Conservatives: Who’s Your Daddy?

by Corey Robin on November 20, 2012

In his column this morning, David Brooks has a roundup of young conservative voices we should be listening to. He divides them into four groups: paleoconservatives, lower-middle reformists, soft libertarians, and Burkean revivalists. I want to focus on the last, for as is so often the case with Brooks, he gets it wrong—but in revealing ways.

Burkean Revivalists. This group includes young conservatives whose intellectual roots go back to the organic vision of society described best by Edmund Burke but who are still deeply enmeshed in current policy debates.


Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs is one of the two or three most influential young writers in politics today. He argues that we are now witnessing the fiscal crisis of the entitlement state, exemplified most of all by exploding health care costs. His magazine promotes a big agenda of institutional modernization.


It just so happens that I was reading yesterday a piece by Levin from the summer 2012 issue of The New Atlantis (h/t the kind reader who sent it to me; I can’t now find who you are) on the problem of health care and entitlement spending.

After the usual heavy breathing and hortatory throat-clearing that are characteristic of such think pieces on the right—”Our weaknesses and problems, no less than our strengths and advantages, are reflections of the society we are, and so to understand them we would do well to reflect upon the question of just what sort of society that is.”—Levin sets out the boiler-plate, one part Straussianism, two parts bullshit.

The ancients sought virtue, a life of excellence lived in and through the polis; the moderns (Machiavelli, Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke) perpetrate “a lowering of aims.” The moderns see “the preservation and protection of life and of health as the primary functions of society.” Motivated by “safety and power,” they care nothing for the higher goods of religion or morality. Instead, they “assert for health a place at the very top of the heap of human goods.”

It’s the usual hash of modern political thought that you find in certain precincts of the Straussian right. What’s interesting about it is how Levin connects it to our health care debate and the market, and whom he draws inspiration from in doing so.

The health care challenge we face, insists Levin, is not merely the narrow economic problem of ballooning costs; that would be too pedestrian. It’s that we have so lost sight of other goods—excellence, justice, and so on—that we are willing to spend every last dime, and our children’s dimes, on staying alive, the world be damned. Because of “our disproportionate and even reckless elevation of health,” we have become the small people—our society the “vessel for self-absorption and decadence”—that we are.

That concern with self-absorption and decadence should tip us off to where we stand with Levin: not under the bright sun of the ancients or the Founders—or, pace Brooks, Edmund  Burke—but in the shadow of Nietzsche. (Setting aside the connection between Burke and Nietzsche, which I allude to in The Reactionary Mind.)

I’ve argued before that Nietzsche is the master theoretician of the modern right, but Levin makes it especially clear.

In understanding that liberal temptation, our best guide is not Descartes but Nietzsche, who described what could become of us in an age beyond responsibility, an age he believed was the inevitable destination of liberal societies. The degeneration of virtue in such societies, he argues, will atrophy our ability to plan for the future, our drive to work, and our interest in governing. In such a state, people will lack the noble aspiration to a virtuous life, setting their aims far lower, as Nietzsche writes. “One has one’s little pleasure for the day, and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.”


Our regard for health, it seems, can easily coexist with a society that we would not otherwise be proud of. Unbalanced and unmoored from other goods, such regard can become a vessel for self-absorption and for decadence. It can cause us to abandon our commitment to our highest principles, and to mortgage the future to avert present pain.


What makes Levin’s invocation of Nietzsche even more fascinating is that he sees the market as the antidote to this culture of decadence. Where Nietzsche loathed the culture of the market and of capitalism, modern conservatives who walk in his path have found a way around that hostility. They see the market as the proving ground of the heroic self, as the crucible from which a being of ancient excellence and moral virtue—or, if you’re jonesing for a more modern version, a tragic chooser of incommensurable goods—can arise. In Levin’s case, the market is the instrument by which our ravenous desire for health at any cost will be forced to confront the constraints of cost, leading us to prioritize our values—and creating a space, he hopes, for other values to emerge.

It’s not at first clear why Levin thinks such other values would emerge, given that he thinks we’ve lost sight of them, but at the end of his essay he draws what seems to be an unearned distinction between the people and the government, claiming that it’s not the citizenry that’s corrupt but the state. The institutions of liberal democracy can’t make hard choices, tied as they are to the base drives of politicians. But the market can.

After all, markets don’t just make expensive goods cheaper — they are also extraordinarily effective prioritizers, allowing many individual decisions to be made close to the ground. In the case of health care, that would mean having more critical decisions about spending made by patients, by families, and by doctors, and creating a strong incentive for those decisions that have to be made by insurers to be made in ways that will be perceived as fair by their customers.


Market solutions would by no means eliminate all the grave difficulties involved in prioritizing health care. There would still be rationing, there would still be times when being out of money means you are out of options, there would still be decisions made by insurance company bureaucrats that strike patients and doctors as unjust. But there would be far fewer than under a system that assigned rationing decisions to public officials and gave patients far fewer choices and far less control.


In a properly regulated but competitive insurance market, we would have a much better chance of actually prioritizing health among the goods we value. Because while liberal political institutions are unsuited to such prioritization, we liberal citizens are often up to it. Families, which after all are not liberal institutions, can make difficult choices — balancing the needs of different generations and the importance of different needs and wants — in ways that democratic political institutions often simply cannot.


Read that last paragraph carefully: “We liberal citizens are often up to it.” Why? Because we live in “families, which after all are not liberal institutions.” It’s the family, by which Levin means the anti-liberal or illiberal or non-liberal parental authority unit, that makes the difficult choices. So we have the market as the disciplining agent working with whomever controls the finances in the family (and we all know who that is) to create the conditions for a society that cares about something more than its health.

Over the last year, I’ve been working on a project that seeks to explore the elective affinities between Nietzsche and neoliberalism, the hidden dialogue between the German criticism of decadence and the Austrian School’s celebration of capitalism. In the coming months, I hope to be publishing an article about this, but I’ve already given some hints of my views on that connection in various posts on Tumblr.

In the meantime, I urge you to take a look at Levin’s essay insofar as it gives you a good sense of the Nietzschean dimensions of contemporary conservatism, especially that “Burkean” conservatism which gets praised by the likes of David Brooks.

{ 187 comments }

1

Matthew Yglesias 11.20.12 at 7:31 pm

Where Nietzsche loathed the culture of the market and of capitalism, modern conservatives who walk in his path have found a way around that hostility. They see the market as the proving ground of the heroic self, as the crucible from which a being of ancient excellence and moral virtue—or, if you’re jonesing for a more modern version, a tragic chooser of incommensurable goods—can arise.

What if conservatives are just mistaken about this and per Dean Baker in The Conservative Nanny State and The End of Loser Liberalism there are plenty of “free market” reforms that could bring us into a land of greater health care plenty? We could reduce the patent protection given to pharmaceuticals and other medical devices, for example, or allow for greater immigration of foreign doctors.

Levin’s article seems unhinged. But creating the Nietzschean theater of scarcity and struggle in health care, in practice, requires some very severe state interventions to reduce the availability of health care services.

2

Kevin Donoghue 11.20.12 at 7:47 pm

By 2035, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the debt will be twice the size of the economy and still expanding quickly. This is an utterly unprecedented, and almost certainly unsustainable, level of debt. The resulting much-diminished economic growth will cast a shadow over the prospects of the next generation, which will be unable to experience anything like the prosperity that Americans have known over the past sixty years.

What a gobshite.

3

J. Otto Pohl 11.20.12 at 7:59 pm

I am not exactly sure what is Burkean as opposed to straight out capitalist in supporting a private for profit system of health care that denies the most basic of care to a large percentage of the population. At the same time I don’t understand the Obama worshippers’ insistence on emulating the Canadian rather than the in my opinion far superior British health care system. The fact is that health care is one of the few things that governments have proven themselves to be good at. I get much better health care from the state here in Ghana than I got from private industry in the US. Actually I got none in the US. But, surely if Ghana can manage a socialized health care system given its relative paucity of resources then the US could certainly do a British style NHS system. But, that has nothing to do with conservatism and everything to do with profits to various capitalist enterprises in the medical sector and note none of the US “progressives” pushed for a proper socialized medical system like exists in the UK.

4

Scott P. 11.20.12 at 8:11 pm

I’m not aware of many liberal Obama supporters who wouldn’t prefer a single-payer, or even single-provider health care system. Obamacare may have been at (or near) the limits of the politically possible, given the way that Congress works, but it isn’t anywhere near ideal.

5

John Quiggin 11.20.12 at 8:13 pm

Levin’s is another version of Donner Party conservatism

6

Lee A. Arnold 11.20.12 at 8:22 pm

Just send them to see this video, about long-term government spending. If these conservatives can’t agree with the facts, then they won’t be worth listening to:

7

Susanna K. 11.20.12 at 8:33 pm

Now there’s a point of view I haven’t heard before, that our pursuit of better health is an indication of decadent society. I suppose it could be true if you only consider efforts to prolong life and youthfulness, but for many people, it’s basic survival. Is Levin so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t understand why human beings seek to avoid pain and death? Or, more likely, is he so sheltered that he doesn’t understand why having basic health care is a matter of life and death, and just as much a part of economic survival as having a job?

8

marcel 11.20.12 at 8:48 pm

Well, striking a Nietzschean, or more likely faux-Nietzschean, pose, I assert that heroes, ubermenschen, do not seek to avoid pain or even death, and it is this pose that makes them ubermensch! In trying to avoid them, mere human beings demonstrate their worthlessness.

Viva la muerte!

9

marcel 11.20.12 at 8:49 pm

That came out wrong. Let me try again.

Well, striking a Nietzschean, or more likely faux-Nietzschean, pose, I assert that heroes, ubermenschen, do not seek to avoid pain or even death, and it is this avoidance that makes them ubermenschen! In trying to avoid pain and death, mere human beings demonstrate their worthlessness.

Viva la muerte!

10

Consumatopia 11.20.12 at 9:20 pm

I wonder if Levin would have been happier if, instead of regulating insurance companies as in the ACA, we had a two tier system with the bottom tier completely socialized and an upper tier completely unregulated–there’s a base level of NHS-style socialized medicine that’s available to everyone, but if you want even more insurance coverage or care you can purchase that yourself. So liberals would have been able to get basic care, and conservatives still got their life-or-death Nietzschean playground for expensive care.

I think Yglesias raised an important point–if government pursuit of health care removes the market as a disciplining agent, what about all the interventions in the marketplace that conservatives like? For example the regulations requiring insurance companies to sell to those who’ve maintained continuity of care regardless of pre-existing conditions. Why regulate insurance at all–if the insurance company decides it doesn’t want to cover you, why not just accept that as another hard lesson of the marketplace? If you really wanted to force choices on people, it would be best to avoid insurance completely–sickness and injury is just an opportunity to deal with adversity and learn what really matters.

In this case, my suspicion is that allowing discrimination against those who maintained continuity of coverage would discipline the wrong people–upper middle class people who have enough of a cushion that they can keep making health insurance payments if they lose their job. The market doesn’t have any lessons for them, they are only teachers, never students.

11

Metatone 11.20.12 at 9:31 pm

I think Corey you’re definitely on to something with the Nietzschean angle – I haven’t read your tumblr posts yet, but they sound intriguing.

At the same time, I think J. Otto Pohl’s point is worth working into the issue. All the evidence is that if your aim is utilitarian – best health care for the most number of people for a given amount of money (or %of GDP) – the government option is basically the best performer. This really hurts modern conservatives at a deep level because it threatens the basis of their religious belief in the market. In that hurt they cast around towards Nietzsche and others to find a “virtue” that can excuse the actual inefficiency of the market in this case…

12

bianca steele 11.20.12 at 9:48 pm

Regard for health as decadence sounds a little like Christopher Lasch in the little-remembered The Minimal Self. Lasch would of course nuance it by saying of course it’s only the reduction of our horizon to mere physical survival that’s what he deplores (though he’d go on to nevertheless baldly characterize any preoccupation with health as an obvious indication of the reduction of the horizon to mere survival). The younger generation seems less concerned with nuance.

13

Matt McIrvin 11.20.12 at 9:51 pm

A single-payer system involves destroying the private insurance industry. A single-provider system involves destroying the private insurance industry AND nationalizing all the doctors in the country. If single-payer is at the outer limit of US political possibility, a National Health Service is out beyond the edge of the universe. I think a Canadian system is just about as much as US liberals will dare to dream about in unguarded moments.

14

Jeffrey Davis 11.20.12 at 9:55 pm

I love the idea that the hoodlums of the Republican Party are primarily interested in virtue.

15

Substance McGravitas 11.20.12 at 9:59 pm

Virtù.

16

Daryl McCullough 11.20.12 at 9:59 pm

Matt, you’re right. It seems that free-market conservatives sometimes get confused as to whether the free market is desirable as a means, or an end. Is the goal to maximize private profits, or is maximizing private profits a means to an end, which is better, cheaper services?

17

Katherine 11.20.12 at 10:15 pm

A single-payer system involves destroying the private insurance industry. A single-provider system involves destroying the private insurance industry AND nationalizing all the doctors in the country. If single-payer is at the outer limit of US political possibility, a National Health Service is out beyond the edge of the universe.

It’s worth pointing out here that private health insurance, doctors, hospitals etc etc all still exist in the UK.

18

BillCinSD 11.20.12 at 10:15 pm

Te market may be a good method for prioritizing the goods that are valued, but only for those with the ability to participate in the market. Thus, in many cases the most in need of the goods have no say in prioritization

19

bjk 11.20.12 at 10:16 pm

Harvey Mansfield put it more succinctly:

“In the brand new building where I work, the lights go on and off, the shades go up and down, and the toilets flush, automatically, without your having to turn a switch or push a handle. Rational control has replaced individual virtue, which is subject to vagaries and may not be active or awake. The building where I used to work was shared with economists, who, living the sort of life they describe, had no incentive to flush and sometimes failed to do so.”

20

bob mcmanus 11.20.12 at 10:19 pm

the elective affinities between Nietzsche and neoliberalism, the hidden dialogue between the German criticism of decadence and the Austrian School’s celebration of capitalism.

Oh Robin, you make my head spin. “Elective affinities” and “the hidden dialogue” because Nietzsche had little direct influence on, if even read by, German conservatives much before WWI. They wanted to ban him in 1894-95. (Wiki, “Influence and reception”)

And I hope some good historian of economic thought comes around, because I thought the Austrian School and subjectivism had more direct genesis in responses to Marx, the German Historical School,in opposition to Jevons & Walras.

