October 15, 2010

Positive Freedom: Nietzsche, Marx, and Anarchism

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Marx, Nietzsche — Tags: — Russ @ 9:13 am


One of Nietzsche’s core ideas, and one of his most misunderstood, is his contrast of noble morality vs. slave morality.
The essence of the distinction is this. “Noble”, or what I’ll call positive morality, defines itself as the good and seeks to act affirmatively based upon that definition. It only derivatively defines “the bad”, and reacts, according to what contrasts with itself.
“Slave” morality, by contrast, starts out reactively, defining “the masters” and any other alien as “evil”, and only derivatively defines itself as the good. In either case its action is merely a reaction.
So to use Nietzsche’s description, the positive morality defines itself and the good according to what it calls honesty, loyalty, courage, principle, gratitude and revenge (in both cases paying back what is owed). It derivatively describes the bad, the slavish, according to the antonyms of these: lying, faithlessness, cowardice, cynicism or nihilism, the unwillingness to pay what is owed out of some despicable lassitude – ingratitude, laziness, cowardice.
By contrast, the slave morality starts by revaluing the “noble” virtues as vices. What they call honesty it calls haughtiness and arrogance. What they call loyalty it calls a stupid or childish adherence to dead ritual. What they call courage it calls aggression and recklessness. Principle becomes either stubborn impractical “purism” at best or a complete fraud at worst. Gratitude or revenge become empty interest-seeking.
It then revalues its own traits, considered contemptible by the positive morality, as “the good”. Its lying and faithlessness become humility, cleverness, prudence, the measure of intelligence. Its physical cowardice becomes virtuous pacifism and its moral cowardice becomes a salutary will to compromise, to be “inclusive”, to “find common ground”. Its lack of principle becomes “pragmatism”. Its ingratitude becomes the sense of entitlement, and its inability to avenge becomes “tolerance”.
Nietzsche’s ideas here are crystallized in Beyond Good and Evil section 260, and he develops them at greater length in On the Genealogy of Morals, Essay I.
Nietzsche himself wrote about psychological, spiritual, and creative issues, not about politics and the economy. (Indeed, he affected to despise the latter, and one of the inferior elements of his writing is his intermittent attacks on political radicals, for whom he used “anarchist” as a catch-all term. He was basically ignorant about politics and economics and didn’t want to know about them.) But although I no longer subscribe to his spiritualized cult of aristocracy, I’m finding that if I transpose his ideas on spiritual and intellectual creators to an expression about producers in general, then almost everything he says can be redeemed for anarchism.
By producers I mean producers who have political self-respect and the will to fight.
So I’m thinking out the idea of transposing the master/slave morality in this way:
Master morality = Positive freedom, the bottom-up assertion of political and economic democracy, the assertion through day-to-day action of freedom and human dignity, and worker self-actualization. This is not primarily a “rebellion” against the criminals, seeking “liberation” from them, although it is that as well. It is first and foremost a Renaissance of our humanity, a rebirth, a revolution in the classical sense of “revolving back” to the primal human order.
Slave morality = The fetish of negative/bourgeois freedom (negative freedom is a wonderful thing, but only as a tool toward some human goal, not as a value in itself), the desire for “enlightened” elitism, “benevolent” despotism, the rancid dream of trickle-down (political, economic, spiritual, cultural), everything that is characteristic of liberals and conservatives.
One of the many parallels between Marx and Nietzsche is the shared philosophy of the producer. Marx wrote about the worker, but conceived him as a producer seeking fulfillment through his self-owned and -directed work. He conceived his ideal society based upon this. He didn’t see the worker as the consumer, except derivatively. He didn’t view people as naturally experiencing work as a chore to be endured and completed so they could get on with consumption.
We can see here how he had his own idea of the positive morality of the worker as creative producer, vs. the slave morality of the consumer. This is an extension of the labor theory of value, which Marx didn’t invent but expanded into a vision of society. The best society is that in which the laborer has freedom over his labor, where he produces as a free human being. Any coercive elitism, any hierarchy, any extraction, alienates the worker from his work.
And so it’s true in general. All parasitic elitism, all wealth and power concentration, stands between us and our freedom, between us and our labor fulfillment, between us and our humanity. It aggressively alienates us from our birthright. The criminals have taken what could have been such a wonderful world and turned it into a place of, at best, bare struggle and tension and fear, and at worst, more often, misery and slavery and violence.
Similar to Marx, Nietzsche wrote about art and philosophy, but wrote about them from the perspective of the artist and the thinker, and that’s the audience for whom he wrote. He didn’t write primarily for the art lover and reader of philosophy.
So in a sense it’s an “elite” mindset, but for the active strata among the productive populace. Both despise parasites, wasteful idlers, rentiers of every sort. It’s just a different emphasis. So in both cases the “elitism”, if we can call it that, overt in Nietzsche’s case and implicit in that of Marx, is that it’s a philosophy of, by, and for the producer, not the consumer. It envisions a social world constructed for the self-actualization of the producer, not the comfort of the consumer.
By contrast, every kind of what can be called passive elitism, all concentrated wealth and power, every trickle-down political and economic ideology – corporatism, capitalism, liberalism, representative democracy, etc. – seems focused on the hedonism of the consumer. It wants to pander to passivity. (And of course none of it works the way it claims. The comfort of the consumer, as we’re now seeing, was only provisional and temporary.)
The best of Marx’s self-directing worker (without the contradictory centralism) and Nietzsche’s self-directing thinker and creator (without the ivory tower snobbery) are combined in anarchism, which also revalues the seeming “elitism” of the affirmative producer philosophy through the egalitarianism of direct participation, equality of opportunity to work, to create, to seek human fulfillment.
Here’s some ideas from the Anarchist FAQ, an excellent and encyclopedic resource on every aspect of anarchism. These are quoted from sections 2.7 and 2.16.

