Zarathustra vs Levellers

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Chapter 15: ‘On the Thousand Goals and One’
vs “One Way”, Levellers (Levelling The Land, 1991)

‘A thousand goals there have been so far, for there have been a thousand peoples’ thus declares Zarathustra; before continuing – ‘Only the shackles for the thousand necks are still lacking: there is lacking the one goal.’ What is this talk of shackles? What is this talk of an enslaved thousand necks? What is this talk of the ‘one’ way, the one ‘goal’? Do we not encounter here Zarathustra – and (of course) Nietzsche – as proto-fascist? – or a mystic foretelling of the twentieth century authoritarianism to come? The avowal of totalitarianism, the ideological and violent enslaving of a people under the cult of a leader who in turn organises the mass and embodies their one goal, their destiny?

Such a reading, however, would be a misreading: either a willingly corruption or inattentive parsing of Nietzsche’s argument. The statement which concludes ‘On the Thousand Goals and One’ moves swiftly, so we must read slowly. And we must not believe a provocation designed to wake us from our slumber as the very opposite of what Nietzsche wishes to affirm.

To anticipate Zarathustra’s argument in Chapter 15, we can accede first to the Levellers. The travelling band transforms their folk rock through funk – driving bass and devil-may-care fiddle – producing one of the most rousing, jubilant sounds of the 1990s. ‘One Way’ – ‘There's only one way of life’ … ‘And that's your own’…


The lyrics Mark Chadwick sings tell a story; the story of a father and child, the child growing up and escaping the life of the father’s community, an escape to discover a free life. However, the devil – as always – is in the detail, and the song confronts a paradox. Alongside the chant of the celebratory chorus and undercutting the joyous music there is a tale of denial, dishonour and disillusionment. The child and father look down from a hill to the town where their family live, work and die: ‘He said this is where I come / When I want to be free / Well he never was in his lifetime / But these words stuck with me’. Thus the child sees that the compromise and paradox in the father’s words, and when grown escapes the community, but in so doing becomes ‘the family disgrace’. Paradox upon paradox: living your own way of life is seen as betrayal by others; and indeed, such freedom will come to be seen ultimately as a series of illusions (‘we choked on our dreams’), always under attack (‘the problems of the world / … won't stop coming … / By the life I've had so far’) and impotence (‘the problems of the world / Won't be solved by this guitar’). Yet to return home appears to be no solution…

Zarathustra both explores Chadwick’s problematisation and provides a solution. This is the logic: a way of life belonging a people arose organically, unconsciously, instinctively over time → for this people their way of life appears divine, good, embodied in and by their gods, heroes, priests, laws, rituals → the way of life of others – neighbours – is different, and if different, evil → yet, as the world and its peoples have aged (time after time), some individuals within a people discover there are many other peoples, a thousand peoples and ways of living in the world (or rather, it is this discovery that creates the individual by cutting them away from group homogeneity) → such a discovery simultaneously reveals all values as created by peoples, not by gods → as an affirmation of the thousand ways of life, so is born (what we currently call) cultural relativism, which in essence simply means change, transformation, appropriation and influence → yet this discovery has a simultaneous correlate, the identity of a people slowly erodes, crumbles, declines and falls; and the world appears as chaos, devoid of meaning (nihilism) – this fracture of a people is the outcome of the creation of individuals → the  ground of homogeneity is ungrounded, replaced by heterogeneity: and the response is either affirmation or rejection → rejection is a call for a reformation of the homogenous from the heterogeneous, cohering around the idea of a people now necessarily embodied by an individual as leader → affirmation – however – discovers the univocity of multiplicity: the pure power of continual transformation, change, becoming → what must be overcome and shackled is thus the chaos of the thousands ways that has constituted the individual, the individual now monstrous, a beast with a thousand necks, in chaos, values churning, full of guilt, riven by denial, dishonour and disillusionment → in this way the one goal, the one way, for all humanity: not a reformation but the overcoming of our humanity which creates peoples and individuals, individuals and peoples.

The affirmation of univocity and pluralism (univocity is pluralism, and pluralism is univocity): ‘There's only one way of life / And that's your own’… for all, embracing, embodying and affirming the will to power as the power of becoming. However, as Nietzsche concludes – returning us to the problem of nihilism the Levellers so beautifully articulated – ‘there is lacking the one goal… [and] if humanity still lacks a goal, does it not also still lack – itself?’

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