And if we are talking about some kind of Zeitgeist of Romantic Pessimism that Mengers absorbed like ectoplasm or miasma, well, Holbo connected Schopenhauer to Wittgenstein so maybe he could help, although I didn’t finish that book either. Romantic Pessimism was again I think an early 2oth century fad, Mosca, Miller, Pareto, Spengler etc leading to fascism. And the Austrian School an irrelevancy by the late 20s.

But…I did believe that modern conservatives and neo-liberals are Nietscheans, although unlike the Straussians, they not only will deny it but are unlikely to even realize it. They are Nietzscheans in the sense that we are all Nietscheans now, nihilists in denial and bad faith.

And this is where I suppose we differ, in that I try to apply from the farther left, my analysis, puerile and weak as it is, to liberals, the center and center-left as well as the right. I checked the index of your last book, found no entry for Foucault, 2 for Heidegger, 4 for Schmitt. I don’t know if we can communicate.

I hope you don’t read this as too hostile. I suspect I will find you infuriating, but interesting. Although I have read most Nietzsche, you have inspired me to hunt up some recent leftish secondary work to reclaim him a little.

21

Harold 11.20.12 at 10:29 pm

As far as the “rich man’s Nietzchean playground” we already have in place in New York and Philadelphia the so-called “concierge” business model, where the doctor takes a huge up-front annual fee, for supposedly “luxury”, i.e., for good, care.

Or we have the unofficial method/model where the doctor’s business office makes you pay a huge (for service) bill up-front and informs you they are keeping your insurance reimbursements “credited” to “your account” and only coughs the payments it owes you up after months of your cajoling and begging for them to send them to you — because “the doctor has to personally sign off on the check” and that takes several weeks/months as the case may be.

22

Keith Edwards 11.20.12 at 10:29 pm

Susan K @7:

Is Levin so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t understand why human beings seek to avoid pain and death?

Well he is one of those hip young Conservatives, so yes. At this point we’re one, maybe two generations away from Conservatives going full Spartan and demanding that we throw the sick and deformed off a cliff, while electing to public office only those men pure of heart enough to survive a winter alone in the wilderness, killing wolves with their bare hands. Anything less is just nanny-state mollycoddling. (The hip young Conservatives of this shining future era will of course argue that fire is a liberal conspiracy, and an affront to traditional hunter-gatherer culture).

23

Tony Lynch 11.20.12 at 10:44 pm

Corey, I think you really need to go to Ethical Perspectives, and read the discussion with Bernard Williams.

http://www.ethical-perspectives.be/page.php?LAN=E&FILE=ep_detail&ID=24&TID=254

24

CJColucci 11.20.12 at 11:02 pm

I’d like to see how many of these tin-pot Nietzches of the Donner Party Conservative school would last two days in a genuinely dicey situation.

25

andrew 11.20.12 at 11:04 pm

Interesting and excellent as usual!

I’ve been thinking about researching a bit on the “moral worldview” of Austrian economics, especially in regard to their attitudes toward monetary policy and government spending – they conflate moral virtue with efficiency, which I find interesting.

But that’s not exactly a new insight I suppose

26

b9n10nt 11.20.12 at 11:26 pm

OP:
“What makes Levin’s invocation of Nietzsche even more fascinating is that he sees the market as the antidote to this culture of decadence.”

Fascinating…or banal projection (transference): So you’ve always chosen the safe route, never dared to live from a place of curiosity about all the indoctrinated beliefs that make your ego safe. Well, you still yearn for the thrilling immediacy of Life and Love, but your belief in all the pre-packaged “shoulds” makes that thrill inaccessible. So the yearning for your own immediate experience of Life is projected as other’s Sloth and Decadence. You’ve played it safe, so it makes the whole world look like it’s full of lazy, complacent, dull, unalive proles who want Safety but not Life. And your projection disgusts you. You reach for intellectual weapons that will fight the conceptual demons your psyche is creating for you, but what ‘s in your arsenal? “Free market” … “family”…more pre-packaged stuff that your Daddy believed or rejected.

We all do this: turn our intellectual pursuits into a theatre where our own demons take the stage. But it’s just so obvious when it comes to Romantic Conservatism. The Romantic Conservative isn’t ready to question his own mind, so instead it is the World’s job to Revolt! and return the thrilling immediacy to life in a way that doesn’t threaten your beliefs about yourself.

27

b9n10nt 11.20.12 at 11:31 pm

last sentence should be “his beliefs about himself”.

28

Anthony 11.20.12 at 11:57 pm

At least the conservatives are aiming for aristocratic virtues rather than religious ones.

29

Teafortwo 11.21.12 at 12:14 am

@20 Surely the channel of influence is mostly Ayn Rand, whose distinctive contribution is nothing but dime-store Nietzsche.

30

El Cid 11.21.12 at 12:46 am

The first level claim is that people who talk about Burkean conservatives care actually know and care about who Burke was and what he believed and advocated to a degree worthy of engagement rather than affectation.

I remain unconvinced that the first level claim has been proven at all.

The word is merely a signifier, it represents an imagined ancient nobility, perhaps an aristocratic lineage, most likely one posing in front of a really classy fireplace.

31

Anderson 11.21.12 at 12:46 am

I realize Levin is just dressing up his propaganda with a Nietzsche quote, but even so he’s misrepresenting Nietzsche.

N. was scarcely one to minimize the value of good health; he had an invalid’s appreciation for it. He happily reduces philosophies to expressions of their inventors’ health (or lack thereof). Cultural decadence to him is simply the result of physical decadence. He was fascinated and repulsed by the idea that nihilism and decadence result from ill health, not least because of what it implied for his own philosophy, given his own migraines, stomach disorders, etc.

Had he been more consistent on the point, N. would’ve welcomed a general improvement in the public’s health; but he probably couldn’t take the idea seriously, because the fundamental assumption of conservatives everywhere is that the masses are irremediable. Nothing can be done for them–“the poor ye will always have with you”–so public education, healthcare, etc. are simply a waste of effort. Hence the weird imposition of “the free market,” as Robin notes … which isn’t quite so weird, when it’s construed not as commerce and trade, but as nature at work, “Donner Party conservatism” as noted upthread.

32

Anderson 11.21.12 at 12:58 am

“The degeneration of virtue in such societies, he argues, will atrophy our ability to plan for the future, our drive to work, and our interest in governing.”

Levin misses, or omits to mention, that said plan, drive, and interest are always for N. solely the work of elites. The “degeneration of virtue” is simply the degeneration of an elite, its loss of separation from the mass, which for N. is very close to a good in itself.

33

clew 11.21.12 at 1:21 am

Consumatopia — everything beyond some QUALY/dollar threshold in socialized medicine? Big ol’ analysis problem, but it sounds like a good goal.

34

Bruce Wilder 11.21.12 at 2:24 am

My reading of Levin is that he’s constructing an elaborate defense of resentment — or, ressentiment, I guess, if we’re invoking Nietzsche — as the inspirator of reaction. At the beginning, just before all that “heavy breathing and . . . throat-clearing”, he’s pinpointed the painful sense of inferiority, which is origin of resentment: “this sense of helplessness before the sheer density of our dilemmas”. And, he’s sure that this resentment against the administrative state, its technocrats and complexity is political virtue in disguise, Clark Kent in his dayjob suit. The problem is not in ourselves, it seems to this well-fed Cassius, nor in the stars, but in society’s use of expertise and technocratic political (public) institutions; the problem is the solution, whispers the daemon ressentiment. (Rather fancifully, I imagine daemon ressentiment with its own right-wing talk radio show; but I guess it actually has several, and I don’t have to imagine.) But, never fear, Mr. Market can banish the welfare state bureaucracy along with the problem that bureaucracy is tasked with managing, and allow the (pater?) familias a renewed will to power in “prioritizing” health care against other goods.

Somehow, I suspect the actual Nietzche would be contemptuous of a “prioritizing” reactionary conservatism, equating it, properly, with a resentment-inspired “slave morality”.

35

Harold 11.21.12 at 2:59 am

I don’t know if David Brooks is aware that his idol, Burke not only called the 99 percent “the Swinish Multitude”, but, if I read him right, in his “Letter From Mr. Burke
To a Member Of The National Assembly (1791), accused the French revolutionaries of excessive toleration and of selling out the church to he Jews:

With you, in your purifying revolution, whom have you chosen to regulate the church? Mr. Mirabeau is a fine speaker—and a fine writer, and a fine — a very fine man; but really nothing gave more surprise to everybody here, than to find him the supreme head of your ecclesiastical affairs. . . . What can be hoped for after this? Have not men, (if they deserve the name,) under this new hope and head of the church, been made bishops for no other merit than having acted as instruments of atheists; for no other merit than having thrown the children’s bread to dogs; and, in order to gorge the whole gang of usurers, pedlers, and itinerant Jew-discounters at the corners of streets, starved the poor of their Christian flocks, and their own brother pastors? Have not such men been made bishops to administer in temples, in which (if the patriotic donations have not already stripped them of their vessels) the churchwardens ought to take security for the altar plate, and not so much as to trust the chalice in their sacrilegious hands, so long as Jews have assignats on ecclesiastical plunder, to exchange for the silver stolen from churches? I am told, that the very sons of such Jew-jobbers have been made bishops; persons not to be suspected of any sort of Christian superstition, fit colleagues to the holy prelate of Autun, and bred at the feet of that Gamaliel. We know who it was that drove the money-changers out of the temple. We see, too, who it is that brings them in again. We have in London very respectable persons of the Jewish nation, whom we will keep; but we have of the same tribe others of a very different description, house-breakers, and receivers of stolen goods, and forgers of paper currency, more than we can conveniently hang. These we can spare to France, to fill the new episcopal thrones: men well versed in swearing; and who will scruple no oath which the fertile genius of any of your reformers can devise. http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/burkee/tonatass/index.htm

36

ckc (not kc) 11.21.12 at 3:14 am

Unbalanced and unmoored from other goods, such regard can become a vessel for self-absorption and for decadence.

Grandma has regard for a new hip, which is unmoored from car elevators (and leaves her unbalanced to boot).

37

Corey Robin 11.21.12 at 3:20 am

20: On the relationship between Nietzsche and the German right, it helps to read beyond Wikipedia. It’s true that most establishment figures on the German right were either bewildered or terrified by Nietzsche. But in the 1890s — when Nietzsche finally became part of the cultural discussion — younger more nationalist circles, some centered around fraternities, began looking to Nietzsche as a source of ideas, and the thinking in these circles prefigures the more radical and overtly Nietzschean elements in the German right that would emerge in the 20th century. So it’s not simply a post-WWI phenomenon.

23: Anything in particular you want me to look for or take away? (The pdf is busted, so only have the link itself.)

38

js. 11.21.12 at 3:46 am

I look forward to the paper on Nietzsche. I tend to think he’s a bit too unwieldy to end up as “the master theoretician of the modern right”—though he may well be the wiliest theoretician of anti-democratic reaction. Funny, in a way.

Also, what Anderson said at 31.

39

Anderson 11.21.12 at 4:33 am

I too will look forward to the essay; the idea that N animated a political movement reminds me of Walter Kaufmann’s gibe about Hitler’s reading of N – that Hitler never got farther than the titles.

I confess I find it tough to take N seriously as a political thinker, tho anyone who admired Thucydides and loathed Bismarck can’t have been entirely wrong ….

40

Tom West 11.21.12 at 6:18 am

I think a Canadian system is just about as much as US liberals will dare to dream about in unguarded moments.

And even then, only an idealized form of the Canadian system that somehow allows American standards of care (a million tests, cutting edge technology, no waiting times) at Canadian care prices…

I really don’t think any but a small minority of Americans could accept the actual tradeoffs involved in relatively cheap universal coverage.

41

Mitchell Freedman 11.21.12 at 7:18 am

I crack up at these philosophes like Levin who wallow in their so-called principles in order to justify policies that are cruel. It is what makes me wince at most of what passes for “philosophy.”

42

PGD 11.21.12 at 7:30 am

This post gets at something real about conservatism but does a terrible injustice to Nietzsche, and in general seems to overthink the matter. Look to the English poor law debates of the late 18th century (which sometimes seem jarringly contemporary), not Nietzsche, if you want to see a straightforward statement of how hunger and insecurity improve the virtue of the citizenry. If you don’t want to read Townsend and the other 18th century guys, you can look to a thousand cheap social Darwinists in the 19th. It’s a very natural conservative way of thinking and as I recall thousands of years ago Cicero was complaining about how the grain dole made the plebs lazy and weak. Nietzsche had little use for this kind of stuff and had a much more nuanced vision. It’s a huge misunderstanding of him to just conflate him with popular social Darwinism (of course many later German conservatives had this misunderstanding).

Corey sometimes seems to want to pull American conservatism away from its British roots and relocate it among more exotic Continental types. That’s an interesting move, justified I suppose by Strauss, but I think American conservatism is more naturally understood in the Brit tradition, which is plenty mean enough. Usually when you see an American conservative grasping after their undergrad memories of a continental philosopher they are just trying to put fancy European dress on typical Gradgrind-isms.

43

Neville Morley 11.21.12 at 9:08 am

It’s shooting fish in a barrel to point out how contemptuous Nietzsche would have been of the unqualified assertion that there was such a thing as “the ancient view of politics”, let alone that it sought “to seek justice through reason and speech”; he certainly wouldn’t have had any time for the idea that this should be offered as a foundational myth of the good old days before Machiavelli and Hobbes. Insofar as this is Straussian, it’s a deeply unsophisticated version that doesn’t seem to have read much actual Strauss.

44

Tony Lynch 11.21.12 at 9:19 am

Corey, sorry about Williams PDF. I have it downloaded. Don’t know how to get it to you (snail mail?).

In it he talks of a meeting with Habermas, who presses him: who is he? Aristotle or Wittgenstein? Williams says – because he is too modest to say “I am myself!” “How about a Nietzschean?”

Which, he says, “really poured fuel on the fire”.

45

Fu Ko 11.21.12 at 10:34 am

Matthew Yglesias asks,

What if [...] there are plenty of “free market” reforms that could bring us into a land of greater health care plenty?

He goes on to list a few ways to reduce healthcare costs.

But no matter how much healthcare costs are reduced, unless the government steps in to pay, there still remains a population excluded from healthcare. Thus, there remains a social competition to escape being one of those losers.

If healthcare costs were cut by a factor 5, there would still be people who would die because they could not afford treatment, if they had to pay for themselves. For example, there are people who have literally no income. Even cutting healthcare costs by 80% isn’t going to help them. Five times zero is still zero.

As long as healthcare is something that people have to pay for, healthcare is a “theater of scarcity and struggle” in which society guarantees there will be winners and losers.

And as long as healthcare is attached to employment, employers will hold their employees’ health in their hand as a bargaining chip — and use it to advance their own interest in the larger theater of capitalist struggle.

