On Identitarianism: A Defense of a Strawman

by Red Maistre on December 18, 2013

For this is how things are: the diminution and leveling of European man constitutes our greatest danger, for the sight of him makes us weary. — We can see nothing today that wants to grow greater, we suspect that things will continue to go down, down, to become thinner, more good-natured, more prudent, more comfortable, more mediocre, more indifferent, more Chinese, more Christian — there is no doubt that man is getting “better” all the time. (Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals)

To remove the strong by means of a strong people brings weakness; to remove the strong by means of a weak people brings strength. (“The Elimination of Strength”, The Book of Lord Shang)

The universal has been blunted by difference, language games have overthrown universal reason, and solidarity has been betrayed by individualism: a common, severe doxa in our age of austerity. At the root of this threefold betrayal is the principle of identity which has allegedly overtaken the rightful primacy of class. The interventions made by Mark Fisher’s Exiting the Vampire Castle, Jodi Dean’s Comrades, and Micheal Rechtenwald’s What’s Wrong With Identity Politics (and Intersectionality Theory)? (itself a response to the first) are together just one more manifestation of this line of thought that can claim endorsement from influential intellectual figures such as Badiou and Žižek, but clearly reflects a wider anxiety beyond academia.1 What is called “identity politics”, so the narrative runs, have sabotaged “the Left” by sowing discord through moralizing and individualizing discourses about victimization that distract from the real business of confronting the structures of capitalism. The creation of the radically new has been stunted by the protection of static communitarian niches, and socialist unity has given way hyper-refined bickering about discourse.

What confuses the debate from the beginning is the mystifying lack of a specific target. The paucity of details within all of the pieces (there is much talk about internet politics, considering the absence of links) preemptively sabotages any response. More importantly, those who practice “identity politics”, on or off the internet, rarely if ever describe what they do as “identity politics”: such people often make some claim to belonging to universalistic traditions like liberalism, anarchism, or Marxism. It is a term that seems to be exclusively used in a contemptuous sense by those who oppose it. Nor was the term used by any of the the alleged founders of this trend during the radicalism of the ’60s or ’70s. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:

“Identity politics” can draw on intellectual precursors from Mary Wollstonecraft to Frantz Fanon, writing that actually uses this specific phrase, with all its contemporary baggage, is limited almost exclusively to the last twenty years. Thus it was barely as intellectuals started to systematically outline and defend the philosophical underpinnings of identity politics that we [intellectuals] simultaneously began to challenge them.

In  other words, the term was the product of the ’80s or ’90s, of the era of the long Restoration, in which the right was seeking to roll back revolutionary gains in all fronts. It bears the suspicious mark of a reactionary misreading of a political phenomena, as opposed to being any type of fair, let alone neutral, description.

The second factor is that these attacks are always qualified by statements that dismissing “identity politics” is not the same as siding against the various identity groups struggling for rights and dignity. This has the same (lack of) convincingness as the arguments of those who assent to the capitalist-imperialist cliches about the tyranny, corruption, and barbarism of the periphery, who proclaim that solidarity with  those under attack by the colonizers is at least just as bad as supporting the colonizers themselves, while in the end saying they are still personally opposed to imperialism. In both cases, one can imagine a person sincerely holding such an opinion. But their arguments rob one of any positive reason for caring for the struggles of the oppressed in question, who are separated from us on a lower tier of the epistemic hierarchy. “They” are trapped in their irredeemably particularistic settings, while “We”, liberated from identity and place, look on in clinical detachment. At the same time, these nuances, whether they amount to anything or not, must be acknowledged in any fair reply.

The most powerful ideas are those which can co-opt even its critics, or at least can smuggle past its main assumptions unmolested. Many of the responses to Fisher’s piece have sought to engage with it on the the level of its Gothic metaphorical language, or have ceded that the author has valid concerns, but take things too far. The vampires are in another castle, if only the author should read this or that, etc. The de-valuation of certain concepts  by the anti-identitarian camp is not put in question. In the end, no one wants to be the monster at the end. This makes it all the more necessary, following Malcolm Bull, to “read like a loser”, as if we were members of the loathed vampiric identitarian Trojan Horse allegedly in our midst. This would mean  taking up the tainted concepts — ressentiment, individuality, identity — and seek to re-appropriate them as positive for their own sake, and not merely by sufferance.

Continuing the Slave Revolt

It is argued that we need to combat the general spirit of pathology and depression that is allegedly working against the advancement of revolution, free of all merely particularistic burdens, towards the wonder of the future. Strength, health, “sexiness”, and laughter are to be affirmed, while what disturbs this happy equilibrium is to exorcised as the work of parasites and outsiders working in bad faith, as the doubly evil vestiges of a Christian past (or perhaps just of Stalin and the Chinese Cultural Revolution). At bottom is the self-defeating poison of ressentiment, the envious tearing down and demonization of the allegedly more privileged and professionally successful.

Behind this position  (explicitly in Fisher, implicitly and not disputed in the other two authors) is a Nietzschean narrative of the millennia long struggle between slave morality and master morality outlined in On the Genealogy of Morals. But there are at least two misreadings of Nietzsche at work here. For one thing, Christianity is made out to be the lone ancient bugbear who invented “all the infernal strategies, dark pathologies and psychological torture instruments” (Fisher) when in the original text it was the obstinate Jews who, “with awe-inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God).” The founding of Christianity itself was in fact, for Nietzsche, merely a part of the “truly great politics of vengeance, a far-sighted, underground, slowly expropriating, and premeditated revenge” of the Jewish race, consumed by its envy against fitter, more “noble” peoples. By moving the malignant origin of ressentiment to a safer target, the reader is distracted from the stench of 19th-century style anti-Semitism that hangs over the text, and the very unambiguous understanding of history as conspiracy and race war that this form of bigotry is enmeshed with. Second, no one seems to bother, when invoking the tropes about the need to restore strength and renounce “priestly” habits, to consider how these ideas are integrally related for Nietzsche to his openly partisan stance on the class war. The reason why Nietzsche despises what Fisher calls “the priesthood of bad conscience”, old and new, is because it is complicit in “the slave revolt in morality: that revolt which has a history of two thousand years behind it and which we no longer see because it — has been victorious.” In other words, the “Judaic” slave morality is connected, in On the Genealogy of Morality, with the coming of democracy and socialism, and that is why, in Nietzsche’s view, it needs to be stopped. Some socialists, then, seem be in the odd position of insisting on reading Nietzsche backwards, and counseling the abandonment of the great revaluation of values in favor of the weak that has guided past milestones in emancipation for the masses in order to add more “force” and “confidence” to the revolutions to come. Self-defeatingly, it seems we are advised to imitate the cheerful aristocratic natures that in every age have had to face down the unnatural strength of the sad faced and the sickly (a.k.a. the oppressed).

If the writers had not overidentified with the authorial voice of Nietzsche, they would have noticed, first that it’s not the weakness of “slave morality” that is actually repugnant to him, but its power. The real scandal that disturbs all of Nietzsche’s writings was that by the 19th century European, indeed global, civilization had been apparently conquered by the ideals of the lower classes, whether through the Gospel of the churches, the political  maxims of the French Revolution, or the “philistinism” of Anglo-Saxon liberalism. He was certainly not concerned by the practical ineffectiveness of this or that radical scene; on the contrary. Second, they would have noticed that Nietzsche, who grasped his enemies better than many of his admirers, recognized that, far from being merely stagnant, ressentiment had a great (if deleterious ) creative power, and this was its strength. Slave morality was victorious everywhere because it transformed poverty, infirmity, and mental “pathology” into something that gave value to the lives of the “unexceptional” majority, and made them into lethal enemies of the various noble castes that Nietzsche eulogizes. It is the “reactive” vengefulness of the oppressed that transformed their lack of temporal advantages into a claim for dignity in the eyes of God, right in the sight of the law, and, ultimately, into an exculpatory justification for revolutionary action. Third, any reading of Nietzsche will notice that while slave morality may have its roots in vindictiveness, and this is how it expresses itself towards enemies, real and perceived, that is not its final result. Both in On the Genealogy of Morals and elsewhere, the ultimate result of this all this endless tearing down by the chandalas is the general spread of a “mediocre” and “plebeian” spirit, infected with such vices as undiscriminating good naturedness, longing for peace, love of equality, and hatred of tyranny. In other words, what one would think would be desirable human characteristics in any future post-capitalist society. This is the fundamental reason for Nietzsche’s distaste for ressentiment, not the unconvincing contempt for revenge by a man who was nothing if not a great hater himself. In a levelling society which no longer respected domination for its own sake, but valued mutual aid and tranquility, any potentially aristocratic soul would be softly suffocated to death before it even had time to know itself. For someone profoundly committed to elitism, to the point of believing it to be necessary for “life” itself to thrive, this would indeed be the abomination of abominations, the worst of all possible futures. But it is puzzling that anyone claiming to work for the advancement of a more democratic and socialist future would share Nietzsche’s anxieties at this prospect. If anything, it is wanting to follow what he approves of at all that should fill us with concern, not the possibility that we may be approximating his histrionic racist caricatures of popular power.

Of course, not taking most of what Nietzsche say seriously is to be expected in this particular context. Since those seeking to appropriate the Nietzschean critique identify as leftists, and are seeking to sway leftists, they can’t take his disdain for the demos to its logical conclusion and divide humanity into two separate species. They are concerned about upholding the dignity of the universal, after all. Instead, they have chosen to summon up such an untrustworthy (if culturally respected) devil for more trivial causes. These authors want to use against their (vaguely defined) enemies the moral psychology of Nietzsche, as if that can be neatly separated from his wider historical vision and political beliefs. Their opponents can be explained away as weak minded, envious, and fetishists of their own victimhood, while they themselves are justified by their hardheadedness and evident lack of suffering. By doing so, they are primarily seeking to insulate some, most notably certain makers of opinions (academic and media personalities) from snarky one-liners and criticism from the rest, in the name of an alleged unity of purpose:

But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance. (Fisher)

Instead of morality, with its interplay of habit, personal judgment, and the acknowledgment of shared rules, we are asked to accept the cliqueness of etiquette. Instead of taking on the risk of criticism that making statements in a public sphere implies, we are asked to retreat into the coziness of merely personal relations. Political discourse is to be made less demotic and more like the insular community of gentlemen that Nietzsche preferred, who could afford equality amongst themselves, as long as the distinction between the truly free insiders and naturally servile outsiders was maintained. Thus, the critique which demanded a new collectivity seems in the end itself to stumble on the problem of compartmentalization that it sought to transcend; and instead of going “beyond good and evil” towards a new communist mentality, it resurrects, for narrow purposes, very dubious and threadbare aristocratic prejudices.

The “Excessive” Proliferation of Agents

Against contemporary individuality, a three-fold case is made: first that it is bourgeoisie in character, a by-product of post-Fordist, postmodern capitalism; second, that is a epistemologically handicapped category, since it can’t think in terms of the functioning of the system as a whole; and third, that it undermines the proper solidarity that should exist between comrades in the common struggle against capitalism.

Against the first objection it must be emphasised that the bourgeoisie have never, except in the region of rhetoric, been about about promoting individuality as such, but only the individuality of people like themselves, or rather, how they think themselves to be. It has always been guarded as a privilege for the few to have, and the many to lack by default. The masses are the masses because, from the perspective of the ruling class, they can be treated as an impersonal aggregate of bodies to be managed, not as being made up of finite beings with “personalities” like themselves. The pretensions to uniqueness of the bourgeoisie is grounded on most people being represented as tending towards the condition of the invisible, the monster, or the instrumentum vocale. That some whose exploitation and oppression was previously accepted as natural now must be acknowledged as having individualities too, in theory equal with their social betters, is an embarrassing reversal of ruling class power. The pathos of distance between masters and the rest is harder to maintain when one needs to accommodate, if only for the sake of appearance, groups who could have been easily shrugged a few decades ago. And if more “constituencies” have to be pleased, the bourgeois model of “decisive” and “effective” leadership becomes more and more frustratingly elusive, as a particularly celebrated/infamous ideologue recently lamented:

The decision system has become too porous — too democratic — for its own good, giving too many actors the means to stifle adjustments in public policy. We need stronger mechanisms to force collective decisions but, because of the judicialization of government and the outsized role of interest groups, we are unlikely to acquire such mechanisms short of a systemic crisis.

