I recall once reading a paper in which the author adduced as evidence of the vibrant state of Nietzsche studies the fact that there are now three specialist journals for Nietzsche articles--Nietzsche-Studien, Journal of Nietzsche Studies, and New Nietzsche Studies--not to mention three English-speaking professional organizations: the North American Nietzsche Society (NANS), the Friedrich Nietzsche Society of Great Britain (FNS), and the Nietzsche Society, another American-based Nietzsche group, aligned with the Society for Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy.
My reaction to this evidence, by contrast, was the opposite: the reason there is a proliferation of specialty Nietzsche forums is because the field is populated with mediocrities and incompetents, who can't perform in ordinary scholarly and philosophical contexts. Because the majority of those who write on Nietzsche don't do work that is publishable in legitimate journals that feature important work on Nietzsche--European Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research, Journal of the History of Philosophy, History of Philosophy Quarterly, Journal of the History of Ideas (not to mention Philosophical Review and Ethics!)--it is necessary to create "specialty" journals that have almost no scholarly or philosophical standards in which the vast amount of rubbish on Nietzsche can find a place. The field of Kant studies, a robust scholarly field, provides a striking point of contrast: most of the leading Kant scholars publish in the journals just mentioned, and the up-and-coming young scholars try to do the same. One does not find in Kant studies a proliferation of "specialized" Kant journals that publish nothing but (third-rate) work on Kant. There is, to be sure, one specialty journal, Kant-Studien, about which I know little, though I hope it is better than Nietzsche-Studien, which apart from publishing occasional, useful philological and intellectual history pieces, rarely features anything philosophically substantial. (One philosopher who submitted to them tells me his piece was rebuffed because it featured that "Anglo-Saxon" tendency to focus on "coherence" and "arguments." Imagine that!)
Harsh talk, I know, but readers of this blog are used to it. I am particularly incensed by what's become of the North American Nietzsche Society (NANS) under the direction of Richard Schacht of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Schacht's 1983 book on Nietzsche (Routledge) did much to raise the level of Nietzsche studies in English-speaking philosophy--kudos and gratitude to Professor Schacht for that important contribution--but as the de facto dictator of NANS, he has, for mysterious reasons, pandered to mediocrities, putting them on committees, including their papers in NANS programs, and so on. Since I know that Schacht's view of this work is not much different from my own, I have found his posture peculiar: instead of using NANS to advance philosophically substantial Nietzsche studies, he has, in the service of "inclusiveness," legitimized weak work and promoted the careers of scholars who do not do work up to the high standards he has set.
What's worse is that the effort has been pointless. During the 1990s, New Nietzsche Studies was launched by "the Nietzsche Society," the other group for American Nietzsche "scholars" [sic] affiliated with SPEP, the primary organization for those interested in European philosophy who aren't very good at philosophy. (Anyone with doubts on this score should take a look at, e.g., Babette Babich's Nietzsche's Philosophy of Science, a book apparently written on the premise that it is not necessary to have any knowledge of philosophy of science to nonetheless explain Nietzsche's. Babich is a key figure in the Nietzsche Society and its journal New Nietzsche Studies; she was also the target of Samuel Wheeler's recent, amusing remarks in a NDPR book review: "Babette Babich’s [essay] consists largely of assertions about analytic philosophy and citations of other people’s assertions. A reader somewhat familiar with both traditions will be puzzled as to why some of these assertions are taken to be true.")
Don't misunderstand the point of this little polemic: obviously a professional organization must represent both the very best and the solid laborers in the field. The problem with NANS is that it has also chosen to "include"--indeed, gone out of its way to include--"scholars" who, if they worked on Kant or Descartes or Plato, wouldn't be able to get on a professional program at a scholarly meeting.
