Nietzsche, the Jews, and other obsessions

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I now have a Tumblr, where I post the short and sweet. Some themes seem to be emerging there, so I thought I might share them here.  One has to do with Nietzsche, the other with all things Jewish (Israel, the Holocaust, etc.)

On Nietzsche, I’ve pursued my ongoing obsession with the relationship between his critique of value and the rise of marginal economics, particularly the Austrian School. One of my underlying questions is how does Nietzsche relate to libertarianism (beyond the fact that an inordinate number of adolescents seem to have cut their teeth on both topics simultaneously), a subject I’m writing about now and hope to be publishing in the near future. Here are some of my post:

Nietzsche on the danger of voting rights.

Nietzsche on the labor question.

Nietzsche and the Marginals (not the name of a band)

Nietzsche von Hayek

Even more Nietzsche von Hayek

On Jewishness, lately Israel has been on my mind. For obvious reasons. But I’ve also done a few posts on the Holocaust intellectuals, and mass culture.

Snobbery comes to the death camp

Vienna, gas, and the Jews

Oskar Schindler, Abe Lincoln, and Stephen Spielberg

Brecht in Gaza

Moshe Dayan explains it all for you

There’s more there but that’s for another roundup, another time.


  1. Kathleen Geier November 17, 2012 at 9:50 pm | #

    Corey, have you written about the relationship between Nietzsche and Ayn Rand? There’s a good case to be made that his main influence on American libertarianism flows through her. Though obvs she completely misread him, and also never gave him any credit. It seemed to be a matter of principle to her never to credit anyone. So far as she was concerned, philosophy consisted only of Aristotle — and herself, of course (if you want to dignify her narcissistic kitsch by describing by calling it philosophy, that is).

    • Corey Robin November 17, 2012 at 9:57 pm | #

      There’s a whole chapter on Rand in my book (which I think I sent you, no?), which deals with her relationship to Nietzsche. And her refusal to credit anyone, and her narcissism, and her kitsch.

      • Aaron November 17, 2012 at 10:07 pm | #

        Do you think Rand misread him Corey? The similarity in quotes seem to place him in the Radical Reactionary camp.

  2. Corey Robin November 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm | #

    Aaron: I do think Rand misread him and I do think he’s in the reactionary camp! Like I said above, I’ve got a piece I’m working on now that takes my first crack at his relationship to reaction and neoliberalism.

    • Scott Preston November 18, 2012 at 8:08 am | #

      Much has been made of Nietzsche’s “contradictions”. Nietzsche can be read both as a revolutionary and as a reactionary. He himself attributed his ability to “switch perspectives” (background and foreground perspectives) he attributed to his having one foot in life and one in death. From that arises the perception of Nietzsche as contradictory.

      Did Nietzsche have any “final views”? I don’t really think so. All his writing, it seems to me, is an experiment in the transvaluation of values, an attempt to resolve what he saw as the chiefest problem of the future — nihilism, for “man would rather will nothing than have nothing to will”. His own ‘stare into the abyss’ provided the impetus for his experiments in creative revaluation of values. The “Eternal Return” of Christian themes in his philosophy, reworked, was his attempt to preserve some continuity with the past, while aiming for an as yet unrealised future. But the future “transhuman” is basically a completion of the Christian project for history as godman-making. For the reactionary, though, God is in the past. For the revolutionary, God is in the future.

  3. Cavoyo November 18, 2012 at 12:05 am | #

    What would be more interesting, I think, is an analysis of the relationship between Rand and Marx. Rand seems to me like an upside-down Marxist. Instead of a Labor Theory of Value, Rand supports a sort of Job Creator Theory of Value, where rich people making contracts and transactions is the source of all value. This class is exploited by another parasitic class which controls the government, and the only way the bourgeoisie can liberate itself and achieve a utopian capitalist society is through… the strike!

    Also, Rand’s commented that it was right for Europeans to exterminate primitive peoples so that capitalism can prevail. This reminds me of Marx’s argument that societies at a more advanced stage of development will dominate those at a lower stage, spreading the class relations of the more advanced society.