46

ponce 11.21.12 at 10:37 am

Does anyone besides pointing and giggling liberal bloggers and David Brooks read right wing bloggers?

All the Republicans I know are strictly Fox News/Rush Limbaugh types.

47

J. Otto Pohl 11.21.12 at 11:04 am

45

Judging from my own site counter not even “giggling liberal bloggers” or David Brooks read right wing blogs or at least not mine. In the last eight years I have yet to get over a dozen readers.

48

Cian 11.21.12 at 11:44 am

There’s a further irony to all this, and that is that private healthcare systems actually lead to a very superficial style of medicine.

A thousand pointless tests. Sure, you got it. Treatments that have never been proven to work. Research into ‘lifestyle’ disorders. The growth of plastic surgery. Suing for malpractice (well how else are you going to pay to repair the costs of a botch). Hospitals competing on who has the best gizmos.

But then if the US is the apotheosis of the free market, presumably conservatives must adore reality TV shows and similar. Truly the consumption goods of the ubermensch.

49

Anderson 11.21.12 at 1:54 pm

Hm, two comments lost in moderation limbo … no great loss I suppose, but odd, as they lacked links.

50

Anderson 11.21.12 at 1:59 pm

PGD, I doubt N ever read Darwin; he seems to’ve imbibed him through Spencer and such. I thought that he didn’t care for social Darwinism, not because he thought it a perversion of Darwin, but because defining success down as mere survival was exactly what he opposed: the masses triumphant.

51

Corey Robin 11.21.12 at 2:26 pm

#41: PGD, I think you’re misinterpreting what I’m up to here. I’m not trying to pull American conservatism away from its British roots mostly because I don’t think it has its roots in Britain. British conservatism didn’t become a thing until the first half of the 19th century, and American conservatism, I’ve argued, has much more to do with slavery than with Britain. And far from being derivative, it is many respects a pioneer (I write about this a fair amount in The Reactionary Mind), perhaps even driving developments in Europe. I’ve long wondered about the impact of the defense of slavery on right-wing European thought. We all know that Marx and the European left were watching and waiting the outcome of the Civil War with bated breath; why not the European right? (I know Brad DeLong a while back had some good stuff on Acton, the Civil War, and slavery, though Acton’s political affiliations are more controversial among scholars.) Here was a system of bonded labor that for centuries had defined what it meant to be a civilization; indeed, it was Nietzsche himself who wrote that”slavery belongs to the essence of a culture.” And he wasn’t being metaphorical. And all of a sudden, with amazing rapidity, it was coming to an end — in the Americas and in tsarist Russia (while other medieval restraints on labor were being lifted in Prussia and elsewhere in what became Germany during the first half of the 19th century). For European conservatives that really seemed to spell a rather traumatic end of culture as such. Again, Nietzsche: ““Even if it were true that the Greeks were ruined because they kept slaves, the opposite is even more certain, that we will be destroyed because we fail to keep slaves.” Anyway, the point here is that the question of a relationship between US and European conservatism is not a one-way street; in some ways, the US is really the pacesetter. The defense of slavery articulated by the master class is highly inventive, and some of the most avant garde theoreticians began to peddle formulations of a contiguous land-based empire, based on slave labor, that will sound remarkably similar to what Hitler argues for in Mein Kampf (in opposition to what he sees as the trade-based, sea-based commercial empires of France and Britain, which look to far off colonies in Africa and Asia).

#42: That’s why I deliberately used the phrase “certain precincts of the Straussian right” and said it was “one part Straussianism, two parts bullshit.”

#43: Tony, maybe you could email me at corey.robin@gmail.com and we could arrange a snail mail delivery?

52

Corey Robin 11.21.12 at 2:36 pm

49: Anderson, you’re right that N didn’t read Darwin but he got him (or a perverted view of him) through Lange, not Spencer. Lange, as Leiter has argued, was an influence on N’s materialism. A fair amount of more recent scholarship claims that in polemicizing against a false understanding of Darwin, N often uses (true) Darwinian concepts. True as in they are closer to Darwin’s own view than N’s false view would suggest.

53

Anderson 11.21.12 at 3:46 pm

51: Thanks for the correction re: Lange, and as for N. having his own intuitive Darwinism, I think that’s right: he berates Darwin for teleology, for instance, which is easy if you’re getting pop Darwin but makes no sense if you’re reading the original.

54

MPAVictoria 11.21.12 at 3:54 pm

“Judging from my own site counter not even “giggling liberal bloggers” or David Brooks read right wing blogs or at least not mine. In the last eight years I have yet to get over a dozen readers.”

Otto after perusing your blog I have come to the conclusion that you are not “right wing” in any sense that I recognize. You are of course free to label yourself however you choose but you shouldn’t be surprised that the kind of person who regularly reads Drudge and Redstate doesn’t follow your work.

/By the way I think you have a lot of interesting and well written work posted on your blog. You should submit some of it to be posted here.

55

Harold 11.21.12 at 4:22 pm

On reading this thread on a topic about which I know very little (Nietzsche) the names Goethe, Haeckel, and Galton, sprang into my mind as probable pervasive influences on the German reception of Darwin (and not only the German reception, since Darwin’s ideas are even now, not always understood even in the Anglo-phone world). And the prestige of German science at this time was second to none!
For those of us who need to catch up a bit , I found a very concise and very illuminating comment by “Colugo” here:
http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2007/03/17/nietzsche-and-religion/

It concludes: “The unpleasant fact is that very few intellectuals influenced by evolutionary ideas in the period from 1860 to 1930 are progressive on race and class; some notable exceptions are A.R. Wallace and Franz Boas. (Whatever else they were, Marx and Engels were hardly progressive on nationality and ethnicity.)”

But the whole thing is worth reading.

The flamboyant Haeckel was a founder of scientific racism who associated human evolution to language groups. After talking about the self-identified “followers” of Darwin, Colugo cautions:

I should add that most of those who rejected evolutionary ideas – not just evolutionists – from 1860-1930 also had reactionary views on race and class. Racist interpretations of the Bible were commonplace during that period; it was a very racist and imperialist era. (Similarly, the Koran was interpreted to justify the trans-Saharan slave trade.) So it would be incorrect to state that evolutionary ideas were responsible for the prevailing racist views of the period. But they were used in service of them, just as the Bible was.

Whether or not Nietzsche and Haeckel were Darwinists (no in the case of the former and a highly unorthodox one in the case of the latter) or were responsible for Nazi appropriations of their ideas, many of their ideas are quite unseemly on their own merits.

It should also be noted that in the 19th and early 20th centuries notions about social evolution and biological evolution were often extremely muddled. Boas’ assertion that language, race, and culture were separable was a breakthrough.

56

J. Otto Pohl 11.21.12 at 4:34 pm

Farrell and Quiggin already banned me for opposing Zionism. Talking about Soviet racism against ethnic Germans or the right of Palestinians to equal rights with Jews defies everything that “progressives” believe.

We’d decided on a sitewide ban because of slurs like this, but no-one had got around to implementing it. Now I’ve done so. Go away and don’t come back – JQ

57

ajay 11.21.12 at 4:40 pm

Certainly the constant bitterness and sense of oppression does give it a rather right-wing feel.

58

MPAVictoria 11.21.12 at 4:48 pm

Otto none of the topics you just listed are “right wing” in any real sense of the word. I am about as left as they come and I am horrified by the atrocities committed by Stalin. As for the Israeli-Palestinian issue people on the left and the right all have different opinions/views. In fact in Canada it is much more likely that someone left wing would be more “pro” Palestinian.

59

MPAVictoria 11.21.12 at 4:49 pm

And sorry for the off topic posting.

60

Christian Hiebaum 11.21.12 at 4:51 pm

For those who are interested in the discussion with Bernard Williams mentioned above, here you go:

http://www.ethics.be/ethics/viewpic.php?LAN=E&TABLE=EP&ID=254

61

rootless (@root_e) 11.21.12 at 5:31 pm

Looking at my recent posts they all do seem to be right wing or non-political. Out of the last 12 posts three are explicit criticisms of the Soviet Union, particularly the Stalin regime’s treatment of its ethnic German citizens

That line seems more from the time machine than from anywhere else.

62

Anderson 11.21.12 at 5:38 pm

59, thanks for that link — I was happy to see Williams mention Mark Warren’s book, which I thought was pretty good:

But the point I principally want to make is that I do think that the weakest part of Nietzsche’s work by far is when he addresses himself to social and political formations in modernity, and I share to this extent the view of Mark Warren in his book about Nietzsche’s politics (Nietzsche and Political Thought) that Nietzsche didn’t understand what a modern society was.

63

Bruce Wilder 11.21.12 at 5:45 pm

Tom West @ 39: “I really don’t think any but a small minority of Americans could accept the actual tradeoffs involved in relatively cheap universal coverage.”

Because, they accept so well the trade-offs involved in ridiculously expensive health care combined with predatory for-profit insurance schemes?

64

Harold 11.21.12 at 5:51 pm

re: J. Otto Pohl and the suffering endured by many ethnic groups suffered after WW2 — Germany does have a “right of return,” does it not? That must be some help, at least.

65

ponce 11.21.12 at 6:00 pm

@46

My experience is that the Republicans I know, even the “rational” ones, aren’t interested in reasoned debate, they crave fiery, judgemental one-sided shouting.

Not looking forward to Thanksgiving with the Republican relatives.

Last year was bad enough. Especially as the booze flowed.

Tomorrow, with the slaughter they just suffered at the polls…

66

Anderson 11.21.12 at 6:06 pm

Ponce, just smile and reassure them that once they get all that voter fraud cleaned up, they’ll win every presidential election for the rest of the century.

67

rootless (@root_e) 11.21.12 at 6:14 pm

The defense of slavery articulated by the master class is highly inventive, and some of the most avant garde theoreticians began to peddle formulations of a contiguous land-based empire, based on slave labor, that will sound remarkably similar to what Hitler argues for in Mein Kampf (in opposition to what he sees as the trade-based, sea-based commercial empires of France and Britain, which look to far off colonies in Africa and Asia).

Which would be odd, given the cotton export dependent Confederate economy.

68

Dr. Hilarius 11.21.12 at 7:30 pm

George Will habitually quotes Burke, not so much to illuminate anything, but to disguise his bullshit with a cover of gravitas.

Now Brooks seeks to join the game of invoking high culture and philosophy to dress up simple selfishness as something more grand. I wait for Republicans in hair shirts, fasting in the wilderness, and disdaining all medicine but a stoic contempt for pain.

69

Downpuppy 11.21.12 at 7:40 pm

How can anyone write about Nietzsche & health care without seeing an emergency room full of maniacs with tertiary syphillis? Simply the absolute last name that should be dragged into the subject.

70

Substance McGravitas 11.21.12 at 7:50 pm

Now Brooks seeks to join the game of invoking high culture and philosophy

https://www.google.lv/search?q=site:nytimes.com+%27%27david+brooks%22+burke&ie=UTF-8

71

Mao Cheng Ji 11.21.12 at 7:51 pm

@69 “I wait for Republicans in hair shirts, fasting in the wilderness, and disdaining all medicine but a stoic contempt for pain.”

They should also start practicing self flagellation, like Agent Nelson van Alden.

72

CaptBackslap 11.21.12 at 9:19 pm

@26: “We all do this: turn our intellectual pursuits into a theatre where our own demons take the stage.”

That might be the most striking turn of phrase I’ve read all year, and it’ll stay with me for awhile. I just figured I should mention that to you.

73

Harold 11.21.12 at 10:44 pm

Brooks seems to think that Burke, like Trollope admired “prudence and reserve”, but what Burke meant by “high culture and refinement” was not exactly what, say Goethe, Matthew Arnold, or even Trollope meant by culture and refinement. What Burke meant by “conservatism” was maintenance of class barriers and avoidance of class mixing. From the same letter:

Through [Rousseau the revolutionaries] teach men to love after the fashion of philosophers; that is, they teach . . . a love without gallantry; a love without anything of that fine flower of youthfulness and gentility, which places it, if not among the virtues, among the ornaments of life. Instead of this passion, naturally allied to grace and manners, they infuse into their youth an unfashioned, indelicate, sour, gloomy, ferocious medley of pedantry and lewdness; of metaphysical speculations blended with the coarsest sensuality. . .

When the fence from the gallantry of preceptors (i.e., tutors such as Emile] is broken down, and your families are no longer protected by decent pride, and salutary domestic prejudice, there is but one step to a frightful corruption. The rulers in the National Assembly are in good hopes that the females of the first families in France may become an easy prey to dancing-masters, fiddlers, pattern-drawers, friseurs [i.e., hair-dressers], and valets de chambre, and other active citizens of that description, who having the entry into your houses, and being half domesticated by their situation, may be blended with you by regular and irregular relations. By a law they have made these people their equals. By adopting the sentiments of Rousseau they have made them your rivals. In this manner these great legislators complete their plan of levelling, and establish their rights of men on a sure foundation.

74

Tony Lynch 11.21.12 at 10:48 pm

Christian, thank you.

75

rootless (@root_e) 11.21.12 at 11:49 pm

” unfashioned, indelicate, sour, gloomy, ferocious medley of pedantry and lewdness; of metaphysical speculations blended with the coarsest sensuality. . .”

a phrase which cannot but strike a chord in any parent of teenagers.

76

Dr. Hilarius 11.21.12 at 11:51 pm

Harold@74: Thanks for the quote and observation. No wonder George Will is so fond of Burke, Will displays the same disdain for the vulgar masses. Brooks is just an idiot employed by the Times for unknown reasons.

77

rootless (@root_e) 11.22.12 at 12:00 am

@74 which shows how controlling the sexuality of women is so basic to conservatism.

78

Harold 11.22.12 at 12:11 am

I just want to add that when I was going to school, Haeckel’s theory that Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny was still being taught to high school biology students (his drawings were fabulous – in both senses). Haeckel’s disciple Carlton Coon was still alive, and his racist theories were also being taught in university courses in physical anthropology as though they had some merit. Also, more recently, followers of the advocate and believer in human equality and the rights of indigenous people Franz Boas, such as Margaret Mead, were publicly vilified as gullible and naive. And the non-racist Alfred Russel Wallace is only just getting his due. (I won’t say anything about Peter Kropotkin).

79

rootless (@root_e) 11.22.12 at 12:14 am

Please do say something about Peter Kropotkin.

80

Harold 11.22.12 at 2:08 am

About Coon, I did remember, vaguely, that he had been in the OSS in North Africa during Operation Torch and has been implicated in the assassination of Admiral Darlan. I hadn’t realized he was also President American Association of Physical Anthropologists (1961-62), a Harvard professor, and a professor at the U of Pa and curator of the University Museum — also a supporter of racial segregation, according to recent research, much more of one than he publicly let on.

