My dissertation examines three, interrelated themes in Friedrich Nietzsche's early writings. The first theme is the moral imperatives that appear in these writings. These imperatives, which are scattered throughout The Birth of Tragedy and the Untimely Meditations in seemingly haphazard fashion, articulate a rigorous, post-Kantian concept of morality designed to respond to the problems of modern nationalism and modern nihilism. In the first chapter of my dissertation, I outline the character, importance, and origin of Nietzsche's imperatives.
The second theme I examine is the relationship between Nietzsche's imperatives and his political thought. I show, through close readings of Nietzsche's early texts, that they deploy a series of moral imperatives to reformulate the tasks and meaning of modern political life. These imperatives tell the political community what ought to be done to avoid the twin dangers of nihilism and nationalism by articulating a broad principle of justice with universally valid foundations. Politics, Nietzsche argues, unlike Machiavelli or Hobbes, but like Kant, must bend its knee to necessary moral commands.
The third theme examined in my dissertation is the emergence, in Nietzsche's early writings, of a political position that he will eventual call “great politics.” Great politics is Nietzsche's solution to the petty, or small, politics of modern nationalism and modern nihilism. This concept of politics shifts the realm of political struggle away from the state and towards those values that support the state and legitimate its existence in its modern form. It achieves this end by revaluing values in response to the devaluation of values in modernity. These values are expressed in Nietzsche's imperatives.