Whispered to the conservatives. — What was not known formerly, what is known, or might be known, today: a reversion, a return in any sense or degree is simply not possible. We physiologists know that. Yet all priests and moralists have believed the opposite — they wanted to take mankind back, to screw it back, to a former measure of virtue. Morality was always a bed of Procrustes. Even the politicians have aped the preachers of virtue at this point: today too there are still parties whose dream it is that all things might walk backwards like crabs. But no one is free to be a crab. Nothing avails: one must go forward — step by step further into decadence (that is my definition of modern "progress"). One can check this development and thus dam up degeneration, gather it and make it more vehement and sudden: one can do no more.
—Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, "Skirmishes of an Untimely Man," section #43
One must be careful interpreting Nietzsche's understanding of the idea of degeneration. For instance, he was always railing against "all priests and moralists," and here he is saying that their attempts are attempts to reverse or at best dam up degeneration. He is still railing against them—while holding a negative opinion of degeneration and decadence.
Nonetheless, one can find in the above description something quite familiar, contemporary, to America's conservative movement, particularly to the Tea Party movement—and especially to the social conservative movement in America.
There are those who ask what the Tea Party hopes to accomplish, given their small numbers overall in the Senate and House of Representatives and given so many recent polls showing how America has "moved on" on so many social issues by increasing majorities. True, some of those polls may well be exaggerated; but also true, many in that ultra-conservative wing of the GOP overestimate the support they can find in the electorate; and onlookers ask, "Why?" Why do they do what they do, standing stalwart against the tide of change as if they are the 300 fighting off Persian hordes?
Maybe they are trying to "check this development and thus dam up degeneration."
My own impression is that the attempt to dam up that forward movement is a time-buying maneuver, as if to buy time for either 1) changing, ultimately, the majority opinions (they hope), or 2) changing the political structure, in the form of state legislatures and courts perhaps, even changing laws by minute adjustments if necessary, so that the structural environment becomes more amenable for some future victory (they hope.)
But Nietzsche also said that this approach, the best they might accomplish, would be in vain. Damming up "progress" would ultimately "make it more vehement and sudden" when it came.
I would note that Nietzsche had many negative words for liberalism and liberal institutions; although not expressed directly in the above section of Twilight of the Idols, the section does allude backward and forward to those criticisms.
Maybe in a future blog post I'll try to develop a broader consideration of today's conservative and liberal movements in America, and their future history, vs. Nietzsche's philosophy.