Foundations of Ethics, Vol. III:

Nietzsche’s Challenge to the Idea of Moral Good

Daniel J. Castellano


Part IV

Full Table of Contents
Part IV
12. Aristocracy or Nobility
   12.1 Aristocracy Essential to Society
   12.2 Ascendance of Aristocratic Types
   12.3 Aristocratic Sensibility
   12.4 War and Enemies
   12.5 Friendship without Pity
   12.6 Injustice for Injustice
   12.7 Heredity and Nobility
   12.8 Nobility against the State

12. Aristocracy or Nobility

The virtue described by Nietzsche is more akin to that of ancient aristocracy or nobility than that of the moralist. Pagan nobles saw their own goodness in the exercise of their strength. While modern democrats condemn acts of domination, a noble soul takes pride in such acts, accepting his duty to discharge his power, thereby bestowing his virtue upon the world. By exalting himself above others, even through violence and cruelty, he expresses a great love for the world. Not content with common virtues, he trusts his lasting great sentiments. [BGE, 72] The noble soul is a creature of action and feeling, far removed from academics, who are mere spectators. They cannot comprehend the inequality of men, as this can only be learned by feeling the uniqueness of one’s will in action. [TSZ, XXXVIII]

12.1 Aristocracy Essential to Society

EVERY elevation of the type “man,” has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society and so it will always be—a society believing in a long scale of gradations of rank and differences of worth among human beings, and requiring slavery in some form or other. [BGE, 257]

An elevation of man is an increase in his power, and every such increase is accompanied by greater social organization, which requires some form of command and obedience. Differentiation and organization of labor necessarily entail differences of worth among individuals, since not all are equally fit for every role. It might be argued that human beings are of equal worth on some more general level, but by every functional standard, they are of unequal value in their operative capacities. Even in democratic governments, where all are supposedly political equals, there is necessarily gross disparity in the execution and management of state power. Government officials are organized hierarchically, and have far more political decision-making power than their nominal equal, the ordinary voter.

Nietzsche concludes that aristocracy is not merely desirable, but an indispensable condition of civilization, a sentiment that was echoed by Ortega y Gassett. The presence of aristocracy entails the presence of some form of servitude or slavery. While modern liberal ideology pretends that slavery is an absolute evil, and thereby condemns all previous social systems, this ignores the necessary prevalence of servitude even today. If you pay your slaves in wages instead of room and board, you have only changed the mode of servitude, not abolished it. He still labors under coercion, and under the direction of another. Insofar as he is a laborer, for the duration of the work-day, he is unfree. Likewise, insofar as he is subject to public laws, he is a servant of the enforcers of the law, following their commands. In fact, as the apparatus of political and economic organization has increased, there are now myriad ways in which men are enslaved. This is not to be lamented, for it is the price of progress.

Early transitions from barbarism to civilization resulted from men who dared to make themselves rulers.

Men with a still natural nature, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey, still in possession of unbroken strength of will and desire for power, threw themselves upon weaker, more moral, more peaceful races (perhaps trading or cattle-rearing communities), or upon old mellow civilizations in which the final vital force was flickering out in brilliant fireworks of wit and depravity. At the commencement, the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their superiority did not consist first of all in their physical, but in their psychical power—they were more COMPLETE men (which at every point also implies the same as “more complete beasts”). [BGE, 257]

The first higher civilizations, i.e., those that were more than mere subsistence farming communities, were the product of predatory violence by men of ambition. Their tool was not greater physical strength, but intelligence in political intrigue and military organization. Thus Sargon of Akkad conquered neighboring cities, as did other later kings of Mesopotamia. Even as late as the sixth century BC, we find Cyrus the Great emerging from a barbarian people, preying on the decadent Babylonian Empire.

The great aristocracies, in their turn, could devolve into corruption. This “corruption” is not what is reckoned by liberals, namely tyranny and disregard for common morality. Such behaviors are not signs of decay but of vigor. Rather, European aristocracy was decadent in the truer sense of having lost power, being reduced to functionaries of the crown, and even of the people in the last days before the French Revolution. When the French aristocrats renounced their privileges, this was only the last chapter in their corruption, i.e., their unwillingness to assert power.

The essential thing, however, in a good and healthy aristocracy is that it should not regard itself as a function either of the kingship or the commonwealth, but as the SIGNIFICANCE and highest justification thereof—that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, FOR ITS SAKE, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental belief must be precisely that society is NOT allowed to exist for its own sake, but only as a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties, and in general to a higher EXISTENCE… [BGE, 258]

A healthy aristocracy is self-justified; it does not need to rationalize its position in terms of servitude to something else, but sees itself as a positive value. Modern liberals lament that the many work for the few, as if this were a defect of civilization rather than its essential condition. If anyone should accept this reality, it is surely the ruling class. An aristocracy that is ashamed of its privilege has lost its will to rule, and indulges in self-hatred, insofar as they consider themselves no better than the least of humanity. The man who wonders, “What right have I to command this soldier, this employee, this citizen?” has proven himself no longer fit to rule. If society is to be more highly organized, enabling at least some men to achieve greater power, then one must not be ashamed to use others as instruments.

To refrain mutually from injury, from violence, from exploitation, and put one’s will on a par with that of others: this may result in a certain rough sense in good conduct among individuals when the necessary conditions are given (namely, the actual similarity of the individuals in amount of force and degree of worth, and their co-relation within one organization). As soon, however, as one wished to take this principle more generally, and if possible even as the FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF SOCIETY, it would immediately disclose what it really is—namely, a Will to the DENIAL of life, a principle of dissolution and decay. [BGE, 259]

An agreement to abstain from violent or coercive means makes sense among those who are truly comparable in power. A group of noble men, or of nation-states, may recognize that such truces are expedient in order to prevent the mutual destruction of each other’s social projects. When such a pact is within a polity or other organization, its members may even collaborate toward the further development of a shared project. Yet this non-violent cooperation should not be taken to be the fundamental principle of society, as most modern Christians and liberals believe. If this principle were extended across all social classes, there could be no society, since no one could establish himself above anyone else; none could command and expect obedience. Without such structure, there is no society, in Ortega y Gassett’s sense of a shared project, just as there can be no organism where there are only proteins moving independently, not subjected to a common task.

Society endures even in so-called democracies because we are able to coerce people through the mechanisms of law enforcement and property, which are unequally distributed powers. Even the Communist nations, after declaring a formal equality, have found it necessary to establish gross inequalities in power over police force and property distribution.

Those idealistic anarchists who dream of a world without need of any such inequality are basically hoping for a world without society, which is a world without projects. The early bourgeois approximation of this renunciation of Will to Power is Jefferson’s idyllic picture of each yeoman farmer tending his own plot, without need of anyone else. This is to dream of a return to the life of mere subsistence, as if one could simply mind one’s own business without taking from anything else. Yet even the farmer violates this ethic, as he, like all life, subsists by appropriation.

…life itself is ESSENTIALLY appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation. [BGE, 259]

Even the lowliest organisms survive by taking other materials and subjecting them to their existing life processes. Since all natural forces exert themselves to the fullest, each organism conquers what it can, so the weaker inevitably succumb to the stronger when they encounter each other. Yet life has another aspect, that of preserving specific types that have proved successful at appropriation. Accordingly, we find a higher level of organization, where individuals of a type consciously or unconsciously collaborate to compete against creatures of other forms. Xenophobia, today considered a great sin, is in fact an essential characteristic of life, found everywhere in nature.

