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I Hate Nietzsche

"In the question “Marx or Nietzsche?” Marx stands for the theoretical revolution represented by the dialectics and the historical outlook of the new materialism, for the theoretical revolution that was initiated before and without Nietzsche." (Andras Gedo, Why Marx or Nietzsche)

An obsession with Friedrich Nietzsche is so common amongst first year philosophy students and people who do not study philosophy that it has become cliched. Those who first encounter Nietzsche are so impressed by his literary style that they immediately assume that everything written by this philosopher is profound. Sometimes I discover passages in novels where a character who is supposed to be clever/smart is demonstrated as clever/smart because he has Nietzsche books sitting on his shelf (most recently I discovered this convention in Melissa Marr's YA novel, "Wicked Lovely"): wow, he reads Nietzsche - he must be brilliant.

And yet, if we can speak of a coherent "Nietzscheanism" (because some proponents of Nietzsche, as I will discuss below, don't think there's such a thing) it is not very brilliant.
The isolated individual, the product of bougeois ideology, is foundational to Nietzsche's thought. All of his moments of reactionary babble that are explained away by Nietzscheans as "distortions" or "social errors" that are not necessary to understanding his thought, are based on the uncritical belief that the "masses" are slavish and the solution is to distinguish oneself from these masses. Oh for the good old days before Socrates and his ilk, or later Christianity, allowed the masses' weaknesses to dominate those strong individuals who once controlled society. This is the man who poured scorn on the Paris Commune for being an example of "herd mentality". Not only does his philosophy project the bourgeois ideology of what it means to be human backwards unto society (the same projection performed by the first bourgeois political economists and criticized by Marx), but it is completely ahistorical and idealist.

I can understand why right-wing libertarians love Nietzsche. Really, Ayn Rand is just a banal example of applied Nietzscheanism. But the left? Attempts to reconcile Nietzsche with Marx, or create some sort of "anarcho-progressive Nietzsche" have led to some of the stupidest and idealist marxisms in academia. And why bother anyhow? Why this desire to make use of Nietzsche?

Typical replies:
1. You can't say Nietzsche is a proto-objectivist (a la Ayn Rand) because that's reading Ayn Rand into Nietzche... Fair enough, but then what is Nietzsche's philosophy.
2. Well, he doesn't have a coherent philosophy. That was against his method (no, seriously, they do argue this)... First of all, I would argue that this is a lazy way of reading Nietzsche. Secondly, I would argue that if he can't be read coherently, if he possesses no coherent thought and is all over the place, then he is not a philosopher. If there is nothing "Nietzschean" in Nietzsche's philosophy, then why bother reading him in the first place?
3. But he's concerned with "antiphilosophy" with critiquing Enlightenment Thought... The only way to properly critique the Enlightenment, though, is to do it coherently. Moreover, the very act of critiquing Enlightenment requires the critical tools of the Enlightenment and thus requires dialectical thinking. (Wait a minute, who did that... oh yes, Marx and Engels!)

The arguments go on and on. Really, philosophers who study Nietzsche are one thing, but leftists who try to appropriate Nietzsche are quite another. And I would ask what in Nietzsche has or can contribute to revolutionary praxis - that is the properly left question. Or in Marx's words "philosophy has only interpreted the world, the point is to change it."
There is nothing in Nietzsche that does this, despite attempts to make him say so. And even these attempts (attempts made by thinkers like Deleuze) really contribute nothing to leftist theory. I might agree that the Nietzscheanism that influences Foucault is, with serious qualifications, useful for progressive politics, but not Nietzche himself. Either there is the coherent Nietzsche who is merely writing flowery odes to bourgeois ideology or the incoherent Nietzsche who is spouting polemical prose that pretends to be philosophy. The very fact that Nietzsche lived after Marx in what is now Germany--and yet did not engage with Marx (or Hegel for that matter)--demonstrates his lack of rigor as a philosopher.

