Sunday, May 07, 2006

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 - 1900)

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a big influence on the neoconservatives, through Leo Strauss. His philosophy is associated with socialism and fascism. I found him a little hard to figure out, as he seemed to change his mind. Of course, like all of us, he changed as he discovered new ideas (1).

Nietzsche, as did Machiavelli, believed in two types of people, the rulers and the ruled (2). The rulers are an elite while the ruled are characterized by passivity. Also in common with Machiavelli are his anti-Christianity, anti-democracy, anti-classical liberalism, his subordination of morality to politics, and his need for enemies. Dombowski also says they were anti-socialist. Rather confusing. Well, we'll see.

In fact, Nietzsche was a Machiavelli disciple. There is a lot of disagreement about him, so I am not the only one who is confused. Was he an individualist who favored freedom? Or an authoritarian who favored hierarchy and big government? Dombowski seems to think the latter.

But, before going on with Dombowski, let us look at some of Nietzsche's own work (3). In Beyond, the chapters are divided into numbered segments. Segments continued numbering throughout, not starting with 1 every chapter.

There is a "master morality" and a "slave morality" (4). Sometimes both are found in the same person. The dominating (master morality) person determines what is "good." He is truthful (?) and regards the others as liars. He "creates values." He helps the less fortunate, not out of charity but because he has the power. (Doesn't this sound like the neoconservative?) Also, there is great respect for the old, not because old is tried-and-proven or because older people have lived longer and therefore know more, but solely (as I could gather, but I am not positive) because it is old. New, progressive, and young ideas are scorned. His friendship is with his own kind, and the "friend and enemy" are needed, i.e. there is the need to have an enemy to oppose (5).

The "slave morality" is the morality of utility. To the "master" it is the good that inspires fear; to the "slave" this good is evil.

Nietzsche believed in the need to obey something (6). A set of principles? A belief system? Could it be that this leads to the neoconservative (Straussian/Machiavellian) idea that, because the common people need this, it is up to the leaders to "give" them a belief system?

Nietzsche believed that the "aristocratic" class started out as a "barbarian" class and worked its way up by "throwing itself on weaker people." (7) He does not specify how. By force? Or by hard work the way one would do in a free market?

Also, religion can bind the ruler with the ruled (8). It brings a calm (or maybe gives a human face) to the dirty part of government. Religion also prepares those who are to command in the future. It overcomes resistance on the part of the common people by teaching them to be content with their station and make the best of their situation without trying to change it.

According to Dombowski’s interpretation, Nietzsche was anti-egalitarian. This was in the wrong sense as opposed to Murray Rothbard's anti-egalitarianism (9). Rothbard was acknowledging that no two people are the same, therefore we are unequal. Nietzsche was authoritarian and believed that the masses should be ruled by an elite. He was anti-Christian, too, as was Machiavelli, according to Strauss, because it was the Christians, especially Jesuits and Calvinists, who first advocated the right to rise against tyranny. I am neither a Catholic nor a Calvinist, but the right to rebel against evil is part and parcel of my Christian faith, as I believe that rights are given by God directly to individuals.

Nietzsche, though, favored a command-and-obedience structure for a society as a condition of continuing the society. Everyone either commands or obeys, and there is no such animal as "neither," so that leaves the libertarian out.

Sounds like "command and control," even "shock and awe" to me.

Nietzsche was opposed to "modernity" (Strauss revisited), though Rothbard seemed to think modernity was a move toward liberating the individual from the all-powerful state (10).

Nietzsche had quite a following on the Left which Dombowski had trouble figuring out. More recently, I remember hob-nobbing with "New Left" types in Westwood Village (West Los Angeles, near UCLA, where I was an outside agitator) circa 1970-1972 while spreading the word of individual liberty among disenchanted age-peers and teens, and Nietzsche's name was bandied around quite a bit. At the time I did not know Friedrich Nietzsche from the Hari Krishnas who jangled those bell-things and chanted 24/7 (or so it seemed) across the street from our libertarian group's headquarters.

Nietzsche's appeal to the New Left seems to be based on a perceived aspect of his philosophy, that is of "tolerance," "diversity," etc. (11) that the Left today is always talking about although, according to dictionary definitions of these, I find a lack of tolerance or diversity in the Left.

Actually, there are so many writings by Nietzsche (there are about 90 listings in the nearby university library, although I did not see how many of these were multiple listings of the same book), and they say so many different things that I have to think that he was not sure of his own politics. However, one thing is for sure: He was no libertarian! That can be seen in many authoritarian passages such as the ones pointed out.

