s. wallerstein

    Ok. Just for example, you compare Nietzsche with Hume.

    Leiter in his book Nietzsche on Morality compares the two as moral naturalists. In his book Moral Psychology with Nietzsche Leiter returns to the comparison and shows or attempts to show that Nietzsche’s moral psychology is more in line with the findings of contemporary psychological research than that of Hume.

    I know that you are not familiar with the literature on Nietzsche (and no one can read everything), but one would suppose that Professor Grenke would be familiar with Leiter’s work, Leiter being, as far as I know, the number one
    “analytical” Nietzsche scholar.

  4. Nietzsche certainly is a source for psychoanalysis. But in terms of contemporary scientific psychology, I doubt Nietzsche comes ahead between the two, but of course, I’m not an expert.

  5. Anyway, I was asked, said yes, and did the best I could. I probably wouldn’t have done it, if not for the particular circumstances of the book’s publication, which is why I said yes. I’m sorry that you thought it sub-par.

  6. s. wallerstein

    Leiter’s book is fairly recent, and he reviews all the contemporary psychological literature on morality. He finds Nietzsche to have been a very accurate armchair moral psychologist. That has nothing to do with whether he was
    mentally ill (whatever that means) or not.

  7. I really wasn’t thinking of psychology in that sense. I was more referencing Hume’s substantial and deep analysis of the sentiments in the second book of the Treatise of Human Nature.

  8. s. wallerstein

    I’m almost completely unfamiliar with Hume.

  9. I’m afraid I must largely agree with s. wallerstein here – Grenke’s presentation – both of Nietzsche’s thought and van Boxel’s – is surprisingly unfocused, almost as if he wasn’t even sure if he wanted this discussion. and Your increasing frustration over this becomes evident as the dialogue goes on.

    But in fairness, I also think that a major problem here is that there a number of Nietzsche’s, both embedded in his texts and in the various interpretations by thinkers and scholars of note.

    For what it’s worth (not much) I’ll give a sliver of my own general approach to N.; that the primary theme of his thinking is that the world has no intrinsic value; that there can come a moment when someone who values passionately (so to speak) realizes that all values that surround us are mere legacies created by others historically, and thus themselves lacking intrinsic value. (They are in fact false values, precisely because we have not taken any responsibility in making them.) That at that point one may simply admit one has adopted these legacy values, regardless of their validity simply to remain faithful to the society around us and its norms (which thus grants these values a kind of validity simply because they’re norms); or one can make the bold move and attempt to make new value and assert this against the norm. That is a tragic choice but it is also a joyful choice as it realizes whoever it is we really are in the making of that value. One doesn’t question authority in this model, one confronts it, ala Sophocles’ Antigone. If successful, however, one becomes the authority and establishes new values for society. What had been truth is revealed as a series of stale cliches; the new values require new metaphors It is up to the great maker of value to invent new metaphors. In this model, nihilism is arriving at the moment when the legacy values have all been revealed as false, and one doesn’t quite accept them, but one does nothing to make new value – one does nothing.

    Of course one ought to see the risks and dangers here – one such you noted as in a glance – there is nothing particularly democratic or liberal in N.’s thought, progress is not an accomplishment by or for the masses. It is a story told by master story-tellers with the wherewithal – and courage – to break the old and replace it with something new. Everything depends on the noblesse oblige of the story-teller – but nothing seems to determine any necessity on the part of story to feel such noblesse oblige. Sometime you get great men, sometimes you get monsters. I don’t think there’s anything in Nietzsche’s thought to be used to make the differentiation necessary to fully commit oneself to such a model…. Hence my recurrent warning of the dangers of N.’s thought, and why it can’t be tossed about lightly…..

  10. s. wallerstein

    “Hence my recurrent warning of the dangers of N.’s thought, and why it can’t be tossed about lightly…”

    Nietzsche is aware of that (Gay Science, book 4, 283): the secret of harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is—to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves!

  11. s. wallerstein


    Your distaste for Nietzsche is strange, because I see you as a bit of a warrior yourself.

    Nietzsche makes it clear that when he talks about war, he’s talking about intellectual polemics, about challenging wisdom received and consensus views.

    You, Dan, are quite an effective polemicist and a grand challenger of received wisdom and I’m sure that you are aware of that.

  12. He expresses himself like an adolescent. Very off putting and makes it difficult for me to take him seriously.

    And the way he saddles Judaism with Christianity’s faults really puts me off too. As well as a hundred other things.