The straw that broke this camel's back, however, was the latest announcement from "on high" that Jim Conant of the University of Chicago is to be the new head of the Program Committee. (It appears that Professor Schacht makes these decisions unilaterally.) Conant replaced Alan Schrift, who at least had written a lot on Nietzsche. Conant, by contrast, has published only one substantial paper on Nietzsche since beginning his teaching career 15 years ago--in a book edited by none other than Dick Schacht! The paper, a reading of Nietzsche's Schopenhauer as Educator, was part of Conant's doctoral thesis, so it's one he's been working on for more than 15 years. Yet this one paper is, itself, a problematic piece of work. As I wrote in my review of the Schacht collection in Mind:
Conant wants to challenge the view that Nietzsche embraces elitism, 'the view that certain individuals are not to be counted as having the same weight in moral or political judgment as others' (p. 183). Such a reading of Nietzche, Conant says derisively, is 'not argued for in much more detail than Clarence Darrow bothered to argue for it' in the famous case of Illinois vs. Leopold & Loeb (p. 183). 'If [the elitist reading is] at all supported,' Conant continues, it is by appeal, mistakenly, to a famous passage from the early essay Schopenhauer as Educator. (No Nietzsche scholars, but rather moral philosophers like Donagan, Hurka and Rawls, are cited as making these mistakes.)
Alas, these opening histrionics simply confirm the informed reader’s sense that Conant doesn’t know much about the secondary literature on Nietzsche or about the rest of Nietzsche’s corpus, both of which amply support the elitist reading. What could be more plainly elitist than this declaration from Beyond Good and Evil: 'Moralities must be forced to bow…before the order of rank…until they finally reach agreement that it is immoral to say, "what is right for one is fair for the other”' (sec. 221). Or later in the same work: '[T]he demand of one morality for all is detrimental for the higher men' (sec. 228), a point raised, repeatedly, by Nietzsche as his central objection to morality (cf. my Nietzsche on Morality [London: Routledge, 2002], Ch. 4). We find the same theme in work of his last productive year, like The Antichrist: 'the doctrine of "equal rights for all”' is 'poison' spread by Christianity; as a result 'nobody has the courage any longer for privileges, for masters’ rights' (sec. 43); ’"equality of souls before God” is a 'falsehood' and mere 'pretext for the rancor of all the base-minded' (sec. 62); and on and on. That Conant is either ignorant of, or willfully blind to, the bulk of Nietzsche’s corpus makes his rude treatment of serious philosophers like Hurka, who correctly confront Nietzsche’s elitism, all the more irritating: so, e.g., Conant says that Rawls deals with Nietzsche’s alleged elitism 'far more gingerly than does a Hitler or a Hurka' (p. 190)."
Moreover, as Thomas Hurka points out in a forthcoming paper (on "Nietzsche: Perfectionist," in Nietzsche and Morality, ed. Leiter & Sinhababu (OUP, forthcoming), Conant doesn't even represent the Schopenhauer essay accurately (he chops quotations right before they turn anti-egalitarian) and he misconstrues the crucial German word Exemplar that Nietzsche employs. As Hurka writes:
[Conant] claims that the antiegalitarian reading of Schopenhauer as Educator rests on a mistranslation of Nietzsche's Exemplar as 'specimen.' Whereas this term has misleading biological connotations, Conant says, Nietzsche's use of Exemplar is continuous with Kant's in The Critique of Judgement and that of the German Romantics, for whom an exemplar is a creative genius we all can emulate. But the intervening text [in Schopenhauer as Educator, which Conant omits] is precisely about biology, suggesting that we apply to humans a lesson that can be learned from 'any species of the animal and plant world.' So the biological analogies are made by Nietzsche himself. The intervening text also uses the word Exemplar three times to refer to members of animal and plant species.... I would have thought that if Nietzsche uses Exemplar to refer to blades of grass he is not using it to refer only to Kantian creative geniuses, but perhaps Conant thinks that in interpreting Nietzsche's use of a word it is less important to look at Nietzsche's own repeated use of the same word a half-page earlier than its use by another philosopher in another book published eighty years earlier.
So an unqualified Nietzsche scholar is now head of the Program Committee of the North American Nietzsche Society. Why should serious Nietzsche scholars--of whom there are now more than there have ever been in the English-speaking countries--continue to support the enterprise under these circumstances? I admit that NANS serves a useful purpose, as a forum where young Nietzsche scholars can present their papers at the APA. But the time has come, I fear, for the creation of a different forum, given the corruption of NANS. Stay tuned!