According to Dombowski (12), the leftist interpretation of Nietzsche is based on "perspectivism," which I gather in context means a belief in lack of hierarchy and egalitarianism. Whether this means simply equality under the law as libertarians advocate or if it means equal distribution of socialized wealth, as leftists seem to want, is something I cannot tell. It also seems to include relativism, or the inane idea that whatever you believe is true "for you," ignoring the real truth.

Maybe his perspectivism and his authoritarianism are not in as much conflict as we might think. Kind of like Strauss, who thought that the masses are not up to the truth and the authorities need to make up a belief system for them, Nietzsche seems to think that there is no absolute truth (or else a lot of "truths," so pick one you like), so the authorities must think up, or choose, a belief system for the people. Of course, authoritarian regimes will not admit to this. They always will claim to be based on something real.

So, perspectivism is not hard to reconcile with Nietzsche's authoritarianism. All I can say is, the Left has not thought it through. Possibly the neoconservatives have done a better job. I could have been wrong in my appraisal of the left as being more sophisticated than the neoconservatives. The rank and file in both camps seem to be following their leaders, who might be much more sophisticated and are in it for their own self-aggrandizement.

And, who knows? Could it be that the leaderships are working together for the same authoritarian, centralist goals in an attempt to become world rulers (elite?)? Could it be that the libertarians and constitutionalists are the only ones who are not buying into it? When you consider the lineage of neoconservatism, this does look likely.

And, in the mind of Nietzsche (13), if a person has "power," it means "power over." There is no way, as previously seen, to be neither dominant nor dominated. One must be one or the other. For example, right now, we have a situation, as I pointed out in the Kristol segment, where there are government people (first class or dominant) and non-government people (second class or dominated) who do what the former tell them to do.

Before we leave Nietzsche, there is another book on him that was fascinating (14). Marx, Nietzsche and Modernity, by Nancy Love, says both Karl Marx and Nietzsche thought man is not much more than an animal (15). They wondered how the society of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy and capitalism (real capitalism rather than the mercantilism so many call "capitalism" today) arose. To the extent that they did arise, that is, since in my opinion they only partially came to fruition thanks to stonewalling on the part of both of these people and their followers.

Well, at least they were questioning. Why do people create particular societies under particular circumstances? The libertarian answer is, of course, because it is in individuals' self-interests to cooperate with others for mutual benefit. An Austrian economist (meaning one who is a follower of the Ludwig von Mises school [16] regardless of nationality) will cite Crusoe Economics (17) to illustrate how societies develop. But Nietzsche and Marx are clearly not on that page.

They claim that social structures arise because of man's "power." What kind of power? (Remember what I pointed out earlier regarding what Nietzsche said about power.) Would it be the power of the individual's will? Guess not.

Marx says (18) that the individual enters into relations independently of his will. These relations depend on economic production, i.e., whatever the production engaged in at any particular time requires. This means that the process of production controls man, rather than the other way around. It looks very much as though Marx does not believe in a free will, or at least not a very strong free will. I have to wonder, if that is the case, how does production begin?

Nietzsche is not that straightforward. As I said before, maybe he was not so sure of his own political philosophy. His link to the National Socialists (Nazis) was tenuous at best (19), although it is not ruled out, either. It is questionable to what the power is directed in the "will to power." Again, is this the economic power of the individual to make his life better, or is this the power to rule over others? We saw in Beyond Good and Evil that the rule over others might be the answer.

Both Marx and Nietzsche seem to miss the important aspect of the individual free will or strong will. They both seem to think that communal goals are chosen by who is dominant. This gives rise, I think, to the two-tiered society of the dominant minority who give the orders and the submissive majority who obey them (also to wealth gravitating to the hands of the few and away from the hands of the many, which the Left is always complaining about), like our present neoconservative state of affairs where the government people are deemed better than the regular private sector people (and wealth gravitates to government/big-business interests, away from private interests).

They both believe that morality, i.e., the difference between right and wrong, varies according to the society. What follows is the idea that there are no absolute truths, and hence no absolute individual rights, as these are dictated by "society" (read government).

I remember many years ago, early in both the New Left and libertarian movements, about the time Nietzsche's name started coming up, I had a conversation with a passionate New Leftist about rights. He talked loudly enough for his voice to echo the length of the long hallway, even though my ears were very sharp, as this was before umpteen-thousand rock concerts by some of the world's loudest bands. (They still are pretty good, by the grace of God.) I was too young to have had time to study economics and had only read a couple Ayn Rand books. I told him that rights are natural or God-given and accrue to the individual. My studies since have proven this. They must be, or how could we do anything? No! He retorted, Society gives you your rights! Society! So, I said, who or what is this "society?" Why, everyone, he said. I asked if this "everyone" included me. Of course, he said. (Well, at least he didn't say I would have to wait until I was twenty-one, so he was a hair's breadth ahead of the establishment in this regard.) So, with that, I announced in that case I could take away his right to have sex. I think maybe in my sophomoric youth I got my point across. Even an airhead like him can understand individual rights in the area of sex.