Direct action has an empowering and liberating effect on those involved in it. Self-activity is the means by which the creativity, initiative, imagination and critical thought of those subjected to authority can be developed….

Society, while shaping all individuals, is also created by them, through their actions, thoughts, and ideals. Challenging institutions that limit one’s freedom is mentally liberating, as it sets in motion the process of questioning authoritarian relationships in general. This process gives us insight into how society works, changing our ideas and creating new ideals….By changing the world, even in a small way, we change ourselves….

Anarchists, however, do not think that self-liberation must wait for the future, after the “glorious revolution.” The personal is political, and given the nature of society, how we act in the here and now will influence the future of our society and our lives. Therefore, even in pre-anarchist society anarchists try to create, as Bakunin puts it, “not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself.” We can do so by creating alternative social relationships and organisations, acting as free people in a non-free society. Only by our actions in the here and now can we lay the foundation for a free society…..

Revolution is a process, not an event, and every “spontaneous revolutionary action” usually results from and is based upon the patient work of many years of organisation and education by people with “utopian” ideas. The process of “creating the new world in the shell of the old” (to use another I.W.W. expression), by building alternative institutions and relationships, is but one component of what must be a long tradition of revolutionary commitment and militancy…..

In other words, anarchy needs anarchists in order to be created and survive. But these anarchists need not be perfect, just people who have freed themselves, by their own efforts, of the superstition that command-and-obedience relations and capitalist property rights are necessary. The implicit assumption in the idea that anarchy needs “perfect” people is that freedom will be given, not taken; hence the obvious conclusion follows that an anarchy requiring “perfect” people will fail. But this argument ignores the need for self-activity and self-liberation in order to create a free society. For anarchists, “history is nothing but a struggle between the rulers and the ruled, the oppressors and the oppressed.” [Peter Kropotkin, Act for Yourselves, p. 85] Ideas change through struggle and, consequently, in the struggle against oppression and exploitation, we not only change the world, we change ourselves at the same time. So it is the struggle for freedom which creates people capable of taking the responsibility for their own lives, communities and planet. People capable of living as equals in a free society, so making anarchy possible.

This is the essence of positive democracy, positive freedom. Posted in honor of Nietzsche’s birthday (1844- ).


  1. I hope you’ll pardon me for being blunt and harsh. You know I appreciate your posts here, on Naked Capitalism and Baseline Scenario.

    I don’t know much about anarchism but to me it seems to be to the left what libertarianism is to the right. Can anarchism be more realistic than libertarianism?

    Comment by EmilianoZ — October 15, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    • Can you be more specific about what you mean by realistic?

      If you’re asking, has autonomous cooperation ever worked in real life, the answer is of course yes, for most people throughout history and prehistory. Centralized hierarchy has been the exception outside the West not the norm.

      As for the West, during the Oil Age, the time and place where it was up against the longest odds, some places where producer cooperation worked well until destroyed by hostility and force from without are 1871 Paris, 1905 Russia, 1917-18 Russia, post-WWI Italy, 1936-7 Spain, 1956 Hungary, and 1968 Paris.