This process of expanding individual right that is, from one perspective, one of co-option and embourgeoisement is from another a victory for the previously marginalized and a limitation on the future power of maneuver for the capitalist class as a whole. Therefore, the spread of the concept of individuality, as a contradictory phenomena, can’t be one-sidedly denounced, but must be understood and appreciated dialectically.

Against the second accusation, it can certainly be ceded that while no worthwhile critique of capitalism can end in in the immediacy of individuality, none can begin without it, if only because the perspective that apprehends totality is not from nowhere, but from a place that is already thrown in media res within the motion of the whole. And because of the complexity of the capitalist system, those starting points will be many and diverse. Further, a perception of the social whole in which the subject works outward from his or her own particular experiences will generally be more adequate that one that simply invokes an a priori notion of totality. By thinking upon the concrete ways one is out of joint with the system, and refusing resignation from this state of disjunction, the true contours of the system are made clearer than if one just mechanically invokes “the class struggle” as an explanatory key. As Adorno (no friend of bourgeois individualism) expressed it in Negative Dialectics:

Experience and consistency enable the individual to see in the universal a truth that the universal as blindly prevailing power conceals from itself and others. The reigning consensus puts the universal in the right because of the mere form of universality. Universality, itself a concept, comes thus to be conceptless and inimical to reflection; for the mind to perceive and to name that side of it is the first condition of resistance and a modest beginning of practice.

Finally, it said that bringing up individuals and their differences between one another is inherently inimical and divisive. We need to focus more on “impersonal structures” of economic power instead of seeking to criticize the actions of others. There is at the very least a performative contradiction at work here, if not outright hypocrisy. All three articles under discussion appeal to the readers to change their minds in a specific way (“get over yourselves, stop condemning”) but at the time they say that individual behavior is not “really” important, not something one should get excited about and write 2500+ words on. Further, while speculating on the perhaps less than exalted motivations of those “who emerges out of the left as someone exciting, someone to hear and read” or noting that academic and millionaire actors may not themselves be workers is to risk witch hunts, questioning the background and intellectual genealogy of others (such as accusations against opponents as being “petite bourgeois” in class background, or linking talk of privilege to a “Stalinist” model of politics) is apparently acceptable. In order to stop people from obsessing about the behavior of others, we must vigorously seek to persuade them to alter their own behavior. In seeking to end discord and shame, both must apparently be multiplied, but against different sorts of people. Thus the authors’ own struggles against the vampire castle of “identity politics” admits the rationality at work in those they accuse of being so naive as to get angry at other people who perpetuate injustice, as opposed to the “the real enemy” of capitalism, who seems to float, mysteriously, above the actions of actual human beings.

This incoherence in action, in turn, is based on a theoretical reification, a process its proponents often decry. For when the appeal is made to impersonal structure, they speak as if structures were not made up and reproduced daily by individual agents. Without the continued co-operation by actions, words, and thought of human beings, the systemic oppression and exploitation would not exist. No misogyny without misogynists, no racism without racists, no capitalism without capitalists. If any privileged agents that act as bearers of the sustaining practices of the system lack the confidence to act because of fear of popular power, that is one more multiplying factor for the contradictions of the system as a whole. Hence the perennial interest of the ruling class in propaganda and coercion. The strength of those presently at the top and the weakness of those presently at the bottom must constantly be reaffirmed, while the wavering middle strata must be taught to identify with the former, not the latter. Revolutionary theory and praxis, by contrast, seeks to do the opposite, by analogous methods of persuasion and force. To act, then, as if changing structures does not require engaging with individuals is deeply disingenuous. Intellectually, this leads to the reproduction of a stultifying dichotomy between structure and agency. On the level of praxis, it simply blocks debate and self-criticism with the chimera of an unearned sense of togetherness.

From Nullity to Identity

Finally, at the heart of this critique is the attack on the concept of identity itself:

Similarly, identity, like an occupation, is a trap, because it curtails human potential and bars workers from participation in the social totality as fully developing individuals. Identities are reified social categories from which we should emerge, not within which we should be compelled to remain… It aims to liberate identity groups (or members thereof) qua identity groups (or individuals), rather than aiming to liberate them from identity itself. (Rectenwald)

But, rather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group. (Fisher)

Which begs the question, as eloquently articulated by Linda Martin Alcoff:

Why assume that giving any prerogative to the parent/community/society or the discourse/episteme/socius is in every case and necessarily, psychically pernicious and enabling only at the cost of a more profound subordination? Why assume that if I am culturally, ethnically, sexually identifiable that this is a process akin to Kafka’s nightmarish torture machines in the penal colony?

The dismissive understanding of identity as trap parrots the position of its alleged opponents and simply gives it a negative meaning: one can’t be [X] and be anything more than that at the same time; one can’t be [X] and understand anyone who is not [X] or anything else beyond being [X], because others’ human experiences are so opaque, and yours to them. Instead of actually thinking of identity as fluid, or that our feelings are translatable to others, as they claim to, these authors assume the opposite is the case in order to demand the renunciation of identities altogether as the precondition for emancipatory struggle.

If identities are indeed fluid, they can hypothetically be cultivated and educated beyond any narcissistic cul-de-sac they may have arrived at, and there would be no reason for an antagonistic contradiction between them and socialist politics. But instead, they are to be liquidated, because they “bar participation in the social totality.” It is unclear how this is the case, or what this means in practice. If it refers to the exclusion suffered on account of being a certain identity, then it would be the fault of systemic oppression, not the identities themselves. The former should be the proper focus of attack. If this argument is not referring to discriminatory treatment, then it seems to have the unfortunate implication that (for some unexplained reason) being-black, being-Palestinian,  being-a-woman, etc., is incompatible with full participation in society. The fascists, apparently were right in their intuitions, just wrong in execution. While reactionaries wish to “return” society to a unity purified of difference centered around some national volk, the socialists of this type wants to push society forward to a unity without difference, centered around either a return to a retro-proletarian identity preserved by T.V. stars  or … je ne sais quoi. Both visions offer the consoling (to some) thought that, someday, all opaqueness will be abolished, and we will be free from the task of having to deal with any strangers in our midst. The language and the means may differ, but the aim is the same, the annihilation of all particular identities within an unsegmented collective.

Such views run into the grave problem that they contradict how radical politics has in fact unfolded, both in the core and the periphery. Either a great deal of what is conventionally considered revolutionary history has to be rejected, or it must be gravely misinterpreted. The former option is openly taken by Rectenwald. The latter one is taken by Fisher, who at one point cites the example of Malcolm X and Che Guevara as authentically communist examples of “a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality.” But the lives of both of these figures reveals a quite different dialectic than the liquidationist paradigm Fisher holds up. Malcolm X thinking moved towards revolutionary universalism by fidelity to two particular experiences — that of being black in America, and being a follower of Islam — neither of which were static identities, but developed over time along with his overall political vision. Nor would the trajectory of Che Guevara make any sense without his loyalties to an interconnected family of patrias — Argentina, Cuba, Latin America as a whole — and his sympathies for the plight of those throughout the world who were dispossessed of a homeland of their own by imperialism. In neither case was the particular simply shed to reveal the “real” core of truth beneath all of the contingencies.What they wanted and who they were inseparable intertwined. For both men, the abstract forms of political emancipation were given content by a concern to live out specific identities to the end, identities which in turn which were given a heightened meaning and intensity by being forced to acknowledge and search for what fell outside of themselves. And, pace Rectenwald, they were allowed to develop as very distinct individuals precisely because they took up as an ethical task the burden of bearing not one, but several, predications.

And surely this has also been the case with the radicalization of people who never achieved the celebrity of those two men. The mere abstract hope in a completely alien future that we cannot even yet imagine is rarely sufficient to make the leap towards resistance. Nor is it always a concern for wages and workplace conditions that forces one to think in terms of revolution as opposed to resignation or incremental reform. Often, it is the seizure of a name, of some fragments of experience, memory, and desire, and the refusal to surrender them up, that forces otherwise mute and dumb atomized individuals to confront the totality that encircles them. What was formerly passively accepted destiny become then a mean for self-creation and the construction of new polities. This process can take on many idiosyncratic forms. What are usually called “identities” simply give public and political form to some of the more common manifestations of this phenomena, reflecting where the major objective contradictions of the system are located (race, gender, nationality, etc.). While the sources for this subjectivation are different, all function by the integration of revolutionary principles into our lives as social animals who feel, love, remember, and hope, as well as think. With the entrance of identities, the rejection of capitalism becomes no longer just about the prospect of economic improvement, but the recovery and transformation of ourselves.

Nor does this emotional investment isolate us, or at least necessarily isolate us. Once we have come to the conclusion we have been wronged by capitalism, it becomes easier to conceive that others may have suffered as well. The world may have presented itself as one more or less happy whole of essentially identical people now begins to tell multiple tales of tragedy, struggle, and occasional victory. And these stories, like the oppressions they wrestle with, are connected through history by the chains of necessity. The belonging that spectacle, humanitarianism, and legal equality failed to provide is now supplemented by counter-narratives and networks of resistance that speak of a clefted universalism that is yet to come. Ultimately, what was wanted only for one’s own sake, in seeking to realize itself, becomes the basis for a general sympathy with others.

Taking a Step Back

It is instructive to compare the critiques of “idenitartainsim” being discussed here with Postmodernism Today: A Brief Introduction, published around the mid-2000s by pro-Naxalite publishing outfit by an author going under the name of Siraj. It has similar concerns about the divisiveness of the many recent theories arising out of post-structuralism. But despite arising from a political movement currently struggling in far more desperate circumstances than any of us involved in this exchange will likely ever face, the piece is careful to avoid certain excesses when attacking the discourses it considers “postmodern”. For one thing, the article sets itself clearly against Nietzsche, who is dubbed both “the guru of post-modernists/post-structuralists” and “Hitler’s philosophical guru.” Further, the text refuses to cede to their opponents’ bourgeoisie understanding of difference in terms of a hopeless zero sum game of subordination:

While preaching discourses in a society based on power, Post-Modernists conveniently avoid delving deeper into the facts that difference does not invariably mean bossing or domination and that a society can move forward having many differences, some are open to change with fundamental changes in a society.

From this Naxalite perspective, the critics of “identity politics”would seem to have succumbed to the errors of the ideologies they believe themselves to be fighting against. They have assented to the idea that difference necessitates the empowerment of one group over another, and thus make a fatal confrontation between difference and collectivity inevitable:

This however, does not preclude the conscious efforts on the part of revolutionaries from the beginning to address various types of domination and exploitation while spearheading the attack against the principal forms of exploitation and domination. This was one of the crucial theoretical mistakes of the C.P.I. and C.P.I.(M) leadership to shelve struggles against caste system and such other questions with the fond hope that a socialist society shall automatically erase them from the Indian society. Such a fatalistic approach based on Discourse is clearly anti-Marxist, and hence harmful to the revolutionary struggle. It only poses a question whose post-modernist solution is embedded in anarchy, passivity and also running away from the actual struggle against any type of domination.

Thus, exclusive focus on class is not only bad theory and bad practice, but dialectically a twin to the deviations towards postmodern bourgeois idealism that is it notionally opposite. It creates the conditions for such errors to find an audience by ignoring intractable problems, and brings about the actual anarchy that they seek to avoid it by a myopic focus on economic exploitation. By holding fast to a Maoist understanding of there being (potentially) non-antagonistic contradictions among “the people” as well as the antagonistic contradictions between the exploited and exploiter, Siraj is able to articulate what is wrong with bourgeois ideologies without denying difference its place or ceding ground to the reactionary, psychologizing thought of Nietzsche. “Totalitarian” Marxist-Leninist dogmatism thus proves more sound in its political instincts regarding this issue than those who would pride themselves on their anti-Stalinism and magnanimous lack of authoritarian tendencies.

Conclusion: Which Transvaluation of Values will Win?

We should support whatever the enemy opposes and oppose whatever the enemy supports. (Mao Tse-Tung)

We crumbled apart
and crumbled into one again.
(From “Irish” by Paul Celan)

Every intellectual trend and every political epoch undergoes a backlash, and this backlash in turn divide into competing claimants. Within first world radical politics, struggling to define itself in the aftermath of neoliberalism and the unsuccessful oppositional politics that accompanied it, there can be discerned two distinct camps seeking to project their diagnosis of the current malaise, and the solution required.

