Nietzsche, and his horse in K’taka

C P Surendran

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Will To Power, the argument is that Kraft (force) is consciously exercised or sublimated to achieve Macht (power). That is what characterises his Superman (Ubermensch).
Although German nationalists championed the Superman theories as these rationalised their vast acts of mindless cruelties, Nietzsche himself towards the nervously distraught last phase of his life in Turin — where, the story goes, he hugged a horse to prevent the animal being beaten to death by a merchant, and burst into tears at the helpless beauty and spirit of the animal and the beastliness of man — doubted what he wrote was true.
A similar episode happens in Crime and Punishment — Dostoevsky was one of Nietzsche’s favourite authors — when the young intellectual hero, Raskolnikov, has a nightmare, in which he sees a horse being beaten to death before a “laughing crowd”.
The horse in the Indian power situation is democracy, a grab-all word so misused by us that everything that happens in India could be vaguely described as democratic if only because we can be noisy (freedom of speech, if you will) and be periodically putting in an appearance at the polling booth. Alas, voting is a means to the process, not its end.
The philosopher’s merchant who tortures the beast in is the Indian politician, the Ubermensch, of our tattered civilisation. The crowd watching the show, clapping and cheering, is us. What’s missing? Nietzsche. Raskolnikov — the great human who comes between the horse and the whip.
Tuesday’s newspapers carried the CM-elect of Karnataka, H.D. Kumaraswamy, meeting UPA chief Sonia Gandhi and handing her a bouquet. The Ubermenschen of Indian politics. Both look rather grim, though they are about to form a government in the state. In the inside pages of the newspaper, there are the equally grim looking photographs of other Ubermenschen of the moment, Mr Amit Shah, Mr Siddaramaiah (declared assets around a modest Rs 8 crores, or it could be Rs 800 crores, depending on his mood at the moment of declaration); and Mr Yeddyurappa (apparently around Rs 2 crores, but facts are stranger than fiction, aren’t they?). None of the declared assets of our Ubermenschen could be taken as the last word in truth, of course. The newspaper reports, confusingly, only reflect what they said; no investigation, naturally, has been done of each respective turf.
All very powerful people. All exercising their will to power. All armed with their whips. The starving, overloaded horse is rearing on its hind legs under the unbearable burden, and a billion Untermenschen are cheering on, sometimes throwing stones, sometimes trolling, but always there.We see it all. The money trails, the stacking of the load, the brazen bargaining, the trafficking of the MLAs — the human cargo that is worth its weight in gold — in and out of resorts and bribed with rasam and Thai Fried Chicken into a temporary complacency that could be easily misinterpreted as a flash of conscience, and the agony of the animal.
What can be done? Not much. When institutions are slowly turned inside out, what appears like a bug out of the rug is cynicism. This country and its people are caught in that epidemic. Everything is permitted, nothing is true, as the poet said.
Consider the collective handiwork of our Ubermenschen and Untermenschen, the leaders and the led. Banks. Media. Judiciary. Parliament. Leaders. Rent-seeking corporates. Does anyone honestly believe anyone? Anyone at all? Unlikely. We are mouthing words. Forming sounds. The meaning is quite gone. Even as we watch the Merchant raise the whip again, the horse is on its last legs. It’s over.
Almost. And here is exactly where we are standing: in the ring, watching the end of the show. We should be throwing ourselves between the whip and the beast. That we mistake the fervour with which we are voyeuring for actual participation in the act is both a perception and reality problem.
Many might argue things are not this apocalyptic. And I would reply to them, sure, it could be worse. And it will get worse. We can wait and watch, or find a way of changing the role of the observer, the Untermanschen.
Nietzsche’s Superman and other related theories were an attempt of an artistic genius to fill the vacuum created by what he thought was the death of God. By which he meant the decay in Western values based on Christianity. He tried; and failed. In fact, he went mad.
India is now being reinvented on the basis of Sanatana dharma so that it achieves salvation. The strange thing is we no longer know the name and the shape of the moksha we are seeking. A horse, shaken free of its burdens and racing in the wind, might be it.