Contrasted with these features of life, it is clear that liberalism has adopted the sickly, anti-life ethos found among many Christians. We are told that it is wrong to appropriate or injure others, and most especially when the prey are weak. Yet what animal would go out of its way to chase only the most difficult prey, thereby starving itself? The liberal tenet that no one has the right to command others opposes the principle of life itself, which subsists by subordination. The principle that we should not use others, which makes slavery so noxious to liberals, is likewise refuted by biology, which teaches that life persists precisely by making use of others, even by destruction and assimilation. Cooperation is also found among animals, yet even this is accomplished by subjection to a common social organization, which advances its interests at the expense of other groups. The only way to avoid this necessity would be for lifeforms to be capable of creatio ex nihilo, but in fact they must make use of other forces they encounter.

Modern democracies, despite their rhetoric, exhibit the Will to Power they denounce, as each nation strives for ascendancy over others. Today, the United States is at once the greatest ideological exponent of democracy and the nation with the most hegemonic ambitions. Britain and France, in their turns, held similar dual roles, and the Soviet Union briefly aspired to this. The contradiction of an ambitious, evangelical democracy can be resolved only when we understand that modern nations are aristocratic in fact and democratic only in the sickly, self-doubting rhetoric of the ruling class.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the cancer of democratic thinking had not prevented Western nations from daring to vigorously impose their rule over the rest of the world by force. They openly proclaimed the superiority of their own civilization, and even, without irony, invoked democracy itself as a basis of this superiority. While nationalism is still a potent force today, this has been mixed with a sickly self-hatred that is variously characterized as anti-imperialism, anti-racism, anti-Eurocentrism or multiculturalism. At the bottom of these views is a conviction that it is intrinsically wrong for one nation or society to claim superiority over another, which is just a logical extension of the life-hating ethic of democracy. To hate the exercise of strength is to hate strength, and to hate strength or vigor is to hate life itself, which is essentially force or Will to Power.

Perhaps, it may be argued, all these observations of nature and history merely describe what has been required of animals up until now, but with further “progress,” we will no longer need to be organized by a will to power.

…people now rave everywhere, even under the guise of science, about coming conditions of society in which “the exploiting character” is to be absent—that sounds to my ears as if they promised to invent a mode of life which should refrain from all organic functions. “Exploitation” does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society; it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life—Granting that as a theory this is a novelty—as a reality it is the FUNDAMENTAL FACT of all history let us be so far honest towards ourselves! [BGE, 259]

Socialist utopias are impossible as long as human beings and their societies are essentially organic in function. Nietzsche does not pretend to extrapolate beyond the evidence, but maintains that his account of life as Will to Power has held for all of natural and human history to date. This suffices to establish that “exploitation” is not some defect or corrupt remnant of primitive human society. If the utopian insists that we may someday achieve a society that is not exploitative, he should at least show how a society could be non-organic.

Socialists can never absolutely abolish exploitation, but might instead impose limits that they find morally acceptable. They may, for example, limit exploitation to mineral and vegetable resources. Even here, the more ecologically-minded would have us impose further moral restraint, beyond the need to economize limited natural resources. Still, the need for organized human activity presupposes submission of individuals to some structure. We may, at best, “depersonalize” command by making everyone subject to impersonal rules or laws. Still, the imposition and enforcement of such rules requires an inequality of power, unless these functions could be fully automated. The only way to “emancipate” all men from human exploitation would be to enslave them to machines or some other impersonal system that exists for its own sake. This is to repudiate human life.

Only passive, inanimate objects do not exploit anything, while organic behavior is essentially exploitative. Nutrition, growth, and reproduction all operate at the expense of something else. Organic functions are the means by which an organism (or group of organisms) asserts itself, pressing outward into the world, thereby pushing something else aside. Anyone who feels remorse over such action is ashamed of living. If we extend this analysis to the realm of thought, we find that to desire is to seek to impose one’s will on reality, to make what we imagine become actual in the world. Thus even the utopians, in their desire for a supposed society without exploitation, are unwittingly exerting a sort of Will to Power, as they would impose their preferred ideal on the world.


12.2 Ascendance of Aristocratic Types

Nietzsche is more truly at home in Darwin’s world than the liberal. Herbert Spencer’s “social Darwinism” would hold in check his own liberal humanitarian impulse to aid the weak.[1] With the more recent imposition of egalitarianism against “racism” and “sexism,” today’s liberals are sheepish about admitting any measurable differences in aptitudes, and positively opposed to admitting genetic inequalities. Yet if such inequalities really do not exist, natural selection would have no matter on which to operate.

Liberal egalitarians are currently opposed to any sort of stereotyping (at least in principle if not in practice), yet natural history shows that selective pressures periodically favor the creation of more or less fixed types (i.e., species and subspecies) that remain constant for as long as they are successful in their environment. Nietzsche holds that the same is true in human history.

A species originates and retains a definite form only as long as it remains subject to unfavorable conditions. When there is no selective pressure, a broader diversity of traits can exist, and even monstrosities are sometimes tolerated. Likewise, aristocratic polities (e.g., those of ancient Greece and Italy) preserve certain traits because they are under threat of extermination.

…the species needs itself as species, as something which, precisely by virtue of its hardness, its uniformity, and simplicity of structure, can in general prevail and make itself permanent in constant struggle with its neighbours, or with rebellious or rebellion-threatening vassals. [BGE, 262]

Here we are speaking not of racial evolution, but of traits that are culturally retained within a ruling class in order to preserve its society or polity.[2] These behavioral traits are retained as long as threats from outside powers or internal rebellion persist. We see this even today, as people rally around patriotic virtues during threats of foreign war or insurgency. Such virtues are nourished by adversity. When threats disappear, by contrast, they lose their reason for being, and other traits may become admixed in society.

The qualities that have enabled a polity to persist come to be known as virtues, and these are actively fostered by the polity.

It does so with severity, indeed it desires severity; every aristocratic morality is intolerant in the education of youth, in the control of women, in the marriage customs, in the relations of old and young, in the penal laws (which have an eye only for the degenerating): it counts intolerance itself among the virtues, under the name of “justice.” A type with few, but very marked features, a species of severe, warlike, wisely silent, reserved, and reticent men… [BGE, 262]

In an aristocratic polity, morality is an instrument for instilling the virtues that have proven to help the polity persist. Its severity and intolerance are motivated by the adverse conditions that make these virtues necessary. Punitive justice manifests strict intolerance of behaviors that fail to exhibit virtue. Our society, by contrast, makes “intolerance” a sin, and is horrified by the severity of past aristocracies. Yet what we call a sin is precisely what the ancients considered a point of pride. Tolerance, by contrast, would have been an unthinkable capitulation to society’s enemies. Any polity that indulged in such self-doubt, thinking its way of life no better than any others, would have succumbed to extinction.

Even in antiquity, there were periods of superabundance, during which the old disciplines weakened through lack of necessity. This famously happened to the Romans once they had secured themselves against all foreign enemies in the Mediterranean. Earlier, Alexander’s empire fragmented after his death cut short his effort to create a unified cultural type among intermarrying nobility.

