Will to power on Deleuze´s thought

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nietzsche-785802Today´s entry has the need to understand morality and ethics in power society values within Deleuze´s interpretation.  The legacy of tradicional modern concepts of the human willing had a breakup with deconstructivism and postmodern political theory conceived originally from Nietzsche´s philosophy . As Paul Patton says…

«Nietzsche is not the first to propose an interpretation of human behaviour in terms of power: Hobbes and Spinoza among others preceded him in this endeavour. But Nietzsche’s understanding of power differs from preceding theories in several important respects. First, he refuses any perspective according to which the fundamental drive is to preserve or to increase the power of the body concerned. For Nietzsche, will to power is not a matter of individual bodies striving to maintain their power or persevere in their being, in the manner of Hobbes or Spinoza. It is not energy expended in order to reach a particular goal or end-state, but simply the expenditure of energy itself. The power of a body is expressed when it acts with all of the force or energy with which it is endowed. In paragraph 13 of Beyond Good and Evil (1973), he remarks that we should beware of superfluous teleological principles such as the drive to self-preservation. His own principle is more general, encompassing the drive to self-preservation but also the drive to self-destruction or self-overcoming: A living thing desires above all to vent its strength—life as such is will to power—self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of it’ (Nietzsche 1973: part 1, para. 13). It follows that Nietzsche’s understanding of power must be distinguished from the homeostatic principle which underpins the Darwinian conception of nature. Deleuze comments that ‘Nietzsche criticises Darwin for interpreting evolution and chance within evolution in an entirely reactive way. He admires Lamarck because Lamarck foretold the existence of a truly active plastic force, primary in relation to adaptations: a force of metamorphosis’ (Deleuze 1983:42). The idea that life, in the broadest sense of the term, is essentially active and transformative is a recurrent theme throughout Deleuze’s philosophy.

A second fundamental point of difference between Nietzsche and his predecessors with regard to power is that he treats it as a matter of effective capacity on the part of the body concerned rather than as something represented and therefore able to be recognised or not by others. Deleuze suggests that according to Hobbes, ‘man in the state of nature wants to see his superiority represented and recognised by others’ (Deleuze 1983:80). By contrast, for Nietzsche, it is only the slave who understands power in terms of representation since this is a mediocre and base interpretation of power. Any such representational concept of power is prone to an implicit conformism, since it implies that an individual will only be recognised as powerful in accordance with accepted values. By contrast, Nietzsche understands power to involve the attainment of new values: ‘against the image of a will which dreams of having established values attributed to it, Nietzsche announces that to will is to create new values’ (Deleuze 1983:85).

In his remarks on the history of human moral sentiments in Human, All Too Human (1984) and Daybreak (1982), Nietzsche offers many examples of the analysis of human drives or forms of moral judgement in terms of power. Although he did not use the term ‘will to power’ until Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1969a), by the time he wrote On the Genealogy of Morality (1994), the concept had become so established in his thinking that he could refer to his theory that ‘in all events a will to power is operating’ (Nietzsche 1994, essay 2, para. 12). A common misunderstanding assumes that the will to power is a particular psychological drive, such as the love of power which motivates so many political actors. While Nietzsche certainly recognises this phenomenon, this is not what is expressed by his concept of will to power. To interpret will to power as wanting or seeking power, Deleuze argues, is to produce ‘platitudes which have nothing to do with Nietzsche’s thought’ (Deleuze 1983: xi). The will to power is not one drive among others but the immanent principle in terms of which all human drives are to be understood.

In treating will to power as central to Nietzsche’s system, Deleuze anticipates the argument of a number of more recent studies of Nietzsche. In common with a number of these studies and contrary to the widespread view of Nietzsche as an unsystematic or even anti-systematic thinker, he presents him as a rigorous philosopher who ‘uses very precise new terms for precise new concepts’ (Deleuze 1983:52). Alongside nihilism and the eternal return, he argues, ‘will to power’ is one of the most important of the new concepts that Nietzsche creates and introduces into philosophy (Deleuze 1983:80). Deleuze’s systematisation of Nietzsche’s theory of will to power takes its point of departure from those passages in the posthumously assembled The Will to Power (1968), in which Nietzsche extends his theory that ‘in all events a will to power is operating’ to include the physical universe. Against the atomism then prevalent in physics, he proposes a conception of material reality understood as centres of force. This implies a universe in which there are no ultimate, irreducible particles ‘but only dynamic quanta, in a relation of tension to all other quanta’ (Nietzsche 1968: para. 635). In these terms, physical bodies are constituted by relations of opposition or collaboration between forces, which are themselves effects of the differential power relations between the centres of force. These point-forces are dynamic quanta, in Nietzsche’s view, because each strives to become master over all space and to thrust back all that resists its extension. In doing so, they ‘continually encounter similar efforts on the part of other bodies and end by coming to an arrangement with those of them that are sufficiently related…thus they conspire together for power. And so the process goes on…’ (Nietzsche 1968: para. 636). It is this expansive character of forces, the active element internal to them which Nietzsche calls will to power: ‘The victorious concept force, by means of which our physicists have created God and the world, still needs to be completed: an inner will must be ascribed to it, which I designate will to power’ (Nietzsche 1968: para. 619).

Deleuze’s reconstruction of Nietzsche’s concept of will to power begins with this conception of reality as a field of quanta or quantities of force. These forces are virtual capacities to affect and be affected by other forces which are actualised in determinate form in a given material. According to Deleuze, forces are essentially related to other forces and the will to power must be understood as the inner principle of the relation between forces. Chance brings particular forces into relation with one another, but the will to power determines the character and the outcome of the relations between forces: whether a particular force is primarily active or reactive; which force prevails in a particular encounter given that active forces do not always prevail over reactive forces. In any event, both the dominant and dominated forces are manifestations or expressions of the will to power. Taking the differential calculus as his model, Deleuze argues that the will to power is the differential and genetic element which is realised in the encounter between forces or capacities of different kinds. There is a relation of mutual presupposition between, on the one hand, the forces or capacities of particular bodies which are only realised in such encounters and, on the other hand, the will to power which is inseparable from the existence and interrelation of particular determinate kinds of force. That is why the will to power is an ‘essentially plastic principle’ that is no wider than what it conditions (Deleuze 1983:50).

In Deleuze’s usage, the language adapted from Nietzsche’s remarks on physics is intended to apply not only to biological forces but also to the psychical, moral, social and political ‘forces’ which characterise the field of social and political action. ‘Force’ here assumes a very broad sense which has no necessary connection with violence. Foucault follows Deleuze in this usage of the term. It is because forces are of different ‘natural kinds’, as well as different magnitudes, that he refers to the space in which forces confront one another as ‘a “non-place”, a pure distance, which indicates that the adversaries do not belong to a common space’ (Foucault 1977b: 85). Nevertheless, in any given encounter, one force will dominate and another will be subordinated: in one context, the law may prevail over racially discriminatory public opinion; in another, public opinion may force politicians to override the rule of law. In this sense, a certain stable or precarious but always reversible balance of forces will be established. ‘Force’ should be understood, in abstraction from any determinate kind of action or interaction, to encompass all of the means by which bodies interact with one another. In this sense, ‘force’ is equivalent to ‘power’ in its primary sense of capacity to do or to be certain things. Forces are the potentials for acting and being acted upon which constitute bodies as bodies of a particular kind. Deleuze’s abstract and relational concept of force leads to an equally abstract concept of bodies, according to which the different kinds of force involved will determine the nature of different kinds of bodies: physical, organic or social.» [1]


[1] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political (London: Routledge, 2000), 50, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=102824395.

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