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What does Nietzsche have to do with anarchism?

+8 votes
I have seen anarchists talk (vaguely) about Nietzsche, and there seems to be a new fad of anarcho-nihlism. Yet Nietzsche himself spoke quite negatively about anarchists, and many of his ideas seem quite counter to anarchism (as practiced in the US). So what does Nietzsche's nihilism have in common with anarchism, and what does he have to offer anarchist practice?
asked Nov 24, 2010 by anonymous
I recommend you start by reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra

5 Answers

+9 votes
 
Best answer
Firstly: Nietzsche and nihilism
    I think that stating that “Nietzsche was not a nihilist” is too simplistic, and not entirely true, his positions on nihilism were complex, and it could be argued that he was a nihilist, or at least aimed to be one.
    Nietzsche saw nihilism as the most extreme form of pessimism, something that comes from weariness and an alienation from values. When one can recognize the existing value systems as meaningless and empty, and not replace it with anything, they become nihilistic. He saw nihilism as both positive and negative, as “... one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!”
    I think that it is helpful to first point out the two different types of nihilism you find in his works, the idea of passive nihilism and active nihilism. The passive nihilist is the one who could not recover from this crisis. It is a state in which a person, after having recognized that all external values are empty and have no true authority, begins to find their own internal values meaningless, giving up their own authority. With /all/ sense of authority gone one gives in to the spirit of hopelessness and fatalism, ridding themselves of all responsibility. They withdraw from the world, give up.
    But it is possible (and Nietzsche argues that it is entirely desirable) that this recognition of external value systems as meaningless can give way to a sense of rebelliousness, and strength. This active nihilist seeks to destroy any and all remaining traces of an empty value system. The strength of one's will is tested by whether or not it can recognize all value systems as empty and meaningless, yet admit that these lies arise out of the ego and serve a purpose; whether one can recognize that value is necessary for life while denying the existence of any universal truth.
    Nietzsche saw this nihilism as a means to achieving an end, not an end in and of itself. It is simply one step in the revaluation of values. Nihilism is a necessary to destroy what exists now in order to create a place in which the ego/the will can truly take power and assert itself fully.
    As anarchists we /are/ fighting to rid ourselves of the existing value systems (the capitalist values of “money above all”, the Christian values of “self-sacrifice, and god above all”, etc), and many of us already feel that alienation from these values. What we can take from his active nihilism is the deconstructive nature that gives way to construction, a destruction that strengthens and empowers. The realization that we need not only destroy what exists, but transcend it. Nietzsche calls anarchists (and Christians) out on their apparent inability to do this: “There is a perfect likeness between Christian and anarchist: their object, their instinct, points only toward destruction. . . .  both are decadents ; both are incapable of any act that is not disintegrating, poisonous, degenerating, blood sucking ; both have an instinct of mortal hatred of everything that stands up, and is great, and has durability, and promises life a future.” However, I don't think that this is permanent.

Second: What anarchists can learn from Nietzsche's rejection of the slave morality.
    Anarchist are some of the strongest adherents to the slave morality, Nietzsche even said so outright. Our whole outlook on life, the way in which we function within this world is based upon reaction, /resentment/. We view people/events/etc with through the eye of "good vs evil". We look for that which is "evil" (capitalism, police, etc) and define anything that isn't that as "good". We do not spend much time focusing on that which is "good", but rather are obsessed with the "evil", we revolve our ideals/projects/lives around it. How is the US anarchist ideas of "evil" much different than the Christian sin, or devil; how different is the anarchists' end of capitalism from the Christian apocalypse, anarchist ideals from heaven? We have become the perfect (pitiful) disciples of our /own/ slave morality.
    And while Nietzsche argues that /all/ morality is something to be destroyed, if anarchists are going to have a morality we would have something to learn from the master morality. Maybe we would get somewhere constructive with our ideas if we began focusing on what was "good" for us, what bettered us, our projects, our aims is certainly more productive that focusing on what is not our enemies, labeling all that is opposed to our enemies as "good", spending our time dissecting "evil", learning about "evil" in order to learn what is not evil, to better  understand how we can be not "evil". But we /could/ strive to go beyond morality entirely. . .

Well, this is long enough, so I will end it here. But I think that Nietzsche's critiques of anarchism can be taken as constructive criticism, and can be learned from. I do not know much about anarcho-nihilism, but I hope that it does not fall into the pit of passivity.
answered Nov 26, 2010 by Katherine diFiore (5,200 points)
edited Nov 26, 2010 by Katherine diFiore
Excellent answer.