" can we maintain of Nietzsche that his whole life’s work was a continuous polemic against Marxism and socialism, when it is perfectly clear that he never read a single line of Marx and Engels? We believe that the claim is still feasible, for the reason that every philosophy’s content and method are determined by the class struggles of its age. Although philosophers — like scholars, artists and other ideologists — may more or less fail to recognize it and some times remain totally unaware of it, this conditioning of their attitude to so-called ‘ultimate questions’ takes effect notwithstanding. What Engels said of the lawyers is valid in an even acuter sense for philosophy: ‘The reflecting of economic conditions in legal principles operates without impinging on the awareness of the agents, and the lawyer imagines that he is operating with a priori theses, whereas they are simply economic reflexes ...’ Hence each ideology is consciously attached to ‘a specific intellectual fabric which has been transmitted by its predecessors’. But this does not alter the fact that the selection of these traditional strands, one’s attitude towards them and method of treating them, the results obtained from a critique of them, etc., are, in the final reckoning, determined by economic conditions and the class struggles to which they give rise. Philosophers know instinctively what is theirs to defend, and where the enemy lurks. Instinctively sensing the ‘dangerous’ tendencies of their age, they try to combat them philosophically." (Georg Lukacs, The Destruction of Reason)


  1. Your reasons for not liking Nietzsche don't really make sense to me (forgive the irony). You obviously belong to the group of individuals who value logic when you quote Marx with "philosophy has only interpreted the world, the point is to change it." Nietzsche's philosophy is intended to expose how logic is illogical in its essence. So how can you expect anything to be "coherent" from a philosopher, where the word coherent means to be logical by definition? For Nietzsche to say at all what the world "should" look like, would contradict the whole point of his entire life's work. What authority are you to say the only way to critique the Enlightenment is to coherently do so? Nietzsche's point was that we are beings of value-creation in a seemingly pointless world, and that includes your precious logic.

  2. Considering that this entry was meant to be semi-funny, it really wasn't an in-depth rejection of Nietzsche. I would still argue, however, that if you are going to claim that Nietzsche's philosophy was essentially incoherent (and actually I disagree here, and think this is the easiest dodge), then what's the point of even accepting him as a philosopher because, at the end of the day, you can make him be anything you want him to be. Neitzsche does have a project, and it is ultimately reactionary. As for my precious logic... Well why bother arguing for Nietzsche if you're going to reject logical discourse?

  3. Nietzsche didn't do political philosophy in quite the way you imagine him to; he constantly expresses the belief that culture is more important than politics. Nietzsche criticises democracy, socialism and feminism from the perspective of a psychologist-philosopher and aesthetic-philosopher rather than from the perspective of a political philosopher, so to call him reactionary rather misses the point.
    There are of course many things about Nietzsche's philosophy that are deeply disturbing to most people (including myself). Nietzsche takes morality and shows it has a non-moral basis. He takes rationality and shows it has an irrational basis. Most importantly, he takes the metaphysics and shows that its origins are firmly rooted in this world. This philosophy leads us to the understanding that there is no objective morality; this is a hugely disturbing and nihilistic. I believe this is why many people reject Nietzsche as they find his philosophy too iconoclastic. However, Nietzsche believes that the way out of this nihilism is to 'overcome oneself,' and to reject traditional morality that values compassion.

    Yes, yes it is a violent and disturbing philosophy, but that doesn't make it any less interesting and it doesn't mean can't study his work or method of reasoning. I don't agree with everything Nietzsche wrote, but no one can deny that his ideas are incredibly important and influential. This page does contain a single attempt at refuting Nietzsche's work and you seem to think that if something contradicts Marxism then it must be wrong.

  4. Considering that this was a semi-humorous rant (as I've emphasized above) that started off this blog just for a test, then it should be taken in that spirit. I also wrote another and more involved piece on Nietzsche that explains my reasons for rejecting Nietzsche.

    Your comment in the second paragraph I pretty much eluded to in saying why I bought the Frankfurt School's analysis. Nor am I trying to say he's a "political philosopher" in the way you imagine. Since I believe all philosophy is class based and represents a politics, he's doing politics whether he wants to admit it or not... and his philosophy is not "iconoclastic" as he so imagines but a reflection of a very specific bourgeois way of thinking. Again: there is a reason he thought the Paris Commune was an expression of slave morality.