81

Tom West 11.22.12 at 3:53 am

Because, they accept so well the trade-offs involved in ridiculously expensive health care combined with predatory for-profit insurance schemes?

Amazingly enough, from the opinion polls I’ve read, and the overall reactions to sane cost-restriction strategies like HMO’s, yes, a majority to prefer that trade-off.

I really don’t think that the evil Republicans were the whole reason why the health-care system in the US is so crazy. A huge number of constituents are pressing their Democratic representatives as well to ensure that the cost savings measures that make universal coverage possible never come to pass.

Look at how the sane measure that the HMOs took like denying expensive treatments, expensive drugs, extensive tests, or choice of doctors made them evil incarnate. How else do you save money? There’s no magic bullet. You simply deny services that don’t provide a large enough good to make up for their cost.

As a whole, I think the majority of Americans really are different. They are (have been?) wealthy enough to afford all the luxuries, and don’t seem to live in horror at the idea of a large number of Americans without access to health-care. It’s why I try to be careful about proselytizing what seem to me transparently superior solutions to cultures so different from my own. Their utility functions are different enough that my “superior” solution isn’t actually superior.

82

Harold 11.22.12 at 4:58 am

“Sane measures”??? Uh, no. Denying services or choice of doctors are not examples of sanity but of cruelty. What about a really sane measure such as denying fees for service and emphasizing preventive care and patient input, as with Kaiser Permanente? This is proven to save money and deliver more satisfying medical results.

83

reason 11.22.12 at 7:55 am

Tom West @81

In much of the world people actually can choose to buy either private or supplementary insurance to move from the basic coverage to prioritised care. In other words – it doesn’t have to be either or. And it wouldn’t be (or at least it wouldn’t be if America realised it has a supply side problem and trained more doctors – perhaps by subsidising the training).

84

reason 11.22.12 at 8:06 am

P.S. Sorry for the off-topic post. Maybe some day there will be a post (perhaps by Quiggin) on what REAL supply side economics would look like – concentrating perhaps on areas such as urban development, infrastructure in general and (dear to heart of Crooked Timber) tertiary education.

85

reason 11.22.12 at 8:08 am

Oh and I forgot a very important sub-topic – perhaps also dear to the heart of crooked timber – research!

P.P.S. Are there economics who really study the supply side over the long run, rather than just posturing about it?

86

Walt 11.22.12 at 8:23 am

There are economists who study everything. There’s a thriving field of urban economics, for example.

87

Phil 11.22.12 at 9:57 am

I think the majority of Americans really are different. They are (have been?) wealthy enough to afford all the luxuries, and don’t seem to live in horror at the idea of a large number of Americans without access to health-care.

If that’s true – if the majority of USAns genuinely don’t care about millions of their fellow citizens living in avoidable misery – you lot have got much bigger problems than entitled clowns like Levin.

But (at the risk of a slight digression) let me throw in something else which I think tends to get overlooked in the debates over socialised medicine – one of those things that’s so big you don’t see it. The NHS we have today isn’t much to boast about – the privatisation of the NHS has been under way for several years now, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But one area where it still scores over any private-provider system (including insurance-based systems) is that you, the patient, don’t have to worry about the money, in any shape or form. The problem’s worse than we thought? You’ll have to stay in hospital a bit longer. You had a pre-existing condition? Well, we’d better treat that as well. You’ve lost your job? Sorry to hear it, but let’s get on with your treatment.

I don’t think it takes a nation of altruists to see the advantage of this arrangement. Ben Elton said once, “All I want is a well-equipped hospital with efficient and dedicated staff, that I can use free of charge whenever I need it. Course, I don’t mind if other people use it as well…” Or is that last sentence the sticking point?

88

reason 11.22.12 at 11:42 am

Phil @87
“Or is that last sentence the sticking point?”

Yep – what do you all the talk about waiting lists is about. No waiting lists here – most people can’t afford it!

89

Curmudgeon 11.22.12 at 11:42 am

@Phil:

Mass indifference to, or active support for, the suffering of others is the elephant in the room of American social policy.

America doesn’t have social policies on the scale of western continental Europe because the barycenter of American political thought is completely indifferent to preventable misery. A very slight move rightward from this point will expose a very large sub-basement of people who believe preventable misery is deserved punishment for making bad life choices.

90

roger gathman 11.22.12 at 12:25 pm

Levin does seem to misread Nietzsche if he thinks that the man was more about the ancient virtues like justice, as opposed to health. Health is pretty much a key to Nietzsche’s whole critique of decadence – his ideal was an ideal of health as a sort of perpetual excess of the life force. Translating that into public policy, I’d guess you ‘d get a very pro-active health system dedicated to preventive care – which, it turns out, is just what the modern liberal state proposes. You know, things like a good sewer system, vaccinations, campaigns against cigarette smoking, maybe even trans-fat.
What is interesting in the project of seeing how much the right has lifted from Nietzsche is that this parallels how much the left has lifted from Nietzsche. In fact, the whole New Left thing could be caricatured as a mash-up of Nietzsche and Marx. So could the Dialectic of the Enlightenment at the center of the Frankfurt school. So I hope we are not going to reprise the whole Lukacs 50s diatribe against N., but ask about the large borrowings from Nietzsche for both political wings.

91

Steve LaBonne 11.22.12 at 12:52 pm

Whoever thinks there are no waiting lists for health care in the US has never tried to make an appointment with an internist as a new patient.

92

Cranky Observer 11.22.12 at 2:00 pm

= = = You’ve lost your job? Sorry to hear it, but let’s get on with your treatment.

I don’t think it takes a nation of altruists to see the advantage of this arrangement. = = =

The disadvantage of such a system, from the point of view of a plutocrat, should be equally obvious.

Cranky

93

Barry 11.22.12 at 2:32 pm

J Otto Pohl: “But, that has nothing to do with conservatism and everything to do with profits to various capitalist enterprises in the medical sector and note none of the US “progressives” pushed for a proper socialized medical system like exists in the UK.”

The first sentence contradicts itself; ‘conservatism’ in the USA is all about profits.
The second is simply showing ignorance of the political situation of the USA.

94

Barry 11.22.12 at 2:33 pm

John Quiggin 11.20.12 at 8:13 pm

” Levin’s is another version of Donner Party conservatism”

I think that John should publish follow-up to his original post.
It’s gotten to the point where the reality caught up and zoomed past at warp speed.

95

Barry 11.22.12 at 2:40 pm

Susanna K: “Is Levin so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t understand why human beings seek to avoid pain and death? Or, more likely, is he so sheltered that he doesn’t understand why having basic health care is a matter of life and death, and just as much a part of economic survival as having a job?”

Yes, although I’d assert that he’s also evil in this respect.

96

roger gathman 11.22.12 at 3:39 pm

Interestingly, at the time Nietzsche was writing, Bismark was pulling a “Nixon” – or perhaps less anachronistically, a Disraeli. He was instituting certain changes that had been associated with socialism – notably, a workers insurance and pension program, which spread across Europe. Nietzsche, I don’t think, said anything about this. There are some readings of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit that claim that the negative connotation of Fursorge derive from a conservative attack on the insurance state – Bourdieu pursued this line.

Of course, in may ways Nietzsche’s elitism was extremely counter to the direction taken by the right at the time. For instance, his deep anti-nationalism, his criticism of the culture and making of the German Reich.
In comparison to other philosophers – say Locke, who was deeply implicated in the slave trade, being on the board of governors of Virginia and approving of certain exterminationist laws aimed at slaves, or Mill, whose record during the Irish famine shows, at the very least, a criminally negligent attitude to mass famine, and at worst, an adoption of the providentialist excuse used by the English establishment to clear Ireland – Nietzsche was too much the marginal figure to have been in a place to do any real harm. But his attitude towards things like colonialism, as it was being floated by German nationalists, was pretty scornful.

97

Barry 11.22.12 at 4:11 pm

MPAVictoria:
(to J Otto Pohl)
“/By the way I think you have a lot of interesting and well written work posted on your blog. You should submit some of it to be posted here”

I’ve suggested that J Otto should have some articles posted here, on being a professor in Ghana, and on his research into the USSR.

98

Alex 11.22.12 at 5:04 pm

Noted libertarian academic publicly insults historically disadvantaged group.

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/11/working-class-futures.html

That’s OK – the group is workers.

99

Phil 11.22.12 at 5:13 pm

The disadvantage of such a system, from the point of view of a plutocrat, should be equally obvious.

It’s to the advantage of bosses if their workers are sick and die young? It makes plutocrats happy to think that poor people are not just poor but also sick, scared and miserable? Not sure I’m with you here.

100

MPAVictoria 11.22.12 at 6:55 pm

“It makes plutocrats happy to think that poor people are not just poor but also sick, scared and miserable? “

It makes plutocrats happy that their employees are terrified of losing their health insurance. There is very little shit that you will not put up with to help make sure little Timmy can have his cancer drugs.

The fact that they get to lord it over the “undeserving” is simply a bonus.

101

Phil 11.22.12 at 8:01 pm

It makes plutocrats happy that their employees are terrified of losing their health insurance.

Oh. Yes, clearly. One of those ‘too big to see’ things.

102

Bruce Wilder 11.22.12 at 8:44 pm

” . . . the question of a relationship between US and European conservatism . . . . The defense of slavery articulated by the master class is highly inventive, and some of the most avant garde theoreticians began to peddle formulations of a contiguous land-based empire, based on slave labor, . . . in opposition to . . . the trade-based, sea-based commercial empires of France and Britain,

rootless @ 67: “Which would be odd, given the cotton export dependent Confederate economy.”

It would seem odd, until you consider the role of ressentiment in motivating the ideologies of would-be Confederates, 1830-60, that included “Slavery is Good” apologetics, States’ Rights constitutional ideas, and the thesis of a distinctive Southern nationality and culture identified with the “peculiar institution” (of slavery). From Wikipedia

Ressentiment is a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability.

The Southern Planters’s focused investment in cotton plantations and slaves in the antebellum period left the Deep South with scarcely any commercial or industrial resources; they were dependent on the Northeast, Britain and France, and felt that dependence as weakness, and the religiously-inspired criticism of slavery by New England and British abolishnists, which they experienced as an insult to honor, compounded their economic resentments.

The Panic of 1857 was taken at the South as evidence of possibly fatal economic weakness up north, and a fanciful analysis of the balance of trade, and of tariff receipts, which had the South practically footing the bill for the entire Federal government, was a passionately held doctrine for the would-be Confederates, while the growth of Northern population and industry, more rapid than that of the South, was an object of deepest fear and envy.

The distortion of reason and perceptions of political reality, entailed by such ressentiment-inspired ideologies, played an important part in guiding the particular course of Confederate secession, and its failure. The insistence on a unilateral State right of secession, firmly anchored in the hostilities of ressentiment, despite the clear language and logic of the Constitution, was the proximate cause of war. The Confederate Embargo on cotton in the first year of the war, which reflected widely shared views of European dependence on cotton as well as quaint notions of how to provoke European intervention, deprived the Confederacy of external finance and credibility. And, it went on like that, with the Union, clear-eyed and well-organized, systematically destroying slavery and strangling trade, while the Confederates kept trying to win “glorious” battles, with no clear objective or point of leverage, and unable to organize even such vital economic matters as blockade-running or the distribution of salt.

In many ways, despite the apparent contradiction presented by slavery itself to idea of free contracting, the Confederate ideologies did pre-figure many of the attitudes and notions of post-WWII conservative libertarianism, particularly its hostility to responsible fiscal policy and government power employed for public purposes.

What little I know about the immediate response of British politicians to the outbreak of the Civil War suggests a degree of randomness in what they understood of the conflict. I don’t know what the role of corresponding ressentiments was in the doctrines of Britain’s two ruling parties (both conservative in ideological terms and representative only of the propertied upper classes) of the day, but think it might be an interesting question to pursue. I recall that Gladstone made a speech early on, supporting Jefferson Davis as the leader of a national independence movement, while the Duke of Argyll, 8th in his line and as blue-blooded an aristocrat as could be found, was a passionate Union man.

103

Bruce Wilder 11.22.12 at 8:58 pm

Phil: “It’s to the advantage of bosses if their workers are sick and die young? It makes plutocrats happy to think that poor people are not just poor but also sick, scared and miserable?”

The Slave Masters of the antebellum South liked to think that their slaves were grateful, and that they provided to the slaves, a degree of security and cradle-to-grave care, which was far superior to that provided by irresponsible northern bosses to “wage slaves”. Doesn’t mean most slaves were not sick, scared and miserable.

The compensation and promotion practices of large corporations predictably lead to the employment of sociopaths as CEOs and financialization of the economy means that the out-sized incomes of many plutocrats derive directly from frauds, disinvestments, and predatory conduct. We just had a vulture capitalist and tax cheat presented as the Republican nominee for President, so the reality can hardly be denied as presumptively as you seem to think.

104

mds 11.22.12 at 9:31 pm

Curmudgeon @ 89:

A very slight move rightward from this point will expose a very large sub-basement of people who believe preventable misery is deserved punishment for making bad life choices.

Never mind that this is part of “Donner Party conservatism” as an already-observed phenomenon within the right-wing punditocracy. This idea has been expressed to varying degrees by the Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates in this last US election. It is an uncontroversial idea amongst a much-too-substantial portion of the US Congress. So I’d say the sub-basement has already been levered open.

105

guthrie 11.23.12 at 12:35 am

Has anyone actually gathered any testimony about what plutocrats have thought about normal people in the last 50 years or so? Certainly the 47% comment wasn’t nice.

106

Tony Lynch 11.23.12 at 12:54 am

Guthrie, the person you want on this is Gore Vidal.

107

rootless (@root_e) 11.23.12 at 1:22 am

@102 Bruce Wilder

It’s interesting to look at the few but key items that the Confederates modified in the Constitution to create the Confederate Constitution. Aside from further enshrining slavery, the document is an attempt to define the Commerce Clause down to prevent Federal (Confederate ) investment in any industrial development except harbors – presumably where King Cotton could be exported.

Much of the ongoing economic disputes of the USA in the early/mid 1800s were between the high tariff/pro-industrial policy North and the “export the produce of slave labor” low-tax South.
” “My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am in favor of a national bank … in favor of the internal improvements system and a high protective tariff.”
Abraham Lincoln, running for state legislature in1932 (and quoted with great displeasure by the pro-freedom slavery apologists at Mises.org )

108

reason 11.23.12 at 8:52 am

rootless @107
“short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance”?

