Nietzsche on Olympia Snowe’s Departure From the Senate

Olympia Snowe’s announcement that she would not seek reelection in November 2012 and would instead retire when her third term ends in January 2013 has, understandably, been the cause of much gnashing of teeth among those ostensibly committed to a more tolerant politics and to ‘pragmatism’ in legislation. Snowe herself wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, blaming, among other things, “the corrosive trend of winner-take-all politics” and “the dysfunction and political polarization [of the Senate].” (There have been other step-downs like this in the past, most notably, from the Democratic side of the aisle, Evan Bayh in 2010, and more recently, Ben Nelson.)

Snowe’s Post article does not suggest that she is leaving because she is not a Republican any more, and in her diagnosis and prognosis of the ailing legislative branch of this nation, she appears to indict Republicans and Democrats alike. She does not, after all, indicate that she feels her party alone cannot accommodate her ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate’ leanings. (I put those political orientations in quotes because, to be honest, I think I have lost my bearings on what they stand for any more in the American political landscape.) And some of those who commented on her departure incorporated this marching-in lockstep-with-party-orthodoxy-is-the-bane-of-modern-American-politics flavor in their writing. Here, for instance, is Frank Bruni in the New York Times:

Just because you choose a team shouldn’t mean you’re suddenly and miraculously on board with everything in its playbook, on down the line…Rare is the Democrat of plausible national ambition who tangles in a tough, meaningful way with labor unions or environmentalists, groups that President Obama has been loath to cross.

(My reaction to that is “Really?” but I’ll let it pass for now.)

Still, Snowe’s case will be of especial interest to those that view the Republican Party as having become completely unhinged in recent times, and Democrat spinners will only be too keen to use her resignation as exhibit Numero Uno in making this charge. Her decision to not seek reelection certainly appears more interesting when viewed in this light; In the former dimension, one can speculate about iconoclasts and persecution; in the latter, merely about boring institutional fatigue. Charges of “a pox on both your houses” sound better coming from us citizens, fed up with the Confederacy of Dunces on Capitol Hill.

Nietzsche, as usual, has something to say about this situation, and unsurprisingly, he goes for the more interesting option. So, once again, from Human, All Too Human: A Book For Free Spirits (translated by RJ Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1986; this version includes Volume 2: Assorted Opinions and Maxims, from which I quote below.)

So, from Volume 2, Section 305–on page 283–reads:

Party tactics. – When a party notices that a member has changed from being an unconditional adherent to a conditional one, it is so little capable of enduring this that it tries, through incitements and insults of all kinds, to bring him to the point of outright defection and turn him into an opponent: for it has the suspicion that the intention of seeing in their faith something of relative value that admits of a For and Against, a weighing and distinguishing, is more dangerous to it than a wholesale opposition.

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