    I find him interesting enough to teach as an academic and, when I do, I teach him in a less dismissive away, but the point of this entry, which you seemed to miss, is to complain about those marxists who think Nietzsche adds to the marxist project: and this is where the point of politics becomes important because I believe the two cannot be awkwardly bound together. My reasons for refuting Nietzsche in general have to do with my political practice, but this entry's thesis is that Nietzsche and Marx do not belong together and *that* was what I was arguing about. I was not, as you seem to think, focusing on any serious attempt to refute Nietzsche: the refutation concerned a Nietzschean-Marxism, or a Nietzschean leftism.

  5. Hey, maybe if nobody gets that your rant is "semi-humorous," maybe you skimped on the humour.

    The idea that any serious thinker posits a "Nietzschean Marxism/leftism" is probably the only funny part of your post. Nietzsche's writing is entirely centered on the personal journey to overcome nihilism and despondency through fantasized accounts of his own journey toward self-actualization. Your sneering at "people who do not study philosophy" is disgusting and more reactionary than any polemic against pity that Nietzsche has ever written. Nietzsche constantly tore down his own ideas and even wrote a book of criticism on his previous work; if you read your own writing on this page, you can't even bring yourself to criticize your own "semi-humorous" piece. You are exactly the sort of Marxist writer who should not be writing because you make Marxism look bad. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

    1. You know what? Maybe you should try to read the other post I wrote about Nietzsche. Or here's an idea: why don't you study Nietzsche critically rather than make his thought accord with whatever you want it to be. What I find most amusing is that everyone who defends Nietzsche does so in a way that is slightly different: your interpretation about a personal journey is quaint, but rather banal. And really, his ideas did not change very much over the course of his career: the same understanding of slave morality and master morality persisted.

      So how precisely is it reactionary to complain about spurious readings of Nietzsche on the part of people who claim they are authorities but haven't read the canon in which he is a part? Is it equally "reactionary", according to your analysis here, for a physicist to complain about a layperson's supposedly "authoritative" understanding of Newtonian dynamics?

      And no I don't criticize the sentiment behind this rant because I agree with the sentiment but still see this as a polemic that is not a serious engagement with Nietzsche––more a complain with angry humorous overtones. On the whole I have no patience for those who declare fidelity to Nietzsche. Enjoy your genius understanding of Nietzsche, Marxism, and the world. Do yourself a favour and read some revolutionary theory, participate in revolutionary praxis, and then get back to me.

    2. I will not read your other post because your writing is so self-important yet devoid of critical thought. This piece should be able to stand on its own, or you shouldn't have published it.

      People defend Nietzsche in different ways because he wrote so much about so many different things and overturned his own ideas. You sound like someone who stopped reading Thus Spake Zarathustra after the first few pages, not realizing that more than once in the book, Zarathustra recants the limited understanding that produced the previous sections. It says much more about you than Nietzsche that you think his core concepts are master and slave morality. To me his intellectual triumph is the eternal return, a concept that illustrates the weakness of nihilism. A friend of mine reads Nietzsche and can do nothing but focus on his incessant reference to dance and movement.

      I call you reactionary not for tearing down "spurious readings" of Nietzsche, but for denying the common person's ability to understand him. You are not particularly smart, as your writing demonstrates. "People who do not study philosophy" is most people. If they find value in the poetry and joyfulness of Nietzsche, then there is value there, and you are the irrelevant fringe.

      As for your parting shot about revolutionary theory and praxis, you have no idea what my qualifications are, and what sort of work I do. This is the kind of sneering that I'm talking about. Rather than crack open Ecce Homo, you're satisfied to declare yourself the most knowledgable and qualified person on the subject (except for anyone who's been Published! You do include a throwaway Lukacs lament).

      Well, I'm getting back to you now: your "angry, humorous overtones" are figments of your imagination. It's clear you closed your mind to Nietzsche as soon as you imagined him threatening the dialectical materialism that you honor in name only.

    3. And yet these comments are the most self-important and pompous comments I've read in a long time. As for "closing my mind to Nietzsche"... well, like every arrogant academic boy who thought he was radical at one point I thought Nietzsche was amazing and indeed would say the same things as you. Yes, I have read Ecce Homo and pretty much everything Nietzsche has written. I have also taught it, written comprehensive exams on it, etc.