Now that is an interesting idiom.

109

rootless (@root_e) 11.23.12 at 12:33 pm

1832, obviously.

110

Anderson 11.23.12 at 2:59 pm

“I think the majority of Americans really are different. They are (have been?) wealthy enough to afford all the luxuries”

Jaysus. Where are you getting your info about the US? “Dallas” reruns?

111

ajay 11.23.12 at 3:16 pm

109: Zombie Protectionist Lincoln supports the Smoot-Hawley Tariff! “We need free trade like I need another hole in the head” says resurrected Railsplitter.

112

LFC 11.23.12 at 4:04 pm

Re Southern defenses of slavery — to (immodestly) quote myself:

Some southern apologists for slavery argued, among other things, that free labor in the North amounted to ‘wage slavery’ and that northern factory workers and hired hands were actually worse off than African-American slaves in the South. In this respect these defenders of slavery, notably George Fitzhugh, “seemed to speak in Marxist accents,” as Dennis Wrong notes. But other defenders of slavery evinced a very un-Marxist contempt for manual labor in general…. Once slavery ceased to exist in the U.S., free labor had no polar antithesis to give it luster by comparison, and it tended to become, at best, just a fact rather than something to be widely celebrated. Critics of wage labor as exploitation could pursue their critique, secure in the knowledge that the surface similarities of their position to that of a George Fitzhugh probably would no longer be flung in their faces. This liberation, so to speak, of the critics of industrial capitalism arguably counts as one of the Civil War’s less-noticed consequences.

The last sentences go out a bit on a limb, perhaps, and I’m not entirely sure that they’re right. But anyway… The quoted passage is from this post:
http://howlatpluto.blogspot.com/2011/05/dignity-of-labor.html

113

Teafortwo 11.24.12 at 6:00 am

“… people who believe preventable misery is deserved punishment for making bad life choices.”

There are plenty of those in the US, and they don’t bother concealing their views.

Look at the response to Nick Kristof’s powerful column about his friend Scott Androes, who died of prostate cancer.

Column here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/opinion/sunday/kristof-a-possibly-fatal-mistake.html?pagewanted=all

Kristof’s response to some of those responses here: http://www.dentonrc.com/opinion/columns-headlines/20121020-nicholas-d.-kristof-vote-to-keep-health-care-accessible-for-everyone.ece

114

Henry Farrell 11.24.12 at 6:34 am

J. Otto Pohl’s account in #56 of why he was banned from my and John Quiggin’s threads is rather misleading and self serving. He claims:

Farrell and Quiggin already banned me for opposing Zionism. Talking about Soviet racism against ethnic Germans or the right of Palestinians to equal rights with Jews defies everything that “progressives” believe.

In fact, he got the bum’s rush for this ludicrous comment on a post about one Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, who was convicted of organ trafficking.

This post also seems to contradict the official CT policy of never, ever allowing criticism of anything ever done by an Israeli. CT has a strong reputation as a hard line Zionist blog and such posts are going to tarnish this hard earned status.

If one of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories is any guide, JOP and the unlamented Dan Simon (who kept on insinuating that we were a pack of Israel-hating anti-Semites) will discover in the afterlife that they were aspects of each other all along …

115

cambridgemac 11.24.12 at 4:03 pm

I think the majority of Americans really are different. They are (have been?) wealthy enough to afford all the luxuries, and don’t seem to live in horror at the idea of a large number of Americans without access to health-care.

Median household income in Canada has been substantially HIGHER than in the US for a almost a decade and continues to rise, while ours has stagnated since 1999. Median Canadian household income for 2009 was $68,410, whereas for the USA it was $49,081. The gap is greater today.
http://slumbuddy.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/comparison-of-canadian-and-us-federal-tax-rates-for-2011/

Perhaps you are confusing Americans with Canadians? Or reading a bit too much of the National Review? Or making the mistake of confusing mean income with median?

116

Harold 11.24.12 at 6:16 pm

They have chosen, or had foisted upon them, flat-screen TVs instead of medical care and job security.

117

polyorchnid octopunch 11.24.12 at 6:37 pm

Tom West: I think you’ve got that wrong, It’s a minority that would have a hard time making the trade-offs involved in a Canadian style system; for most people would find that things would improve significantly, and about a fifth would find their situation to be infinitely improved over the nothing they’ve got now. No, it’s only the really loaded that would not like the fact that triage would be based on their (and everyone else’s) needs, rather than the fatness of their wallet.

118

ponce 11.24.12 at 6:45 pm

“As a whole, I think the majority of Americans really are different. They are (have been?) wealthy enough to afford all the luxuries, and don’t seem to live in horror at the idea of a large number of Americans without access to health-care”

About 47% of Americans live in fear that the poor are “getting away with something.”

They are called Republicans.

119

bianca steele 11.24.12 at 9:02 pm

Phil @ 87: Ben Elton said once, “All I want is a well-equipped hospital with efficient and dedicated staff, that I can use free of charge whenever I need it. Course, I don’t mind if other people use it as well…” Or is that last sentence the sticking point?

Having just spent an afternoon with a four-year-old at Central Park, and had an excellent, quick, healthy lunch near a university campus that was much less tastier and expensive than it would have been in the suburbs, that makes sense. It’s worked less well with, for example, theater, however (and that’s not only the fault of the trade unions). But OTOH again, it does work well enough for music, as long as the classical station can still afford to broadcast live concerts. It’s a nice analogy, in other words, but it isn’t obvious whether medicine is more like theater or more like public parks. And while I can make an appointment with a famous doctor at a Boston teaching hospital if I need it, it’s not like they’re out looking for patients among ordinary people just to keep their calendars full. (As Steven LaBonne points out.)

120

bianca steele 11.24.12 at 9:25 pm

roger gathman: In fact, the whole New Left thing could be caricatured as a mash-up of Nietzsche and Marx.

It’s amusing that the same has been said of Ayn Rand.

121

brad 11.24.12 at 9:29 pm

This is your Nietzsche, Corey, and a very idiosyncratic and particular one.
Attaching him to the authoritarian party, to me, shows the weakness of your reading of him.
The unselfaware, hypocritical thinker you read has little to no relation to the important philosopher studied by Nehamas and more importantly Schact.
If you want to focus on and limit yourself to the works produced before the break with Wagner and the never intendedto be published notes released by his sister at least be honest about it. It’s the only way to drag politics into his project, otherwise you’d have to recognize his explicit rejection of the very temporal concerns of politics from what he’s talking about.
Yes, there are bad readers of Nietzsche on the right. There’s also free market Jesus. Doesn’t make it a legitimate or founded reading.

122

brad 11.24.12 at 10:04 pm

To expand and perhaps give something besides my righteous academic indignation to respond to, what Levin and CR both get wrong is the move from the individual to society.
Nietzsche was profoundly elitist, and was writing only for those he felt were properly prepared to read him. It’s true that he had nothing but disdain for the egalitarian principles of liberal society, in that he felt it would have a leveling effect and enable the kinds of manipulations that, I would argue, the right now makes the basis of their popular appeal.
But the truth is he didn’t give a shit about that, except in that it might make for fewer future readers of him. His concern was always “we philosophers”, not “the people”. And he was no Platonist (at least in the common reading of Republic), he wanted “we philosophers” to remain distinct from “the people”. The archaic noble lived in a time long gone, and the ubermensch in a time yet to come. In other words, they were stories, not literal truth.
His concern was for his readers to remain free of the leveling effects of society, and whatever it took for that to be. Why do I say that? Because N said so.
CR, Levin’s, and the right’s Nietzsche in general all depend on ignoring the actual writings of Nietzsche and instead looking to the ephemera around him and the ways in which his talent as a writer encourages a personal response and the reading in of one’s one views into him. Careful, academic minded, detailed consideration leaves, at best, little room for this power crazed Nietzsche, and in a generation that N will be studied only as a reminder of a mistake. (I hope, and trust insofar as modern scholarship goes well beyond those narrow boundaries.)
But then some view eternal recurrence as an attempt at metaphysics, and don’t know how to laugh with him as he wanders.
I know I’m being prickish, but for one, I obviously care, and for another, CR’s blithe treatment deserves a strong response if only to make clear how contentious his reading actually is.

123

Phil 11.24.12 at 10:22 pm

it isn’t obvious whether medicine is more like theater or more like public parks

Except for the whole “needed in order to stay alive” thing, which would suggest that medicine is more like parks than parks are. It’s not that obscure.

124

bianca steele 11.24.12 at 11:02 pm

Phil,
I usually like what you write, and I’m not sure what failed to get across in my comment. Maybe the London theater scene hasn’t been in decline for forty years the way the New York scene has been, not so corporatized, ticket prices not so high, appeals to the ordinary, somewhat sophisticated and somewhat well educated person not so diminishing, room for anything out of the ordinary also not diminishing. I was talking about funding sources and accessibility, and shareability. To think two things can be organized similarly because they’re of equally high importance is wishful thinking.

That especially tasty food even at low-priced restaurants isn’t important is exactly why low-priced food in the less densely populated suburbs doesn’t try very hard to be especially tasty. And I’m not sure you find places like Central Park, where well-off kids play in public, alongside poorer kids, in other places.

125

Harold 11.24.12 at 11:06 pm

it isn’t obvious whether medicine is more like theater or more like public parks

unless we are talking about medicine as a “Nietzschean theater of scarcity and struggle”, in which it becomes more like The Hunger Games (set in a park?).

126

brad 11.24.12 at 11:06 pm

@69
Relevant if one doesn’t pay attention to modern scholarship. It is by no means certain Nietzsche had syphilis, and equally, if not more, likely that his affliction was in fact a slow growing eye tumor. See the following;
http://www.leonardsax.com/Nietzsche.pdf

127

Phil 11.24.12 at 11:40 pm

bianca – fair enough, I think I misread your comment as a normative statement about what can in principle be available to all, not about what is. In my defence, any argument juxtaposing medicine with scarcity is something of a red rag to me – I take Tawney’s line, to the effect that no society is so rich it can do without public services & no society is so poor it can’t afford them.

128

Corey Robin 11.25.12 at 5:32 am

Brad (121 and 122): You say that yours is a “righteous academic indignation.” If that’s the case, it’s an indignation based on a scholarship that is now going on 30 years old. Believe it or not, there have been serious academic critiques written since Nehamas that have actually made a sustained case for Nietzsche as a political thinker, and no amount of hand-waving about him being an apolitical individualist or an elitist can overcome that. As I said, I’ll be writing more on this in the coming months; this is by no means my last word on the topic. But if you’re under the impression that my case rests upon his writings before the break with Wagner, you’re just wrong. (Likewise, where did you get the idea that I think he’s un-self-aware or hypocritical? Or even depict him that way?) For now, though, I’ll merely make two quick points. First, the case for Nietzsche as a philosopher who cared only for philosophers: it’s true, but not quite in the way you think that means. As Nietzsche says in Beyond Good and Evil (is that enough post-Wagner for you?), “Genuine philosophers…are commanders and legislators: they say, ‘thus it shall be!'” Commanders and legislators: well, what are they commanding and legislating, and for whom? However you answer those questions, it’s hardly the rarified image of the philosopher we have; it’s an extraordinarily political vision. As for “his explicit rejection of the very temporal concerns of politics”…It’s true that Nietzsche mostly has contempt for the politics of his day (although that varies over the course of his career). But that’s because, as he repeatedly makes clear, he thinks the politics are so small, not because he rejects politics as such. As he says in Ecce Homo: “For when truth enters into a fight with the lies of millennia, we shall have upheavals, a convulsion of earthquakes, a moving of mountains and valleys, the like of which has never been dreamed of. The concept of politics will have merged entirely with a war of spirits; all power structures of the old society will have been exploded — all of them are based on lies: there will be wars the like of which have never yet been seen on earth. It is only beginning with me that the earth knows great politics.” Nietzsche doesn’t skirt the question of politics; like any great philosopher (think Plato or Hobbes), he wants to reconstruct our understanding of politics, much in the way Machiavelli did. In fact, he describes The Prince as “perfection in politics.” Not because The Prince is (stereotypically understood as) a manual for power and realpolitik but because it is such a radical assault on the contemporary conventions and pieties of politics — in the name of an older view of politics.

I recognize my reading is contentious and cuts against the grain of how many in the academy view Nietzsche. But your case is not advanced by merely restating the conventional wisdom as if it were simply true.

129

Anderson 11.25.12 at 5:08 pm

Corey is of course correct that N thought his work had political implications; perhaps only someone who took Nehamas seriously could believe in a Nietzsche who was content to be a library “elitist.” N thought the collapse of Christian values was imminent and would be a political, not just an academic, catastrophe.

I also think N on politics was naive, ignorant, and largely useless … none of which is exactly inconsistent with his being a fount of conservative political ideology ….

130

novakant 11.25.12 at 5:16 pm

This seems relevant here:

Nietzsche’s Lack of a Political Philosophy

Now I haven’t followed the debate you mentioned, but I would argue that anybody who bases his political views primarily on Nietzsche is a bit of a nutcase in the first place, or youthfully deluded at best. That said, I would wager that most of us have our anti-democratic Nietzschean moments at times, but then most of us don’t turn those into policy prescriptions – this contradiction is perfectly tolerable. At least for me.

131

Bruce Wilder 11.25.12 at 5:17 pm

Also, N’s philosophy is psychological; his politics . . . difficult to discern.

132

Anderson 11.25.12 at 5:29 pm

Thanks, Novakant; Leiter is as always interesting on N, but the latter section that he describes as merely the implications of N’s morality for politics, sounds pretty darn political to me. N’s objection to the German politics of his day was that it wasn’t elitist enough; remember, the old aristocracy never took to Bismarck, and N appears to’ve identified with them to the point of inventing an aristocratic ancestry for himself in “Ecce Homo.”