For one side, whose position Fisher and the rest have helped articulate, what is lacking and needed, is greater homogeneity and discipline. The Left, since the ’60s has been corrupted and bogged down by allowing in so much diversity; what is needed is contraction into a body capable of decisive and effective management of itself. Nietzchean affect is to be combined, incongruously, with a certain type of grey universalism, the slick ambience of aristocratic irrationalism married to the cult of the rationalized undifferentiated social totality to come. Just as the metropolitan revolutionaries of the late 18th-century and 19th-century took over the muscular colonial archetype of Hercules as a mythic model, these proudly Spartan futurists and post-Leninist Lacanians seems to intend to take over the harsher models of ruling class power in order to make an opposition that is more adult, grand, and martial:

We have to be connected, solidary, and strong. (Dean)

But against this there is the (perhaps less articulate) consensus that holds that what is called “identitarianism” or ”multiculturalism”, far from being overwhelmingly dominant, is the route that has never been more than half-heartedly pursued; and that what is sometimes called “slave morality” — the urge to level, “herd instinct”, and contempt for strength — have always characterized the advancement of freedom. It is the further integration of the peoples in their rage that promises the disintegration of capital; it is this that bourgeoisie have always feared and sought to frustrate, not flattering celebrations of their own preferred self-image or demonization of the rudeness of the mob. The ruling class are fine with hiding behind abstract totality, as long as it is kept from being excessively saturated by the multitude, who want many things, not all of which can be satisfied at once under the present global regime. What they fear is not the reign of the universal itself, but the universal being forced to expand, in multiple directions, by the demands for inclusion by previously subordinate particulars, who have always known the collective better than the collective has known itself. Thus, instead of looking to imitate the sleek homogeneity of the powers that be, true solidarity should grow of the differences and negativity that already exist, will exist, and will triumph, regardless of ineffectual cries of “peace!” where there is no peace. Instead of seeking to paint the hegemonic prejudices of capitalism red, the great inversion of values must again be repeated. What has been considered the most contemptible, weak, and diseased has thus far proved the most dangerous to the ruling class. What is most contemptible, weak, and diseased must therefore be multiplied.

  1. This article does not consider Eve Mitchell’s piece on intersectionality because, while objections may be raised to it, the overall thrust of argument — “liberation must include both the particular and the universal”, “struggling as women but also as humans” — seems substantially different from the other three, and closer my own understanding of the matter, despite the differences in ultimate conclusions. Similarly, JMP’s piece comes from a MLM angle that is distinct from the tendency being dealt with here. 

{ 157 comments… read them below or add one }

dr. abraham Weizfeld December 18, 2013 at 7:08 pm

How one can write of Identity without once mentioning nationality is not comprehensible. Of course to do so would entail making a differentiation between the State and the Nation which would in turn require a critique of Hegel, one that is lacking in Marxism. So the solution it would seem is to ignore the existence of Nations per se! And in consequence one should forget the Jewish Bund and the expulsion of 1903.


Père Naphtha December 18, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I did make reference to it, albeit briefly:
“This process can take on many idiosyncratic forms. What are usually called “identities” simply give public and political form to some of the more common manifestations of this phenomena, reflecting where the major objective contradictions of the system are located (race, gender, nationality, etc.).”

“Nor would the trajectory of Che Guevara make any sense without his loyalties to an interconnected family of patrias — Argentina, Cuba, Latin America as a whole”

I agree that Nationality (as identity, and in relation to the state) is a fascinating topic that is relatively under discussed (particularly in the West)..


Carl Davidson December 18, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Here’s my two cents. You want to take on identity politics? Fine, with one condition. Start with the elephant in the room, white and male identity politics. Once you have broken apart and swept up all the garbage from those, you can start on all the rest. Deal?


Père Naphtha December 18, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Agree with the general sentiment, though I was not arguing against “identity politics”, or “identity”, for that matter.


Michael Rectenwald December 18, 2013 at 9:48 pm

So if you want to take on identity politics, you have to subscribe to it first. Nice try.


Carl Davidson December 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Are you saying there is no such thing as identity or identity politics? Then why do the solid majority of white American males, including all classes, vote Republican, regardless of the GOP’s hostility to even minor reforms that might be in their immediate interest?

Besides, one can readily acknowledge identity and its importance in the shaping of our conflicted consciousness without ‘subscribing’ to it.


Michael Rectenwald December 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm

“White male identity politics” — also known as racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of systematic and ideological oppression. I think that this sort of identity politics is that which is the acknowledged source of all identity politics. I know of no Marxist who denies them or the importance of struggling against them. In fact, these are axes within class politics.


Carl Davidson December 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm

‘Class politics’ is fine, but begs the question, in an interesting way. There is no universally agreed upon CODA written down anywhere as to what they are today (the Manifesto is cool, but doesn’t count here), so who gets to spell them out? And with what method?


Michael Rectenwald December 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm

I will be rebutting the article and its general misreading of my argument, and its attempt to consign me to some old Marxist neanderthal club of its own making. I never argued “against” identity per se. I argued against a particular political approach to identity. Apparently, some readers are unable to grasp the distinction. I will be making it eminently clear in a subsequent piece, hopefully published on North Star.


Père Naphtha December 18, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Looking forward to it.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 1:19 am

Your anti-Nietzscheanism seems to be lifted from the standard Stalinist sources: Georg Lukács and Domenico Losurdo.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 3:09 am

And what of it?


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 5:44 am

Nothing, aside from the fact that such arguments against Nietzsche smack of the same groveling, petit-bourgeois philistinism that characterize Stalinist forays into philosophy.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:52 am

And using “groveling” against egalitarian arguments against elitism smacks of over-identification with the perspective of aristos.

And “philistinism” and “Stalinism” are not really effective insults against, or descriptions of, the matter at hand. Particularly the former term.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 2:07 am

Egalitarian? Nietzsche was anti-egalitarian, to be sure, and anti-moralistic. Most pointedly so in his polemics against those famous anti-semites who were for him exemplars of socialism: Proudhon (also by extension, the 1848 Proudhonist Richard Wagner) and Dühring. Know who else railed against morality and equality in polemicizing against Dühring? Friedrich Engels.


I think maybe you mean the abolition of classes, rather than “equality,” which is after all never more than a bourgeois demand. And Marx, Lenin, etc., described their opponents are “groveling” on numerous occasions, so I don’t see why it should be seen as somehow insensitive.


Carl Davidson December 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Good grief, ‘groveling’ yet…What a hoot! Comrade Ross, if you want to do serious polemics with grown ups, it’s time to set aside sandbox invective. In doesn’t clarify anything; it just reveals a lot about your angst.


Alexander Miller December 18, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I find myself very sympathetic towards Père’s conclusions, (particularly the value of a pluralistic left over ‘class supremacy’), but unconvinced and in fact put off by the arguments presented for them. The introductory paragraphs take the form of an extended ad hominem – Nietzsche held repellent views on some subjects, and since Nietzsche’s thought is allegedly a cohesive whole in which the concepts of ressentiment and and bad conscience are integral parts, the appropriation of such concepts can only evoke Nietzsche’s elitism and supposed reactionary politics. Not only would I, and for that matter most modern Nietzsche scholars, dispute this reading, (most would argue that Nietzsche rejects ‘master morality’ as well, and for that matter he was actively opposed to the reactionary politics and anti-Semitism of his contemporaries), it fails to address the actual reasons why so many leftist today and historically have been inspired to “read Nietzsche backwards”. Nietzsche’s elitism is undeniable to anyone who’s read him, but are we really to assume that this elitism is also characteristic of, say, Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault, (since after all the latter’s entire ‘genealogical critique’ is deeply indebted to ‘The Genealogy of Morals’)? And more to the point, the actual critique leveled by Nietzschean critics of identity politics is never truly answered – Père acknowledges the argument is that ressentiment is ultimately self-defeating and a poor replacement for the rule of might, but never really gives any reasons why we should dispute this and instead simply asserts that really ressentiment is great stuff and deeply tied to democracy, freedom and all other positive political developments through history. Why should we believe this?

More importantly, these arguments are presented in an effort to foreclose on any critique of the arguments and tactics deployed in privilege discourse. “These are simply the politics of the oppressed, and therefore good” is the implication, in a sort of mirror image of Fisher’s claim that Owen Jones of all people is beyond criticism because he’s supposedly doing good work. It seems the title is in fact literal, and Père wishes to defend even the strawman obnoxious version of identity politics because “it’s coming from the oppressed”, (as though the authors of Derailing for Dummies in some sense spoke universally for the oppressed). This move alone is enough to convince me that a critique of ressentiment and bad conscience is and will remain a necessary tool in evaluating and improving left discourses, both within and without the realm of identity politics.


Père Naphtha December 18, 2013 at 11:52 pm

“Père acknowledges the argument is that ressentiment is ultimately self-defeating and a poor replacement for the rule of might, but never really gives any reasons why we should dispute this and instead simply asserts that really ressentiment is great stuff and deeply tied to democracy, freedom and all other positive political developments through history. Why should we believe this?”

Short Answer: For all the reasons that Nietzsche gave, for starters.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 12:06 am

Like I said, claiming Nietzsche hated ressentiment because it gave power to the oppressed is a sort of shockingly superficial reading of the text. The argument is almost the exact opposite, that it serves as a replacement for actually gaining power for oneself.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 2:39 am

“The symbol of this battle, written in a script which has remained legible through all human history up to the present, is called “Rome Against Judea, Judea Against Rome.” To this point there has been no greater event than this war, this posing of a question, the contradiction between these deadly enemies. Rome felt that the Jews were something contrary to nature itself, something like its monstrous polar opposite. In Rome the Jew was considered “guilty of hatred against the entire human race.” And that view was correct, to the extent we are right to link the health and the future of the human race to the unconditional rule of aristocratic values, the Roman values….

….Among them there is no lack of that most disgusting species of vain people, the lying monsters who aim to present themselves as “beautiful souls,” and carry off to market their ruined sensuality, wrapped up in verse and other swaddling clothes, as “purity of heart”—the species of self-gratifying moral masturbators. The desire of sick people to present some form or other of superiority, their instinct for secret paths leading to a tyranny over the healthy—where can we not find it, this very will to power of the weakest people! The sick woman, in particular: no one outdoes her in refined ways to rule others, to exert pressure, to tyrannize. For that purpose, the sick woman spares nothing living or dead. She digs up again the most deeply buried things (the Bogos say “The woman is a hyena”)…..

In what is an even more decisive and deeper sense, Judea once again was victorious over the classical ideal at the time of the French Revolution. The last political nobility which we had in Europe, in seventeenth and eighteenth century France, broke apart under the instincts of popular resentment—never on earth has there been heard greater rejoicing, a noisier enthusiasm! It’s true that in the midst of all this the most dreadful and most unexpected events took place: the old ideal itself stepped physically and with unheard-of splendour before the eyes and the conscience of humanity—and once again stronger, simpler, and more urgently than ever rang out, in opposition to the old lie, to the slogan of resentment about the privileged rights of the majority, in opposition to that will for a low condition, abasement, equality, for the decline and extinguishing of mankind—in opposition to all that there rang out a fearsome and delightful counter-slogan about the privileged rights of the few! As a last signpost to a different road, Napoleon appeared, the most singular and late-born man there ever was, and in him the problem of the inherently noble ideal was made flesh. We might well think about what sort of a problem that is: Napoleon, this synthesis of the inhuman and the superhuman”
From On the Genology of Morals . .
The powerful enemy is clearly the Jew, Women “who know too much”, and the masses led by the French Revolution. This is what is terrifying to him about ressentiment. What am I missing.? .


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 3:24 am

Nietszche writes in a deliberately provocative manner, he wants to shock us out of our pre-conceived notions, so a completely literal reading of these passages is, I think, a naive reading. This is especially clear if you’re taking this as evidence of anti-Semitism, because elsewhere Nietzsche is an outspoken critic of the anti-Semitism of his time. As for the French Revolution it’s a matter of record that he hated it, but again I think reading this as a coherent political program in defense of the ancien regime is missing the point. I think the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sums it up well:

“Although Nietzsche’s illiberal attitudes (for example, about human equality) are apparent, there are no grounds for ascribing to him a political philosophy, since he has no systematic (or even partly systematic) views about the nature of state and society. As an esoteric moralist, Nietzsche aims at freeing higher human beings from their false consciousness about morality (their false belief that this morality is good for them), not at a transformation of society at large.”