      Not all those examples provide the same level of data, but they together and especially Spain provide proof of concept.

      If the question is, can anarchism fight a violent enemy, Nestor Mahkno proved it can in the Ukraine in 1918-20, at least an enemy on the level of the Whites and the early Red Army.

      Unfortunately we’ll never know if the anarchists could have won the Spanish Civil War since they caved in to the communists and liberals (who hated and wanted to destroy them more than they cared about fighting Franco), thereby sealing their own doom.

      (It’s a recurring phenomenon of history that wherever anarchists get rolling liberals and communists, elitists both, would prefer to see their fellow elitist fascists win than see anarchism work. I refer the reader to my idea that the real political spectrum should run from democracy to elitism. Liberals, communists, and fascists would all be down toward the same elitist end. That ought to put today’s corporate liberals in perspective.)

      Those are some specific answers to “realism” questions. But like I said, I don’t know what you meant.

      Anarchism doesn’t expect people to be perfect. But unlike with “libertarianism”, with anarchism no one’s in a position to amass power over others since there’s no state, no landed or usurious “property”, no concentrated wealth, no coercive power, no government secrecy, everyone works as his own free agent amid a cooperative endeavor.

      Comment by Russ — October 15, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

      • Russ, Thank you for your eloquence. I can’t but help thinking that both Niet and Marx were caught up in the protestant-ethic world view that Max Weber and DeTocqueville wrote about. Compare that to the mentality of today where you have BO the blessed being the greatest of hypocrites — Humpty Dumpty for sure. I think you’ll like another essay I read today. It can be found here: http://newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2853%23_edn1%23_edn1

        Here’s a taste: “It is here that Marx’s key insight remains valid, perhaps today more than ever. For Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere proper, as with the criteria the global financial institutions apply when they want to pronounce a judgement on a country—does it have free elections? Are the judges independent? Is the press free from hidden pressures? Are human rights respected? The key to actual freedom resides rather in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed for effective improvement is not political reform, but a transformation in the social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, or about worker–management relations in a factory; all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by ‘extending’ democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing ‘democratic’ banks under people’s control. Radical changes in this domain lie outside the sphere of legal rights. Such democratic procedures can, of course, have a positive role to play. But they remain part of the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie, whose purpose is to guarantee the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. In this precise sense, Badiou was right in his claim that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire or exploitation, but democracy. It is the acceptance of ‘democratic mechanisms’ as the ultimate frame that prevents a radical transformation of capitalist relations.”

        Comment by tawal — October 15, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

      • Just yesterday I bookmarked another Zizek essay from which I read an interesting excerpt. So now it looks like I have two of them.

        I’ll have to read the whole thing I know exactly what the terms mean here, but just from this excerpt I take it to mean:

        1. What we have now is pseudo-democracy, while the real power flows occur extrapolitically and certainly extra-democratically.

        2. The solution is not to extend the purview of existing rotten institutions (“reformed”, no doubt), but to replace them completely with new institutions.

        (That’s one of the oldest controversies among Marxists and between Marxists and anarchists – should there be a transitional revolutionary State at all? And if so, does that mean taking over the existing State and deploying it in a revolutionary way, or does it mean destroying the existing State and temporarily replacing it with a new State, for example a “free state”, to cite one furiously contested term.)

        Comment by Russ — October 16, 2010 @ 2:51 am

  2. I really like this post. My own personal “RWA” is that as long as you are close to both Nietzsche and Marx (and it must be both), while maintaining a critical attitude, you can never be too far from the truth. I’d even go so far as to say that I accept Nietzsche’s cult of the aristocrat as long as it means a productive and meritocrat aristocracy.

    But EmilianoZ has a point. The huge potential weakness of anarchism, which it shares with libertarianism, is war. My fear is that an anarchist society can only exist as long as it has anarchist neighbours. But I say potentially because some semi-anarchist organizational principles are among the strongest known to man. The steppe nomads absolutely dominated Eurasia for at least two millennium. But on the other hand, technologically advanced hierarchical civilizations have also been known to roll up anarchical tribal societies with a certain ease.

    I highly recommend Azar Gat’s “War in Human Civilization”. In it you will see the weaknesses, as well of strengths, of the organizational principle of anarchy. It all boils down to a battle pitting on the one hand the human propensity towards cooperation versus on the other the deep seeded evolutionary demands for among other things somatic resources, reproductive success, glory, and the security dilemma.

    My own take is that paradoxically, we would need a level of global governance on the wholesale level in order to achieve anarchy on the retail level.