133

brad 11.26.12 at 1:46 am

129- In fact, Nehamas’s reliance on the literary is a major flaw, imo, in his understanding. The question of criteria looms large, and like Schacht I have nothing but disgust for Nehamas’s belief that artistic integrity is all that’s really required for a perspective to be valid by Nietzsche’s rights. It’s not any kind of response to nihilism.
And Nietzsche thought Christianity had already collapsed, that nihilism was the reality of his day, but that few if any had recognized the corpse in the room. Politics as such were a game based on obsolete rules, as it were. What I object to is the idea that Nietzsche put forward any truly affirmative political content, that he was doing anything more than saying “this no longer works”. He wanted his work to lay foundations that would have possible political content by simple human necessity, but that’s not the same as being political. Nietzsche’s notes, which I believe CR and the strains he’s working in make far too much of, do relate to the politics of his day and are often very reactionary, but he kept those concerns distinct from his published works quite consciously and intentionally. He wanted, and with whatever level of validity believed himself to be, untimely and neither defined by nor caught up in the streams of his day.
It is, of course, naive to believe such is possible, which leads me to respond, in part, to CR @128. First I must say that I am on vacation and thus lack my home library to reference, so I’m forced to be a bit more general in my response. I’ll be home soon, if the debate/discussion continues.
To begin at a very general, possibly backtracking, level, my fundamental objection is the idea that Nietzsche is an animating figure in a closed, reactive system, “the reactionary mind”. There are bad readings of him which lend themselves to such, and if CR were discussing the history of an error, as it were, I would have no objections at all. The problem is granting conservatives, or liberals, for that matter, claim to some degree of Nietzsche’s allegiance, as if such ever existed. The reactive mode was a danger, to Nietzsche, not a lifestyle. The simple idea of defining yourself negatively against an other would have repulsed him, did repulse him in how he viewed Socrates, not to mention many other obvious qualities of modern conservatism such as its anti-intellectualism. Nihilism was not a goal but a reality to be recognized and responded to and overcome, as I hope is obvious. The reason I got into somewhat overheated things such as the idea of Nietzsche being a cast as a hypocrite is because I fail to see any element in modern conservatism which is life affirming or expanding. Nietzsche was an elitist, yes, but his elite were not defined by class but by their minds. Yes, he mourned the “loss” of his romantic heroes the archaic nobles, but he also recognized the necessity of their passing for the survival and development of humanity. Nietzsche did not want to conserve any lost, ideal, or even concrete reality. His concern for his elite was not to create a closed system for them such as might have been represented in Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, but to found a dynamic, open, system engaged with the world it exists in that worked to avoid closed, repetitive loops that did nothing but self-perpetuate.
I need my copies to locate the quotes you cite. My instinct, heh, is to say that you put the wrong meaning in the term legislate there, that it does not mean politicians but those who “make” the rules, who legislate our constructed morality. Socrates was no politician, but he would likely have qualified as a legislator, in Nietzsche’s terms, I believe. Politicians obviously could be among these people, but so could priests and professors. And again, with politics, I must ask whether Nietzsche’s use of the term is identical to how you want to use it. Politics, to us, are…. what? The means by which conflicting opinions and world views clash and (rarely) come to agreement on a temporal or state-related concerns? Fair enough? (genuine question)
Nietzsche loved the agon, the conflict, the clash of strong sides leading to change. To suggest that he had a politics such that he wanted to create an imbalanced system that would prevent such clashes by domination of any one side over another would depend on showing that he believed such a domination was needed in his time as a corrective. The defense of his elite was, in a sense, conservative with a small c, but at the same time his elite were never to be a closed class, for all Nietzsche’s issues with Socrates he never denies his ancient foe from common clay the status of an equal, of an elite opponent.
(As a genuine question/aside, if any native German speakers or genuine scholars of the language are among us and have an opinion on the contextual meanings of these terms in question, please do chime in. I am not ungrounded in this field, but I claim no expertise and would find value even in learning I’m flat out wrong, if such is the case.)
There’s no denying that Nietzsche was anti-democratic, but he was also anti-authoritarian, and this is why I feel there’s a whiff of hypocrisy in the Nietzsche seen by CR and some others. He was merely stripping down one system so as to put up his own, in this reading, whereas I, obviously, deny that he had a system, in the political sense. In a truly healthy world, yes, his elite will rule, but to call that a political position is to view Nietzsche as so naive, or muddled by the slow organic failure of his faculties, as to believe that his own romantic hopes would ever be achieved, and even then it’s less a politics than saying “when all is well, those who should rule will”. I’m tempted to digress into Plato, here, but I’m being verbose as is. This is very contentious of me to say, but my own view is that neither actually had prescriptive political views, precisely because they recognized the folly of attempting to take fundamentally apolitical ideas as the basis of something so temporal and non-theoretical as the political sphere. And yes, I’ve been taught a reading Republic that backs this claim up, but again, big digression.

My reference to the academy’s traditions involving direct scholarship of Nietzsche’s works was not to point to authority and say, well, case settled, but to point out that those who have immersed themselves in his works find a much different figure than you paint in very, very fundamental ways. Your scholarship remains illuminating, I’m taking issue only with your interpretations.

134

Anderson 11.26.12 at 4:18 am

133: fascinating comment, which I’ll respond to more I hope when I have some books, and a keyboard, to hand. Right now:

“I fail to see any element in modern conservatism which is life affirming or expanding. Nietzsche was an elitist, yes, but his elite were not defined by class but by their minds.”

N had no idea of “class” beyond the elite vs the hoi polloi, but he surely considered it essential to a cultural elite that it have economic and political power. Remember how this thread got started: mental, bodily, and economic poverty all overlapped for him.

I suspect that to the extent N thought he knew anything about politics, he drew a good bit on Burckhardt’s Renaissance book. Recall the chapter on “The State as a Work of Art.” Not much relevance to modern politics, but again, conservatism is against any such relevance.

135

Anderson 11.26.12 at 4:37 am

… Consider this from sec 377 of “The Gay Science”:

We “preserve” nothing, nor would we return to any past age; we are not at all “liberal,” we do not labour for “progress,” we do not need first to stop our ears to the song of the market-place and the sirens of the future – their song of “equal rights,” “free society,” “no longer either lords or slaves,” does not allure us! We do not by any means think it desirable that the kingdom of righteousness and peace should be established on earth (because under any circumstances it would be the kingdom of the profoundest mediocrity and Chinese-like levelling); we rejoice in all men, who like ourselves love danger, war and adventure, who do not make compromises, nor let themselves be captured, conciliated and stunted; we count ourselves among the conquerors; we ponder over the need of a new order of things, even of a new slavery – for every strengthening and elevation of the type “man” also involves a new form of slavery. Is it not obvious that with all this we must feel ill at ease in an age which claims the honour of being the most humane, gentle and just that the sun has ever seen?

He may disown the name “conservative,” but it seems a fair cop. Mutatis mutandis, this could be published in First Things or Commentary.

136

LFC 11.26.12 at 2:56 pm

Recall the chapter on “The State as a Work of Art.” Not much relevance to modern politics

But see the ‘aesthetic turn’ in pol theory (or not, depending, I suppose, on yr taste).

137

Anderson 11.26.12 at 3:29 pm

Thanks, LFC. I’m a little afraid to find out what that is!

… Looking back at Leiter, does he pretty much omit any discussion of BGE sections 61-62? 257? That is some heavy-duty special pleading Leiter does there. See e.g. 257:

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. Without the pathos of distance, such as grows out of the incarnated difference of classes, out of the constant out-looking and down-looking of the ruling caste on subordinates and instruments, and out of their equally constant practice of obeying and commanding, of keeping down and keeping at a distance—that other more mysterious pathos could never have arisen, the longing for an ever new widening of distance within the soul itself, the formation of ever higher, rarer, further, more extended, more comprehensive states, in short, just the elevation of the type “man,” the continued “self-surmounting of man,” to use a moral formula in a supermoral sense. To be sure, one must not resign oneself to any humanitarian illusions about the history of the origin of an aristocratic society (that is to say, of the preliminary condition for the elevation of the type “man”): the truth is hard.

Not really seeing the “anti-authoritarian” N here. He doesn’t think you can have the spiritual growth without the antecedent political and social conditions. Again, N is pretty much the last philosopher who would ever suggest that the material and the spiritual could be severed, that one could be a democrat in the morning and an aristocrat in the evening (cf. Rorty in Contingency Irony & Solidarity – there’s a reason Rorty wants a Nehamasized Nietzsche).

I suppose one could argue that N had politics, but not a political philosophy, i.e. that his politics didn’t mesh with his philosophy, just as some argue that Heidegger just incidentally happened to be a Nazi. But I think that’s a real stretch; however implausible his notions of “selection” and “breeding,” N sure wrote like someone who thought they were essential.

I would say now, having refreshed my memory a bit, that it wasn’t the collapse of Christianity that he saw as catastrophic, but rather the prospect that Christianized values (“equal rights,” “compassion for all suffering”) would survive politically even after the Christian faith was extinct. See 61-62 mentioned above, as well as sections 44 and 203.

Anyway, here’s hoping that CR posts a link to his N. paper when it’s published (or in draft form)! Thanks for the opportunity to quit being a lawyer for a few minutes … now whom can I bill for this thread?…

138

Tony Lynch 11.26.12 at 10:51 pm

I suggested earlier that Williams was needed here before the debate got out of hand. I stand by this – and, I think, with Brad. As there is no sign CR took up my suggestion, I post here a question from William Desmond and Williams’ answer.

William Desmond: You’ve repeatedly expressed your admiration for Nietzsche. As you know yourself there are many Nietzsches, but I wonder how one Nietzsche (I think a very justifiable Nietzsche) might less create problems for you, as require some response. How you would respond to something like this: Suppose we see Nietzsche as a kind of mutant in the Kantian family?
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This is not entirely unpersuasive in this sense: One way to read Kant would be to say he wants to have a rationalized form of autonomous will. Yet another Kantian, or anyway a philosopher in that family, namely Schopenhauer, will reply that the very rationality of the will leads into a darker source. This source is not at all transparent to itself; and Nietzsche will suggest that while this source is the source of the subject it also destroys that subject. It’s not unimportant that Nietzsche himself returned to the presocratic Greeks for some sense of that deeper original source, the Dionysian source. Later Nietzsche will come to describe that in terms of the language of will to power and again this is a very ambiguous. But certainly one of Nietzsche’s deployments of will to power is against any easy self- justification of modernity and certainly the modern liberal state, and the Enlightenment. Thus his rejection of the modern approach to the distinction between slaves and masters: the truth about nature is not fairness but differences that want to accentuate themselves. Some of the traditional systems of slavery were not infected by the bad conscience that Christianity especially makes more tender. You are no banner carrier for institutions like slavery, yet there is your admiration for Nietzsche. I would be interested in your response to that other darker Nietzsche.
Bernard Williams: Well, thank you for those remarks. No he’s not the only philosopher I warm to. I said earlier I do regard Kant as the greatest modern philosopher, I just don’t agree with him. I think that Nietzsche is certainly the greatest, if you want to use the expression, “moral philosopher” of more recent times. I once had a great admiration for Hume. Now I think that he suffered from a somewhat terminal degree of optimism. Nobody who’s got to 1999 can take it that seriously. Now it seems to me that you’re absolutely right in reminding us that there are many Nietzsches and in a way he brought that about himself and almost intended to. It’s very important about the work, it’s no accident that it’s so hard, thank goodness, to turn Nietzsche into an academic philosopher. He made it that way. That was the idea, and it seems to me a very good idea actually.
_______________________________________________________________________________________ Ethical Perspectives 6 (1999)3-4, p. 256
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It’s also, I think, inherent in his view and also, if I can put it this way, inherent in the truth of some of his view that there are going to be bits which modern readers of at least my sort of outlook and many other people are going to find repellent and useless. I think that’s just inevitable; that’s the way it is. I don’t make many dogmatic unifying claims about Nietzsche because I think that’s usually an unhelpful way to go about it, but I do make one which is that the deconstructionist tradition which has identified Nietzsche’s views about truth and the value of truth with the sort of thing that is said in “On Truth and Lie in an Extramoral Sense” are mistaken. I mean that his problem, his aim, was not to get rid of the category of truth at all. In my view, he correctly saw that the huge respect for the intrinsic value of truth shares the same origins as the metaphysical values he was opposed to. He was concerned among other things about how you put it back, how you recover it, how he could go tell a story about his own honesty which divorced it from the self-destructive honesty of late Christianity, as it were. That interests me very much. On the whole, I think a lot of his insights in the direction of moral psychology are correctively salutary.
I think there’s a great deal in the general rule adopted by Freud, you know, look for the shameful story which has been buried, that’s not a bad line on the whole, though he overdoes it a little. I agree with you about the Kantian derivation via Schopenhauer. He actually said at one point that when people come to realize what the philosophy of Kant really means they will see that it causes absolute destruction, that it was not, as it were, the justification of all the things it was supposed to be the justification of. I have a lot of trouble with the concept of the will to power, particularly in the Heideggerian emphasis: this sort of metaphysical force in the Nachlass. I belong to the Anglo-American view that those things are best left where Nietzsche left them, just like a lot of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass actually. If he wrote it and put it in the waste basket, his sister should have left it in the waste basket. But the point I principally want to make is that I do think that the weakest part of Nietzsche’s work by far is when he addresses himself to social and political formations in modernity, and I share to this extent the view of Mark Warren in his book about Nietzsche’s politics (Nietzsche and Political Thought) that Nietzsche didn’t understand what a modern society was. There were various reasons for that. One was that he’d been brought up in Germany,
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being surrounded by something that wasn’t a modern society fundamentally. I mean, Germany’s great problem was how to become one. It’s not a problem they solved in a spectacularly successful manner for a hundred years. That was a local feature, part of the problem goes right back to Goethe, whom Nietzsche quite rightly admired enormously, and he didn’t read or have an experience of much formations which would have given him a different view what a modern society could be. He was brought up as a classical philologist despite his wide reading in other areas and I think that a lot of his pictures of liberalism, the co-operative movement, socialism and so on are just nonsense. I mean they’re just those of a dotty reactionary, aristocratic German professor of the middle of the 19th century and we have to leave that out of it.

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Anderson 11.27.12 at 3:00 am

That whole Williams-Desmond exchange was good stuff, but I think Robin is justified – and right – if he wants to say, hey, let’s attend to all of what N has to say, and not just shrug and wink when he goes on about slavery and elites, “oh there goes Uncle Fred on his hobbyhorse, so brilliant when he’s not being cracked.”

Pardon me for not trying to link on my phone, but via Sullyblog I saw a review by Mazower of Alan Ryan’s new book, M asking why histories of political thought end up being liberal histories, with short shrift to critics of the liberal order, like Schmitt. I wonder is something like that going on with Nietzsche, where we treat his reactionary politics, not as an alternative tho evil political philosophy, but as not even a philosophy at all?

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Tony Lynch 11.27.12 at 4:24 am

It’s fine if someone wants – largely against Nietzsche’s intentions as Williams points out – to “attend to all of what N has to say” (even if that “all” includes what he threw in the bin – though doing that raises all sorts of issues of interpretative fairness); but that is quite different from holding as an empirical thesis, “Nietzsche is the master theoretician of the modern right”. Nor do I understand how “the elective affinities between Nietzsche and neoliberalism” might play any useful role in establishing such a thesis.