:)
Not to mention, Nietzsche's conception of happiness: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/philosophy-guide-to-happiness/ (last part)
I don't want to get too nitpicky (I know, usually I revel in it!), but resentment (English) is a whole lot different from ressentiment (French); the latter is what FN uses to describe an unfortunate tendency toward pettiness and a desire for revenge when people who only merit our contempt do us "wrong." Ressentiment has much more to do with unfulfillable expectations of bourgeois notions of justice and fairness than it does with feeling pissy.
I understand that there this a difference between resentment and ressentiment. However, I find that using the word "resentment" was perfectly applicable to anarchist morality, relevant to Nietzsche's slave morality, and suffices when trying to do a "Nietzsche 101".
For all of those concerned with the definitions of important Nietzschean words: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ressentiment
Am I the only person who splits morality into two distinct types.
There is natural morality, and there is compulsive morality.
Many people can (at first) greatly appreceate natural morality. Witness most peoples reaction to such figures as J.C., Gandi, Nelson and many other similar figures throughout history. However the more nuerotic among us who posess only a compulsive set of moral principles will eventually see in the person posessing genuine natural morality a reflection of their bad selves whenever coming in contact with that better person. Very well put in the movie 'easyrider' when jack nicholson says something along the lines of ; "talk to people about personal freedom and they'll all be with you, SHOW them a free person, ..... they'll get their guns out". Or nail you to a cross.
People who have natural morality DO NOT HAVE TO THINK HOW TO REACT TO A GIVEN SITUATION because their natural morality does not RESIDE in their heads or on a bit of paper. A non neurotic natural anarchist's morality occurs on an emotional enegy level. The right responces and decisions are automatically made while in the background his heart sings when he comes into contact with things that are 'good for his soul' and his belly aches when he comes into contact with bullshit.
Since Nietsche probably had no inkling of these two sorts of morality it could be argued that everything he wrote will do little to directly help help us find the solution to our problems.
Our solution lies in the area of 'how can we prevent human beings becoming peversely neurotic between birth and adolescence.
Start TODAY, yes TODAY, growing small or large groups of children who do not catch the EMOTIONAL PLAGUE from the previous generation.
Not difficult and not costly. In 20 years we could have large numbers of young adults WITH NATURAL MORALITY who could show us how to do it.
WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?
We could start today saving large numbers of humans from this 'same shit / different day' setup.
I stopped reading this early on in your rant. Why don't you just say the two different types of morality are 1. The kind I don't like and 2. The kind I like.

Being a moralist, you still operate on the assumption that there is an eternal standard of proper behavior for all people at all times in all circumstances. To use your terminology, ALL morality is compulsive.

One last thing. Why is it the responsibility of any anarchist (presuming that the "we" you use refers to anarchists) to "start... saving large numbers of humans" from anything? That is a humanist stance, and while I would say that most anarchists are also humanists to some degree, the idea that anarchist practice should be primarily or exclusively determined by humanist assumptions and metrics is obnoxious.
Wow, ZenD. I am finding it difficult figuring out how to begin to wade through your bullshit.

If “J.C.” (Jesus Christ, I would assume) and Gandhi are examples of the your preferred morality, count me out, thanks. If these are your equivalents to the ubermensch, everyone in your utopia is doomed.

“Since Nietsche probably had no inkling of these two sorts of morality it could be argued that everything he wrote will do little to directly help help us find the solution to our problems.”
I read: since Nietzsche doesn't think just like me and didn't adhere to my oh-so-well-thought-out-and-researched ideas, he is irrelevant. Fuck him. I am right, everything else is wrong. Did I misinterpret anything?

“Our solution lies in the area of 'how can we prevent human beings becoming peversely neurotic between birth and adolescence. Start TODAY, yes TODAY, growing small or large groups of children who do not catch the EMOTIONAL PLAGUE from the previous generation. . . . In 20 years we could have large numbers of young adults WITH NATURAL MORALITY who could show us how to do it.”
Wow. We can “grow children”? Like in a lab and shit?
Are you interested in an anarchism that advocates for free will and autonomy or an 'anarchism' that wants a perfect utopia filled with perfect people, all 'grown naturally'. If we just brainwash the next generation, everybody will be perfect. And all of these perfect citizens will be raised by perfect parents. Because not passing on your flaws to your children is easy, you can just vaccinate them against “an emotional plague”.... right?

“Not difficult and not costly.”
Ha! You have never cared for a child, have you?

“WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? We could start today saving large numbers of humans from this 'same shit / different day' setup.”
You really should start writing for infomercials. “ACT NOW, and you, too, could get a perfect, emotional-plague-vaccinated child. What are you waiting for? With this one, easy act you could save the planet. All you have to do is make 5 easy payments of 19.99, sell your soul, and say goodbye to your individuality, autonomy, freewill, and best of all, all of your flaws. Call NOW!”