When the old virtues are no longer really necessary to the preservation of society, they may persist among aristocrats only “as a form of LUXURY, as an archaizing TASTE.” [BGE, 262] In the age of Cicero, there were sentimental appeals to old martial virtues, and attempts to emulate them. Yet this had no real import except in the personal lives of those who followed these virtues and derived comfort from them. The virtues were no longer necessary traits, and now existed side by side with many contrary traits. Those who clung to the old ways mistook the virtues for eternal ideals, when in fact they were contingent expediencies.

More recently, we find an extended period of superabundance after World War II, during which there was a complete breakdown in marriage customs and other mores, as our survival and prosperity were no longer threatened. Ancient severity was relaxed, especially as modern medicine and industry, guaranteeing a superabundant and well-fed population, seemed to render strict moral discipline unnecessary.

Likewise, we now find that instead of old norms being replaced by new ones, there is a broad diversity of behavior, without any unified type, as Nietzsche predicts: “the individual dares to be individual and detach himself…” [BGE, 262] Our aversion to typology or stereotyping is itself a historically contingent phenomenon, derived from the present lack of serious threats to survival. Those who insist that “tolerance” and “multiculturalism” are moral imperatives make an absurd moralization of the absence of norms, treating the contingent as absolute, and making the denial of types into a type.

An apparent contradiction of this analysis is found in the Renaissance, when atypical individualism arose amidst great danger in Italy. Here it would seem that individuality rather than a type was cultivated by adversity. Examining more closely, we find that amidst this individualism certain general traits were promoted. While the early humanists were divided as to whether they ought to be concerned with politics, the threats to Florence around 1400 led to the success of a civic humanism, such as that promoted by Leonardo Bruni. There was greater uniformity in method rather than content, as humanists were concerned with rhetoric, the art of argument, so essential to diplomacy and politics. When the Medici subverted republicanism, there was less need for civic humanism, and neo-Platonic idealism began to prevail among intellectuals.

Still, the flourishing of the High Renaissance was not a response to adversity, but a culmination of values received from the earlier Renaissance, including naturalism in art and idealistic classicism. Yet such art is clearly an aesthetic luxury, as proved by the wealth of its patrons, so we should not expect it to be attuned to political crises. In Machiavelli, we find at once the expression of a type and of individuality. His typical aspects, e.g., ruthless pragmatism, ingratiation, etc., are all driven by political necessity. Yet he is also informed by the earlier humanist method of shunning generalities in favor of particular and individual circumstances for analysis. The power of the method lies in its treatment of individual strengths and weaknesses.

Individualism within definite parameters was favored by the bewildering complexity of Renaissance politics, civics, and diplomacy. If we are to find a decadent period when such humanism was no longer as useful, it might be in the age of absolute monarchs. Still, the example of the Renaissance shows how individuality or variety may itself be favorable to survival in certain circumstances. The existence of a type does not abolish the need for individual variation; in biology, such variety is the basis for evolving new types.

With all that being said, the Renaissance does not serve as a counterexample to Nietzsche’s contention that adversity favors certain aristocratic traits, including an “instinct for rank” ordered by such traits. [BGE, 263] The men of the Renaissance were arguably even more acutely status-conscious than their late medieval predecessors. Those of aristocratic nature have “delight in the nuances of reverence,” while slaves tend toward egalitarianism, as rank has no savor for those who are at the bottom.


12.3 Aristocratic Sensibility

In order for the discipline and instinct for reverence to be developed, the objects of reverence must be protected by authority. Without such authority, the vulgar may openly express hatred or ridicule toward those of higher rank.

The way in which, on the whole, the reverence for the BIBLE has hitherto been maintained in Europe, is perhaps the best example of discipline and refinement of manners which Europe owes to Christianity: books of such profoundness and supreme significance require for their protection an external tyranny of authority, in order to acquire the PERIOD of thousands of years which is necessary to exhaust and unriddle them. [BGE, 263]

Although Nietzsche thinks the Bible has been exhausted and surpassed, he nonetheless believes it was necessary for it to be revered (and have such reverence enforced) in order to develop the discipline and instinct for reverence, which is an instinct for rank. In recent decades, we find that tolerance of open blasphemy is accompanied by a general coarsening of manners and irreverence toward all superiors. Today’s “new atheist” is practically incapable of speaking without rudeness and impertinence. Atheism is no longer confined to the elites, but has become the province of slaves. While the aristocratic enemies of Christianity spoke of this religion with some respect, the lower grades of men find their vulgarity “spurts up suddenly like dirty water,” [BGE, 263] as they hate anything that seems finer or holier than them. Indeed, “holier-than-thou” is a term of opprobrium among the vulgar.

Something of aristocratic sensibility is brought to the masses when they are taught “that they are not allowed to touch everything”; i.e., when they are taught reverence. Then they partake of the aristocrat’s delight in seeing something of a higher grade than himself, instead of the resentment that comes more naturally to the vulgar.

The “vulgar” are not identified by social class, but by their tastes.

On the contrary, in the so-called cultured classes, the believers in “modern ideas,” nothing is perhaps so repulsive as their lack of shame, the easy insolence of eye and hand with which they touch, taste, and finger everything; and it is possible that even yet there is more RELATIVE nobility of taste, and more tact for reverence among the people, among the lower classes of the people, especially among peasants, than among the newspaper-reading DEMIMONDE [i.e., on the fringe of Society] of intellect, the cultured class. [BGE, 263]

In modern democracies, the pseudo-intelligentsia practice a slave morality, without sense of rank or reverence. The modern lower classes actually have more aristocratic sensibility than they do.

Genuine aristocratic sensibility should not be confused with mere vanity or snobbery, which is an affectation of would-be nobility. Vanity, in fact, is unintelligible to a noble man.

The problem for him is to represent to his mind beings who seek to arouse a good opinion of themselves which they themselves do not possess—and consequently also do not “deserve,”—and who yet BELIEVE in this good opinion afterwards. This seems to him on the one hand such bad taste and so self-disrespectful, and on the other hand so grotesquely unreasonable… [BGE, 261]

Since the aristocratic man is a determiner of values, it is unintelligible that he should try to make others have a good opinion of himself that he does not already possess. The aristocrat does not depend on others for his sense of self-worth, so he cannot be vain, though he may value the praises of others for different reasons.

He will say, for instance: “I may be mistaken about my value, and on the other hand may nevertheless demand that my value should be acknowledged by others precisely as I rate it:—that, however, is not vanity (but self-conceit, or, in most cases, that which is called ‘humility,’ and also ‘modesty’).” Or he will even say: “For many reasons I can delight in the good opinion of others, perhaps because I love and honour them, and rejoice in all their joys, perhaps also because their good opinion endorses and strengthens my belief in my own good opinion, perhaps because the good opinion of others, even in cases where I do not share it, is useful to me, or gives promise of usefulness:—all this, however, is not vanity.” [BGE, 261]

An aristocrat’s self-evaluation is not purely arbitrary, but depends on his established tastes and criteria for virtue, so it is possible for him to err in estimating his value. Still, he may insist that others regard him with the value he gives himself. This is not vanity, for he is not deriving his sense of self-worth from the opinions of others, but on the contrary forcing others to accept his evaluation. Nietzsche remarks that even the desire to be thought “modest” or “humble” is a form of this self-conceit. One may value the opinion of those friends who share our tastes, and therefore help confirm the accuracy of our self-evaluation. We may see some advantage to receiving praise, yet our acceptance of such is not vanity, since this utility is independent of whether we agree with the opinion.