  4. Scott Preston November 18, 2012 at 7:51 am | #

    I’m not sure that the (mis)appropriation of Nietzsche by the economists (Schumpeter also, with his ‘creative destruction’) should by laid at Nietzsche’s feet. “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)”

    What Nietzsche wants us to do there is recognise our own projections, just as we should recognise God as our own projection — our “flowing out into a God”, as he put it. In Zarathustra, he also puts it this way “fundamentally, we experience only ourselves” — that is, the act of perception is completely autobiographical.

    The economists don’t necessarily want us to become conscious of our projections. If you watched the great BBC documentary by Adam Curtis, Century of the Self, power and the “hegemonic ideology” (Chomsky) relies on our remaining ignorant of our projections, otherwise there could be no basis for “perception management”. Nietzsche’s ideal is “the free spirit” — one that has woken up. Although Nietzsche is sometimes accused of narcissism for his views, like ‘fundamentally we experience only ourselves’, that’s self-realisation, not narcissism. Narcissus never knew that the image in the reflecting pool was his own, and thus he remained trapped by it — trapped in his own projections.

    In other respects, what Nietzsche is saying above is not different from the Buddhist realisation of “the empty mirror” and the doctrine of anatman — no-self. Nothing has self-nature, everything is empty of self-nature. The world is kind of tabula rasa for creative value projection, realisation, and fulfillment. Nietzsche’s understanding of ‘value’ doesn’t exactly correspond to the economistic one.

    • Scott Preston November 18, 2012 at 8:29 am | #

      Might add to the above, that I think Nietzsche would hold the attempt to completely economise or marketise the notion of “value” as an example of the very nihilism he was trying to avoid — “all higher values devalue themselves”. And what is that but Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic as one “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”?

      • Aaron November 18, 2012 at 10:23 am | #

        Scott, your reading is the Nietzsche I want Nietzsche to be. At his best, I think we was writing a call for living a creative life that isn’t bound by limitations imposed by others. And I don’t hold it against him that he didn’t have a final word. That said, he does often times seems to be arguing for an aristocratic order that does strike me as reactionary. Also, though I think he was a much greater talent than Rand, there is a grandiosity in his work that I don’t see as much different than hers. I don’t know that he wanted anything much different than what Rand was after; a group of followers who he felt really “got” him. His expectation that there would be a Chair of Zarathustra Studies really shows how important he viewed himself (I personally don’t think he was being ironic in that statement).

        There’s a temptation for me to just choose to not read Nietzsche politically. I think history gave him a pass; he spoke out a bit against German nationalism in his time, but that was before Hitler. Maybe he would have denounced him, had they been contemporaries. Or maybe he would have been in a situation similar to Heidegger’s. Either way, he would have had to had some interaction with his political environment. Nietzsche seems almost naive in thinking that he (or his Übermensch) would be able to completely rise above the social world we all inhabit.

      • Scott Preston November 18, 2012 at 10:54 am | #

        That said, he does often times seems to be arguing for an aristocratic order that does strike me as reactionary.

        Aaron… lots to comment on in your reply, but it couldn’t be accommodated in this format. Although Nietzsche declared himself to be ‘anti-political’, he often seems to lapse into political ruminations of a kind I find deplorable. In a sense, he betrays himself there.

        His model of politics appears to be the “exquisite” chivalric (knightly) model, to be sure, and his “aristocratic radicalism” may be connected with that. But this is not how I read this, primarily. I said earlier that I find Nietzsche’s “aristocratic radicalism” not much different from William Blake’s “spiritual radicalism”. And if I can be said to be a follower of anyone, it would be William Blake.

        We know, for example, that Nietzsche paid careful attention to Emerson, and particularly Emerson’s essay “The Oversoul”. The Oversoul corresponds to Meister Eckhart’s essay “The Aristocrat”, and that is where I believe Nietzsche finally gets his notion of the “aristocratic”. It seems to me hardly likely that Nietzsche did not know Meister Eckhart or this essay, as every German intellectual seems to have known Eckhart’s writings.