      As for the "common people" and their ability to understand: the masses are more interested, and can understand better than you or me, revolutionary theory. Nietzsche is thought for an intellectual elite, and this elitism is core to his thought. And while you might think that this might not make me "particularly smart" well the proof is in the proverbial pudding isn't it? I do have a doctorate which does mean something... at least a lot more than people who think they are more intelligent than everyone else (such as yourself) and yet repeat the same banal ideological assertions about Nietzsche.

      Really, I don't think Nietzsche is threatening to dialectical materialism. I don't think the majority of the world's population, specifically the most wretched of the earth, care one whit about Nietzsche. It's only white men who imagine that they're intellectually superior to everyone else (such as yourself) and yet who are lazy when it comes to fully studying Nietzsche in context who imagine Nietzsche is significant. And this, more than anything else, is what I find hilarious.

      I also find it amusing that you speak of me doing damage to marxism when you've strolled in here from a cite filled with trolls who foster all types of chauvinism in the name of radical thought.

    4. You call Nietzsche elitist and brag about your doctorate in the same paragraph. You know, Dr. Phil also has a doctorate. The fact that you've been allowed to teach Nietzsche makes me doubt your university's accreditation.

      If you were interested in "Nietzsche in context" you wouldn't waste your time, and the time of your vanishingly small readership, discussing the link between Nietzsche and Marx, as weak and meaningless as the relationship between Freud and Einstein. You'd be talking about Spinoza, Hegel, Foucault, and so on, way on down the to that shithead Deleuze.

      The most wretched of the earth don't care about Marx, Lenin, or Mao either, by the way. Or Dr. You!

    5. Considering how you have a problem with understanding what I'm actually saying, it makes me wonder about your reading comprehension when it comes to Nietzsche. Let me walk you through the reasons why I mentioned by doctorate––it will also explain your inability to understand this post or what I've actually been saying (as your vague comments about me being interested in Nietzsche in context––I'm really not interested in Nietzsche in context generally speaking, only when I'm arguing with Nietzscheans, and I rarely speak about Nietzsche on this blog).

      1) Many people who are enamoured with Nietzsche are pretentious self-proclaimed experts who think they are smarter than everyone else. They are intellectually elitists in the precise definition of the term (you actually seem to fit the bill here) who imagine they are smarter than everyone else;

      2) But if you're an intellectual elitist, and see Nietzsche as a sign of intellectual measure (as a certain banal literary tradition does), then you should at least abide by everything that the elitist intellectual tradition demands: serious scholarship, respect for those who have studied it within a scholarly tradition, etc.

      3) Hence my complaint about the spurious "Nietzsche is incoherent" or "Nietzsche's philosophy can be whatever I want it to be"… if this is true, then why is it so important?

      4) Hence also the reason why I would mention my doctorate. Recall how it was mentioned: a response to your asinine and trollish insult where you claimed that I wasn't particularly smart––the hallmark of pretentious pseudo intellectual argumentation where insults and self-important thinking replaces arguments. (Ironically you attribute this to me when you've been nothing but personally insulting, intentionally misreading, from your first pompous comment.) So if we're going to descend to that level, it is pretty simple to ask what is the measure of being smart and why do you think you have more right than me to call yourself a Nietzsche expert? See where I'm going with this… otherwise, I could give a shit about my doctorate in the context of actually existing class struggle––the people who have taught me a lot in applied theory haven't had their doctorates and they know a hell of a lot more than me about Marx.

      As for the most wretched of the earth not caring about Marx, Lenin, or Mao… Now here is where you really reveal yourself as some anti-communist troll who doesn't give a shit about concrete history. Communism never went away as a radical demand for the majority of the world's population and if you bothered to study social movements in the third world you'd realize this. What is the most revolutionary movement in the world today? The Naxal rebellion in India and the dalits and tribals there definitely do care about Marx. Lenin, Mao. What's more, this tradition speaks to their concrete circumstances; Nietzsche does not. Nietzsche only speaks to would-be academics, usually men, at the centres of capitalism: sometimes they might like Marx as well, but it's pretty clear that they are more interested in treating marxism as a game more than anything else.


