“There are no facts,” wrote Nietzsche in the 19th century, “only interpretation.” Some think the German philosopher went mad through syphilis, says Giles Fraser in UnHerd – and “a type of madness” has indeed been his legacy. Reality used to provide us with “certain givens”; now many believe we can “uncouple ourselves from those givens” through will alone. Identity, sex and gender are not dictated by biology, but “by will, by wanting it”. Reality used to be something humans would adjust themselves to. These days, it plays “second fiddle” to our desires, “just as Nietzsche predicted”.
This philosophy – “the truth is what I assert it to be” – is dangerous when applied to politics. If reality is a “contest of wills”, then those who “out-shout, out-manoeuvre, out-intimidate and out-march” their rivals have a clean shot at rewriting it. This approach is seen in the liberal vogue for “self-ID of the most radical kind”, which Nietzsche, in his own way, believed in “long before it was fashionable”. But it’s just as readily “purloined by the right”: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both seemed to view truth as something malleable, “established through power and assertion, not dispassionate observation”. And when people can’t even compromise on basic reality, the result is “antipathy and madness”. When truth dies, “all we have left is the struggle for dominance”.