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:00 am

What is the hidden message that requires agreeing to the statements that the Jews are “the enemies of the human race” or that “The woman is a hyena”?


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 4:14 am

It’s not a matter of hidden messages, it’s that you have to read statements like that in the context of a text where he says that, compared to the Jews, the Germans are filth. He’s clearly being deliberately provocative.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:29 am

He insults the Germans by comparing them to Jews: Bad for the Germans certainly , but no credit to the Jews. How does this change the sense of the other statement in anyway?
Note that you are not even trying to defend the remark about women.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 4:34 am

I’m not interested in defending anything. The point here isn’t that no one can object to the language in ‘Genealogy’, (or for that matter ‘On The Jewish Question’), but more that you’re misinterpreting these statements as some sort of proto-Hitler thing.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:37 am

I didn’t even drop the “H” word yet. How am I doing so?

Devin E. Bartolomeo December 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Yeah, Neitzsche was just doing it to troll/as a social experiment! Off to reddit with you.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:04 am

He wanted a new aristocracy, not the restoration of the old one, which had clearly failed to assert its right against the mob. A difference that makes no difference.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 4:16 am

This is incorrect, Nietzsche’s project is an individual one, aimed at promoting human excellence, not a political project. Where do you think he advocates setting up a new aristocracy?


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:51 am

“In order for there to be a broad, deep, fertile soil for the development of art, the overwhelming majority has to be slavishly subjected to life’s necessities in the service of the minority, beyond the measure that is necessary for the individual. At their expense, through their extra work, that privileged class is to be removed from the struggle for existence, in order to produce and satisfy a new world of necessities. … slavery belongs to the essence of a culture … the misery of men living a life of toil has to be increased to make the production of the word of art possible for a small number of Olympian men.” (From On the Genealogy of Morals)


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 5:09 am

This is actually accurate, he’s saying the wealth of culture in classical Greek society was built on slavery. He never actually says “therefore, we need to recreate these societies”.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:14 am

He is using the present tense, as if this was a general law of society. This also happens to fit his effusive admiration for the Greeks and Romans, combined with his disdain for the Jews as race of slaves (and by extension their Christian and Modern successors).

Alphonse van Worden December 19, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Whom did he intend to shock by complaining about the pushiness and tyranny of Jews and women? And shock to what end? Shock German aristos out of their preconceived ideas that Jews and Women were the moral and intellectual equals of white gentile men? Or not? Why? And no he was not opposed to Jew hatred but to political AntiSemitism. You are misreading his handful of rude remarks about “antiSemites” in an uneducated and anachronistic way….And yes he is incoherent because he had brain cancer probably. His themes and vision are consistent, commonplace and derivative (of Carlyle, Stirner and Emerson principally), even if individual pronouncements taken from context often can be arranged to show contradictions.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 3:57 am

Points I hadn’t yet responded to.
1. I don’t care much for Foucault or Sarte, and their ceding of ground to Nietzsche is part of it. So I am not particualry concerned if I am impugning on their reputation
2. Nietzsche, because he was, as you say, an elitist, opposed democracy and socialism. Part of the reason he disliked contemporary conservatives like Bismark was because they were (A) “Vulgar”, (B) pandered too much to popular forces, and (C) not as aggressively imperialist as he would have liked. Nice summary here: liked.http://david-murray.livejournal.com/9572.html#

I would be curious how, or by what standard, he was not a “reactionary”, in light of those facts.
3. As for the argument that this is merely saying: “These are simply the politics of the oppressed, and therefore good.” That is exactly what I am saying. We need to be clear about what values tend to further and intensify the struggle in the favor of popular forces, which tend to build up a culture suitable for a post-capitalist society, and which do not. To the extant Owen Jones’s work helps favors such values, then he should not be criticized, to the extant it fails to do that, it should be rejected. This holds true for anyone else.

4.Nietzche’s arguments can not be separated from his racist historical arguments and anti-democratic ends. The reason why he characterizes the different moralities in such strong terms and with such colorful language is because he judges them on there perceived fittingness to an extra-philosophical goal: The cultivation of the “best” man, with certain “noble” qualities. Whether we share this goal or not is not unimportant to the discussion. Nietzsche himself put so much stock on the genealogy of thought and emphasized that no perspective can be separated from interest, so to demand that we take seriously what his interests and his understanding is both fitting and fair (as well as sound hermeneutical practice).


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 2:45 am

As for “gaining power for oneself”: I thought the aim of socialism was collective emancipation, not petite bourgeois individualism, which is what Nietzsche is concerned about. The former involves building up of all, starting from the lower down the better; the latter means the parasitic life of a few splendid flowers on the general subordination and humiliation of the rest.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 3:45 am

I don’t know what this has to do with anything. I’m not saying Nietzsche was a socialist or that the values advanced in “Genealogy” are socialist values, just that your reading of Nietzsche as a standard 19th century reactionary is inaccurate, as is the corresponding claim that we have to reject everything he said on that basis.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:18 am

I would (hypothetically) be fine with any ideas of his that were not stupid and wrong; just because his politics was deeply pernicious does not mean he was wrong on every matter by default. It just so happens that the ideas of his in question are inseparable from his toxic politics. They really only make sense if one actually believes things like the French Revolution was a catastrophe or that the beliefs of enslaved peoples are necessarily inferior to that of the ruling class.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 4:24 am

This is how Nietzsche explains the problem of ressentiment:

“The beginning of the slaves’ revolt in morality occurs when ressentiment itself turns creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who, denied the proper response of action, compensate for it only with imaginary revenge.”

In what way is this dependent on opposing the French Revolution and believing in slavery? (Note: the first was an actual view Nietzsche held, the latter was not). Isn’t it perfectly fine to say in place of inventing new moralities of The Tone Argument, and It’s Not My Job To Educate You, oppressed peoples should pursue “the proper response of action”?


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:35 am

It is only a “problem” if you view the millennia long “slave revolt” (of which the French Revolution was part) as bad, as Nietzsche does. He interprets it as an ugly thing because he is struggling for an opposite class interest (this is to be expected, since this negative appraisal of the opponent is how all value systems works, according to his own words)


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 4:41 am

I don’t think that’s the case. The argument is that “slave revolt” substitutes imaginary moral struggle in place of practical, real-world struggle. I think it’s entirely possible to see that as a bad thing without accepting Nietzsche’s narrative about the origins and historical progression of such.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:02 am

Was the French Revolution imaginary? Was the Commune (which he also loathed) an exercise in idealism?
And there is nothing “imaginary” about morality for Nietzsche, since it’s cultivation and development, even when not immediately effective on the political level, had a real world consequences. Hence the scandal he took at the religion of the Jews and the Gospel, because, to him, they were ripe in social+human consequence even when their followers were powerless.

Alphonse van Worden December 19, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Miller you are simply wrong, Nietzsche lamented the slave revolt in morals over and over again and was even more horrified by the slave revolt that was democracy, socialism and communism. The last thing anyone same and literate could construe Nietzsche as arguing was that the slave revolt in morality was lamentable because it was purely discursive, He neither depicts it as purely discursive nor reacts with anything but horror to occasions of the overthrow of aristo and bourgeois ruling classes>

Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:20 am

Words matter in terms of establishing social relations and positing values, a fact Nietzsche was very keenly aware of (he was a philologist, after all) , so reforming “tone” and language will inevitably be part of any political action towards emancipation.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 5:46 am

Maybe this is what Marx had in mind when he said such nasty things about Lassalle? Please.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:55 am

What language we should use towards political opponents is a different matter then what language should be used in relation to the oppressed, whom we would presumably want to help upbuild, not tear down.

Alphonse van Worden December 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm

It seems like Nietzsche’s defenders must dismiss as “superficial” any attribution of sense to Nietzsche (violating the corny creaky parabolic apologetics of Lippman etc) since the content – the dry ice gothic fabulous histories, the crazy conspiracies of priests etc – is terribly embarrassing, but there is a desire to preserve the psychologistic, glib “insights” unhappily attached to and deriving from them. There is found in Nietzscheans a constant resort to sophistry and rather childish rhetorical trickery, for example Miller there declaring Nietzsche opposed to “antiSemitism” (at the time a name of a particular political mythology which in fact he was very close to though he was violently contemptuous of some of the leadership of the party which espoused it), as a way of suggesting he did not express Jew-loathing and racism, in ways distinct from the postures of contemporary antiSemites, which of course he did. (Lorsudo’s book is exhaustive on this topic). To suggest that Nietzsche did not advocate enslavement is the kind of thing one can hope to get away with if one somehow can enforce an illusion of legitimacy to this absurd practice of quoting a paragraph and insisting nothing that is not present in the paragraph is contained in all of Nietzsche’s ouevre. How can he possibly have written more than this paragraph on ressentiment and slave morality?

So we get this suggestion that Nietzsche’s paragraph here quoted argues that “oppressed peoples should pursue the proper response of action”. This is plainly a misreading of the paragraph itself even without a context and in context it is an idiocy in the strict sense; it can be perhaps passed off on people whose acquaintance with Nietzsche is confined to this short passage quoted and who also are timid enough to be impressed by baseless airs of authority. For any literate person who reads a little further will discover that Nietzsche is indeed hypocritical in his diagnosis of slave morality and frenzied in his fear of slave revolt and self pitying about his oppression by revolted slaves, exhibiting contempt for the weakness slave morality purportedly arises from and perpetuates while incessantly lamenting the domination slave morality and its adherents have achieved over the master race, the truly noble, who have been dethroned and no longer rule humanity. Part of this dethroning is sinister Jewish/Socratic persuasion (masters are made to feel guilty, they are convinced somehow by the priests of slave morality, the historical mythology is delivered in fragments) and part he attributes to the pollution of the nobles’ blood through exogamy: “It may be looked upon as the result of an extraordinary atavism, that the ordinary man, even at present, is still always WAITING for an opinion about himself, and then instinctively submitting himself to it; yet by no means only to a “good” opinion, but also to a bad and unjust one (think, for instance, of the greater part of the self- appreciations and self-depreciations which believing women learn from their confessors, and which in general the believing Christian learns from his Church). In fact, conformably to the slow rise of the democratic social order (and its cause, the blending of the blood of masters and slaves), the originally noble and rare impulse of the masters to assign a value to themselves and to “think well” of themselves, will now be more and more encouraged and extended; but it has at all times an older, ampler, and more radically ingrained propensity opposed to it–and in the phenomenon of “vanity” this older propensity overmasters the younger. The vain person rejoices over EVERY good opinion which he hears about himself (quite apart from the point of view of its usefulness, and equally regardless of its truth or falsehood), just as he suffers from every bad opinion: for he subjects himself to both, he feels himself subjected to both, by that oldest instinct of subjection which breaks forth in him.–It is “the slave” in the vain man’s blood, the remains of the slave’s craftiness–and how much of the “slave” is still left in woman, for instance!–which seeks to SEDUCE to good opinions of itself; it is the slave, too, who immediately afterwards falls prostrate himself before these opinions, as though he had not called them forth.–And to repeat it again: vanity is an atavism.”


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Alphonse, you’ve completely misread me. When I say “oppressed peoples should pursue the proper response of action” I’m not at all suggesting this is Nietzsche’s view. And more broadly I’m not suggesting Nietzsche was in any way a liberal or socialist but rather disputing Père’s implication that elitism and aristocracy is inherent whenever a contemporary writer evokes a concept or method derived from Nietzsche.


