Sophia and Philosophia


Here I will work through the rhetoric of tyranny as practiced by Callicles and as reflected in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, in particular. In Part 2 it will be shown that Nietzsche’s account of Plato as the complex figure with a Socratic exterior but a latent alternative ego of the tyrant, arrived at an image consistent with E.R. Dodds’ later thesis. Callicles the rhetor, featured as a student of Gorgias, embodies this alter-ego. In Part 3 we find Callicles and Zarathustra shared very similar beliefs once they overcame shame and gained honesty. Indeed, Callicles expounded a number of propositions foundational to the theory of will to power. The weaklings equate power with evil. But Callicles and others who have overcome their shame restore the real truths about power relations. The unashamed teach the will to power, and nothing else. Callicles took power to mean brute tyranny, however neutrally he described it. And he seemed to believe that every man had the desire to be tyrant operative in him. Even more, that life itself is one great struggle for power. As Part 4 shows, Callicles distinguished between moralities of the weak and moralities of the strong in a theory reminiscent of Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals. Callicles endorsed an aristocratic master morality, though one of a hedonistic sort. Callicles made clear that the inferiors remain content to be granted equal status (not real equality). So it is a social convention, not an adjustment of power relations in nature that makes an inferior an ‘equal.’ As long as the convention is observed, there exists a compromise solution. But when the rhetoric of shame has been dismissed, and the inequality of men frankly asserted publicly, the compensation gets lost, and the natural relations of power are restored. This occurrence shocks and disorients, as well as maddens, the inferior people. A sudden loss of shame and the voicing of unspoken truths activates other superiors by justifying their will to power anew, and by flattering those already in love with power by implying possibilities of absolute rule. This raises the specter of a master revolt in morals, meaning a revolution by aristocratic types against democratic government, and one likely resulting in a tyranny. In Part 5 Callicles develops an implicit argument for tyranny. His first premise: What is right by nature may be wrong by convention, and vice-versa. The second premise: Right is might. A third premise states: The art of contriving to suffer no wrong, or as little as possible, is to become the ruling power or even a tyrant in your city. A fourth is required: It is worse to be wronged than to wrong someone else. And so his conclusion follows: Right is to become the ruling power, or even the tyrant, of one’s city. In Part 6 we determine that Callicles and Nietzsche represent cultural throw-backs to an earlier, less civilized way of thinking among the early Greeks. It seems this includes a tyrannical mode of thinking. Zarathustra learned to affirm the inevitability of the weak, and even the eventual triumph of the smaller type. But perhaps he needed to accept such a thing only as the realization that the foes cannot be completely eliminated. In Part 7 we turn to the crucial question of a master revolt in morals. Callicles held that stronger types could rule again, in a sort of master revolt in morals reversing the slave revolt in morals, while Nietzsche believed that the weak would eventually win regardless of any temporary set-backs from stronger elements. Did Zarathustra, though, give up all thoughts of a tyranny for the strong? Put another way, is Zarathustra the freest spirit of all free spirits and anti-tyrant par excellence, or is Zarathustran freedom the freedom to become a tyrant? Using passages from Twilight, I interpret him as a tyrant. In the final Part 8 I identify the mysterious “youth on the mountainside” from Zarathustra: The youth is Callicles, or his avatar, imprisoned in liberal democratic institutions, still unable to express his full illiberal power.


Zoroaster; Kalliklēs, Nikolaos; Socrates