    Comment by Kevin de Bruxelles — October 15, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

    • The Oil Age was an extremely hostile environment for any kind of democratic or decentralization idea. Where oil supplements hierarchical competence, I doubt anarchism could withstand the onslaught. For example, I don’t think an anarchist army could have fought the German army.

      At the other pole Makhno proved an anarchist army can defeat an incompetent hierarchical army like the Whites. Franco was somewhere in between, and we don’t know the answer there.

      So I haven’t dismissed the question. In fact that was one of several questions that sprung to mind when it first occured to me that anarchism might have a future.

      The answer I’ve settled on is that the record is promising enough that we can go forward. Post-oil the kind of armies likely to exist, at least during the chaotic transitional state, are likely to be a lot more like the Whites than like the Germans of the world wars, just as future wars on landmasses are likely to be more like the Russian Civil War than WWI.

      If that’s a reasonable supposition (and Peak Oil and the incipient collapse of globalization give many reasons for thinking it is), then we also have reason to be optimistic about the ability of an anarchist society to militarily hold its own.

      I grant that may be more difficult in Eurasia than in North America.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I wrote it down and will check it out.

      Comment by Russ — October 16, 2010 @ 2:39 am

  3. I like this post. It is intellectually challenging.
    A little bird tells me.. that you must have read what I wrote over at Toby’s place, and that you DID NOT THINK IT WAS UNINTELLIGIBLE GARBAGE.
    I offer myself the luxury of questioning EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY, even people who our society has decided in some mysterious way.. are geniuses (most of the time without having bothered to read them previously..)
    The problem with DEFINING ONESELF as “the good” is the delicate one of.. authority, and the LEG ONE WILL STAND ON to declare in such peremptory fashion that one’s definition is “the right one”.
    We are talking about auto foundation here, and while it is a good thing to have NO MASTER, it is an entirely different one to accept NO AUTHORITY.
    Isn’t it ? Isn’t accepting SOME authority tantamount to granting trust ?
    Since I no longer have to POLICE MYSELF on the blogs, I will say that I see a good deal of “slave mentality” on the economic blogs, according to Nietzsche’s definition, at least.
    This ties in to what I said a few days ago about polarization and its limits in shaping (linguistic) meaning for us.
    Antonyms… there is more to life than antonyms. And even resorting to them at all is.. reactive. Defining oneself IN OPPOSITION is reactive.
    But we are not going to get rid of reactions. Because we are animals (thank God). Nietzsche seems to have forgotten THAT.
    I think that Nietzsche could have benefited from reading Freud. His thinking on the “slave mentality” seems simplistic to me. Because in my opinion, every man has to find his place WITHIN the social body, and within a group, and a lot of his behavior will be spent determining whether he is inside or outside.
    Those FEW individuals who are really capable of disregarding.. reputation, social recognition, honors, acceptance… they are REALLY FEW. Are they.. “better” than the others, that Nietzsche would like to have us believe are “slaves” ? Not necessarily.
    I believe that.. Jesus Christ was the greatest anarchist who walked the face of this earth, and that his POLITICAL and ECONOMIC program, that you can read in the four gospels, could go far to creating a much more JUST society for us in this world.
    BUT.. Jesus Christ was crucified for refusing to say that the revolution in the INDIVIDUAL MAN’S mind and heart could be extrapolated to MEN’S political and social INSTITUTIONS.
    That’s why.. MY ANARCHY is individual.

    Comment by Debra — October 16, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  4. You know, two years ago, the Protestant pastor of my parent’s Church gave me a book by a guy for whom Nietzsche was… the Antichrist.
    I seem to remember hearing that Nietzsche passed his last days in mystical identification with Jesus…
    When I hear that, I think… geez, if i ever got famous (but I have no plans for that…) people would probably say the same thing.
    Somehow or another.. mystical relationships/identifications with Jesus don’t go down well on the economic blogs…

    Comment by Debra — October 16, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  5. Nietzsche didn’t regard socialization as being synonymous with enslavement. On the contrary, his “noble” was highly socialized, but in a specific way, while the “slave” was socialized in a very different way.

    Two things often misconceived are that 1. N exalted master morality over slave morality, and that 2. he believed in these as pure types. Neither of those are the case.

    Right there in BGE section 260 (linked above) N says he “hastens to add” that especially all modern types are mixtures of these two.

    And although N clearly “prefers” master morality to slave morality, his main purpose in writing, here as in most other cases, is to describe the types, not “agree” with one over the other.