If "society" or the government can amend or take your rights, or make you get a permit to use a right, then they are not rights at all, but privileges.

My friend could have said that I could not take his right away all by myself. Obviously I could not, especially in their egalitarian la-la land. There would have to be a vote, but since it would be impossible to vote on every issue, representatives would have to be elected to make the decisions on rights and privileges, and who would administer the system. So, we are back where we started: One class gives orders and the other class obeys them.

Both of them wanted to make the world over after Christianity and humanism have lost their power. Christianity emphasizes the individual. So does humanism, from what I know of it, and that is at the bottom of what they thought was wrong.

There were some very large differences between Marx and Nietzsche, but like the differences between socialism and neoconservatism, they are only in the details. The collective is favored over the individual, and some people have the special privilege to rule over others. Author Nancy Love believes that the two sets of ideas are mutually exclusive, and she might be right, even though both are collectivist. There are many kinds of collectivism. They are all anti-individual, and this is why they are all collectivist.

Chapter Two of Love's book is very fascinating, not only because it shows the common ground between Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, but because it is a stark reminder of something I happened across recently on the Internet. Some of the evangelical Christians (I am a Christian myself, but not of this type) are called "dominionists," although they do not call themselves that. They take an important verse in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:26) that states man shall have "dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every thing that creeps upon the earth." (20)

Many Christians, including me, interpret this to mean that human beings shall rule over the earth itself and other life forms, meaning we make decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. Each person makes unilateral decisions about what is his, and takes responsibility for those decisions. In some cultures, land is commonly owned, so their society as a whole makes decisions through tribal councils, etc. I believe this is the correct interpretation as we humans are the only life form on the planet that has the mental capacity to make decisions and take responsibility. I don't think anyone of any faith or no faith at all would have a problem with that.

However, this core of evangelicals called dominionists, who are the movers and shakers in the neoconservative school, interpret this scripture differently. They believe that man's dominion does not stop at other-than-human entities. They believe that it is saying that man shall have dominion over other men (this is, of course "man" in the generic sense; i.e., some people rule over other people). Some rule, others obey.

The main thing in Chapter Two is that Nietzsche and Marx are connected philosophically, through Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose name has come up time and again in my readings. They had similar agreements and disagreements with Hegel. They certainly agree with him on one thing, that the individual exists for society, not the other way around, even though Nietzsche says differently (21). He says the herd exists for the individual, but other words betray a different opinion, or at least to my libertarian eyes they do.

But, this is really Monday morning quarterbacking. We know exactly where Marx stood. He was a dominating person who thought he knew it all (22). And, by the way, most of what Marx called for in the Communist Manifesto has been at least partially implemented in this country which the neoconservatives now accept as a given or even natural law, but we do not really know where Nietzsche stood. He seemed ambivalent, even indecisive. We have his works to study, which indicate a wide authoritarian streak, but in the absence of Nietsche himself, we find him hard to figure out.

The two of them (Marx and Nietzsche) remind me of the Left and the neoconservatives, respectively. The former favors big, powerful government running the whole show on behalf of "society" with the individual but a cog in the machine. The latter gives lip service to the individual and his rights, but sets parameters to this which government has the power to unilaterally change, so at the end of the day the government runs the whole show, albeit more subtly.

As a recap of Nietzsche: He believed in two kinds of people, the rulers and the ruled. There is command and obedience. The ruler is whoever is strong enough to take over the state. The form of government does not matter. What matters is the durability of the government. The ruler decides who has what rights. He gives himself rights, such as the right to spy. (Is that familiar?) He keeps the ruled in line by religion or myth. The content of what they believe does not matter as long as they believe in something that tells them not to disobey. Lying by the ruler is part and parcel. Without government nothing would happen. People will not do anything unless they are led. That is, the ruled will not do anything; ambition belongs to the rulers.

All of this should have a very familiar ring to it.

Morality is considered less important than political practice (23) to Nietzsche and Machiavelli, which hits the nail on the head as far as the neoconservatives are concerned.

Machiavelli had great influence on Nietzsche. They compare very well (24) and are in stark contrast to the Christian view of morality and the libertarian view of government and politics. Nietzsche took a page (a lot of pages) out of Machiavelli's The Prince in its authoritarian passages. For our purposes, The Prince is the only thing that makes Machiavelli important to neoconservatism, as that is the one work Leo Strauss studied.