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Corey Robin 11.27.12 at 5:03 am

#140: It’s hard to think of a single thinker who did more to take apart the notion of there being a tight relation between the intention of an actor and the outcome of her actions than Nietzsche. Why we should then allow his intentions to rule entirely how we go about interpreting his outcomes is beyond me. As for why I didn’t address the Williams exchange: I asked you explicitly to send me the exchange since I couldn’t access it online; you opted not to. It’s a bit rich for you now to complain about (#138). Though given what you post here, there’s nothing there that would lead me to revise my view. Even without resorting to the wastebasket, there’s plenty in the published texts to support the interpretation I would advance. Of course, nothing in what I say precludes the possibility that N has much to say that is interesting and useful and true on a great many matters.

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Tony Lynch 11.27.12 at 5:23 am

I’m sorry Corey. I was under the (mistaken) impression you read the comments to your post. Christian posted the link at #60, and I thanked him at #74.

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Corey Robin 11.27.12 at 5:44 am

#142: Actually, it’s I who am sorry here, Tony. I did see that post at #60 but simply assumed it was the same link you had already posted earlier, the one that didn’t work for me. Should have read the link more carefully and clicked on it. My fault.

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Tony Lynch 11.27.12 at 7:58 am

Who knew a Nietzsche thread would come to this?

I think him a complex and confusing man.

And I was rude (too).

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Christian Hiebaum 11.27.12 at 8:43 am

BTW, @Tony Lynch: Thanks a lot for drawing my attention to this extremely interesting seminar with B.W.!

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Anderson 11.27.12 at 12:19 pm

” (even if that “all” includes what he threw in the bin)”

?? Everything I’ve cited here has been to his published, post-TSZ work.

“Master theoretician etc.” may be hyperbole by CR, but given the possibility I’ve mentioned that we’ve overlooked the anti-democratic lineage in our stories of political philosophy, I’m happy to let CR take a shot at persuading us.

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bob mcmanus 11.27.12 at 10:49 pm

146: I am, to say the least, worried.

A philosopher who was a major influence, to cite Wikipedia, on DeGaulle and Huey Newton, Spengler and Camus, Ayn Rand and Foucault, Buber and Adorno; whose works were translated into Hebrew by Israel Eldad; and whom I think most American Conservatives would reject vehemently…will be hard to connect to that movement except by the most tenuous of elective affinities. Ok, Hayek, Strauss, and Schmitt maybe read him as kids. I would find the effort to connect those three challenging enough.

Nietsche belongs to the rebellious independent (at least in adolescence) in each of us, and I would despair after the lifetime of work by the existentialist Walter Kaufmann, to lose him for the left again.

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Anderson 11.27.12 at 11:01 pm

Bob, “American conservatives” tend to be Christian millenialists, not participants in any lineage of Western thought.

There is nothing shocking in N’s influencing people of different political persuasions; he is important for metaphysics, epistemology, ethics …. And grown-up thinkers, as you well know, can pick and choose from a philosopher’s ideas, without needing to hero-worship the whole corpus.

But it’s remarkable that a Brian Leiter can, as we’ve seen, dismiss the notion that N. had a political philosophy, when it seems evident from N’s own published works that he *did* have one, just a kinda reprehensible one.

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js. 11.27.12 at 11:16 pm

I’m having a bit of difficulty understanding how one can read through the Genealogy, say, and not think that there’s quite obviously a political philosophy there. I mean, he’s talking about what are recognizably social classes (and I don’t mean to import anything very theoretical here), about how these social classes might organize relations among and between themselves, about the large-scale and long-term social consequences of various such arrangements. I think it’s not much less obvious that the political philosophy in question is at base anti-democratic, but I can at least see how one might contest that. But to entirely deny the political content is simply bizarre. (I haven’t read Leiter on this question, though I have read a bit of his other stuff on Nietzche, and… I guess I’m not entirely surprised that he’s come up with an unconvincing reading.)

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bob mcmanus 11.27.12 at 11:18 pm

just a kinda reprehensible one.

Meh. One thing it never was, was reactionary. Individualist or Egotist Revolutionaries have always loved him.

James Joyce, I think according to Ellmann, descended the stairs one day and declaimed himself the ubermensch.

Whatever N may have said in snippets, the evidence I think from the generations who devoured him is that N’s politics tends towards an meritocratic aristocracy of value and self-creators, flattering to under-appreciated loners of any ideology. From Leopold & Loeb to David Bowie.

Should we take N’s meaning from his texts or from his broadest reception? In this case, I think what Nietzsche wanted to communicate most was a sensibility, a perpetual and perpetuated radical critique of all existing values. The least thing he was was reactionary.

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bob mcmanus 11.27.12 at 11:24 pm

he’s talking about what are recognizably social classes

You or we see them as classes.

I think Nietzsche saw them as types or pathologies, and measured by his loathing for Wagner and Parzifal and love of Carmen would claim those types were equally represented in every social class.

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Anderson 11.27.12 at 11:41 pm

150: Okay, Bob, so help me out with the individualist revolutionary politics here, which I quoted upthread:

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.

That’s not his reception, that’s his own published text. That’s not reactionary?

I think your happy-go-lucky, tutti-frutti Nietzsche doesn’t match up with the one who thought that the human race needed to be protected from liberalism by the rule of the aristocrats. His worst nightmare was a world where “under-appreciated loners” were condemned to live purely private lives while the masses excluded them from politics. Whether he was nuts or wicked to think that, it does appear to be what he really *did* think. I don’t see the point in romanticizing him.

Is it only as an aesthetic phenomenon that Nietzsche can be justified? ;)

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bob mcmanus 11.28.12 at 12:27 am

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

Does anything here preclude meritocracy? (does long mean “deep”)

Now the meritocracy might even be based on a kind of self-selection, but Napoleon to a point was much more his model than generations of Hohenzollerns. Blood curdles.
Wage-slavery, debt-slavery, whatever, those who would rather be ruled (insert Pareto and Femia here). And unhealthy leaders can certainly arise from an unhealthy culture. But most everybody is a mix of healthy and decadent anyway.

(I never said I agreed with all he says. Just that Nietzsche doesn’t belong to the Tea Party)

Is it only as an aesthetic phenomenon that Nietzsche can be justified? ;)

Good smiley :)

Yes. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Imagine “Drunken Song” sang back at you.

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PGD 11.28.12 at 4:21 am

As is often the case, Bob is saying what I wanted to say better than I can. But anyway, there is just no way that Nietzsche is the ‘master theoretician’ of the modern right. The modern right (in the U.S. at least) is overloaded with idiot propagandists and has no intellectual depth or sophistication. Nietzsche has enormous intellectual depth and sophistication. That actually does make a difference. Great thinkers are not policy analysts whose vision, political or otherwise, can be reduced to ‘positions’ like pro-slavery! pro-aristocracy! and then equated with anyone else who may believe some variant of these things. Had Nietzsche never lived, the contemporary right would believe and say exactly the same things it does today, except without the occasional attempt to add intellectual sheen by quoting Nietzsche. Trying to refigure Nietzsche as a contemporary ‘conservative’ leads to risible statements like (sorry Anderson) the one in @135 that N. could be “published in First Things or Commentary”. I mean, please. Do you think the editorial board might have a problem with the God is dead stuff? Or with statements like “If Islam despises Christianity, it is a thousand times right to do so: Islam presupposes men …For in itself there should be no choice in the matter when faced with Islam and Christianity, as little as there should be when faced with an Arab or a Jew…’War to the knife with Rome! Peace, friendship with Islam!'”. (@59-60 of ‘The Anti-Christ’).

With that said, I think it is true that Nietzsche was a ‘conservative’ thinker in many senses that are white-washed by some of his fans. He was profoundly anti-egalitarian and anti-liberal, and deeply influenced by European artistocratic notions of the importance of hierarchy, class, and heredity. (I personally think he had a point about mass individualism and egalitarianism as displaced Christianity). But Nietzsche was also profoundly anti-political in a way that runs deep enough that it is a mistake to classify even his statements that do have political content as in any way analogous to the proclamations of a political movement. From @4 of “Twilight of the Idols” –

“…no one can spend more than he has: that is true of individuals, it is also true of nations. If one spends oneself on power, grand politics, economic affairs, world commerce, parliamentary institutions, military interests — if one expends in this direction the quantum of reason, seriousness, self-overcoming, that one is, then there will be a shortage in the other direction. Culture and the state — one should not deceive oneself over this — are antagonists…The one lives off the other, the one thrives at the expense of the other. All great cultural epochs are epochs of political decline: that which is great in the cultural sense has been unpolitical, even anti-political

And he walked his talk, constantly heaping abuse on the dominant and highly successful German power politics of his time as idiotic and a source of catastrophic cultural decline. Imagining Nietzsche propagandizing for the Iraq war is unimaginable, and for reasons that are central, not incidental, to his thought. But Nietzsche is such a rich and fertile thinker that numerous movements across the political spectrum that he would have detested, from the New Left to the Nazis, have tried to raid him for political material.

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Corey Robin 11.28.12 at 4:29 am

154: Just quickly. It’s true that N abhorred the modern state, for precisely the reason you state, but that didn’t exhaust his sense of what was political. Don’t forget what he says in Ecce Homo: “It is only beginning with me that the earth knows great politics.” In saying he’s the master theoretician of the right, I hardly mean he’s the inspiration for policy papers and the like. It’s more that he puts the question of inequality on the table as no other modern philosopher and raises the question in a way no other philosopher did: what cost equality? What cost the end of submission and domination? And of course: what cost democracy. As he wrote in Human, All Too Human: “One is now supposed to learn…that government is nothing but an organ of the people and not a provident, venerable “above” in relation to a diffident “below.” Before one accepts this hitherto unhistorical and arbitrary, if nonetheless more logical assertion of the concept government, one might be advised to consider the consequences: for the relationship between people and government is the most pervasive ideal relationship upon which commerce between teacher and pupil, lord and servants, father and family, general and soldier, master and apprentice have unconsciously been modelled. All these relationships are now, under the influence of the dominant constitutional form of government, altering their shape a little: they are becoming compromises. But how greatly they will change and be displaced, exchange their name and nature, when that latest concept has conquered minds everywhere! — for which, however, it may well take another century. In this matter nothing is moredesirable than caution and slow evolution.”

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Anderson 11.28.12 at 4:39 am

“risible statements like (sorry Anderson) the one in @135 that N. could be “published in First Things or Commentary”. I mean, please. Do you think the editorial board might have a problem with the God is dead stuff? “

Sigh. Not what I said. I said the particular piece I quoted could be so published.

However I’m happy we agree about the anti-liberalism etc. As for politics, look at sections 202-03 of BGE. Whether he’d changed course by 1888 in Twilight is an interesting question – don’t have that at hand. But his dislike for the modern state probably doesn’t contradict a desire for an aristocracy: I suspect one could find parallel statements in de Maistre.

Anyway I confess to finding N a more productive topic than Spielberg. God spare us from a Spielberg biopic of Nietzsche!

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garymar 11.28.12 at 6:08 am

I remember an old Dewar’s Whiskey advertisement, that “Doers Drink Dewars” series, featuring Iggy Pop.

Iggy’s Last Book Read: “Der Wille zur Macht”.

I think this was when Bowie and Iggy were hanging out in Berlin, trying to escape the 70s.

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garymar 11.28.12 at 6:12 am

The above was in response to Bob McManus’ “From Leopold & Loeb to David Bowie.”

Damn blockquote misquotes!

The below is for my edification only.

From Leopold & Loeb to David Bowie.

Blockquote should end here.

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Anderson 11.28.12 at 2:01 pm

154 also quotes the passage from Twilight of the Idols from section 4 of the chapter “What the Germans Lack,” where N. complains about the German state in particular, which he could still see as an unwelcome innovation.

Other passages in the same book indicate that N. hadn’t changed his mind since 1886. “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man,” ss. 38-40, for instance. On “the labor question,” he writes, “if one wants slaves, one is a fool to educate them to be masters.” The only promising state he finds in Europe is tsarist Russia, “the *only* power today which has durability in it” (oops), which of course was the most reactionary, autocratic state in Europe; he wishes for “aristocratic communities of the pattern of Rome and Venice” (repeating, I think, a commonplace exaggeration of Venice’s supposed tyranny). Seems consistent with BGE, which as I’ve tried to suggest is indeed an openly *political* book, among other things.

… Thanks to CR at 145 for the clarification, which I think makes excellent sense. Just myself, I tend to shy away from the earlier Nietzsche and from the last couple of books when he was deteriorating mentally; I think BGE, the Genealogy, book 5 of The Gay Science, and Twilight provide ample material for N’s mature position on politics, without opening oneself up to criticisms that he either was still developing his thought (pre-Zarathustra) or was losing his mind (Antichrist, Ecce Homo). YMMV, but where you’re arguing what is evidently a controversial position, no need to invite such sniping?

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Omri 11.28.12 at 2:22 pm

There’s a grain of truth behind what Yuval Levin is writing here:

A month of intensive care at age 80 to extend life, or enough money to pay a grandson’s college tuition.

Decisions, decisions…

What that has to do with extending basic coverage to our young and impoverished, I’m not too clear on.

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bianca steele 11.28.12 at 4:02 pm

His worst nightmare was a world where “under-appreciated loners” were condemned to live purely private lives while the masses excluded them from politics.

My worst nightmare, on the other hand, is a world where bob mcmanus’s version of Nietzsche as an impression of individualism is a gateway drug to (a select few) individualists’ decision that they shall not be “under-appreciated loners,” no!, and then incorporation into “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,” sad though they themselves may admit it to be, at least at the beginning. “Purely private lives” doesn’t sound so bad, by comparison.

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Anderson 11.28.12 at 5:00 pm

You’re right, Bianca, that is terrifying indeed.

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PGD 11.28.12 at 5:41 pm

Thanks to Corey for his thoughtful replies to my comment @155 and also above @51. These replies do help me understand where I think we disagree (although I have to add the proviso that I have not read Corey’s books…we are in blog comment land here). I do think, and this would probably be an area of agreement with Corey, that there is an ‘eternal conservatism’ that emphasizes hierarchy and seeks to justify the domination of one group or class by another. Nietzsche was in certain ways in sympathy with this conservatism (although in other ways not). However, conservatism was hardly in need of a Nietzsche as a master theoretician of inequality, hierarchy, and domination — this ideology of hierarchy occurs naturally to anyone in a superior position who has the impulse to justify his/her privilege, and has never lacked for defenders or op-ed supporters in any period. (I mentioned Cicero on the plebs in a comment above).