The ordinary man, by contrast, is “always WAITING for an opinion about himself, and then instinctively submitting to it,” [BGE, 261] even if the opinion is unfavorable. Plebeians do not decide their own worth, but are evaluated by an external standard. This is true even in modern democracies, where individuals are shamed before the court of public opinion. Only an aristocrat is fully immune to the opinions of others in his sense of self-worth.

The aristocratic impulse to self-evaluate and think well of oneself is a kind of instinctive sensibility, and so ought to be hereditable. Nietzsche believed that the gradual democratization of Europe resulted from intermarriage across social classes, so the aristocratic impulse is now more widely prevalent. While we would today be much more cautious about asserting simple genetic causality, it is at least highly plausible that the removal of social barriers will erode some distinctions in sensibilities. Yet not everyone is well-suited to have this aristocratic impulse. Those of otherwise servile inclinations will not be able to handle it.

…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… [BGE, 261]

The modern plebeian may have enough aristocrat in him to think he can set his own value, yet still have a slave-like dependence on the opinions of others. This is shown by his touchiness toward criticism. We see precisely this sort of personality in today’s online communities, where everyone pretends to be an independent thinker who defines his own values, yet at the same time is offended by every criticism. Most social media software even evaluate the worth of a comment by the number of approvals from others.

Modern squeamishness about the genetic basis of behavior is grounded in the presumption of egalitarianism that Nietzsche challenges. It is otherwise strange that those who deny any spiritual aspect to man should resist the obvious implication that all our mental properties are grounded in physiology, which is hereditable. This need not mean that mental traits are simply passed from parent to offspring in linear fashion; genetics is much more complicated. Still, once it is confessed that behavioral characteristics are in some way hereditable, we should not be surprised to find that behavioral tendencies are more prevalent in some populations than in others, and that these prevalence levels can change through migration and intermarriage of populations.

Still, we have noted that the formation of an aristocratic type is often prompted by dangers to the polity, and so occur on timescales much too short for ordinary natural selection. Instead, the creation of behavioral types is likely prompted by cultural selection, which can occur rapidly, as “traits” spread by direct imitation and are retained by custom or law. Similarly, the mingling of aristocratic and plebeian characteristics may be attributable to cultural changes rather than intermarriage. Even if culture is ultimately referable to nature, it should be admitted that these changes are mediated by conscious rationality, which enables man to alter himself much more rapidly than ordinary biological evolution.

The noble man is not vain, but he is essentially egoistic. He accepts this egoism as a brute fact, not as something that he chooses arbitrarily. It is simply just that others should subject themselves to him, even to the point of self-sacrifice. No external justification is needed, for the justness of this order comes from his self-evaluation. [BGE, 265] Still, it may be “justified” in terms of his aesthetic tastes, which inform his self-evaluation. Having these tastes suffice to prove that he is noble. To take a page from Stirner, his “right to rule” comes from his willingness to rule, while those who recognize his right deserve to be slaves. Nietzsche might add that the noble man’s sensibility or comfort with command serves as its own justification.

The problem of authority is here neatly solved. While most political theorists would have authority pull itself up by its own hair, giving “the people” some right of self-rule, Nietzsche baldly asserts that justice itself is grounded in the aristocrat’s self-evaluation. There is no external criterion by which the aristocrat “deserves” to rule; indeed, if he were to submit to such a criterion, he would prove himself unfit to rule. This sense of one’s authority as personal majesty was known to countless pagan rulers. Even Christian rulers preserved a semblance of this notion when they believed themselves to reign “by the grace of God,” which is to say, by an undeserved favor to one’s person.

Aristocratic egoism is not compromised by the fact that there are many aristocrats. These privileged men show regard for each other, interacting with self-assurance and mutual respect. They even delight in showing respect to those of higher rank, for this further establishes their own rank. Likewise, all reverent interactions among nobility, whether of equal or unequal rank, are means of honoring oneself, for one concedes rights to another only in exchange for recognition of one’s own rights. Such exchange of honors and rights is “the ESSENCE of all intercourse.” [BGE, 265]

There is no strong logical reason why this account of aristocratic intercourse might not be extended to all men. Why should not all men have at least some rights, so that they may be treated as low-grade nobility? Perhaps liberal bourgeois democracy is really an aristocratic egoism extended to all. We may not all have equal rights, as the democrats pretend, but we all do have some honors and rights, and have at least some small domain to rule. Yet in order for everyone to attain to some nobility, it is not enough to be born human, but one must also cultivate noble tastes and a will to rule.

The noble soul gives as he takes, prompted by the passionate and sensitive instinct of requital, which is at the root of his nature. The notion of “favour” has, INTER PARES, neither significance nor good repute. [BGE, 265]

Although Nietzsche allows for difference of rank in nobility, he also considers aristocrats to be peers, insofar as each retains his independent self-valuation. As such, it is unfitting for a noble man to receive a “favor” or grace. This may seem strange, since we ordinarily think of feudal aristocrats granting graces or privileges to those of lower rank. Nietzsche considers it to be essential to a noble spirit that he does not look for gifts from above: “…he looks either FORWARD, horizontally and deliberately, or downwards—HE KNOWS THAT HE IS ON A HEIGHT.” [BGE, 264]

When an aristocrat receives some benefit from another, even from one of higher rank, he contributes some service in return. To take a feudal example, a lord may be given title over some lands by a king in exchange for being able to summon so many knights in time of need. The king needs the lord no less the lord needs the king, though the king is higher in rank. Thus the lord retains the dignity of a noble man, and is neither a mere servant of the king nor dependent on his charity.

Noble dignity implies an unquestioning reverence for oneself. It is not enough to show a wish to be noble by attempting great works; in fact such longing indicates a lack of nobility. “It is not the works, but the BELIEF which is here decisive and determines the order of rank… it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself…” [BGE, 287] The Lutheran principle of faith over works is here adapted to show that it is self-belief which makes the nobleman, not efforts. If you have to try to be noble, then you are not noble. Self-assuredness or self-satisfaction, so anathema to meritocratic thinkers, is the hallmark of the aristocrat. This certainty is “something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.” [BGE, 287]

Self-reverence means attributing holiness or purity to oneself, which entails being apart from those who lack this. The noble soul can have nothing in common with others; indeed, every expression of purity or saintliness has been associated with some degree of isolation from the rest of men. The saint who delights in his purity and refinement can only take pity on “the FILTH of the human, all-too-human. And there are grades and heights where pity itself is regarded by him as impurity, as filth.” [BGE, 271] Nietzsche does not disparage the purity of the saint, but holds that there are even higher grades of purity, where we cleanse ourselves of pity, further removing us from the merely human.

Pure nobility should be free from pity, since pity entails a kind of condescension. The truly noble will never think of sharing his duties with everyone else, or renouncing his privileges. In fact, the defense and exercise of one’s prerogatives are among the duties of an aristocrat. [BGE, 272] He has no Promethean task of bringing the divine to the masses; on the contrary, his dignity entails maintaining a separation. Aristocratic duties, by their nature, are not for everyone.