Alphonse van Worden December 19, 2013 at 11:06 pm

So you are saying you are persuaded by Nietzsche that there is ressentiment in people with slave blood but you think it’s fine to say this ressentimental slave race whom you identify with “oppressed peoples” should pursue the proper response of action? Or are you dissenting from Nietzsche on ressentiment but quoting him because he is famous or something? Nietzsche never asserts or suggests that noble raced people with noble blood exhibit ressentiment much less members of a humanity which is not divided into races, It is something exclusive to inferior races, slave races as Aristotle imagined and their wrongly freed issue, and if you don’t believe in these races then you cannot speak of Nietzsche’s notion of ressentiment which is their psychic characteristic alone. He claims he has discovered that certain biological races exhibit ressentiment.because of blood lineage and the difference between their racial qualities and those of the master races. If one does evoke those who are ressentimental in Nietzsche’s eyes, one can only be referring to inferior races. Nobody else can possibly be ressentimental in Nietzsche’s sense., Thus Fisher speaks of “vampires” to underscore his argument is racial. Because, you see, if you bother to read Nietzsche you will discover this ressentiment has an explanation rooted in inheritance from slave races with certain conditions he depicts. It is all of course complete nonsense, as crazy as Wagner operas. You cannot pretend that there is anything in Nietzsche to suggest that there are no distinct human races or that all of an unraced humanity could exhibit ressentiment which is precisely the effect of racial difference and hierarchy. So anyone claiming to be using Nietzsche’s notion of ressentiment necessarily is asserting the existence of superior and inferior races whose relation causes this phenomenon in the psyches of inferior races.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm

I’m not interested in defending Nietzsche’s politics, and in my initial comment I described such views as “repellent”. My understanding though, isn’t that ressentiment is an intrinsic racial trait but rather a psychological response to a condition in which a human is subjugated but unable to respond through force. Perhaps Nietzsche believed that certain “noble races” were immune to this but I don’t believe that’s essential to the concept.

Ross Wolfe December 20, 2013 at 12:25 am

Is Losurdo’s book out in translation yet or have your read it in another language?


Alphonse van Worden December 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm

I read the Italian original


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 1:09 am

Yes to life. Yes to love. Yes to generosity.

But man is also a no. No to scorn of man. No to degradation of man. No to exploitation of man. No to the butchery of what is most human in man: freedom.

Man’s behavior is not only reactional. And there is always resentment in a reaction. Nietzsche had already pointed that out in The Will to Power.”


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 3:06 am

You don’t need Nietzsche to assent to life or to love. Not that anyone should want to assent to the type of “life” Nietzsche desired for the greater part of the human race.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 5:40 am

I was just quoting Frantz Fanon’s masterpiece Black Skin, White Masks.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:47 am

I noticed. It would be helpful if you could elaborate the argument you are trying to make in doing so though.


Alphonse van Worden December 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

What he thinks he is doing is furnishing his idea of a native informant (Fanon, though bourgeois French psychoanalyst, was black, and for RS ‘identity politics’ is a synonym for ‘black folks’) to validate Nietzsche. His selected quote is strikingly vapid, though the clear implication is contra Nietzsche (resentment is championed not only because it makes “man” interesting) RS has this kiddie psycho practice of taking a scissors and snipping bits from texts here and there like one of those ransom notes made of letters out of magazines. He likes to insist Lenin was “for intolerance” (of “identity politics” it’s implied) by citing a fragment of a sentence from which he has removed the content with his busy little pruning shears. The results often resemble those Mad Magazine movie ads which “quote” reviews by cutting the superlative out of a phrase like “A colossal bore!” so that “Colossal! – the LA Times” appears on the poster


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Who is RS?


Alphonse van Worden December 19, 2013 at 9:04 pm

typo for you


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 9:18 pm



Ross Wolfe December 20, 2013 at 10:54 pm

So are you saying I misrepresented Fanon here? You don’t think Fanon admired Nietzsche?


Alphonse van Worden December 21, 2013 at 5:41 am

Did you really not understand my comment?


Alphonse van Worden December 22, 2013 at 9:05 pm

I suppose it makes sense that a racist like you (Zizek is the same) would find Fanon with his psychoanalysis, his “sake of argument” conceded essentialism (something the aspy academics of today are too tone deaf to pick up, I find, especially in Marx), his attraction to Senghor’s strain of negritude, a useful best black friend sort of figure for your Hegelian revanchism.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm

1. “Groveling”, like other words, takes on a different sense based on the position and aim of the speaker, and the context in which he or she is using it. Sensitivity to such things is key for interpretation. Perhaps Nietzsche could have taught you that, he had a knack for taking advantage of this fluidity himself.

2. Your repeated appeals to authority in matter in which such claims do not at all apply puzzles me. You presume the validity of what Marx/Engels actions or words, instead of spelling out to the reader what (you think) their arguments would be.

3. Having said that, while Engels attacks the idea that equality is natural as opposed to a social product of history, he does not reject equality as such, but spells out what talk of equality means from the perspective of the proletariat

“The demand for equality in the mouth of the proletariat has therefore a double meaning. It is either — as was the case especially at the very start, for example in the Peasant War [see Engels’ work Peasant War in Germany]— the spontaneous reaction against the crying social inequalities, against the contrast between rich and poor, the feudal lords and their serfs, the surfeiters and the starving; as such it is simply an expression of the revolutionary instinct, and finds its justification in that, and in that only. Or, on the other hand, this demand has arisen as a reaction against the bourgeois demand for equality, drawing more or less correct and more far-reaching demands from this bourgeois demand, and serving as an agitational means in order to stir up the workers against the capitalists with the aid of the capitalists’ own assertions; and in this case it stands or falls with bourgeois equality itself. In both cases the real content of the proletarian demand for equality is the demand for the abolition of classes.”

Nor does he say it is solely a “bourgeoisie” demand

“And especially since the French bourgeoisie, from the great revolution on, brought civil equality to the forefront, the French proletariat has answered blow for blow with the demand for social, economic equality, and equality has become the battle-cry (!) particularly of the French proletariat.”

4. To say that both Nietzsche and Marx-Engels attacked doctrines of abstract or natural equality does not tell us much. “For whose interest, for what reason?” must be asked. Nietzsche did so because he despised the masses and feared their revenge against the elitist values and structures he so desperately admired. Marx, on the contrary, wanted to go beyond abstract equality by fulfilling it, by turning the promise of the bourgeois-legal idea into a general social reality.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm

You seem to have missed a crucial clause in the quote from Engels above:

[the proletarian] demand [for equality] has arisen as a reaction against the bourgeois demand for equality, drawing more or less correct and more far-reaching demands from this bourgeois demand, and serving as an agitational means in order to stir up the workers against the capitalists with the aid of the capitalists’ own assertions; and in this case it stands or falls with bourgeois equality itself
And as Marx even stated in the Gothakritik, attacking the Lassalleans’ demand for “equality” and “equal rights,” such demands go no further than “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right.” That’s not to say they aren’t important, just that they’re not the end goal.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Nor did I say they were the end goal.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Why did you characterize your argument as “egalitarian,” then, if equality is not its ultimate goal? The very demand for “equality” is misleading, as both Engels and Marx pointed out. Marxism places much greater emphasis on human freedom, as in Engels’ remark about humanity’s passage from “the kingdom of necessity” to “the kingdom of freedom.”


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Because equality and equal rights, as you say, “aren’t unimportant”.Without the further realization of equality, there is no basis for freedom. With the fulfillment of egalitarianism, egalitarianism can said to be overcome, but that is certainly not something immediately at hand, as a superficial glance at contemporary society would show. In the mean time, we must emphasize the importance of equality against rightist and liberal celebrations of elite rule (such as the one found in Nietzsche).


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

What do you say to point that Nietzsche and Marx were actually doing different things when they attacked abstract equality?


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm

They both attacked equality as such (they made no distinction between “abstract” versus “concrete” equality) in the name of “freedom” and “becoming,” and indeed unlimited becoming. Marx thus writes in the Grundrisse:

when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity’s own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?

Similarly, though not absolutely the same, Nietzsche stressed “becoming” in the section on “What I Owe the Ancients” in Twilight of the Idols:

Saying yes to life, even in its strangest and harshest problems; the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustibility through the sacrifice of its highest types — that is what I called Dionysian, that is the bridge I found to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not to escape horror and pity, not to cleanse yourself of a dangerous affect by violent discharge — as Aristotle thought: but rather, over and above all horror and pity, so that you yourself may be the eternal joy in becoming, — the joy that includes even the eternal joy in negating

None of this is to say that Marx or Engels were advocating the same exact thing as Nietzsche. I would claim, however, that Nietzsche had more in common with Marxism than various other post-utopian forms of socialism, such as the anti-semitic variants offered by Proudhon, Bakunin, and Dühring. Sadly, Nietzsche continues to be relevant precisely because most self-proclaimed socialists are actually much closer to Proudhonism than to Marxism, what with their concern with “poverty,” “equality,” and “justice.” Marxism is decidedly not some Christian fable about how “the meek shall inherit the earth”; nor is it concerned with the downtrodden as such. Otherwise, I imagine that Marx and Engels wouldn’t have so despised peasants or the lumpenproletariat. It’s rather unlikely that they would have had much patience for this recent proliferation and multiplication of potential “revolutionary subjects” or “revolutionary agents” proposed by identity politics.

As for the differences: Whereas for Hegel and for Marx history was the seeming guarantor of human freedom, for Nietzsche it had by the end of the nineteenth century become a burden that stood in the way of human freedom. But for Marx, too, history had this aspect: “the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” Living labor continues to be pressed into the service of the accumulated dead labor of history; the present is still beholden to the past. But for Marx and Nietzsche becoming, conceptualized as the negation of the status quo (“communism is the real movement overthrowing the existing state of affairs”), was crucial to the realization of human freedom:

In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

Emphasizing this point of the revolutionary method of Hegel’s philosophy, as opposed to its system, Engels wrote a few years later that “In accordance with all the rules of the Hegelian method of thought, the proposition of the rationality of everything which is real resolves itself into the other proposition: All that exists deserves to perish.”

This already gives the lie to the fantasy of “identity” claims, insofar as they take being as their point of departure. It’s all based on who people supposedly “are,” and not what they might yet become. Even the notion of class as a static and fixed “identity,” rather than a shifting historical relation, is misleading for this reason: the proletariat is crucial because it is itself nothing but absolute negation, both of its dialectical opposite in capital and its own class character. Hence why the overcoming of capital would simultaneously entail the self-abolition of the proletariat, in the creation of a classless society. Anything else, which seeks to uphold a particular form of existing identity against the onslaught of capitalist development, cultural conservation or the preservation of religious traditions and so on, is precisely conservative. The proletariat is radical because it takes as its root the self-transformation of humanity itself, a humanity which everywhere remains an ideal and is nowhere yet a reality.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 9:28 pm

1. If Marxism does not, in fact, have as it’s concern the interests of the downtrodden, then that is it’s problem.If the downtrodden do not find resources for furthering their demands within it, they will find them elsewhere. If it is worthwhile at all, it should exist for them, not them for it.The only reason that Marxism has proved so influential is to the extant those that have been oppressed, humiliated, and exploited have found in it doctrines, organizational forms, and methods appropriate for their own already existing struggles, not for the realization of a “freedom” that apparently does not concern them “as such”.

So even if Marx and Engels should be interpreted as you suggest, that in of itself does not bind anyone to think or act in any particular way. It may say a lot about them though. Appeals to authority do not decide anything in this matter.



Pavel December 19, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Great quote from Badiou related to that:

“Science of history? Marxism is the discourse with which the proletariat sustains itself as subject. We must never let go of this idea….Marxism is the practical discourse for sustaining the subjective advent of a politics…. For Marxism, seized from any point which is not its effective operation which is entirely of the order of politics within the masses, does not deserve one hour of our troubles.”


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 9:54 pm

What do you make of Marx and Engels’ utter disdain for peasants and the lumpenproletariat? Should they have been more inclusive of alternative “identities” (though read here specific position within the relations of production)?


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm

You should probably just “come out” as a Proudhonist, since even if that’s not how you “identify,” it’s what the content of your arguments amount to.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I am not interested in what your preferred labels for me are at the moment.


Ross Wolfe December 20, 2013 at 4:47 am

Père Naphtha complains with particular bitterness that I called him a Proudhonist, and he protests that he is not one. Naturally, I must believe him, but I shall adduce the proof that the article here at hand — and I had to do with it alone — contains nothing but undiluted Proudhonism.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 5:01 am

I never bothered to dispute whatever labels you attributed to me, bitterly or not.

Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Unfortunate and should be open to criticism (as it has been in the past century).

But I am curious why you agree with them, besides the fact that was their opinion.


Ross Wolfe December 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm

The lumpenproletariat, assorted thugs, criminals, and declassed elements are easily “bought” and mobilized against revolutionary forces. Peasants are incapable of leading a proletarian revolution, almost definitionally. They are a “sack of potatoes,” as Marx put it.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Most of the socialist revolutions in the past century would have been impossible without the peasantry. If anyone has been “a real sack of potatoes”, it has been the labor aristocracy of the U.S and Western Europe (not that I think such grandly dismissive language about exploited people is useful, pace Marx).