(1) I made use of Dombowski, Don, Nietzsche's Machiavellian Politics, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2004.

(2) Ibid. P. 4.

(3) Nietzsche, F.W., Beyond Good and Evil, Horstmann, Rolf-Peter, editor, and Judith Norman, editor and translator, Cambridge University Press, 2002 was used.

(4) Ibid. Segment 260, P. 153-156.

(5) Notice how this friend/foe theme keeps coming up.

(6) Nietzsche, Segment 188 P. 77-79.

(7) Ibid. Segment 267 P. 151-152.

(8) Ibid. Segment 61 P. 54-55.

(9) See the title essay in Rothbard, Murray, Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn (Ala.), 2000.

(10) Rothbard, Murray, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, New York 1998, P. 21.

(11) Dombowski P. 67.

(12) Ibid. P. 82.

(13) Ibid. P. 85.

(14) Love, Nancy, Marx, Nietzsche and Modernity, Columbia University Press, New York, 1986.

(15) Ibid. P. 5.

(16) See the Ludwig von Mises Institute at http://www.mises.org .

(17) Rothbard, Murray, Man, Economy and State with Power and Market, Scholar's Edition, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn (Ala.), 2004, P. 47 - 56 and beyond, also other places in this book, which has always been regarded as a "must read" for every libertarian.

(18) Love, P. 7.

(19) Ibid. P. 8 - 9.

(20) The New Revised Standard Version.

(21) Love, P. 65.

(22) Marx Karl, The Communist Manifesto, Translated by Samuel Moore, Henry Regnery Co., Chicago,1969, P. 55-56.

(23) Dombowski P. 133.

(24) Ibid. P. 135.

7 comments:

sdfjkln said...

Alot of times you say "We don't know where Nietzche stands politically", that's because he didn't talk about politics he never intended for his ideas to become footholds or beliefs for politics. This quote is rather disturbing "Morality is considered less important than political practice (23) to Nietzsche and Machiavelli" considering Nietzche never said anything near that, and like I said before he wasn't intrested in politics nor did he write about them. The closet political idea I can relate to Nietzche's ideas is "Radical Individualism". I suggest you read some of Nietzche's books for yourself and form your own opinion rather than relying on the opinions of other people who obviously are politically minded so they are going to see politics in his works regardless.

sdfjkln said...

Heres a link that dicusses Nietzches lack of a political philosophy in greater detail. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche-moral-political/#4

Alice Lillie said...

Thanks. You are right in that one must find out for oneself. But, alas, there is rarely time to do as thorough a job as you are suggesting.

Maybe in Heaven there will be more time for stuff like that!!

Meanwhile, we do the best we can with what we have, and a lot of times what we have is the writings of others. That's what they're for.

Thanks for taking *your* valuable time to read my blog!

Alice

Anonymous said...

a person can not judge ones point with out lose ones part of hime or her self.

philosophy is not judge or learn
IS to discover who you are to step a stage of beginning of being

thank you for your time

by NICHI is my chinese name not copy; good lucky be careful with your heart and mind they are your down full.....

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with your analysis. Maybe it's may personal biases that lead me to this conclusion, but Nietzsches ideas seem quite similar to Objectivists! (or the other way around, if you want to be chronological). The negative attitudes of Objectivists towards Nietzsche are irrelevant... John Galt is the Uebermensch!

Anyway, Nietzsche does indeed divide people in two groups... However, there is another parallel - with anarcho-capitalists! (Yea, I know, sounds preposterous, right...?). However, anarcho-capitalists realize that an anarchistic society (or natural order) would always produce an aristocracy. A "natural" aristocracy that is - Nietzschean Supermen.

Anonymous said...

It seems you do not understand Marx nor Nietzsche very well. I'd recommend reading THEIR writings and not filtered views of scholars of various backgrounds. Also, I recommend you checking out the translations by Walter Kaufmann for Nietzsche's works...his translations are "the first ever to be made in English by a philosopher". Granted, something is always lost in translation, and seeing how these two thinkers wrote in German it will always be a little less than what the authors truly meant. We sadly always have to rely on some outside source to interpret their writings.

Optimate said...

Nietzsche political views were anti-socialist (especially egalitarian socialism) and he would have despised fascism because it makes the state into a folk-soul of the masses. He would view fascism as herdism. Those who think that he never expressed political views either haven't read enough of his work or they are dishonest and pretentious. Nietzsche political views were anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic, counter-revolutionary, authoritarian and aristocratic. He valued liberty but only in the Roman sense of the term. He despised the liberal concept of liberty because it is, above all, a Christian conception of liberty.