    Finally, as for the “free spirit”, the intellectually and spiritually creative individual who is the ideal of N’s writing and his intended reader, he too isn’t supposed to be some unsocialized hermit. Nevertheless N thinks society has many pitfalls for this individual, and offers guidance on how to navigate them.

    When I was younger I felt more like that individual. Ironically, having become fully conscious of the economic and political tyranny and threats, I no longer feel as socially unsure of myself. I feel like there’s far more important work to be done than be preoccupied with my own little problems. And once I realized that, those problems went away.

    Comment by Russ — October 16, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

  6. I read many of the excerpts from “What is Noble”.
    I think that there is only ONE mention of the word “woman” in it…and this mention is disparaging in equating “woman” with “weakness”, with a negative judgment assigned to weakness.
    This is very… telling for me.
    Because Nietzsche as he appears here is blindly caught up in the cult of phallic virility : man WITHOUT woman, and a masculine principle that does not intricate any feminine one in order to temper it. (This is Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth’s logic, by the way.)
    The idea that the noble MAN defines himself in a purely.. REFLEXIVE gesture is unacceptable to me, and I said a while ago, and will repeat that I think that Nietzsche is in… REACTION against his Christian heritage in his theorizing here (like many others…).
    I think that.. Nietzsche was tormented by his Protestant inheritance, and that he spent his life trying to come to terms with it. Maybe he did at the end. A man or a woman can change his mind significantly in the course of a life.
    NORMAL, I say… it is becoming harder and harder to come to terms with any Biblical heritage in our culture.
    When I say that my anarchy is individual IN NO WAY AM I SAYING that I am exclusively preoccupied with MY navel, because that’s not true.
    For example…
    Yesterday, coming home from dropping off my car at the garage to be repaired, I crossed through a neighborhood where I spotted a fig tree whose branches were spreading out over the PUBLIC sidewalk.
    And seeing the figs squashed on the ground around, I started plucking the accesssible ones from the branches, and collecting them.
    And the “owner” of the tree came out and asked me what I was doing with a suspicious air. And THEN said… you should have asked, etc. And I answered : “here, do you want them, here they are, IN AN OPEN, AND UNCALCULATING, GENEROUS MANNER. And she immediately relented, saying that she didn’t want anybody tearing off the branches, etc etc… And I continued on with my figs, because she and HER FAMILY were sick of eating all the figs…
    And I thought of the rabbinical attitude towards property, which says.. “what is yours is yours, and what is MINE, IS YOURS, too”, and how THIS ATTITUDE is THE ONLY VIABLE ATTITUDE that opens men and women’s hearts and minds, and neutralizes the property question, and selfishness. All other attitudes… are naïve, or lead to war in the long run.
    I COULD HAVE told that woman that according to article bla bla bla of the law, I WAS ENTITLED TO THOSE FIGS, but… that wouldn’t have had the same effect EVEN IF I HAD GOT THE FIGS IN THE END.
    See what I mean ?
    Nietzsche… he could NOT come up with that kind of argument or story on the basis of what I read above.
    The story I just told you is an INDICATION of an attitude, and a way of being in the world that is light years away from being preoccupied with one’s navel.
    I believe.
    But the level that i want to be political on is.. in my neighborhood, on the street, in the bus, in my home, even.
    Not in institutions. Not right now, at least.

    Comment by Debra — October 16, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    • Nietzsche had Zarathustra say “I am a North wind to ripe figs.” (book 2, “On the Blessed Isles”).

      Meaning, his teachings are meant to help those who are ripe break free and carry out their missions. There we can see the influence of Socrates, who said the same thing but used the simile of being like a midwife.

      Much of what N writes about women is another non-integral part of his writing, like his disparagement of political engagement. And you’re mistaken about it being typical of him. On the contrary, it usually contradicts the main threads of his philosophy, just like his anti-politics does.

      The fig story is a good one, and the neighborhood is exactly the place we need to find our politics.

      Comment by Russ — October 16, 2010 @ 5:47 pm

      • What do you mean, a “non integral” part of his philosophy ? I don’t understand. I did says.. “Nietzsche as he appears in this excerpt”, too.
        The rabbis were the ones who helped me break free the most. And Shakespeare too, as I keep repeating…
        Freud’s thinking… is really a casuistic form of rabbinical thinking that has gone through the ideological ringer of “the scientific method”, and is applied to.. a different object, i.e…. the human psyche.
        We need to rebuild.. “le tissu social” as we say in French, and it is a good metaphor, as it comes from fabric : the social fabric.
        Speaking of which… millions of little atoms, each writing his or her own blog is NOT EXACTLY rebuilding the social fabric.
        It is harder, and much more challenging to be.. AT LEAST TWO OR MORE on a blog, writing…
        Most Anglo Saxons I see these days are just not capable of this.
        And.. this is why we are going down.
        Too many little.. ATOMS out there.
        There are no more MOLECULES EVEN.

