Santiago Zabala — Nietzsche on WikiLeaks

“From an intellectual point of view, hermeneutics, the philosophy of interpretation, is a position that has widely benefited from the WikiLeaks revelations, because they have confirmed that truth is an effect of interpretation rather than its cause. Much more significant than a “truth” are its consequences, that is, how we deal with its revelations and what they are worth.” — Santiago Zabala

Hermeneutic CommunismRecently, the Al Jazeera English website ran “Nietzsche on WikiLeaks,” an article by CUP author Santiago Zabala, in their Opinion section. in this article, Zabala, ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona, author of, among other works, The Remains of Being: Hermeneutic Ontology After Metaphysics and coauthor with Gianni Vattimo of Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx, looks at Julian Assange’s organization and the documents that it has published through the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Zabala begins by reasserting Nietzsche’s importance to modern philosophical thought:

Without him, we would not have had Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism, Richard Rorty’s neopragmatism, or Gianni Vattimo’s weak thought; for these and many other distinguished philosophers, Nietzsche’s idea that truths are “illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are” brought about the recognition that we live in an age of interpretation where, as the German master himself stated, “there are no facts, only interpretations, and this is also an interpretation”.


This quote remains central to Zabala’s argument, as he believes that Nietzsche would have seen value not in the objective facts revealed by WikiLeaks, but rather in the way that these facts change our views of what is happening in the world.

Among the first things Nietzsche would probably point out is that the WikiLeaks revelations have not rendered us more free but, on the contrary, show how framed we are and continue to be. The objective facts revealed have not changed the world – but instead invited us to become more suspicious than we already were. While there have been some consequences for specific politicians involved in these revelations, they have been minor considering the truth they exposed. It seems that the more insight we possess into a fact, truth, or origin “the less significant,” as Nietzsche once said, “does the origin appear”.

But why? For example, if we look at the revelations about Anna Politkovskaya’s death, instead of becoming evidence of who ordered the murder, they become confirmations of our initial suspicions of the official truth. Our suspicion is confirmed, not the truth. Nevertheless, being suspicious does not necessarily imply a relativist outcome or demand an end to all of our beliefs; rather, it encourages us to become increasingly involved in history. But is it possible to believe in any information at all when we know it is never disinterested and objective, if it’s even true at all?

Zabala finds that Nietzsche’s idea of the the overman comes in handy when dealing with a world in which suspicions force us to question the objective truth of any information we encounter:

Nietzsche’s figure of the overman comes in handy here, because he is capable of realising himself as such, that is, of living his interpretation of the world without needing to believe that it is “true”. In an age such as ours, where important objective truths have been revealed, but remain ineffective because of the interests of the powerful, it’s necessary to manage this conflict of information in such a way as to become involved without taking sides. But how is this possible, and who can stand this conflict of the will to power?

According to Nietzsche, the capable ones will not be the most violent and objectively powerful, as is often believed, but rather “the most moderate, those who have no need of extreme articles of faith… and who can think of man with a considerable moderation of his value and not therefore become small and weak”. Indeed, the bisheriger Mensch, that is, the human being as he has been until now, will continue to have violent reactions and severe neuroses like dogs that have “for too long been kept on the leash”. In sum, the overman becomes an original interpreter, not for theoretical reasons, as if he found a truer word, but rather for existential ones.

In the end, Zabala believes that the revelations of WikiLeaks by themselves have no power to change anything. However, the reactions that they provoke could potentially “set us free”:

In sum, the effects of Assange’s action turned out to be similar to the goals of various protests that began in Barcelona and spread through the world last year. The protesters’ plan was not simply to expose the truth but rather to point out that it is artificial, manufactured, and oppressive. Truth will not set us free, but its consequences might – if we learn to interpret them without great expectations.

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