Lukács and Nietzsche: Revolution in a Tragic Key

Parrhesia: Journal of Critical Philosophy 23:86-109 (2016)
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György Lukács’s Marxist phase is usually associated with his passage from neo-Kantianism to Hegelianism. Nonetheless, Nietzschean influences have been covertly present in Lukács’s philosophical development, particularly in his uncompromising distaste for the bourgeois society and the mediocrity of its quotidian values. A closer glance at Lukács’s corpus discloses that the influence of Nietzsche has been eclipsed by the Hegelian turn in his thought. Lukács hardly ever mentions the weight of Nietzsche on his early thinking, an influence that makes cameo appearances throughout his lifetime writings. During the period of his adherence to a Stalinist approach to communism, his new subjectivity seems to be re-constituted through a disavowal of his earlier romantic anti-capitalism. Implicit in Lukács’s attack on Nietzsche in the Destruction of Reason (1952) is an acerbic reaction to the mute presence of the latter in his earlier thought. Apart from his ignorance of the unreliability of the collection of the Will to Power edited by Peter Gast and Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, his battle against the anti-proletariat Nietzsche in the Destruction is waged on a metaphysical, non-historical plain. Lukács’s pre-Marxist works (Soul and Form, On Poverty of Spirit, and The Theory of the Novel) in a sense betray the instance of a writer who writes most of someone where he omits his name. Thus perceived, Lukács’s early corpus lends itself to a symptomatic reading. This essay seeks to extract the Nietzschean undercurrents of Lukács’s work through a reflection on the romantic anti-capitalist tendencies that the young Lukács shared with Nietzsche. For although it may appear that Nietzsche lacked a clear politics, his criticism of the bourgeois ethos as a structure based on debt/guilt [Schuld], and his critique of modern value-system and nihilism paved the way for the emergence of Lukács’s theory of reification. Nietzsche’s category of 'transvaluation of values’ suggests a total transfiguration of reality, a radical rupture with the ordinary state of things, and as such carries within itself a revolutionary promise. Drawing a distinction between political romanticism and romantic politics, I argue that romantic anti-capitalism contains a potential for the latter. The essay further traces the link between Lukács’s ‘romantic politics’ and the persistence of a thought of the tragic (a ‘tragic vision’) in his texts that, despite its temporary decline during his realist period, is undismissable in different constellations of his thought.

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Baraneh Emadian
University of Westminster (PhD)


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