As for the lumpenproletariet, their distance from the normal labor process and bourgeois state, and their forms of organization, and their accompanying ideologies, means that they are, potentially, more open to joining the revolutionary struggle than other, more stable strata. Which is why such elements have been found in communist led revolutions such as in China or in the Naxalite struggle (in the form of chronically unemployed ex-peasants), anti-colonial struggles such as Algeria, or 1st World movements like the Black Panthers. And as the process of pauperization is intensified globally by imperialism and autonomization, and as long as labor movements remain trapped within the logic of economism, they will become an ever more important class to win over, both for the movements of the oppressor and the movements of the oppressed. If the twentieth century was an era of great peasant revolts, the twenty first may be the era of the lumpenproletariat. And perhaps must be, since the proletariat have only ever risen up in revolution when they have been close to the borders of being displaced peasants who still remember the land, or being declasse paupers who put little hope in either labor or reform. It’s those times when proletariat have rested most securely in their status of being “respectable” workers that they have been most tightly integrated into the capitalist-imperialist system.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Just as bourgeois aims may be carried forward by non-bourgeois elements, proletarian ends may be carried forward by non-proletarian forces.


Neil December 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm

History shows that the peasantry are far more complex politically than that that simplistic, patronising and dismissive comment by Marx would have it. The remnants of the peasantry in the South are likely to become increasingly radicalised as the ecological crisis deepens and spreads, and hi-tech agribusiness continues its attempts at complete domination of agriculture.

As for the lumpenproletariat – ditto! I gree with Pere that (parts of) the lumpenproleariat are likely to become a more important revolutionary stratum as the current long-term crisis intensifies, In my opinion the 2011 London riots might have been the first (but by no means the last) major predominantly lumpenproletarian revolt of the post-2008 crisis.

The implicit flipside of your dismissal of the peasantry and lumpenproletariat is an idealisation of the industrial working class which as we know never quite accorded with Marxist or Marxist-Leninist theoretical expectations.


Aaron Aarons December 20, 2013 at 1:09 am

My impression is that Marx’s attitude towards the peasantry changed, along with his attitude towards colonialism, changed over the years. Just as his attitude towards British colonialism in India and Ireland became much more negative, his attitude towards the pre-capitalist Russian peasant communes became more positive, considering them a possible basis for a transition to socialism.

I also suspect that the hostility towards the peasantry on the part of much of the left in the 1800’s and early 1900’s is not separate from the contempt for the peasants felt by the urban merchants and money-lenders of Eastern Europe who exploited them.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 9:34 pm

2. I find it notable that you locate the essential difference between Marx and Nietzsche lies in the question of the relation between history and freedom, not in the fact that the former wanted a society of freedom for all which will be conditioned on freedom for every one of its members, while for the latter, well:

“A Declaration of war on the masses by higher men is needed ! Everywhere the mediocre are combining in order to make themselves master !”

They are not talking about the same thing when they are talking about freedom at all, would you not agree?



Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 9:50 pm

3. Regarding “identity”: You seem to be arguing with something different than what I in fact wrote. “Identity”, in the sense of a political-social claim not of a metaphysical principle, is not, imo, simply a static being, but also a dynamic becoming. It is fluid and can be made to develop. “Being” and “becoming” are both just moments in it’s dialectical unfolding. The political power of identity lies in first giving a distinct point on which a subject can name and center itself, and then acting as a catalyst towards transformative action, cultivating the person as both an individual and as a political agent.

As an aside, to privilege “becoming” in general over “being” in general is just as much an exercise in reification as the reverse. Both are interdependent concepts.


Michael Rectenwald January 3, 2014 at 8:16 am

This post is excellent. Well done, Ross Wolfe.


Alphonse van Worden December 20, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Alexander Miller, just curious if you begin with this assumption that this

“It was the Jews who, rejecting the aristocratic value equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = blessed) ventured with awe-inspiring consistency, to bring about a reversal and held it in the teeth of their unfathomable hatred (the hatred of the powerless), saying, ‘Only those who suffer are good, only the poor, the powerless, the lowly are good; the suffering, the deprived, the sick, the ugly, are the only pious people, the only ones, salvation is for them alone, whereas you rich, the noble, the powerful, you are eternally wicked, cruel, lustful, insatiate, godless, you will also be eternally wretched, cursed and damned!’”

is accurate as history, biography, sociology? And if so can you give me a chronology for this history and a sketch of the evidence? (When is this supposed to have happened?) And if it’s not accurate, is it meant literally all the same? Historically? But simply erroneous? If it’s not meant to have happened, what kind of genre of writing is this in your view? A kind of mythology in social darwinist mode, protospectacular? What is the referent of this “the Jews” and “you rich, the noble”? Is it a fable of a Freudian type, these figurative terms as personifications of imagined forces in the individual psyche? “The Jews” is perhaps a term of art to refer to a property of every individual infant psyche imagined after Feuerbach’s spirit of egotism? (We must contain “The Jews” in ourselves sort of thing, and crush “the Jews” in our enemies?) Not literal Jewish people but a clump of nasty characteristics as outlined in numerous famous texts of Nietzsche’s period give or take 50 years? Perhaps? If in contrast, this is really the description of the development of a psychology of literal individual Jews in the time fabulously evoked, why would it be relevant now that its subjects are all long dead? How do they affect us? If their ancient mishigas is somehow manifest in people now, how did this psychology of “the Jews” of the early postchrist period get passed down? Is this a description of a threat posed by Judaism and Christianity to you nobles? How are we to understand the term “atavism” in Nietzsche if not literally? What is the mechanism by which the atavism occurs?

(Isn’t this styling “geneology” of inquiry into conceptual abstractions that do not reproduce exclusively biologically – that belong to social production – exactly where Foucault went so very wrong?)

You can see why these matters need to be cleared up if a real discussion of the validity of this work and the meaning of texts in which it is deployed is desired. The shell game sophistry with which this work is usually defended from criticism is indicative of the effects of spectacle irrationality consumption of this stuff seems to encourage and be encouraged by. It’s obfuscating and evasive to just make disclaimers like ‘this is just kidding’ ‘this is a provocation’ ‘this isn’t literal nor is it figurative I just find it useful in no particular way and it can’t be wrong or pernicious since hordes of famous white men, fascists and life retainers of the French state liked it also.’ Is there actually a) meaning of any sort and b) something correct and insightful here? We know it’s possible to sanitize it to get greeting cards like ‘believe in yourself!’ and ‘just do it!’ but is there anything else here in Nietzsche’s oeuvre that one can learn from? His supposed daring transvaluation of all values adjures us to admire strength, truthfulness, confidence, vitality, courage, proper pride, concision of speech, cleanliness, and punctuality. Are these really such reviled properties traditionally that bringing them forward as admirable is so very startling? Is there a social Darwinist one can name who thought any differently than Nietzsche of the weak and the propertyless? Is there anything that is not commonplace in his circle here? The one distinctive thing in Nietzsche is this nutty explanation of why other people are so dreadful, the crazy cartoon just so story with the ancient occult racial secrets and the plotting priests back in the misted long ago. So if you evoke Nietzsche this is what you must mean. It is his brand distinction. The rest as RedMaistre noticed is present in all the ascerbic French courtier aphorism specialists and the adventure novelists (as Gramsci explained) and the second rate pundits like Stirner and Carlyle.


Alexander Miller December 21, 2013 at 12:34 am

There’s a lot going on in this post and the previous one so I’ll try to respond to the central points.

You’re saying that Nietzsche believed ressentiment was a purely racial trait belonging to lower races, particularly the Jews, and more broadly that Nietzsche was a kind of Hitleresque racialist philosopher. You say this is blindingly obvious to everyone who’s read him and that anything suggesting otherwise is just apologism for schoolchildren, but I don’t think this is the case. The bulk of scholarship on Nietzsche rejects this not only out of blind apologism but because there’s textual evidence to reject it, not the least of which being passages like:

“The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe…”

Additionally, as I’ve noted, in “Genealogy” he compares the Jews favorably compared to the Germans and generally the text, while at times describing the Jews very negatively and responsible for the triumph of “slave morality” also at times ascribes them positive qualities as well. And if ressentiment is taken to be racial, what are we to make of the idea that both the German Reformation and French Revolution were animated by ressentiment, except that if ressentiment is racial it inheres at least to all the races of Europe in addition to the Jews? What’s indisputable is that Nietzsche subscribed to various racialist theories of him time and also said things which were outspokenly racist (and not only against Jews), and he deserves to be condemned on that basis, but I don’t think these ideas add up to anything coherent let alone a conventional anti-semitic white supremacist narrative.

As for taking things literally or not: it’s literally impossible to reconcile the notion that Jews are both the lowest of the low “slave race” and also the “strongest, toughest, and purest race”. These statements are clearly provocative. What did he actually believe with regards to his narrative of Jewish ressentiment creating a slave morality that came to dominate the west? That’s probably more literal, he probably really believed that this came out of a conflict between Jewish and Classical western culture, and needless to say this is complete horseshit both factually and for any practical philosophical purpose. You described it as a “myth” which is probably the best possible characterization. You also said something incoherent (typos I guess?) about how this is the same problem Foucault has and there we’re in agreement. That said, like Foucault, I do like some concepts that Nietzsche develops regardless of the bullshit method, because the sections that make up this fantastical account of the origin of slave morality take up 4 sections in the first essay covering roughly 5 pages in a book containing 3 essays and over 150 pages. With both philosophers I come out disagreeing with some fundamental points but also not wholly rejecting their works as garbage.

The value of Nietzsche’s philosophy: maybe you and Père are actually right here, I’m not a Nietzsche scholar and I’m not particularly interested in defending his philosophical legacy, I enjoyed parts of “Genealogy” and that’s about it. Maybe others do what he does better, all that I’ve read from what Père mentioned is Montaigne’s Essays. And for that matter go ahead and attack him as empty and Nietzsche scholarship as apologism, I might even be convinced if it’s a good case, but that’s not what I’m concerned with. I just don’t find convincing the essay’s insinuation that any invocation of Nietzsche is inherently reactionary.


Alphonse van Worden December 21, 2013 at 2:14 am

“The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe…”

and from this you find it blindingly obvious that Nietzsche did not believe in the existence of a Jewish race? Or you believe in a Jewish race yourself and believe this is simply factual?


Alexander Miller December 21, 2013 at 7:32 am

Of course I don’t agree with it and of course it’s racialist, I said as much. As for whether it rules out ever taking anything Nietzsche said seriously, well, let’s see. Does a Marxist have anything to discuss with someone that holds views as insane as these?

“In its perfected practice, Christian egoism of heavenly bliss is necessarily transformed into the corporal egoism of the Jew, heavenly need is turned into world need, subjectivism into self-interest. We explain the tenacity of the Jew not by his religion, but, on the contrary, by the human basis of his religion – practical need, egoism.

Since in civil society the real nature of the Jew has been universally realized and secularized, civil society could not convince the Jew of the unreality of his religious nature, which is indeed only the ideal aspect of practical need. Consequently, not only in the Pentateuch and the Talmud, but in present-day society we find the nature of the modern Jew, and not as an abstract nature but as one that is in the highest degree empirical, not merely as a narrowness of the Jew, but as the Jewish narrowness of society.

Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.

The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.”


Alphonse van Worden December 21, 2013 at 12:03 pm

AM you wrote:

“You’re saying that Nietzsche believed ressentiment was a purely racial trait belonging to lower races, particularly the Jews, and more broadly that Nietzsche was a kind of Hitleresque racialist philosopher. You say this is blindingly obvious to everyone who’s read him and that anything suggesting otherwise is just apologism for schoolchildren, but I don’t think this is the case. The bulk of scholarship on Nietzsche rejects this not only out of blind apologism but because there’s textual evidence to reject it, not the least of which being passages like:

“”The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe…””

Let me point out again:

“the bulk of scholarship on Nietzsche rejects this not only out of blind apologism but because there’s textual evidence to reject it, not the least of which being passages like:

“”The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe…””

Now let us go over this carefully. This passage about the Jewish race is, you assert, ‘textual evidence to reject’ something. What is it you claim this passage is textual evidence to reject?:

that “Nietzsche believed ressentiment was a purely racial trait belonging to lower races, particularly the Jews, and more broadly that Nietzsche was a kind of Hitleresque racialist philosopher.”