    6. [cont. from above]

      Which leads me back to your comment about my supposed disdain for "the common people". Well what do you mean by the common people here, a term I would never use because it lacks any analytical depth… Let's see, I'm living a pretty common life in the context of the first world: contractually employed, often below the poverty line, going jobless every summer, so I don't see how I'm any different from the common people aside from a specific schooling that others also have, and is no better or worse than different forms of education these "common people" may possess.

      No, the people I was mocking in this polemic are, again, people who think they are very clever, who have a certain level of privilege to attend university, and imagine that they have a deeper grasp on the thinker they liked in high school than their teachers. This is what this piece specifically was aimed at… maybe you're upset because it touched a nerve, because you were (or still are) *that* kid at the back of the philosophy class whose dad paid his tuition and who thinks he is the ubermensch? Or maybe not: maybe you really do have an honest appreciation of Nietzsche and, if that's the case, while I would disagree with your supposed belief that Nietzsche can be brought in line with a revolutionary politics, then we would have a different argument.

      But I'm beginning to suspect that you don't care about marxist theory and side more with Nietzsche. If that is the case, then your responses here are patently absurd: the article is about people who want to keep their marxism and add Nietzsche to the mix… Yes, people like Deleuze, though I have great respect for Deleuze's attempt––still it ultimately fails, and it also becomes an exercise in such a level of specialized obscurantism that my point about the inability of the layperson to understand this sort of thing becomes even more relevant… and no marxist theory should be that alienated. In any case, since the paragraph before I quoted Lukacs was pretty clear on this, if you've parachuted in to talk about why Nietzsche is an important philosopher and is better than Marx, etc., then you're off the mark––and your above comment seems to demonstrate this tendency: I have far more respect for those Nietzsche scholars who understand that Nietzsche cannot be read as some sort of buttress to marxism, and would find these attempts alien, than those leftists (with honorable exception) who declare fidelity to marxism on the one hand and something they've incoherently culled from Nietzsche on the other.


    7. [cont.]

      Returning to your claims about how I've misunderstood Nietzsche, that he doesn't just boil down to slave morality and master morality, and that he has other concepts (such as Eternal Reccurence/Return) that are more important, I would just say read the scholarship on this. The most significant Nietzschean scholars would disagree with you on this. Now it's all well and good to say this an appeal to an elitism, but it is far more elitist to imagine that you and you alone know more about Nietzsche than everyone else, especially those who have made it their life's work to study Nietzsche... This would border on solipsism.

      In fact, the concept of eternal recurrence makes no sense without the concept of ressentiment which is the basis for his value distinction between what is sometimes called slave morality and master morality. The theme of this history of value where ressentiment (the prime value of the "slaves") has repressed what is creative and life-giving runs through everything from the Gay Science, to Ecce Homo, to the Anti-Christ, to the Birth of Tragedy, to Twilight of the Idols, to even Zarathustra (and TSZ, we must remember, was intended as a collection of aphorisms and is thus necessarily fragmented––cherry-picking sections you like is not an honest way to read this text, especially when it intentionally ignores those passages that might contradict the ones you like). I have suggested, following scholars of Nietzsche (such as Walter Kaufmann), that the Genealogy of Morals is probably the central text to understanding the underlying philosophical commitments of Nietzsche. Hell, Michel Foucault who really did know his Nietzsche zeroed in on this text as well as the *primary* Nietzschean work: it's where Foucault derived his genealogical method, claiming it was the fundamental philosophy of Nietzsche, though arguably jettisoning those concepts Foucault did not like in Nietzsche.

      As for whether or not the most wretched of the earth care about me, no I'm sure they don't and I hope they don't. Really, I don't have anything to teach them and most of what I understand theoretically has been gleaned of making sense of a history of revolutionary struggles that were produced by the most exploited/oppressed, by learning from them. But if you think my readership is dwindling, you are sadly mistaken: it grows every month. And this readership don't care about this old article on Nietzsche that I wrote without thinking about readers (because it was my first post, and I thought no one would ever read my blog, and it was just letting off some steam about first year philosophy boy at the back of my classroom extolling the virtues of his ubermensch existence), just as they probably don't care about your thoughts on the world.

      If you plan to respond, please do me the favour and stop acting like a smarter-than-thou troll (I do have a "no trolls" comment policy, though I tend to let things go on for too long), and also stop putting words in my mouth (your last comment was so off the mark that it was simply empty rhetoric).