The “bestowing virtue” of the aristocrat does not consist in imparting his tastes or virtues onto the masses. The elevation of other men is not his goal; he only uses them to elevate himself, or casts them aside as obstacles. It is only by his elevation and domination that he can bestow his bounty to others. [BGE, 273]

Nietzsche is ambivalent about the role of patience in a noble soul. He sometimes associates patience with slavery, for only those forced to wait will call patience a virtue. [GM, I, 14] Yet he also recognizes that impatience with the means, seeking only the end, will “spoil all intercourse” for the noble man. [BGE, 273] Such impatience would make him utterly solitary and fruitless. On the other hand, if he is not impatient, and waits too long, he may miss his opportunity. [BGE, 274]

In all kinds of injury and loss the lower and coarser soul is better off than the nobler soul: the dangers of the latter must be greater, the probability that it will come to grief and perish is in fact immense, considering the multiplicity of the conditions of its existence.—In a lizard a finger grows again which has been lost; not so in man.— [BGE, 276]

The superiority of the noble man is not in his hardiness, for coarser men tend to be hardier. Yet we are not here speaking of mere bodily constitution. The nobler soul dares great, complex enterprises, which are not easily restored if they come to ruin. Those concerned with mere subsistence have simple needs, and may more easily recover from setbacks. Nietzsche’s notion of nobility is not grounded in survival of the fittest, but in the elevation of those dare most in the greatest danger.


12.4 War and Enemies

Modern liberal revulsion toward Nietzsche is grounded mainly in his apparent glorification of violence and war. Sometimes it seems, from his choice of imagery, that his notion of the noble man is nothing more than that of the warrior. We have already seen that there is much more to Nietzschean nobility than that, yet there is an important role for warring. Here he draws on the ancient aristocratic esteem for one’s enemy.

I know the hatred and envy of your hearts. Ye are not great enough to know of hatred and envy. Then be great enough not to be ashamed of them! [TSZ, X]

Only the powerful can have enemies worthy of esteem. This esteem is shown by hatred, where we recognize an enemy as a threat (as opposed to contemptuous disdain for the weak), and by envy, which is a form of admiration. Weak moralists, while pretending that hatred and envy are evil, hypocritically harbor these same sentiments toward the strong.

If it is good and healthy to hate your enemies, especially those who bring out the best in you, then war attains a positive value. Here “war” should be understood as any state of conflict between enemies. “Ye shall love peace as a means to new wars—and the short peace more than the long.” [TSZ, X] Peace is not some end-state or permanent stasis to be sought, but provides the grounds upon which the next great struggle will emerge. It is in such struggle that man improves.

It should be clear that Nietzschean “war” is by no means confined to conventional notions of armed conflict. If we did nothing but repeat the same ancient quarrels through the same means, we could hardly be said to improve. Each advancement will furnish the means of the next struggle. When all are under the same law, then the law itself can become a weapon. When all are agreed on the same property system, property becomes a weapon. When all have the same religion or philosophy, this forms the basis of sectarian strife. Nietzsche disdains the hand-wringing denouncers of strife, as they would denounce the vitality of man. What would be left of value in human history if we removed all the struggles?

“Ye say it is the good cause which halloweth even war? I say unto you: it is the good war which halloweth every cause.” [TSZ, X] The worth of your cause is proven by your willingness to struggle boldly for it. If no one will fight for a cause, it is unworthy of esteem. It is the act of struggle that confers value, not some a priori abstraction of right and wrong.

In this light, liberal complaints about religious and nationalist wars seem foolish. The social liberal who says we should abolish religion and nationalism in order to avoid war, if he is consistent, ought to insist we abolish any cause that stirs a man’s fighting spirit. Such reasoning would require us to abandon any truly worthy cause. This is but another example of the vigor-sapping ethic of social liberalism.

“War and courage have done more great things than charity. Not your sympathy, but your bravery hath hitherto saved the victims.” [TSZ, X] All the moralistic pity in the world will not save victimized people, unless it is accompanied by force. Yet this force would be able to save even without pity, so it alone suffices. Thus war, in the most generic sense of vigorous, forceful struggle, is essential to accomplishing great ends, even the ends of the moralist. Democratic idealists rely on armies and police forces to promote their “freedoms,” and religious leaders have appealed to kings and the wealthy to alleviate the suffering of the poor and oppressed. There is nothing shameful in this, for all is accomplished through power.

Nietzsche recognizes that “to be brave is good,” where “good” is that which strengthens a man. This is different from moral good, which is “what is pretty, and at the same time touching.” So-called moral good is really another aesthetic sensibility, and an effeminate one at that.

When one recognizes that it is the struggle, rather than the cause, that confers value, the path is open toward admiring and appreciating one’s enemies. The democrat is generally incapable of this; he must paint all his enemies as evil, for serving the “wrong” cause. The aristocrat, by contrast, regards a man’s courage rather than his cause, so he can admire the enemy. Thus the Greeks admired the Trojans, sometimes esteeming them above themselves. Likewise the Romans respected the Carthaginians, and even the Turks admired the prowess of the crusading Franks. They had nothing of their sickly descendants, who now complain that these ancient wars were crimes. Yet the “victims” themselves would hear nothing of victimhood or pity!

Ye shall only have enemies to be hated, but not enemies to be despised. Ye must be proud of your enemies; then, the successes of your enemies are also your successes. [TSZ, X]

Since strife strengthens a man, he is indebted to his enemy, who makes the struggle possible. The stronger the enemy, the greater the struggle. Thus the aristocrat delights in the courage and strength of a worthy adversary. He still hates his enemy, not in the sense of thinking him evil, but as a fierce competitor. The modern sportsman still has some sense of this ethic. Not so the democratic rhetorician, who insists that foreign enemies and criminals are all cowards, while our soldiers and police are brave. Yet how brave can they be, if they only fight the cowardly?

Resistance—that is the distinction of the slave. Let your distinction be obedience. Let your commanding itself be obeying. To the good warrior soundeth “thou shalt” pleasanter than “I will.” And all that is dear unto you, ye shall first have it commanded unto you. [TSZ, X]

This exhortation to obedience and embracing the “thou shalt” seems to contradict Nietzsche’s philosophy, but here he engages in paradoxical rhetoric. In fact, the warriors show “obedience” only to Zarathustra’s “command” that man should be surpassed. [Loc. cit.]


12.5 Friendship without Pity

Any ethic that places a positive value on strife will have less need for pity. There is no sense in having pity on those who are injured by strife for that reason alone, since conflict is no crime, but that which strengthens men. We may choose to come to the aid of friends, but this need not be out of pity.

“If one would have a friend, then must one also be willing to wage war for him: and in order to wage war, one must be CAPABLE of being an enemy.” [TSZ, XIV] Here Nietzsche seems to use his philological expertise, knowing that the word Freund comes from a proto-Germanic verb that can mean “to free.” A “friend” is someone you have “freed” from captivity, and the only way to do this is by waging war on his behalf. More generally, if you would have a friend, you must be willing to fight for him, not merely love him. This entails being the enemy of some person. While it is possible that you could deliver a friend from some natural calamity, in the modern age we have mostly tamed nature, or at least have made organized provisions for natural disasters. Thus, in the present level of human development, practically all new conflicts will involve opposing other men.

One may have pity for a friend, but this is not essential to friendship. A friend might not even want pity, but if he does, this may be given only concealed “under a hard shell.” A friend, if he is truly beneficial, is also a kind of enemy, constantly challenging you. If you will do the same for him, you must conceal your pity beneath hardness.