        Comment by Debra — October 16, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

      • I mean it neither adds anything new nor confirms anything essential, for good or bad. If it were plucked out completely, the philosophy would lose nothing of value, and would indeed be improved by the removal of a gratuitous blemish.

        Comment by Russ — October 16, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

      • “I am a North wind to ripe figs”
        See…”I have come to set father against son…”
        “His teachings are meant to help those who are ripe break free and carry out their missions”. (Except that…. he doesn’t say HOW YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOUR MISSION IS… That’s a very.. OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET way of looking at things, in my book.)
        This means that Nietzsche intended his teachings to be initiatic, JUST LIKE…
        I don’t have to say it, do I ? You get the point ?
        Both Jesus AND Nietzsche understood.. the power of language. And the parabole. They CHOSE the parabole for reasons of spiritual power, because they were not hung up on crappy and stupid definitions of language as a “tool”…
        I shouldn’t even be writing here… I should be writing.. POETRY.

        Comment by Debra — October 17, 2010 @ 5:58 am

  7. On your response to my response about women, I say…
    I say niet.
    It adds (rather.. SUBTRACTS…) EVERYTHING from his philosophy.
    But.. could we have expected something different from the son of a Protestant pastor, inundated with the propaganda of his time ? (Whether or not he wanted to believe he was free, or not…and I say this after having been RAISED IN PROTESTANTISM, so don’t draw any rapid conclusions, there.)
    Always good to remember the HISTORICAL CONTEXT of an individual writer. I’m not sure how much.. THAT adds or subtracts to our understanding of him, but, I believe in keeping the historical context in mind.
    I say to those who want to listen.. EVERYTHING hangs together. The constant harping on about “man” and “men” represents an attempt to.. ELIMINATE the feminine principle, and SPEAKING FROM A WOMAN’S POINT OF VIEW (and not a crew cut, shirt and tie, boot wearing fascimile of a man driving a bus, like I CAN see in my hometown…) that is NOT GOOD. Not good for me, AS A WOMAN.
    And not good… for the world, which needs… MORE WOMEN right now, and fewer rabid American (butch) feminists.
    My.. OPINION THERE. And not a popular one, granted…

    Comment by Debra — October 17, 2010 @ 6:07 am

    • Nietzsche considered one woman more intelligent then himself: Lu Salome…

      Comment by milena stojadinvoc — December 11, 2011 @ 9:53 am

  8. Funny, the idea that you can… subtract something, or add it into a context without ANYTHING changing…
    To me that is really a naive way of looking at the world.
    But we do not have… THE SAME LOGIC.
    My logic is maybe… a more FEMININE ONE ? Who knows ?
    Nothing that you can prove there.
    But.. nothing that you can disprove either.

    Comment by Debra — October 17, 2010 @ 6:11 am

  9. Anyone who’s ever read Nietzsche knows he called for each of us to find our own mission arising out of us.

    Giving quotes would be superfluous, but here’s just one from Zarathustra:

    “This is my way. What’s yours? But the way doesn’t exist.”

    Comment by Russ — October 17, 2010 @ 6:52 am

  10. It seems that anarchism is bound to fail if state and industry exist. Industry practically demands a state to organize it socially and that would implicate the class struggle, from which we get a dictatorship of one class over the other. If the anarchists’ starting point is to “get rid of the state” or to “build alternatives to the state” (not your words but my straw figures) without attending to the fact of industry, a fact that overdetermines the basic political situation, the anarchists will be smashed by whoever wields the state, i.e., the state will not just cease to be relevant. Ultimately anarchism owes its actual normative character, revolutionary or reactionary, to the larger political context, not to any “essence” of its own.

    Comment by James — October 19, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

    • Hi James,

      Yes, it’s simply by definition that if the state and centralized hierarchical industry continue to exist, then anarchism does not exist, and vice versa.

      Anarchism must function within the available political and economic environment, doing what it can to change them, in order to seek its goals.

      It’s true that anarchism, just like any other philosophy of radical change, can’t by itself bring down a healthy, intact state and economic structure.