Your shit is way too whack to take seriously...
I would also suggest the book I Am Not A Man, I Am Dynomite. It is a series of essays about Nietzsche and Anarchism, some of the articles are so-so, but there are a few that are pretty amazing (I highly recommend Nietzschean Anarchy and the Post-Mortem Condition.)
i appreciate most of this response, KD, but this here got my goat:

>> Anarchist are some of the strongest adherents to the slave morality, Nietzsche even said so outright. Our whole outlook on life, the way in which we function within this world is based upon reaction, /resentment/. We view people/events/etc with through the eye of "good vs evil". <<

wow. first of all, you sound like you are speaking for (all) anarchists. then, as part of that, you state that (all) anarchists see things through a moralistic lens of 'good vs evil'. shit, and i thought morals were a concept placed above oneself, which one must (or at least should) defer to. the very antithesis of what anarchy means to me.

maybe i misunderstood something.
You're right, I make some pretty sweeping generalizations in that answer. I did lump /all/ anarchists into that category.

I know that many individual anarchists actively do, or aim to, see the world through a lens free of such morality. I find this to be totally desirable and I appreciate that you are among those.

However, that said, 'anarchism' as both an 'ism' and a culture /does/ have a morality, and a strong one at that.

I can clarify further, if necessary, but I fear that it could take us on the tangent of owning ideas vs ideas owning and the moralistic implications of that.
+2 votes
Too many incorrect assumptions about FN to cover quickly, so only a few will have to do for now:

FN was not a nihilist.

Many critical anarchists speak quite negatively about anarchists.

Anarcho-nihilism (if such a beast actually exists as a discrete and identifiable tendency) has less to gain from FN's ideas than from actual anarchists like Bakunin and Stirner.

FN's defiance toward, and ultimate refusal of, slave morality is a great tool to counter the often-unexamined infusion of bourgeois ideology into anarchist (and other radical) discourse and practice.
answered Nov 25, 2010 by lawrence (13,560 points)
+1 vote
I guess the strange thing about some of the above comments is: Nietzsche believed in self control. Ressentiment and nihilism (or liberalism) (ie, anarchists and Christians), isn't just limited to Good vs. Evil. For Nietzsche, anarchists and Christians were apathetic to things like Art. Anarchists and Christians bound themselves to this incredible moral code and acted violently against all society. To him this was stupid. On some level, breaking the law only justified the State, and "Once the Prince is finished defeating you, you are no longer relevant to him." (paraphrase)

Ultimately, Nietzsche believed and hoped that a New Morality would emerge from the crisis of nihilism. That was pretty much the only way he saw nihilism being a positive thing. The concept that is actually picking up steam is this concept of the Overman. It relates to Aristotle's ideas on the Ungoverneable. The person who does what they want and gains enough power, will become the Overman, while also being the most hated person in society. Aristotle says, society would kill this person. Nietzsche believed this would bring a new wave of morality.

On the other hand, Nietzsche is really often a gateway drug into philosophy. Usually, you can take parts of what he said (out of context) and try to win arguments that way. He's one of the major precursors to existentialism, and  postmodernism (which some think is the New Morality). He's kind of "that all American philosopher," only in Germany many, many years ago.
answered Mar 16, 2011 by veranasi (190 points)
+2 votes
The influence of Nietzsche has been so wide and complex in anarchist thinkers and activists that this issue already has awhole wikipedia article on this. Check: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism_and_Friedrich_Nietzsche Nietzsche on the other hand talked about nihilism but associated it with a negativity linked to conformism and submission to the current societal forms. His famous call for the creation of a ubermensch clearly is a positive program with humanistic and progressive possibilites. Nietzsche has influenced insurrectionists oriented towards "nihilism" (ex:Renzo Novatore) yet he has also influenced more humanist oriented free thinking anarchists such as Emma Goldman and Emile Armand.
answered Sep 11, 2012 by iconoclast (3,250 points)
+2 votes
The other answers are great and interesting and I do not want to rehash what they have already said so well -- I just wanted to add a couple notes they did not mentions.

One is that Nietzsche was an anti-statist. Nietzsche saw the creation of the modern State as antagonistic to culture and strong willed humanity. It was the creation of a new God that people would use to replace the old God and which they would bow and scrape before instead of using the loss of the traditional society as an impetus to create something better. In other words, set fee by the death of God and the old way of life, they created a new God to worship and efface themselves before. A new master so they could remain mindless slaves.

Next, Nietzsche did not understand anarchism. He accused them of being worshipers of the State. It seems he lumped them in with the socialists, and given the era he lived in, this is somewhat understandable.

He also shares the Anarchist hatred of liberalism, while, like Sorel and others, valuing the state that the fight for liberty has on man.

Also, Nietzsche was quite clear on the non proscriptive nature of his ideas. In Zarathustra he says that he is not a shepherd to lead the masses, rather he comes to gather the "lonesome and the twosome", those that want to "follow him by following themselves". Anarchism is similar -- it does not want to create a party or an apparatus to lead the masses, rather it is a political philosophy of individuals working together, resisting all attempts to rule them and refusing to engage in any attempts to rule others. Similar to this, I would say Nietzsche's call for wide scale social experimentation (as opposed to advocating one way for all of society) is in akin to the call for decentralized and motley society.

Again, these are just random notes and thoughts, they are not meant to disagree with previous answers.
answered Apr 28, 2013 by hamjam (420 points)
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