Nietzsche and the Marginals, again

10 Apr

Menger, Principles of Economics:

Utility is the capacity of a thing to serve for the satisfaction of human needs…Our needs, at any rate in part, at least as concerns their origins, depend upon our wills or on our habits. (119)

Nietzsche, The Gay Science:

Need.—Need is considered the cause why something came to be; but in truth it is often merely an effect of what has come to be. (§205, p. 207)

For earlier posts on the connections between Nietzsche and marginalism, and the philosophical dimensions of economic things more generally, see this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.

21 Responses to “Nietzsche and the Marginals, again”

  1. edward scott April 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Since we are living we have needs to stay alive. So Nietzsche is correct in this fundamental situation. We came to be and that’s why we have needs.

  2. Scott Preston April 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Whatever has value in our world now does not have value in itself, according to its nature—nature is always value-less, but has been given value at some time, as a present—and it was we who gave and bestowed it. (The Gay Science, §260)

    Here we get to the gist of Nietzsche, really. Life is value-realisation, and value-realisation is the creative act, the act of genesis. The creative act is even the essence of the will to power, if value-realisation, as the essence of will to power, is also the motive force of evolution. And in Nietzsche’s doctrine of will to power, it can hardly be otherwise.

    If you read Nietzsche carefully, you will discover at work his own revaluation of the Judeo-Christian myth — a revaluation or transvaluation (pick your preferred translation of Umwertung) for a post-Christian society. This “will to power” as cosmic principle, involving as it does the creative act as value realisation, is modeled on the Creator’s imperative or commandment “Let there be light!” First instantiation of the “will to power”.

    If life (and evolution) is will to power, in the sense of value-realisation or value-fulfillment, and is therefore highly creative (and not just pro-creative) then Nietzsche’s aesthetic doctrine falls naturally into place. Life is art.

    What Nietzsche objects to in capitalism is its artlessness — his caricature of the ugly capitalist with “his fat little fingers”. Not cupidity, avarice, greed, or “profit motive”, but the joy of creativity and of self-realisation and self-expression should be the hallmark of business. Economy, in other words, transvalued into art (which follows into his comments on buying and selling as art).

  3. Scott Preston April 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    By the way, I’m not sure there is much a great value to be acquired by comparing Nietzsche with “the marginals”. They are pulling in quite contrary directions. The men quoted were trying to drag Nietzsche down into the ignoble mire of economics. Nietzsche, contrariwise, was trying to ennoble economics into art, and even into something less somber than present, and more along the lines of playfulness.

    Where you see comparison, I actually see contrast.

    • Corey Robin April 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

      The comparisons are multiple, and I’ve got a lengthy article coming out in the Nation in early May that demonstrates them. The contrasts are obvious, and familiar. The deeper lines of contact include: a) critiques of objective theories of value; b) similar notions of value creation, with a particular emphasis on aristocratic or nobles modes of value creation; c) a deep dislike and disdain for the mass. While Nietzsche loathed capitalism and capitalists — though not as consistently as you might think; there are passages in Human, All Too Human and elsewhere where he shows some openness to them — the marginals and their successors, particularly Hayek and Schumpeter — will be doing in the economic realm what Nietzsche sought to do in the artistic and political realm. That’s the value of the comparison. Interesting comparisons — of course — are always predicated upon very real differences and contrasts. That’s what makes them interesting.

      • Scott Preston April 10, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

        “…the marginals and their successors, particularly Hayek and Schumpeter — will be doing in the economic realm what Nietzsche sought to do in the artistic and political realm. That’s the value of the comparison.”

        That implies, however, that Hayek and Schumpeter, assuming they were engaging in “applied Nietzscheanism”, understood Nietzsche, could claim to be his spiritual heirs and successors or his true contemporaries, and that they were, in some sense, engaged in an authentic division of labour in which Nietzsche would assault “modern ideas” in politics and culture, while they would outflank “modern ideas” in economics.