      My analysis is that Peak Oil, other resource and environmental limits, and the intrinsic unsustainability of exponential debt all render the existing structures untenable just of their own sickness and weight. E.g. the banks are all insolvent “zombies” as we call them at the econoblogs. They’d collapse without government propping them up. But how long can government prop itself up, especially given how it continues to overextend itself both physically (the infrastructure of empire) and economically (trying to maintain and extend all existing corporate welfare schemes while adding massive new ones like the health racket mandate)?

      All of this of course constitutes a political overextension as well.

      That’s why my most frequent metaphor is the Tower of Babel.

      So I think anarchism, while not guaranteed success, will enter its most favorable historical environment. Prior to the Oil Age we didn’t have the whole coherent philosophy and ideas of it; now we do.

      During the Oil Age we had the ideas but faced the extremely hostile oil-centralized historical circumstance. It’s one thing to fight against how some people want things to be; it’s another to fight how cheap oil “wants” things to be.

      But going forward, assuming people are willing to fight along those lines, anarchism should get its great historical opportunity. For the first time the mature idea will face a less hostile circumstance, a circumstance where the trends of economics and physical resource availability are on the side of decentralization and relocalization instead of centralization and globalism.

      Finally, while I agree that the ultimate success of an anarchist society depends mostly upon the larger circumstance, most anarchists also consider anarchism to be a way of life, a lived experience at every level, every day. Does an athlete who lives the game to the hilt but never wins a championship “fail”?

      So the normative character of it has two tracks. There’s the ultimate goal, but also the way of life. While the success of the former is uncertain, the success of the latter is 100% in our own hands.

      Comment by Russ — October 20, 2010 @ 2:29 am

  11. Thanks for the interesting link. I’d reply to you at nakedcapitalism, but there seems to be a limit on replies. Anyway, there’s no “reply” option under your last comment to me there, so I’ll put it here. Perhaps you’ll see it on this old post.

    You are quite right that I went too far in saying that Prof. Graeber finds no anthropological evidence for social reciprocity other than calculable exchange. In fact he sees it amply documented in Mauss — and he urges people not to read The Gift as showing that everything is, in fact, economic exchange. Further, Graeber states in the interview that we have the evidence of our own daily lives — such as in our “communistic” collaborations as co-workers — to demonstrate the existence of non-economic reciprocal relations with others. And, as you say, Graeber finds that credit precedes coinage — and coinage coincides with soldiers, indicating the development of a social hierarchy supported by violence.

    What I should have said is that Graeber admits that there’s no historical evidence for the pre-debt money garden of Eden, because, as soon as civilization dawns, whether in Egypt, Mesopotamia or China, there’s already money based on credit/debt. The Egyptians invented taxes and the Mesopotamians invented interest.

    Now, you take what he says as showing that “community credit” predates the oppressive kind of debt/money — and he seems to agree with you that this is the message one should take from his book. Before history, in the pre-history that is the special province of sociology, there was/is non-oppressive debt/money. Then came writing, solders, coinage and oppression. All we need to do is get back to the non-oppressive kind of debt/money.

    The point I was directing to you, I think, was this: it’s still money, isn’t it? It’s still calculable exchange based on credit/debt, isn’t it? In other words, following Graeber’s analysis, what we want is money, but without all the oppression from the soldiers, bankers and tax collectors. And if that’s the case, isn’t there some value in using the insights of MMT to think about how to make the modern financial system more egalitarian?

    Your attempt to meld Marx and Nietzsche is interesting, although it’s pretty hard to make an egalitarian out of Nietzsche.

    But speaking of Nietzsche — and Mauss and Marx — I’m thinking that your answer to my question is going to be no, we’re not talking about money anymore because we’re not talking about calculable exchanges. Following Mauss and, maybe Bataille, Deleuze and Baudrillard and all those other crazy Frenchmen, you’ll say that the new regime you’re envisioning will be based on incalculable exchange. Absolute expenditure. That would certainly be a re-valuation of all values, but can you organize a modern society on that basis?

    Comment by Vergniaug — August 27, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    • I don’t know what the Frenchmen wrote, but in my most expansive vision I picture the restoration of natural economies and polities (that is, organized as economic units in accord with the resource patterns of nature, like human communities originally were) whose internal economies would be cooperative (and therefore, I suppose, “uncalculated”), while they might use anything from confederate agreements to barter for trade and other relations between communities.