    8. Yknow, if I thought you weren't at least approaching your writing with the intent to do good through it, I wouldn't have bothered responding to you. I'm not "trolling," but the criticism I've levied against you here is at worst as unfair as your criticism of Nietzsche.

      I think I'm better able to understand the difficulty you're having with Nietzsche when you talk about "cherry picking" through TSZ. I think we agree that Nietzsche's overall philosophy is not coherent, but that is irrelevant as his work is a celebration of change. Your misuse of the term "ubermensch" is further evidence of the problem. The overman is not a thing but a process or a "becoming."

      I guess the central point of your article, to slam college kids enamored of Nietzsche, feels not like a critical examination but intellectual bullying of youth who, through Nietzsche, take their first hopeful steps toward criticizing the constructed logic of capitalist society. Contemporary scholarship also agrees that Nietzsche isn't a doorway to fascism - in fact the profundity that young academics experience in Nietzsche leads to a greater ability to appreciate thought that challenges the hegemony. I take this so personally because without Nietzsche I may never have begun searching everywhere, from Galeano to Graeber to Fanon to CLR James to Kristeva, and yes to Lenin and Mao and Che, for a deeper understanding of the great social forces that I am caught up in. (Oh, I don't have a rich father or a father at all, fyi.)

      And this is the central problem, for me, in your writing about Nietzsche: you are so furious about this stage of intellectual development that is so common in little bourgeois kids, who are first becoming aware of class and global tragedy because they've been brought up within the walls of the Empire. Yet as Nietzsche himself would claim, you should take joy in this past moment, your one warped memory of a privileged kid who Just Didn't Get It, rather than live in resentment of it.

    9. 1) I didn't misuse the term ubermensch; I was using it only in the context of people who think they are the ubermensch––the misunderstanding belongs to them. I agree that that the overman can be understood as a process, though the question becomes a process of "what"... again we are thrown back unto the problem of so-called "master morality", and everything that is the supposed rejection of ressentiment.

      2) This article, it needs to be said, was written when I first launched the blog and thought no one would be reading it. I probably should have just deleted it when I ended up with a readership but I figured what the hell––most blogs are filled with ranting articles. I returned to the topic when I gave an explanation of just what I found problematic with Nietzsche in a later article––because obviously I don't think this piece is any way a response to Nietzsche's problems, and what I take is backwards about his philosophy, but a complaint about Nietzschean pretentious pseudo intellectual elitism.

      3) I am not primarily interested in convincing those students dedicated to Nietzsche the ABCs of anti-capitalism. Social investigation of over a decade of teaching has taught me that those enamoured with Nietzsche are also those uncritically devoted to bourgeois thought. Their class consciousness and positionality is very different from those students whose first reaction is to reject Nietzsche––unless they're religious dogmatists, many of these people who reject Nietzsche come from proletarian and/or oppressed backgrounds. It is interesting how social being does determine social consciousness and my suspicions of Nietzsche have only been galvanized by recognizing this fact. Those people enamoured with Nietzsche are the same people who do not care about the problems of global capitalism, get mad at anyone who talks about their privilege, and are thus not the space where agitational education can happen. Some of them do change when they are challenged, and I never take this tone about Nietzsche when I teach it (which is why it came out here, in this very first post, when I didn't know what a blog was for or that I would have readers).

      4) Your experience of Nietzsche might have led you elsewhere, but primary commitment to Nietzsche leads nowhere: again it goes back to the first principles and Nietzsche's first principles are at odds with communism. We should never forget that he did not simply mock the Paris Commune because he was being some sort of gadfly, or that this had nothing to do with his philosophical commitments and unquestioned ideology.

      5) I do think his philosophy is coherent. I think the appeal to an incoherent Nietzsche is unfair to Nietzsche. I think he wrote in a fragmentary, aphoristic style but there is still something coherent to his philosophy. I suggested what this coherence is above and *this* is why I appeal, like those who have done the best scholarship on N.'s thought, to Genealogy of Morals.

      6) My central problem with Nietzsche is that his ideology commitments are at odds with communism, are at best idealist and at worst reactionary.


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