        I don’t know Hayek, but I’ve some familiarity with Schumpeter, and I’m pretty sure Schumpeter didn’t understand at all what was Nietzsche’s true objection to “modern ideas”, and that he simply coerced Nietzsche into the very thing he loathed — the framework of “modern ideas”.

        Perhaps Foucault was, to a certain extent, the only one who grasped the meaning of Nietzsche’s antipathy to what he called “modern ideas” and the implicit nihilism lurking therein.

        Frau Thatcher became a disciple of Hayek, and many of the US neo-cons disciples of Schumpeter. Were they, actually, bridges and arrows beyond the nihilism of reductionism, fundamentalism, and quantification of man towards the “transhuman”?

        I don;t think so. The very types Nietzsche warned against.

      • Corey Robin April 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

        “That implies, however, that Hayek and Schumpeter, assuming they were engaging in “applied Nietzscheanism”, understood Nietzsche, could claim to be his spiritual heirs and successors or his true contemporaries, and that they were, in some sense, engaged in an authentic division of labour in which Nietzsche would assault “modern ideas” in politics and culture, while they would outflank “modern ideas” in economics.”

        It implies nothing of the sort. And I don’t really understand much of the rest of what you’re talking about.

        On Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 10:02 PM, Corey Rob

      • Scott Preston April 10, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

        It implies nothing of the sort. And I don’t really understand much of the rest of what you’re talking about

        You’re suggesting discipleship on the part of Hayek and Schumpeter, or else you haven’t made the influential connection between “the marginals” and Nietzsche very clear, or whether it is just part of the “Zeitgeist” or direct philosophical transmission, or whatever. Nietzsche cannot be held responsible for the views of Hayek or Schumpeter because they are antithetical types to Nietzsche’s ultimate concerns. That’s the point. Nietzsche was peering over and beyond the horizon of what we call “modernity” and the modern structure of consciousness, and these men were not.

        Perhaps you are stuck on the meanings Nietzsche gives to “aristocratic” and “noble”. There’s a cure for that. It’s Meister Eckhart’s essay “The Aristocrat” or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Oversoul”. Both essays were well-known to Nietzsche.

      • Corey Robin April 10, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

        “Nietzsche was peering over and beyond the horizon of what we call “modernity” and the modern structure of consciousness, and these men were not.” Says the man who’s never read Hayek. No, I never suggested discipleship. Nor that N is responsible. Seeing at how adept you are at reading me, I’ll forgo the opportunity to take instruction in how to read Nietzsche from you. I’m sure you’ll understand.

        On Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 11:24 PM, Corey Rob

      • Scott Preston April 10, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

        Oh yes. And Nietzsche plagiarised the Sufi mystical poet Rumi shamelessly, particularly in Zarathustra. He just gave it a little twist — part of his programme of “revaluation of values”.

      • Alex K. April 11, 2013 at 2:57 am #

        “The deeper lines of contact include: a) critiques of objective theories of value; b) similar notions of value creation, with a particular emphasis on aristocratic or nobles modes of value creation; c) a deep dislike and disdain for the mass.”

        But (a) sounds like critiques of creationism – of something that’s fundamentally, incurably flawed. I haven’t come across a sound objective theory of value in economics yet. (c) is also near-inevitable considering that Marx wasn’t enamored of the mass “as is” and despised its petty bourgeois component. What remains, it seems to me, is (b) – value creation.

  4. Roquentin April 10, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    I want to get on board with your attempts to tie Nietzsche to the neoliberals, but I feel as though you’re reaching too far, trying too hard to connect the dots. Not to be rude (this is your blog after all), but I think you really want the connection to be theoretical when it was mostly superficial and done to give crass, ruling class ideology a veneer of sophistication. It’s not even that I’m trying to sanitize Nietzsche, to make it seem as though his ideas were harmless, but that the neoliberal take on him missed the mark so badly and understood him so poorly that investigating it is kind of like quizzing a person on a book he pretended to read to impress a friend. What’s the point?