    It’s OK if we don’t like the same stuff.

  13. s. wallerstein

    No doubt that he got Judaism wrong.

    I’m going to try your patience with one more short quote from Nietzsche about war. After that, I promise not to comment on the subject again.

    “My practice of war can be summed up in four propositions. First: I only attack causes that are victorious. I may even wait until they become victorious.

    Second: I only attack causes against which I would not find allies, so that I stand alone–so that I compromise myself alone–I have never taken a step publicly that did not compromise me: that is my criterion of doing right.

    Third: I never attack persons; I merely avail myself of the person as of a strong magnifying glass that allows one to make visible a general but creeping and elusive calamity….

    Fourth: I only attack things when every personal quarrel is excluded, when any background of bad experiences is lacking. On the contrary, attack is in my case a proof of good will….”

    Adolescent? Sure. But at times adolescents are worth listening to. All the groups of rock which you listen to and admire are addolescent, but they say something to you, I imagine. I’ll shut up now.

  14. I don’t see what the adolescent nature of some rock music has to do with what I’m looking for in a philosopher, but ok.

    The histrionic nature of his writing, the self-congratulations, when combined with all the crazy takes is pretty much why I have so little interest in him.

    I have yet to see or hear anything from Nietzsche or about Nietzsche that makes me want to know more. And there are 50 others I don’t know much about and who seem much more interesting to pursue.

  15. Here’s G. K. Chesterton on Nietzsche:

    “Other vague modern people take refuge in material metaphors; in fact, this is the chief mark of vague modern people. Not daring to define their doctrine of what is good, they use physical figures of speech without stint or shame, and , what is worst of all, seem to think these cheap analogies are exquisitely spiritual and superior to the old morality. Thus they think it intellectual to talk about things being ‘high.’ It is at least the reverse of intellectual; it is a mere phrase from a steeple or a weathercock. ‘Tommy was a good boy’ is a pure philosophical statement, worthy of Plato or Aquinas. ‘Tommy lived the higher life’ is a gross metaphor from a ten-foot rule.

    “This, incidentally, is almost the whole weakness of Nietzsche, whom some are representing as a bold and strong thinker. No one will deny that he was a poetical and suggestive thinker; but he was quite the reverse of strong. He was not at all bold. He never put his own meaning before himself in bald abstract words: as did Aristotle and Calvin, and even Karl Marx, the hard, fearless men of thought. Nietzsche always escaped a question by a physical metaphor, like a cheery minor poet. He said, ‘beyond good and evil,’ because he had not the courage to say, ‘more good than good and evil,’ or, ‘more evil than good and evil.’ Had he faced his thought without metaphors, he would have seen that it was nonsense. So, when he describes his hero, he does not dare to say, ‘the purer man,’ or ‘the happier man,’ or ‘the sadder man,’ for all these are ideas; and ideas are alarming. He says ‘the upper man.’ or ‘over man,’ a physical metaphor from acrobats or alpine climbers. Nietzsche is truly a very timid thinker. He does not really know in the least what sort of man he wants evolution to produce.”– excerpt from The Eternal Revolution, Chapter 7 of Orthodoxy

  16. Chesterton is one of my favorite stylists and writers.

  17. I knew you liked him, that’s why I thought you’d find what he wrote about Nietzsche to be of interest. It’s classic Chesterton, though, to find fault with Nietzsche, not for being too extreme, but too timid!

  18. Given what a blowhard Nietzsche is, that does seem paradoxical. Of course one can be very loud and still not say much of any use, so…

  19. s. wallerstein

    One of your (Dan) favorite philosophers values Nietzsche quite a bit: Bernard Willams.

    He wrote the introduction to my edition of the Gay Science (Cambridge) and there he shows that he’s read all or almost all of Nietzsche and much of the literature on him. While he does point out some shortcomings, Williams clearly
    sees him as a great thinker.

  20. Yes, I am well aware. Many people I like are fans.

  21. Marc Levesque

    Very interesting.

    My first thoughts : on imminent and transcendent, I agree that too much focus on one can diminish the other. But both ways too. As in there aren’t some things that are ‘merely’ physical. Why add merely? Why think in separate terms of the imminent and transcendent.

    Now I just finished listening to the second half, and I’m really glad I did. A lot of what you both had to say really came together near the end. Very thought provoking.