      So yes, I’m not talking about debt/money in the formal sense of those terms. There will be no need for them, and there should be no want for them. We know they’re anti-democratic and subvert the true community foundation. (Given all that, and my thousand other reasons to want to abolish the centralized State, it follows that I have no use for MMT other than as an educational tool vs. deficit terrorism and propertarianism.)

      As for organizing a modern society, I already said I think “modernity” was very specific to the Oil Age context. Future societies won’t be “modern”. (Which is not in any way implying a regression. Just as “modern” was not in any absolute sense an advance; it was merely a radical escalation of energy use.)

      Since you found this post interesting, and given the current discussion of Genealogy of Morals, I’ll also refer to these two posts



      These were the first two installments of what was intended to be a complete “exegesis” (like N himself called for in the Preface) of Essay II. As it turned out I only wrote the first two, but given the renewed interest in this book and what it says about debt, I’ll probably return to the project.

      Your comment refused to post at NC? That’s been happening to me often lately. Very annoying. I keep putting the comments up here and linking to them there. Last time I did it the corporate liberal with whom I was arguing sniffed that she wasn’t going to click on a link to some mere peasant blog. So I got that glimpse of tinpot elitism out of it. Exactly what you’d expect. 🙂

      Comment by Russ — August 27, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

      • I look forward to reading your other two posts when I have a little more time. I find your eclectic approach very interesting. The global money system is palpably in crisis, and there seem to be a lot of heated but not always fruitful arguments about it popping up in the blogoshere as everyone tries to understand what’s happening. The goldbugs fight with the MMT’ers. The Keynesians fight with the Austrians. I’d like to think we’ll soon arrive at an egalitarian, money-less future, but I have my doubts. Obviously, it’s possible to organize a small community without money — like a kibbutz. Even there, though, in the absence of cash, you still have social and organizational problems. Also, often it is in the small town or village where one finds the most oppressive and hierarchical social relations. Or in the family, for that matter. So, needless to say, money isn’t the only source of evil in the world.

        One last comment on the Geneology: Nietzsche says that the millenia of cruelty are what created the inner life of humans. The internalization produced by guilt is consciousness. Here he’s pretty close to Freud. Those Frenchys I mentioned took this seriously, as they grappled with a certain kind of Freudo-Marxism. The problem, though, is how do you create the new without it being the negation of the old, whether you’re talking about the “real” capitalist economy or the psychic “libidinal” economy. Because if it’s just the devalued other of the old, the old regime remains part of it — like the Freudian unconscious. In Nietzschean terms, you don’t get ‘beyond good and evil’ by defining the ‘good’ as the negation of evil.

        Anyway, nice talking to ya.

        Comment by Vergniaud — August 27, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

      • In Nietzschean terms, you don’t get ‘beyond good and evil’ by defining the ‘good’ as the negation of evil.

        Certainly not. That would be the essence of the slave viewpoint. (BTW, reading the Ayn Rand thread, I was laughing at the slavishness of Galtian types, how they call themselves “superior” and “elites” but how their entire expression is whining about how the poor are oppressing them. And these are persons with at least a modicum of wealth and power. Many teabaggers are like that too. The Nietzsche-defined slave character doesn’t get more elemental than that.)

        The problem, though, is how do you create the new without it being the negation of the old.

        I’m constantly preoccupied with identifying the affirmative and negative aspects of the philosophy, the strategy and tactics, the values it’s all for. It seems like I at least touch on that in almost every post. So if I fail in creating anything beyond the negation of the old, it won’t be for lack of taking care.

        Comment by Russ — August 27, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  12. I see from reading your front page that you see T$ as the vehicle for the social revolution you seek. I’ll have to keep reading in order to understand what you mean. You say everyone’s hours are of equal value — a very un-Nietzschean idea.

    Comment by Vergniaud — August 27, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

    • Not “the” vehicle, but part of it.

      It might be un-Nietzschean if N actually wrote about economics. But he wrote about the mind and spirit, and his metaphors were sublimations. So it’s perhaps beside the point to talk about the N-ness of these economic subjects.

      Anyway, I’m not here to be a Nietzschean. I’ve cherished reading N, and I’ll use him for the fight any way that looks fruitful. But it’s not important to me whether or not I’m in accord with him across the board, nor would he himself have wanted that.

      Comment by Russ — August 27, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

  13. this was going well for a minute, then it went completely off the rails. Nietzsche was not ignorant of politics, it is simply that YOU are ignorant of what he wrote about it. he didn’t advocate an aristocratic society, anymore than a democratic one or any kind of worker identity.

    Comment by n — April 4, 2013 @ 12:00 am

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