How is this passage textual evidence to reject a) that Nietzsche believed ressentiment was a racial trait (“purely” is dubious addition here unless you believe yourself that Nietzsche believed all individuals were pure specimens of pure races, which he didn’t, or you yourself believe this)? And how does this passage serve as evidence that b) Nietzsche was not “a racialist philosopher”? It may certainly be included in his entire oeuvre as evidence that he was not a philosopher – nobody claims he was. He was a philologist and produced no texts in the genre of philosophy. But not “a racialist” text producer? How is that evident from this passage? And while “Hitleresque” seems rather another ruse because it toys with chronology, what are the meaningful distinctions here between Nietzsche’s conception of “the race of the Jews” and Hitler’s?

If this passage is one from which “the bulk of scholarship” determines that it is in error to find a racialist worldview and anthropology in Nietzsche, then we have to wonder at the candour of this bulk, as many Marxists of course have over time. “The bulk of scholarship” (evidently excluding a considerable bibliography including Lukacs, Santayana, Gramsci, Trotsky, Lorsurdo, Waite, Bull) does not consider Nietzsche’s oeuvre rife with racialism, and in fact does advance this passage about breeding a new ruling caste for Europe with perhaps contributions from the purest race (“the Jews”) as an example of how he was not racist (he seems to admire “the Jewish race”, which this bulk apparently also believes exists). This posture of the bulk due to white supremacy and fascism in the academy, clearly. It is by no means universal.This is additionally what your comment contends, unless it is written in some idiolect masquerading as English, Perhaps your point that Nietzsche was not “protoHitlerian” (another way of claiming Hitler was not influenced by Nietzsche, a notion which honestly cannot be attributed to the majority of scholars) because while Hitler picked up from him and others that “the Jews” are the strongest, toughest and purest race in Europe (see Mein Kampf or this http://www.hitler.org/writings/first_writing/) he didn’t have these episodes as Nietzsche evidently did where he thought it would be nice to breed the German race with it, passages which are in your determination not provocations or jokes or ironic or whatever but evidently deadly serious and yet somehow, in your view, not risible and indicative of mental/intellectual defect. I’m not convinced this fancy of Nietzsche’s to give the new ruling caste a a Jewish way with money through eugenic cross breeding of races makes all the difference in the world between him and his famed disciple, or that the contrast to Hitler in particular is so illuminating.


Alphonse van Worden December 21, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Those are actually very different views, but I suspect you are incapable of understanding the difference between a racial anthropology and an historical materialist one of which any particular example may incorporate an error of fact.


Alphonse van Worden December 21, 2013 at 6:42 pm

“As for taking things literally or not: it’s literally impossible to reconcile the notion that Jews are both the lowest of the low “slave race” and also the “strongest, toughest, and purest race”. ”

Why would that be? Aren’t these races fictional? Why can’;t I say anything about them I please. The Jewish race is eight feet tall and can fold up and be stored under the seat in front of you. Can you prove that’s less accurate than that the Jewish race a) are the purest race and also b) exist?


Alphonse van Worden December 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I don;t know why a comment was deleted but let me repeat. You write:

“You’re saying that Nietzsche believed ressentiment was a purely racial trait belonging to lower races, particularly the Jews, and more broadly that Nietzsche was a kind of Hitleresque racialist philosopher. You say this is blindingly obvious to everyone who’s read him and that anything suggesting otherwise is just apologism for schoolchildren, but I don’t think this is the case. The bulk of scholarship on Nietzsche rejects this not only out of blind apologism but because there’s textual evidence to reject it, not the least of which being passages like:

“The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe…””

Let’s go through this slowly. I’ll quote again:

The bulk of scholarship on Nietzsche rejects this not only out of blind apologism but because there’s textual evidence to reject it, not the least of which being passages like:

“The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe…”

The bulk of scholarship on Nietzsche rejects something you claim. What?

That “Nietzsche believed ressentiment was a purely racial trait belonging to lower races, particularly the Jews, and more broadly that Nietzsche was a kind of Hitleresque racialist philosopher” And you claim this passage about breeding a new ruling caste for Europe is among the textual evidence for rejecting these assessments.

How does this passage serve as evidence to reject the conclusion that Nietzsche believed ressentiment was a racial trait arising in slave races as a result of racial hierarchy? (I;’ll cross out this “‘purely” as evasive rhetoric). And how does it serve as evidence that Nietzsche was not ‘Hitleresque” (that Hitler did not pick anything up from this passage, I suppose you mean?) “racialist”? (Admittedly it can be included in all of Nietzsche’s oeuvre as evidence that he was not a philosopher; nobody claims he was.) It clearly exhibits racialist thinking; indeed the whole passages is about races.

The bulk of scholarship – which I guess excludes everything good like Waite, Bull,Losurdo – in the academy indeed adfvances these passages as evidence that Nietzsche was not a Judeophobe or racist, and this tells us about the producers of this bulk of scholarship, their white supremacism and their cynicism and insincerity.


Alphonse van Worden December 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I don’t know why you feel a comparison to Hitler (of all people, rather than Oscar Wilde or W E B Dubois or Freud or Luxemburg) is so key; its not clear why you think the minor differences between the conception of Jews in this passage and the stuff Hitler produced derivative of it is so important to the analysis of Nietzsche. Hitler http://www.hitler.org/writings/first_writing/ agreed that humanity was divided into races; that the Aryan and the Jewish were among them; that the Aryan was dangerously polluted; that the Jew was the purest and thus strongest and toughest. Where Hitler differed is he didnt have the episodes of wanting to breed a master race with a Jewish mixture. For some reason youj have decided this episode of Nietzsche’s is not one of his jokes or provocations or ribbing his gentile readers but deadly serious and still not indicative of a hopelessly confused pseudo-knowledge and impaired intellectual function.


Père Naphtha December 22, 2013 at 3:49 am

Reminder: By the standards of mainstream scholarship, all of commenting here are hopeless cranks.


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Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 4:43 am

That’s just a turn of phrase, sorry if I implied something you didn’t mean. I meant your general insistence that he’s a systematic political reactionary advocating the establishment of an aristocratic government. These claims are widely discredited, I urge you to read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on his moral & political philosophy.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 4:49 am

And I urge you read what he very plainly said. You don’t deny that he said any those things about the masses, about women, about the Jews, but you insist on increasingly convoluted interpretative strategies. First you say it should not be read literally, Second you say we should take it in context, then you say you are not here to defend him at all.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 4:59 am

To be absolutely clear: I’ve never defended Nietzsche’s political prejudices, my initial post described his views as “repellent”. What I’m arguing is that these do no add up to the political project you ascribe to him.


C Derick Varn December 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I would urge you to read what Marx very plainly said about religion: Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.

Now, I will admit that you may have a point about the plaining reading. But one cannot be selective about the plain meaning of texts, but you clearly are being selective as is the author, “Red Miastre” whose only defense of a hyper-reactionary is in the name itself. Come now, if one is going to insist on the plain reading, then Marx and yourself and the author of the text are incompatible. Now, I happen to know that Marx voted against the call to kick the religious out of the first international and that Maistre was defended by many (non-marxist) socialists despite his heavily reactionary leanings. But that is contextual, not textual. If we are limiting ourselves to the plain reading in the way that you are with Nietzsche, then you are a problem with your reading of Marx. If you want a contextual reading of Marx, then you must allow a contextual reading of Nietzsche. Anything less is hypocrisy.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:04 am

What do you deny that he advocated that you attribute to me? ( Found the quote about the majority of men being slaves to the “Olympian” few and posted below).


Père Naphtha December 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm

1. My reading of Nietzsche is justified by a contextual as well as a “literal” reading, if context means his writings outside of On the Genealogy of of Morals, in which anti-democratic, racist, sexist, etc statements also abound, his relation to other similarly minded thinkers of his epoch, or his opinions about contemporary events (i.e. the Commune). Elaborate, if possible, on what context you think I am missing.
2. I am not interested in making myself “compatible” with Marx, I am interested in appropriating Marx and making him compatible with my own developing understanding of my purposes and the purposes of others. Such is the only productive way to read him, and such is how people quite different then myself have interpreted him, and when necessary, gone beyond him. Unlike you or others regarding Nietzsche, I am not trying to deny or explain away what Marx said on a particular topic, So the problem is different for each of us, and no hypocrisy can be charged on my part.


C Derick Varn December 21, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I have not made my opinion on Nietzsche known nor have I implied it. So the unlike “you” comment is frankly an ad hominem. Nietzsche is as sexist and anti-democratic as he sounds, but his point about ressentiment actually solidifying the current power-bases could easily be true despite that., and that point is the same spirit as the “appropiating Marx and making him compatible with [your] purposes.” The context was that ressentiment led to nihilism and inaction itself. Remember, Hegel ending his a career as a reactionary as well, but that did not invalidate his key historical insights. Maistre was a reactionary as well (a point you did not address). Someone being a reactionary does not invalidate an insight as you well know.


Alexander Miller December 21, 2013 at 10:49 pm

To be honest the late conservative Hegel is better (philosophically) than the young liberal Hegel. This underlines the error in suggesting that a philosopher’s conservative personal politics entail that their philosophy has conservative implications as well – ‘Philosophy of History’ prefigures historical materialism (especially in e.g. ‘Origin of the Family’) far more than ‘Phenomenology’.


Père Naphtha December 21, 2013 at 10:55 pm

1. My apologies for misunderstanding you when you implied that there was a contextual meaning to Nietzsche that I was missing.
2. Nietzsche never said anything like ressentiment solidifies “the current power base”. On the contrary, he said it was a source of a slave revolt in values which prepared the way for literal slave revolts against the noble races, resulting in modern democratic decadence. The people he said were suffering from inaction and nihilism were the rightful rulers, the aristocrats of spirit, because they had been corrupted by rationalism, Christianity (aka. Judaism), socialism, etc, etc: All the old and new trends in European culture that he viewed as de-legitimatizing and dis-empowering the elites. By contrast, the masses were all too full of action and presumption because of these very same uppity ideologies. Presumably, the current power base you are worried about is not whatever democratic/socialist features can currently be found in existing society So you seem to be suggesting an account of the matter entirely different from Nietzsche, which has yet to be elaborated upon.
3. The only person talking about Maistre, pro or con, at the moment is you. There is no use of Maistre within the article, nor have I have ever denied that he was a conservative.
4. You are correct, that being a reactionary does not make a person wrong by default. One needs to actually make the case that the person is right though. I have not seen anyone make that case thus far for Nietzsche on this matter.


Père Naphtha December 21, 2013 at 10:58 pm

{For the record, I would follow Losurdo in arguing against late Hegel being a reactionary. But one interminable argument at a time}


Alexander Miller December 22, 2013 at 12:09 am

I’d never heard of this guy before you mentioned him, (though I had hear of his book on liberalism), but from everything I’m heard so far he’s a complete crank. These views on Nietzsche and Hegel are kind of laughable revisionism, and apparently he’s also a proponent a Grover Furr-style historical revisionism on Stalin as well. He shouldn’t be “followed” on anything.


Père Naphtha December 22, 2013 at 2:03 am

You continue to switch between saying you are not actually defending Nietzsche, just borrowing his allegedly brilliant psychological insight (which, minus his racist-classist mythology is really quite banal), and at other times saying that the evidence against him is unscholarly or revisionist; so it remain unclear where you are taking a firm stand.

Since you don’t offer reasons for disagreeing with Losurdo, and admit to not having read any book by him, I am not sure what I am supposed to take away from this comment.


Alexander Miller December 22, 2013 at 2:24 am

I think I’ve been completely consistent. Contemporary scholarship acknowledges that Nietzsche was radically illiberal and anti-egalitarian while not taking this political view as the end-goal of all his philosophy, which is completely understandable because it’s a very small part of what he actually wrote and isn’t internally consistent. I’m trying to take (what I take to be) the mainstream view: Nietzsche’s politics aren’t defensible but they also aren’t grounds for categorically dismissing him.

As for Losurdo I think arguments like ‘Nietzsche’s philosophy is inherently reactionary’, ‘late Hegel was not conservative’, and ‘Khrushchev slandered Stalin’ to be self-evidently wrong and I’m not really interested in arguing about any but the first.