Art thou a slave? Then thou canst not be a friend. Art thou a tyrant? Then thou canst not have friends.
Far too long hath there been a slave and a tyrant concealed in woman. On that account woman is not yet capable of friendship: she knoweth only love.
In woman’s love there is injustice and blindness to all she doth not love. And even in woman’s conscious love, there is still always surprise and lightning and night, along with the light.
As yet woman is not capable of friendship: women are still cats, and birds. Or at the best, cows.
As yet woman is not capable of friendship. But tell me, ye men, who of you are capable of friendship? [TSZ, XIV]

A slave cannot be a friend, since he is powerless to free anyone, nor can a tyrant, who has no desire to free anyone. Friendship is possible only with the kind of equality that exists among noblemen (even of different rank). A friend is a freed man, and only aristocrats have the requisite autonomy.

Feminine love is servile or tyrannical in the sense of being something that binds rather than frees. It is a sort of partiality or favoritism with unconcealed pity, so it weakens the beloved instead of strengthening. Insofar as women see love as something that binds the beloved to themselves, they are not capable of “friendship” in the primitive Germanic sense. This “womanly” love can be found in either sex.

Still, feminine love has its “surprise and lightning,” acting freely without morality. Tight-knit groups of women know a friendship that does entail going to battle for each other, trumping all moral considerations. Often such friendship expressly entails becoming the enemy of another. This “cattiness,” though it is derided even by many women as a defect of their sex, is in fact a semblance of the noble friendship described by Nietzsche. If it falls short, it is only because it is not yet shorn of the idea that the beloved should be bound to the lover.

Giving aid to one’s friends may seem to contradict Nietzsche’s doctrine that all life is assimilation and subordination, using others for our benefit. Yet friends are of use to each other, insofar as they are adversarial, challenging each other to self-surpassing. Even enemies have such usefulness. “As much as ye give to your friend, will I give even to my foe, and will not become poorer thereby.” [TSZ, X] This is not commending love of enemies, but rather criticizing the weakness of our generosity to friends. We do not help our friends by giving them goods, but only weaken ourselves. We help them by fighting with them, as allies and as competitors, thereby strengthening them.


12.6 Injustice for Injustice

In this vein, Zarathustra thanks an adder that bit him, for making him alert. This gratitude, however, is not expressed by “loving one’s enemies” in the sense of rendering good for evil.

When, however, ye have an enemy, then return him not good for evil: for that would abash him. But prove that he hath done something good to you.
And rather be angry than abash any one! And when ye are cursed, it pleaseth me not that ye should then desire to bless. Rather curse a little also!
And should a great injustice befall you, then do quickly five small ones besides. Hideous to behold is he on whom injustice presseth alone. [TSZ, XIX]

Returning good for evil shows ingratitude towards one’s enemies, trying to make them ashamed for what they have done. An expression of anger or vengefulness does honor to an enemy, for we thereby acknowledge that he has sharpened us. Punishment, then, may be issued as a “right and honour to the transgressor.” Those who passively endure injustice are “hideous” to Zarathustra, steeped in sickly resentment, unwilling to take up their own cause with any weapon besides shame. He would prefer that we respond with whatever small injustices we can muster, even inflicting them upon ourselves if we can bear it. “A small revenge is humaner than no revenge at all.” By inflicting injustice, we assert our strength, and thus show how we have been strengthened by the injustice received. By taking revenge, however unjust, we honor our enemy, thereby giving him his due, and re-establish our self-assertiveness, which was threatened. Thus: “Shared injustice is half justice.” These are aesthetic judgments, as Zarathustra consistently says “I like” or “I do not like” rather than “should” or “should not.”

Nobler is it to own oneself in the wrong than to establish one’s right, especially if one be in the right. Only, one must be rich enough to do so.
I do not like your cold justice; out of the eye of your judges there always glanceth the executioner and his cold steel.
Tell me: where find we justice, which is love with seeing eyes? Devise me, then, the love which not only beareth all punishment, but also all guilt!
Devise me, then, the justice which acquitteth every one except the judge! [TSZ, XIX]

Nietzsche does not utterly reject the Stoic-Christian ideal of bearing injustice, but maintains that only the exceptionally strong can do this without hypocritical resentment. Only the powerful can be magnanimous, forgoing his right without losing his sense of superiority. Even then, he does not remain idle or impotent, but is willingly inflicting injustice upon himself, demonstrating that he can bear it with ease.

Those who pretend to forego revenge, hiding instead behind impersonal justice, actually show less love of enemies than those who take revenge. The one who repays injustice with injustice has no thought of shaming his enemy, but on the contrary honors him. Official justice, by contrast, conceals a deep hatred for the enemy who asserts himself. Not content merely to punish or retaliate, the judge effectively wishes to kill the criminal, making him ashamed of who he is. Zarathustra, instead, finds no shame in the actions of the enemy or the retaliator, being repulsed only by the life-hating ethic of the judge.

Nietzsche’s recognition that we benefit from our enemies is not limited to his famous ethic that what does not kill only makes us stronger. “One has regarded life carelessly, if one fails to see the hand that—kills with leniency.” [BGE, 69] Just as nature kills men and animals when they have lost their strength to create, so might men perform this service to other men. Thus even the act of killing, in some circumstances, may express a love of vitality.

The ethical distinction between friend and enemy is obscured in the noble man, since he shows no pity toward friends and he honors his enemies for benefiting him. In his actions toward friends and enemies alike, there is a life-affirming ethic that sees no shame in violent assertions of strength.


12.7 Heredity and Nobility

Historically, most aristocracies have been defined at least in part by inheritance, with privileges passing to male heirs. This may seem to be a perversion or departure from meritocracy. In the Roman Empire, for example, a family gained noble status only if three successive generations achieved high office, but could lose this status if one generation failed to do so. Later European titles of nobility, by contrast, were usually passed on by heredity indefinitely, regardless of the real merits of the holders. Such a system of inherited privilege obtained in the German Empire of the nineteenth century.

Democrats pretend that there should be no privilege (privilegium = “private law”), but rather all are bound by a common law. Max Stirner already recognized that this amounts to a denial of rights to persons as such. Instead, only the universal “Man” has rights. Nietzsche likewise rejects this idealism founded on thin air, and instead grounds rights in each person’s varying ability to assert himself against others. Since man is purely physiological, strength of will is hereditary in the same mode as other traits. Nobility of soul is not really something that can be taught, though one may cultivate one’s innate tastes. Zarathustra does not show how all men may become noble, for that is impossible, but he helps the privileged few to trust in their own tastes and judgments without apology or shame.

It cannot be effaced from a man’s soul what his ancestors have preferably and most constantly done: whether they were perhaps diligent economizers attached to a desk and a cash-box, modest and citizen-like in their desires, modest also in their virtues; or whether they were accustomed to commanding from morning till night, fond of rude pleasures and probably of still ruder duties and responsibilities; or whether, finally, at one time or another, they have sacrificed old privileges of birth and possession, in order to live wholly for their faith—for their “God,“—as men of an inexorable and sensitive conscience, which blushes at every compromise. It is quite impossible for a man NOT to have the qualities and predilections of his parents and ancestors in his constitution, whatever appearances may suggest to the contrary. This is the problem of race. [BGE, 264]

Recall that the inheritance of acquired characteristics was not abandoned in biology until the 1930s, and Darwin himself believed in this mechanism. Even now, modern biology still recognizes that inheritance plays a major role in human behavior, though this does not take the form of a “race-memory” of one’s ancestors’ deeds. It is certainly untrue that humans can biologically inherit culture, but no less certainly true that they may inherit behavioral dispositions. Some inherited dispositions may be more compatible with certain cultural modes. Only in this messy sense might there be said to be “national” or “racial” characters, not, to be sure, as rigid non-overlapping types, but sufficiently marked to be identifiable with a constellation of traits.