    • Corey Robin April 10, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

      I’m not saying that the neoliberals got their ideas from him or are self-consciously carrying out his project. I’m saying that he diagnosed a problem in the 19th century — the crisis of value, the crisis of aristocratic greatness — that was philosophical, political, and cultural. He had some idea that there might be a political solution to that problem (though he waffles on this). What he definitely did not think was that there could be an economic solution; in fact, he thought economics was part of the problem. The neoliberals, for lack of a better word, are grappling with a similar problem. What makes them interesting is that they think the problem can be resolved through economics. Reading them in tandem with Nietzsche we get a clearer sense of what they were up to — and how the politics they created, which is hierarchical and oligarchic, is not in spite of the theory, but is built into the theory. And that we’ve misunderstood the theory.

      On Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 10:46 PM, Corey Rob

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg April 11, 2013 at 2:58 am #

        This clarifies a lot!

  5. Malcolm Schosha April 11, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    Nietzsche wrote: “Need is considered the cause why something came to be; but in truth it is often merely an effect of what has come to be.”

    By making this argument Nietzsche has violated one of the most basic rules of logical argument, ie that the same term must be used with the same meaning throughout the argument. If there is any shifting in the use of a term the result is a sophism. All he has done is demonstrate that the word “need” can have (at least) two different meanings.

  6. Peter Hovde April 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    I don’t know the context of the N quote, but it seems on its terms compatible with Marx’s statements in German Ideology about humans creating new needs for themselves-I suppose the difference would be that the needs Marx talks about are not presented as being contingent or fashionable, but an inevitable product of human development.

  7. jonbutter2 April 12, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    What makes [the neo/liberals] interesting is that they think the problem can be resolved through economics.

    I think of conceptual vulgarity as something often arrived at via a line-of-least (or lesser)- resistance train of thought. Reading FN along side a neoliberal highlights, to me, how vulgar the neoliberal solution is. The neoliberal solution is an accession to fear, in a sense. [FD: I have not read 'Fear...' by our host and another author, but it's on my list].

    I keep harkening back to your Burke quote from ‘The Sublime and the Beautiful’ describing a scary core of emptiness and ennui at the center of human life. Like the compulsive organizer who has a chaotic inner life, perhaps the neoliberal impulse to rationalize everything with an ‘automatic’ system is equally compensating (for lack of the best word, probably) for what is, in fact, a very irrational, essentially helpless point of view. Human judgement is not to be trusted, as a rule. Let the market decide! It really is, from both intellectual and psychological points of views, a remarkably cheesy way out. At least Nietzsche struggled with it.

    In fact, I think we can make an addition to our CW stock of aphorisms:

    Libertarians Don’t Struggle.

    • jonbutter2 April 12, 2013 at 11:18 am #

      sorry to cite without a source. The Burke quote can be found online in the post called Isn’t it Romantic? Absolutely must-reading if you are hanging around this blog and haven’t yet.

  8. Brian April 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Chapter X of Leviathan, particularly concerning worth, may also be of interest on this theme.

  9. brianshea April 13, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Chapter X of Leviathan may be of interest on this theme.

  10. Andrew April 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    This is fascinating stuff and I look forward to seeing the final product. Just off hand I stumbled upon this in the Wikipedia entry for ‘Right-wing Politics’:

    “According to The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought, the Right has gone through five distinct historical stages: (i) the reactionary right, which sought a return to aristocracy and established religion; (ii) the moderate right, who sought limited government and distrusted intellectuals; (iii) the radical right, who favored a romantic and aggressive nationalism; (iv) the extreme right, who proposed anti-immigration policies and implicit racism; and (v) the neo-liberal right, who sought to combine a belief in a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional Right-wing beliefs in patriotism, élitism, and law and order.[23][24]”

    Part (v) taps into what you are discussing here. The Right found themselves at the mercy of an increasingly liberalized world, with feudalism crumbling under the armies of capitalism, thus they found a sort of odd salvation in the very forces of their own destruction. In each of these instances, the Right mimics the style of the Left then uses it’s tools against it to create new aristocracies.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Idle Rich and the Working Stiff: Nietzche von Hayek on Capital v. Labor | Corey Robin - April 19, 2013

    [...] Nietzsche and the Marginals, again (on the construction of utility) [...]

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