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 5:22 am

If that’s the case then the argument is that all cultures have slavery in their essence, and thus it can’t be taken as an argument for a new aristocratic society.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:26 am

“New” in the sense of not being the old ancien regime that had been routed in France and seemed to be on the decline everywhere else.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:27 am
Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:38 am

“……and if it should be true that the Greeks perished through their slavedom then another fact is much more certain, that we shall perish through the lack of slavery.”


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 5:40 am

Like I said, I don’t actually buy Nietzsche’s historical narrative here. I don’t believe history was driven by Christian morality or anything like it, but rather that “the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange”. The only context in which I think his critiques of ressentiment and bad conscience are relevant are a modern one, as a critical take on contemporary discourse. When they’re in fact being used as a bludgeon against modern-day Paris Communes by all means attack them, but I don’t think they’re by any means dependent on that sort of narrative to be logically coherent and practically meaningful.

Anyway I have to go to bed now, but I’d be happy to continue the discussion later.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 5:44 am

You should not be bothered then, one way or another, by discourse, bad conscience, or ressentiment since they can not effect in anyway the unfolding of that venerable mechanism.

But in any case, good night!


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm

I don’t believe I’ve argued anywhere that Nietzsche supported the “slave revolt” in morals, that he supported democracy or socialism, or that he believed “slave morality” was merely discursive. If I did, yes, that would be incorrect. I have argued that the concept of ressentiment can be instructive on contemporary discourse and cannot (necessarily) be rejected on the basis that we don’t agree with Nietzsche’s politics, but that’s a distinct claim from what you’re talking about here.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 10:50 pm

What does the concept of ressentiment mean to you then, since it evidently has nothing to do with anything Nietzsche had in mind?

And do you disagree about the productive and destructive power that Nietzsche, with trembling, sees in it?


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I’m not saying it has nothing to do with Nietzsche’s thought entirely, just that it’s not intrinsically connected to his politics. I posted a quote that I thought outlined why it might be useful as a tool for judging contemporary discourse, and you ignored that and again started talking about the French Revolution. We’ve been at this for quite a while now and I’m still not sure what logic you’re using to claim the concept and his politics are inseparable, and it seems as though we’re talking in circles.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 11:17 pm

The fact that he thinks it is a bad thing is because it is “plebeian” and a weapon of popular struggle. Why do you agree with on this point, if you in fact think popular struggle is good?


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Or to put it another way: If you don’t oppose what you call ressentiment for the reasons Nietzsche did, why do you oppose it?


Alexander Miller December 19, 2013 at 11:46 pm

I’m mystified as to how anyone could read ‘Genealogy’ and come to the conclusion that his only objection to ressentiment is that it creates popular power. Yes, he ascribes the influence of ressentiment to various historical events from the French Revolution to the Protestant Reformation which is clearly BS, but that’s not even the central focus on that text. It also includes, in fact largely focuses on, a critique of contemporary morality that I find not only lacking in the contempt for popular struggle you’re describing, but in fact quite compelling:

‘I cannot see anything but I can hear all the better. There is a guarded, malicious little rumour-mongering and whispering from every nook and cranny. I think people are telling lies; a sugary mildness clings to every sound. Lies are turning weakness into an accomplishment … and impotence which doesn’t retaliate is being turned into “goodness”; timid baseness is being turned into “humility”; submission to people one hates is being turned into “obedience” (actually towards someone who, they say, orders this submission – they call him God). The inoffensiveness of the weakling, the very cowardice with which he is richly endowed, his standing-by-the-door, his inevitable position of having to wait, are all given good names such as “patience”, also known as the virtue; not-being-able-to-take-revenge is called not-wanting-to-take-revenge, it might even be forgiveness (“for they know not what they do – but we know what they are doing!”). They are also talking about “loving your enemies” – and sweating while they do it.’


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 11:49 pm

What do have against “weaklings”?


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 12:03 am

The problem’s of course not weakness, but that traits characteristic of the weak by reason of necessity – “impotence which doesn’t retaliate”, “submission to people one hates” – are turned into good things. I don’t believe submission and obedience are good things, or good leftist values, or values that promote popular power, but they are in fact pervasive narratives within contemporary moral discourse, through the vehicle of both sincere pacifists whom I disagree with and cynical liberals who reject all resistance that doesn’t conform to their standards.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 12:20 am

The reason why Nietzsche takes issue with it is the fact that the weak are turning their disadvantages into virtues that will be/can be used against the strong men he admires. He does not want the latter to be enchained by such notions as one should treat (particularly “degenerate”, “plebeian”) people with respect whom one does not love, obey anything higher than self-interest, bear others with patience, or value peace over combativeness. Aristocratic societies can not handle such ideas, but they are the basis of the various slave societies which culminate in the modern movements of democracy and socialism.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 12:24 am

Obedience to the interests of the people, to the goals of all those fighting for equality, dignity, and, of course, freedom is good, no?


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 12:33 am

This is a misreading, he’s criticizing the values /as values/ at this point in the essay, but let’s leave that to the side. I’m not particularly concerned with why Nietzsche thought these values were bad, what I’m saying is that I actually agree with him regardless of his motives. And further, you didn’t just claim that Nietzsche disagreed with these values for the wrong reason, you stated that they in fact “have always characterized the advancement of freedom”. I think that’s nonsense. Subservience to power and the refusal to resist violence against oneself are not tools of the powerless, regardless of what Nietzsche thinks.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 12:51 am

If you can convince or oblige the “strong” to submit to the law and the herd, and make violent oppression less legitimate than peace, than they are in fact tools of the “weak”.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 12:52 am

No such thing as values as values, that is one of the more useful potential lesson of Nietzsche.


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 12:58 am

I don’t think that’s a good political program, I think we need revolution rather than “moral force”, but regardless it doesn’t make obedience and subservience good, or leftist, in themselves.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 1:04 am

Hence the word “oblige.” Of course the good will of the ruling class can not be counted on.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 1:05 am

“in themselves”? Was talking about goodness relative to certain ends.


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 1:07 am

Well that seems like splitting hairs when you say they “have always characterized the advancement of freedom”.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 1:10 am

Good FOR the advancement of freedom is different from saying something is “good in of itself”.


Ross Wolfe December 20, 2013 at 12:29 am

“The people”? Really, such populism is unbecoming of a socialist.


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 12:34 am

a) He’s talking specifically about personal obedience b) You can reformulate almost any concept to sound good if you add enough qualifiers


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 12:46 am

What he feared was obedience to the authority of the herd (i.e. what democratic and socialist politics concerns).


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 12:50 am

He did fear that but the passage in question is unambiguously referring to the obedience of a slave to a master. This is part of what confounds reading Nietzsche as just a standard reactionary.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 12:59 am

In the obedience of the slave, he saw the root of the consciousness that would ultimately abolish private masters (Nietzsche’s boys) and replace them with God, abstract ideals, humanity, the state, the herd, etc .

It is as if he saw Hegel’s master slave dialectic, but took the opposite side.


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 1:03 am

This is a non-sequitur. You seem to be saying “Well Nietzsche had bad goals so nothing he could say was true!” as though that undermines his criticism of the notion that being subservient was metaphysically good.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 1:09 am

No one here is presently defending anything as “metaphysically good”.

And I am simply following Nietzsche example in judging and explaining texts by what they aim to do, and how they fit into my/our projects. My rejection of him is, in a sense, the most loyal reading possible.


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 1:14 am

I’m not saying you’re defending that, sorry if that was the implication.

And I think we might actually have a core difference here: I’m not interested in reading Nietzsche like that at all, but rather picking out concepts that I think are interesting and possibly worth pursuing, (which in fact has largely been his legacy within philosophy more generally). And while the reading you’re doing isn’t necessarily invalid or an unfair critique, it’s also not the /only/ valid reading.


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 1:21 am

Maybe, but it certainly is the most productive in my opinion. And, perhaps too long to explain here, I don’t think highly of his philosophical influence in general.

If you just want to contemplate the twists and turns of ressentiment in its most garden variety, uncultivated form though, the French moralists Nietzsche admired would offer the same thing, but with less obvious baggage.


Alexander Miller December 20, 2013 at 1:32 am

I’m actually not that fond of his influence myself, or at least the massive attention he gets compared to other figures that are probably more deserving. In any case what from the French moralists did you have in mind?


Père Naphtha December 20, 2013 at 1:45 am

Montaigne, la Rochefoucauld, and Stendhal deal with the concept of ressentiment, without the desperate petite bourgeois arrogance or the Gothic race war imagery.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 6:08 am

I think Marx called Lassalle “that Jewish nigger.”

Perhaps this should offend me more than it does, as a Jew (token identity disclaimer), but I cannot bring myself to give a shit.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 6:20 am

Why should we take Marx as a model for the use of language based on that specific incident? Do you think those words are admirable or express some “truth”?


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Not saying it’s “a model for the use of language.” But perhaps there’s no need to be so hypersensitive about the terms and language people use in political discussion. Of course it’s not necessary to be deliberately offensive or needlessly provocative, but thicker skin would be a welcome development for today’s Left.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Language helps shape our social world. Of course people are going to sensitive about, considering that words which are “offensive” and “provocative” (which you seem to admit exist), particularly if used often, and by people with relative advantage to others, helps legitimize oppression, exploitation, and exclusion.

As for developing a “thicker skin”: Why should the primary burden of accommodation be upon to those who can be targeted by such speech, instead of those who insist on using it? Why is asking people to not use certain words an onerous demand, but asking others to grin and bear it perfectly fine?


Alphonse van Worden December 19, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Lawks Wolfe you are such a whiny white racist imbecile,


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Reforming “tone” is only necessary insofar as it provides an easy excuse for someone to disengage or dodge difficult questions. If someone has no stomach for ordinary polemic and invective, then perhaps some allowances may be made so that they don’t have such a convenient out. But I’m not going to self-censor on account of some assumed general hypersensitivity. The only reason I’d change the way I phrase something would be if someone tells me they’d be more willing to engage with it if I phrase it differently.

Or as Engels put it in The Housing Question (1872):

I am not going to quarrel with friend Mülberger about the “tone” of my criticism. When one has been so long in the movement as I have, one develops a fairly thick skin against attacks, and therefore one easily presumes also the existence of the same in others. In order to compensate Mülberger I shall try this time to bring my “tone” into the right relation to the sensitiveness of his epidermis.


Ross Wolfe December 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm

The best part of Engels’ brief note to Mülberger above is how deeply condescending it is, haha.


Père Naphtha December 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm

There is “tone” and there is “tone”. What use of language are you actually trying to defend? No one here is arguing against polemic as such,


Ross Wolfe December 20, 2013 at 12:26 am

How am I whining here? You seem to be the ones whining about harsh language.


Alphonse van Worden December 20, 2013 at 2:06 am

No you are wrong about this.

“My understanding though, isn’t that ressentiment is an intrinsic racial trait but rather a psychological response to a condition in which a human is subjugated but unable to respond through force.”

So obviously wrong I suspect you have not actually read these texts, Ressentiment is attributed to people in the present who have inherited it in their blood from ancestors who were subjugated and unable to respond through force because of their racial inferiority. What you are attributing to Nietzsche is actually the sort of bowdlerized platitudes produced for schoolchildren, the distilled moral of Nietzsche as interpreted by his apologists.

Obviously when you second someone like Fisher attributing ressentiment to rival academics you’re only pretending to consider these rivals literal slaves and “oppressed peoples” who are “subjugated but unable to respond through force” and who have therefore developed this psychology, assumptions encouraged but in the haziest possible way; not as metaphor so much as myth. You withhold the explanation of how you and Fisher escape ressentiment when existing in the same subjugated and impotent condition. Evoking Nietzsche however allows us to understand you are declaring yourselves noble thus immune. But perhaps you don’t really think Nietzsche has anything valid to say about this, Jews, women and slaves at all and to assume anyone referring to Nietzsche as authority would actually accept anything he wrote is ridiculous. Perhaps really you declare your concern for ressentiment etc as a way of calling some rivals jellis loozers and only evoking Nietzsche in the hope of blowing some purple smoke.


Alphonse van Worden December 20, 2013 at 2:17 am

And it should be needless to say that Nietzsche knew nothing of slave subjectivity and his diagnoses are baseless, wrong and insulting,


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