The biological reality of race has been disproven only as a “single-trait” model, but various studies have shown that racial types can be identified with better than 90% accuracy, when specifying just a handful of traits. Still, such types may be arbitrarily defined. To identify subgroups of common ancestry, it is more objective to refer to “haplogroups” (genotypes with a shared mutation). Studies of human population genetics have shown that many haplogroups have definite geographical distribution, and roughly correspond to ethnic groupings, reflecting the early patterns of descent and migration among humans. People of more recent common ancestry who have been more or less geographically isolated from other groups tend to have more traits in common. In this rough sense, there certainly is such a thing as “race,” although most scientists avoid this politically-charged term.[3]

Nonetheless, population genetics also shows that ethnic or racial groups are not rigid non-overlapping types. Nearly all human alleles are found in every major human subpopulation, so that distinctions in race (i.e., of recent ancestry) are more a question of trait frequency than categorical types. Applying our improved knowledge of genetics to Nietzsche’s conception of inherited nobility, it follows that even those born into a lineage of slaves might fortuitously have some traits of leadership.

It is a ubiquitous fact of psychology that constitutional dispositions toward behaviors require some environmental factor in order to be actualized. Thus the widely observed phenomenon of “national character” or “class character” must depend on cultural circumstances, even if we assume the heritability of behavioral disposition. If a culture strongly favors or disfavors certain behaviors, this can raise more formidable national or class barriers than those of biology. By the same token, nobility may become possible in a nation or class where it was absent by a change in culture.

The discovery that there are no absolute genetic barriers within the human race might have consoled Nietzsche, who tried to account for his refined sensibility by persuading himself and others that he was descended from Polish nobility. This claim has been disproven by genealogy, evaporating the pretension that his family long ago sacrificed its privileges for the sake of religion. This only confirms that aristocratic sensibility can be found in individuals of diverse backgrounds. Nonetheless, such sensibility is present only in a minority of people.

Whichever groups of sensations within a soul awaken most readily, begin to speak, and give the word of command—these decide as to the general order of rank of its values, and determine ultimately its list of desirable things. A man’s estimates of value betray something of the STRUCTURE of his soul, and wherein it sees its conditions of life, its intrinsic needs.

Supposing now that necessity has from all time drawn together only such men as could express similar requirements and similar experiences by similar symbols, it results on the whole that the easy COMMUNICABILITY of need, which implies ultimately the undergoing only of average and COMMON experiences, must have been the most potent of all the forces which have hitherto operated upon mankind.

The more similar, the more ordinary people, have always had and are still having the advantage; the more select, more refined, more unique, and difficultly comprehensible, are liable to stand alone; they succumb to accidents in their isolation, and seldom propagate themselves. One must appeal to immense opposing forces, in order to thwart this natural, all-too-natural PROGRESSUS IN SIMILE, the evolution of man to the similar, the ordinary, the average, the gregarious—to the IGNOBLE—! [BGE, 268]

The rarity of noble souls is practically necessitated by the fact that those with ordinary needs and wants can more easily communicate such needs to each other. Thus they are more likely to combine in societies ordered to such needs. Those with more refined sensibility, e.g., those of artistic or philosophical temperament, have incommunicable needs, and thus find themselves in isolation. Unless the noble ones exert themselves with extraordinary force, the human race will tend toward mediocrity and similarity.

The accuracy of these insights seems to be corroborated by modern social history. Utopians of various ideological stripes have been repeatedly disappointed by the vulgarity of the common man. Give a man all the leisure time you like, and he will not use it for anything edifying unless is he is among the select few who have a love of art, philosophy, or other cultural refinements. As modern societies have abolished aristocracies, popular culture becomes ever coarser, with vulgarian tendencies towards toilet humor, sexual libertinism, inebriation, and other perennial pastimes of slaves. The astounding wealth now available to the lower classes has done little to refine the vast majority, as they lack any inclination toward high culture.

For Nietzsche, this lack of inclination is not merely cultural, but biological. Sensibility, after all, arises from whichever biological sensations impress themselves most forcefully in the human mind. Whether this sensibility is fully hereditable or not, it is something pre-conscious, so it cannot be transformed by mere education, whence comes the perennial frustration of those idealists who would civilize the ruder classes. Since genetics is much more complex than simple linear transmission, we may find refined souls scattered through all ethnic groups and social backgrounds, but these are always a minority, and those not blessed with such sensibility cannot be taught it.

This is but a modern version of the ancient question whether virtue can be taught. Those who held that virtue is a habit could argue for educability, as habits can be developed by discipline. Since for Nietzsche all ethics is aesthetic, virtue cannot be taught any more than taste or other sensibilities can be taught. People who lack refined sensibility may outwardly ape the tastes of those they judge their betters, but they cannot experience such preferences as spontaneous needs.

A vigorous ruling elite is necessary to preserve higher culture against the tendency toward vulgarization. The Louvre could only have been established by a monarch; a democratic government would never have permitted such extravagance. Wagner’s work would never have been widely known if not for the efforts of the king of Bavaria, as he was shunned by the mediocre academy, which could not accept anything genuinely unique and unequal. Even today, the fine arts rely on the patronage of the wealthy, acting either in private societies or in support of state-managed programs. If things were left to the electorate, high culture would receive negligible state funding, in favor of more pedestrian economic concerns. It is only because bureaucrats and their elite patrons are able to impose their pet projects undemocratically that the fine arts still receive substantial state funding.

The preferences of the electorate, by contrast, are clearly indicated by the content of mass entertainment. Yet all are exposed to mass culture, even those of refined sensibilities. Mass culture was just beginning to emerge toward the end of Nietzsche’s life, so he had only the faintest glimpse of Europe’s lurch toward vulgarity. Still, what he had seen in the nineteenth century was already enough to scandalize aristocratic sensibility, leading him to fear that all would be corrupted.

…the corruption, the ruination of higher men, of the more unusually constituted souls, is in fact, the rule: it is dreadful to have such a rule always before one’s eyes. [BGE, 269]

Philistinism had already emerged among the Left, as shown by the burning of the Tuileries and the library of the Louvre. Nietzsche was horrified by this emerging belief that high culture was “aristocratic” or “bourgeois” ostentation that should be abolished in the new socialist order. His love of the fine arts was a primary motive for advancing a non-nihilistic philosophy for the modern world.

From the late twentieth century onward, mass entertainment has taken its toll on the sensibilities of even the more gifted souls. Today, the most educated and sophisticated adopt the coarse, lewd cursing of the working class. Instead of seeking finer things, they aspire only to ever grosser forms of sexual gratification and intoxication, which were once the domain of the lower, more desperate classes. Diction, dress, and comportment all gravitate toward the casual and crass. Even those still trained in finer conduct, including those in constitutional monarchies, frequently condescend to informality, for the sake of showing a human touch to the masses. Those who insist on conducting themselves with refinement are disparaged as “snobs,” a term formerly applied only to those with false pretensions of nobility. In democratic society, all nobility is abolished, so no one must pretend to be better than the crowd.