        This “oversoul” does appear in Zarathustra. It is Nietzsche’s overself. It is the realisation of this overself that is implied in Nietzsche’s formula “Become what you are!” and which is his basis for anticipating the realisation of the transhuman or overman — the fully realised, fully actualised human being. Those who interpret Nietzsche as “self-aggrandising” have really missed the point, as it contradicts Nietzsche’s contempt for “egoism”. In this, he is not much different from Blake for whom “the Selfhood” was a false construct, but for whom “the Poetic Genius” was “the true man”. This is also the Nietzschean overself, and I’m pretty certain is the source of Nietzsche’s understanding of nobility and of the aristocratic. In other words, Nietzsche has “revalued” the meaning of aristocratic itself, and I don’t think it has much to do with the political notions derived from the ancien regime.

      • Scott Preston November 18, 2012 at 11:17 am | #

        Aaron… I might add a peculiar historical fact to the foregoing comment. Meister Eckhart eventually faced the Inquisition for his views, as his writings had inspired a dissident, heretical group called “The Brethren of the Free Spirit”, who felt themselves to be emancipated from all moral systems (in that, they resembled some Sufi sects). Much of this appears to have been delusional, but it certainly inspired the ire of the Church authorities. I’m not sure if we really have a factual historical record of what the Brethren of the Free Spirit were actually about. But there are curious parallels here.

      • Aaron November 18, 2012 at 5:55 pm | #

        Hi Scott,

        I guess we are veering off a bit (Corey’s house after all), though I do appreciate your thoughts. Again, your description is the Nietzsche I want Nietzsche to be. Like you, I don’t like his politics at all, but there’s a lot in his writings that I take to be meaningful. His reactionary writing is nothing unique that is unique to him either. And for as much as I don’t like his political views, at least he didn’t shove an old lady down the steps, like Schopenhauer. I guess that as I get older, I get more and more cautious about his Romanticism. It just seems to be the type of thing that can lead folks astray. I mentioned Heidegger previously, but maybe a closer example would be Ezra Pound. A very sophisticated writer, and helped, I believe, to really develop literature in the twentieth century. But his politics will always cast all of that in a bad light, for me.

        It seems like he’s given up on the project, but Christopher Locke has a running blog called Mystic Bourgeoisie that was for a time delving into the metaphysics and romanticism going on in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century. What sounded like fun, hippie-like activities morphed into things that were monstrous. You certainly can’t lay all of that on the feet of Nietzsche. But I do wonder what parts of that larger movement of German Romanticism ultimately led people into some very dark places.

        Again, this isn’t something that is unique to Nietzsche, nor is it something that he necessarily succumbed to. It’s just that he seems to be a writer who could have fallen victim where others ultimately failed as well. I do think its noble to see past our own projections. But once that has occurred, there is a world out there with other human beings, and ultimately how we live with them does tell something about our character.

      • Bill November 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm | #

        Schopenhauer was a reactionary in his own right. During the 1848 uprisings he allowed Prussian soldiers to shoot rioting students from his apartment window, and even lent them his opera glasses to give them a better view. He then awarded them a tidy sum in his will.

      • Bill November 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm | #

        A disproportionate number of talented writers and philosophers had reactionary politics. I think George Steiner once said, commenting on the fascist writer Lucien Rebatet, “That Kafkaesque injustice: why did God give so much talent to the Right?”

      • Scott Preston November 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm | #

        Hi Aaron. I simply take from Nietzsche what is useful, and leave the rest as belonging to his frequent attacks of morbidity. Nietzsche knew himself as a decadent, yet also as the opposite of a decadent. And decadence is the conservative disease — its form of nihilism. Decadence attacks the future; revolution attacks the past. A man who is 100% reactionary is similar to the man who is 100% revolutionist — both are nihilists. At the extremity of action, opposites meet and become indistinguishable.

      • Scott Preston November 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm | #

        Come to think of it, I tend to apply Nietzsche’s own aesthetic values on Nietzsche, too. If it’s ugly, it can’t be true. And much in Nietzsche either is ugly, or approaches it. If Nietzsche’s own value criteria in the presence of the ugly was to turn his face away… well then, what’s gravy for the goose is gravy for the gander. I reject much of it because it’s ugly.

  5. Daniel Rosenberg November 18, 2012 at 10:17 am | #

    It’s fair to assume Hayek wasn’t influenced by Nietzsche directly, but probably through Weber and German sociology that was heavily influenced by Nietzschean Wertrelativismus. The Methodenstreit is an important link in this intellectual chain:

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