As he remarked in his letters [20 Aug. 1880; 14 Apr. 1887], Nietzsche was troubled to find himself needing to adopt such condescension in order to conduct ordinary conversations with common folk.

One may perceive in almost every psychologist a tell-tale inclination for delightful intercourse with commonplace and well-ordered men; the fact is thereby disclosed that he always requires healing, that he needs a sort of flight and forgetfulness, away from what his insight and incisiveness—from what his “business”—has laid upon his conscience. [BGE, 269]

One need not always be pondering philosophy and serious art. Light conversation provides needed respite from these duties, but it carries its own peril, as it tempts one to acquiesce to common judgments.

He is easily silenced by the judgment of others; he hears with unmoved countenance how people honour, admire, love, and glorify, where he has PERCEIVED—or he even conceals his silence by expressly assenting to some plausible opinion. [BGE, 269]

If you would transcend the crowd, you cannot become one of its “great men” or national heroes. These are admired in democracies not as true masters who dominated others, but as servants of the people. They are worshipped by democrats the way sacrificial animals were once revered as gods.

…the great statesman, the conqueror, the discoverer, are disguised in their creations until they are unrecognizable; the “work” of the artist, of the philosopher, only invents him who has created it, is REPUTED to have created it; the “great men,” as they are reverenced, are poor little fictions composed afterwards… [BGE, 269]

What the democrat really admires is not the great men, but their works, i.e., some advance in statecraft, some scientific discovery. The “great man” has no greatness other than that of his works; as a man, he is no better than anyone else, per democratic myth. Admiration of George Washington is admiration of the republic he founded, not a recognition that he is a superior sort of man. We would care nothing for Thomas Edison if he did not leave us any inventions. If someone else invented them, we would admire that person instead. This shows that what is revered is not the person, but the works. In this modern version of the Christian controversy about faith and works, Nietzsche takes the Lutheran position: My worth is not in my works, but in my spontaneous inclinations, and these are not something I chose by free will, but they were given to me before I was born.

Another false superiority is found among the great modern poets, who only appear to have higher sensibilities.

…men of the moment, enthusiastic, sensuous, and childish, light-minded and impulsive in their trust and distrust; with souls in which usually some flaw has to be concealed; often taking revenge with their works for an internal defilement, often seeking forgetfulness in their soaring from a too true memory, often lost in the mud and almost in love with it, until they become like the Will-o’-the-Wisps around the swamps, and PRETEND TO BE stars—the people then call them idealists…

…what a TORMENT these great artists are and the so-called higher men in general, to him who has once found them out!

Nietzsche sees the poets as corrupted individualists who will not learn from their own insights, but go back to praising what the masses praise. This is a torment to the psychologist, as it is a reminder of how the noble soul is usually corrupted, and becomes only a false star.

The poets have a womanly sympathy for the masses, which drags them back into the mud, so they even love the mud and swamp: “…woman would like to believe that love can do EVERYTHING—it is the SUPERSTITION peculiar to her.” [BGE, 269] The supposedly lofty poetry of the Romantics only endorses this ignorant belief, proving that such poets are barely men, much less a higher sort of men. Even those born with the highest sensibilities can be dragged down this low by sympathy. We can now better appreciate why Nietzsche felt that he must cleanse himself of sympathy and pity.


12.8 Nobility against the State

The noble man considers that his personal excellence and will to lead gives him special duties and rights, known as privileges (private laws). The state, by contrast, has the function of imposing a common law over all that is in its domain. Long before the democratic revolutions, European states expanded in power at the expense of aristocracies. There increasingly arose a sense that there ought to be equality under all law; i.e., that there should only be common law, and no private law. Modern equality under the law entails that there should be no personal rights or privileges, and all are subject to the state. The state officials justify their dominion not on the basis of personal privilege or a special ability to rule, but on the pretext of merely representing the people.

This sign I give unto you: every people speaketh its language of good and evil: this its neighbour understandeth not. Its language hath it devised for itself in laws and customs.
But the state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen. [TSZ, XI]

Nietzsche’s hatred of the state is so profound that he seems to dispense with his usual rule that good and evil are relative or historically contingent. The state is a liar and a thief under any moral system. It is a liar because its claim to be the people is always false. Consequently, whatever it takes from the people is theft, since it is not, as it pretends, a mere stand-in for the people.

The state says: “On earth there is nothing greater than I: it is I who am the regulating finger of God…” [TSZ, XI] Even those who reject the old God worship this new idol. By banishing its aristocratic rivals, the state makes itself the supreme arbiter of a universal morality. Whatever it does not regulate is left to unenforceable private opinion. Having banished all superior beings, be they gods or men, we slavishly worship the state and its “rule of law,” defending it out of moral duty. Equality under the law defines right and wrong, a morality accepted even by atheists. Whatever noblemen remain are corrupted into being ashamed to rule or claim any privilege, having internalized the slavish morality promoted by the state.

The state is for superfluous people, who steal the works of inventors and treasures of the wise, calling it culture. They “vomit their bile and call it a newspaper.” They become poorer with their wealth. “Power they seek for, and above all, the lever of power, much money—these impotent ones!” Every state, whether monarchical or democratic, has its hangers-on, its sycophants, its courtiers or lobbyists. The way to supremacy is not through exertion of personal strength, but by weak means, by servile pandering to popular opinion or to the official bureaucracy. Where violent demonstrations of excellence are now abhorred, the primary means to power is money. Yet even the wealthy are impotent, since they too must acquiesce to the morality of the state, rather than set their own values.

“Towards the throne they all strive: it is their madness—as if happiness sat on the throne! Ofttimes sitteth filth on the throne.—and ofttimes also the throne on filth.” The only “evil” Nietzsche recognizes is aesthetic evil, i.e., that which is bad, worthless, or disgusting to one with higher tastes. His disgust with the state arises from its hatred of the most vigorous, its enthronement of the weak for no other merit than being weak. Behind this supposed sympathy and love of humanity lies a seething resentment toward the strong. It is not enough to prevent the strong from ruling, but on top they must accept the value system of slaves. This condition is not something that arose solely in modern democracies, but extends back thousands of years. Such historical development is explained in Nietzsche’s account of master and slave morality.


Continue to Part V


[1] Nietzsche rejected Spencer’s formula of “survival of the fittest,” holding instead that the experience of sickness can develop greater strength. This belief was undoubtedly informed by his own experience with various ailments.

[2] Cultural evolution, unlike biological evolution, admits “inheritance of acquired characters.” In the late nineteenth century, it was widely believed that such “Lamarckian” inheritance was possible even in biology, and Darwin himself gave greater emphasis to this mechanism in his later editions of On the Origin of Species.

[3] Regarding genetics and race, see, e.g.:
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi, Alberto Piazza. The History and Geography of Human Genes (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994).
Robin O. Andreasen. “Race: Biological Reality or Social Construct?” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 67, Suppl. Proceedings (Sep. 2000), pp. 8653-8666.
A.W.F. Edwards. “Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy,” BioEssays, Vol. 25 (8), Aug. 2003, pp. 798-801.

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