Where I may disagree with Corey is that different periods of conservatism are usefully and importantly distinguished by the specific forms of power held by the ruling class, which generate different justifying ideologies. Continental European conservatism was informed by the dominance of the military / feudal aristocracy and was hostile to bourgeois values and to parliamentary democracy. American and to some extent British conservatism was informed by the dominance of bourgeois business interests and has a differing ideology. This difference is not simply a thin screen over the same basic conservatism, but has real consequences. It is not a coincidence that Bismark, the product of Prussian artistocracy, pioneered certain modern welfare state institutions that are detested by today’s bourgeois conservatives but are not necessarily inimical to a more paternalistic aristocratic vision. To the extent one can ascribe a ‘conservatism’ to Nietzsche it is quite firmly in the continental aristocratic tradition.

Finally, on Nietzsche — one also has to recognize the subtle and extraordinarily dialectical nature of his thinking, so that he is constantly trying to trace the connections and motions between various supposed opposites (subjection/domination and freedom, truth and lies, conservatism and change). This is another thing that makes him hard to fit into boxes and has led to his adoption by so many different political visions.

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Tony Lynch 11.28.12 at 10:57 pm

The “Great Politics” reading of Nietzsche comes from Karl Jaspers, “Nietzsche: an introduction to the understanding of his philosophical activity” (1936). Jasper’s views on Nietzsche’s philosophical activity make all the quoting above kind of a misunderstanding. Jaspers argues – far from unpersuasively, as you will see if you look – that Nietzsche took pains to ensure that if somewhere he asserted X, elsewhere, he will assert -X… (As Williams said and approved, Nietzsche did everything he could NOT to be appropriated as simply a representative or example of this or that style of thought – philosophical or political or ethical, &c )

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Anderson 11.29.12 at 1:56 am

Jaspers was superficial. There are good reasons why we read Nietzsche far more than Jaspers.

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Lawrence Stuart 11.29.12 at 1:57 am

I have always thought of Nietzsche’s major works as anatomies, in the Menippean style: anatomies of nihilism.

That being said, the appropriation of some small portion of Nietzsche’s sturm and drang (and it’s in there, let’s face it) by the likes of Levin is not surprising. It lends a kind of nobility of misery (or perhaps just a miserable nobility) to what is otherwise an utterly philistine argument.

It’s a ‘blink, blink’ last man thing, you know. Not at all based simply on the accumulation, or lack thereof, of wealth.

‘Nietzsche’ is the intellectual hook, the glimpse of silken thigh (or whatever turns your crank!), that makes (or tries to make) cheap and mean seem sort of … sexy.

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Corey Robin 11.29.12 at 1:58 am

163: I hate to say it — but you knew I was going to: you have to read my book.

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john c. halasz 11.29.12 at 8:13 am

O.K. Now that this thread is suitably dead, might not CR consider that, while Nietzsche wasn’t a notably “political” thinker, he was a thinker wrestling with the conundrums of historicism, now that any “transcendent” world is definitively dead. So he begat the notion of “wirkliche Geschichte” or “effective history”, which Gadamer was to take up in his own right. Maybe CR could use some lessons in “effective history”, such as not reducing historical or political otherness facilely to his own terms of reference?

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Corey Robin 11.29.12 at 3:08 pm

#168: And maybe you could use some lessons in “effective writing.” You’d be amazed: when you state things clearly, people are more likely to take you seriously. When you don’t — especially while affecting a posture of knowingness — they don’t.

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Tony Lynch 11.29.12 at 11:17 pm

“Jaspers was superficial.”

Isn’t the Conventional Wisdom wonderful!

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Anderson 11.30.12 at 1:20 am

He was certainly superficial about Nietzsche. When you find a proposition, look for its opposite – how is that anything but a superficial reading? And a dismissive one, as it implies N failed to say anything coherent, thus making N inferior to, say, Jaspers.

… As for 168, how on earth does N oppose “reducing otherness to one’s own terms of reference”? Isn’t that exactly what he advocates doing? As opposed to prostrating oneself to objective facts as if they weren’t subject to interpretation, ie will to power?

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Tony Lynch 11.30.12 at 1:44 am

Anderson, admit it – you haven’t read the book.

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Anderson 11.30.12 at 1:49 am

Jaspers on N is his only one I’ve read, and it’s been a while.

Now, would you like to say something substantive?

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john c. halasz 11.30.12 at 2:56 am

Umm…When some one says, “Read my book”, as a reply to effective counter-arguments, then that’s a fair clue that something has gone off the rails. No, I haven’t read your book, just a few reviews of it, which didn’t tempt me in the slightest. Pardon me, CR, since I haven’t read your voluminous writings, if this is just a caricature, but the book in question seemed to be lacking in any hermeneutic tact or philosophical heft, not exploring and explicating the conservative mindset or the reasons that conservative upholders or defenders of tradition, order and authority might have had, but rather, without differentiating much between strains of thought or historical phases, putting it all down to the motive,- (not the reasons),- of a selfish defense of hierarchical privilege in an entirely reactionary manner against the assured progress of human equality, as embodied in “liberal democracy”, with its uncontestable premises. Which is just a shallow, low-grade polemic.

So, ya know, maybe “effective reading” should precede “effective writing”.

I read through this thread and thought it would be a sheer train-wreck once again. But instead, some knowledgeable commenters offered quite effective rejoinders and rebuttals to your misprisions. The only thing I thought might need adding was that Nietzsche was quite centrally responding to and diagnosing the crisis in modern historical consciousness, which involves not just the relativity of historical “values”, but the selection and transmission of any such “values” to an unknown, but impending future. Such that traditions can no longer be reliably “conserved”, but their “values” are necessarily being “transvalued”, if they are to have any future effectivity at all. Which point both renders moot any notion that N. was simply a conservative, let alone a “reactionary”, and seems to be lacking from from your own conceptual equipment.

But now that you got me on the soapbox, I’ll add another basic point, (though it’s been years since I’ve read any N. and I never was a big fan, so I don’t have chapter and verse at my finger tips). Nietzsche originated a novel form of “genealogical” criticism, exposing the roots of domination behind all forms of “morality”. All “higher” civilizations have depended on the expropriation of material surpluses from laboring masses, “slaves”, though there is nothing new about that observation. What he did add though is that hitherto all such civilizations have depended on the organization and imposition of the illusion or fiction of a “transcendent” world, which modernity was rendering increasingly untenable. And N. emphatically intends to unmask such illusions, which are equally those of tradition and those of “progress”. So whether his critique and unmasking of domination and its motives is “Enlightenment” or “Counter-Enlightenment” is ambiguous, but neither “conservative”, nor “reactionary”. Nor is it clearly a justification of the “necessity” of such domination, except as an “aesthetic phenomenon”. In fact, “slave morality” and “master morality” are ironically entwined, and mutually undermining: “slaves” enslave their masters, just as much as “masters” seduce their slaves. And both are caught up in the fiction of a “transcendent” world, such that it is likely N. is endorsing neither “morality”, but an entirely different conception of “mastery”. And really the only thing that modernity adds to the reality of domination and exploitation is industrial production and modern technology, which enables the easing of their conditions without eliminating them. Of course, technological development is not the same as human progress and can serve equally well as means of destruction and oppression as means of melioration or emancipation, not to mention the ways that technological proliferation can inhumanly disrupt basic forms of human sociality. So facile assumptions about progress, which is only blocked off by reactionaries, just fail to meet the challenge involved.

Besides which N. expresses himself by means of irony, paradox and parody, (including likely self-parody), so citing him to “prove” a point is a risky business. And trying to iron out what he says in systematic terms is a tricky endeavor, given that one of his core objectives is a critique of philosophical systemization. Not to mention that the fellow who first declared that everything was a matter of interpretation,- (well, together with C.S. Peirce, simultaneous independent discovery once again),- has invited a thousand and one interpretations, which might make one wary of simplified reductions. Such as assuming that one is dealing with just another version of Carlyle to fit him into one’s own self-justifying schema.

Now it might be fair to say the Nietzsche’s thinking, in its context of origin and in its direct posthumous fame and reception, (with gymnasium boys marching off to the front with “Zarathustra” packed in their rucksacks, etc.), has a right-wing cast, if not exactly a typically conservative one, let alone “reactionary”. But what’s the relevance of that nowadays? (Once again, a question of “effective history”). It scarcely has any resonance or affinity with what passes for “conservatism” on the American right nowadays, unless one is as literal-minded and obtuse as those folks so often are. Indeed, genuine American conservatives seem to be a scarce breed nowadays. What is one to make of “conservatives” who conserve absolutely nothing? What is one to make of the rampant confabulation that now prevails in right-wing American ideological circles? I dunno. Maybe Nietzsche might provide some helpful insight on that though.

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Anderson 11.30.12 at 3:21 am

‘In fact, “slave morality” and “master morality” are ironically entwined, and mutually undermining: “slaves” enslave their masters, just as much as “masters” seduce their slaves. And both are caught up in the fiction of a “transcendent” world, such that it is likely N. is endorsing neither “morality”, but an entirely different conception ‘

That’s a very, uh, Hegelian Nietzsche you’ve got there.

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john c. halasz 11.30.12 at 3:57 am

No. I doubt N. read much, if any, Hegel. (I’m not sure if he actually read much of Kant, though that’s where I would key much of my instinctive, unwritten interpretation). But his anti-Hegelian animus is fairly clear, (as partly inherited from Schopenhauer). Whether he’d even heard of the “dialectic of lordship and bondage” in the second chapter of the PhG is doubtful, and it’s modern reputation is partly an artifact of subsequent (mis-)interpretation anyway. But master/slave morality is a much different philosophic trope. Not progressively re-enforcing, but mutually undermining. (Though I might be following Foucault here). I’d guess than any actually Hegelian influence on N. derives from Feuerbach.

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PGD 11.30.12 at 3:06 pm

Nietzsche comments on Hegel at one point, he says that Hegel wraps a whole bunch of German ponderousness around a subtle, delicate, ‘Italianate’ insight at the heart of his thought. So he is familiar with the dialectic but I don’t think Hegel is one of his main intellectual interlocutors. He is more anti-Kant (who he detests) than anti-Hegel.

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Corey Robin 11.30.12 at 3:42 pm

174: You admit that you haven’t read my book yet you call it “a shallow, low-grade polemic.” And then you say, against me, “maybe ‘effective reading’ should precede ‘effective writing’.” The comedy writes itself.

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Anderson 11.30.12 at 3:54 pm

“I’m not sure if he actually read much of Kant”

I personally suspect whatever N. knew of Kant, he got from Schope’s appendix in World as Will & Representation. Possibly Young would tell me if I would get around to finishing his biography of N.

Anyway, my point is that your take on the master/slave thing sounds much more Hegelian than Nietzschean. (And I think you have “seduce” and “enslave” backwards.)

… Prof. Robin, I made the for-me-unusual move of buying your book in hardcover, and while I wouldn’t call it a “shallow, low-grade polemic,” I thought the introduction was (1) the best part and (2) should’ve been a book by itself. May we hope to see anything like that from you in future?

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Walt 11.30.12 at 4:07 pm

Corey, did you read the comment section here before joining? You seem regularly surprised by stuff that’s been routine parts of the CT comment section for 5 years or more.

For example, the halasz comment is like every comment he’s ever made. You could have cured cancer while rescuing an entire kindergarten class from a burning building, but if you misquoted one of halasz’s favored thinkers in the process, he would write 10,000 words on how you were the worst person in world history since Hitler.

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Anderson 11.30.12 at 4:31 pm

180: He was also taken aback by a Bob McManus non-sequitur in one of the Lincoln threads. Good point!

Inspecting the comments section is like looking over the neighbors before you close on a new house.

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Substance McGravitas 11.30.12 at 4:46 pm

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Corey Robin 11.30.12 at 4:46 pm

Nobody warned me! I guess I was bedazzled by all the smart comments I saw on the joint post I did with Chris B. and Alex G. and the extremely smart comments that accompany anything John Holbo or Belle Waring or Henry’s posts. But you are right: I have been genuinely taken aback. Will learn. Anderson, I know it’s a weakness of the book that the intro is what it is, and the essays are meant to be more like amplifications or demonstrations of its arguments. But it doesn’t always work. I am working on a new book which, while not directly developing the argument in the intro, will be a long historical narrative that kind of demonstrates it. At least it was that way in my mind last night as I was falling asleep.

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Anderson 11.30.12 at 5:04 pm

182: The image cuts off before the end – do you have the whole thing? (Kidding!)

183: Thanks! I guess I liked the intro (and went out & bought the book) because I’d been curious myself about the history of “conservative thought” – it’s fun to say that’s an oxymoron, but plainly there is such a thing.

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Lawrence Stuart 12.01.12 at 5:06 am

You poli phil guys are wont to over analyse content. With Nietzsche especially, this will tend to get you just the junk food at the feast.

N is a satura lanx. To focus on one or two items on the tray is to miss the effect of the bounty itself: the poetics can’t be subordinated to content without creating monsters. Which is exactly what Levin does by invoking the last man trope.

For those who might be interested, a good little essay on Nietzshe’s poetics <a href="http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/philosophy_and_literature/v035/35.1.more.html&quot; title="here".

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john c. halasz 12.01.12 at 6:05 am

@178:

Sneer way as you please. I could care less. Like I said, I didn’t read your book because I, from reviews, as a means of scouting out what might be worth reading, it seemed trite and uninteresting. Assertions of academic narcissism are par for the course here. (Really. I can’t comment unless I’ve read your book? I’ve read your comments here, which don’t give me much further confidence).

I don’t recall just how this thread ended up on Nietzsche. But the original post addressed some third-generation, third-rate Strauss-bot palavering on irrelevantly and incoherently about health care, because health must involve virtue, obviously, which requires discipline, ergo agonal competition, hence free markets, or something like that. It’s often said, correctly, that the American right is lost in “epistemic closure”. So just why are you addressing such dreck? Could it be because to do so is peculiarly self-confirming? Which amounts to a form of epistemic closure of your own. Which is a standard m.o. for some, though not all, of the principals here at CT. (Holbo is probably the worst offender). As well as amounting de facto to a boundary-patroling operation on the part of bourgeois liberals, for all the insistence on academic dulce et decorum.

PDG @ 177:

Like I said, I’m no expert, nor fan of Nietzsche and it’s been a long time since I directly read him, (though I recall liking “The Gay Science” best, after which he becomes increasingly tortuous and vitriolic). And much of what I might have to say is at second hand, filtered through other thinkers and others’ readings. But I tend to think of Nietzsche as the anti-Hegel, (no doubt following on Foucault), even if N. scarcely read any Hegel, who by then had fallen into neglect. But the historico-metaphysical teleology of “progress” based on “reason”, which Hegel first fully and supplely articulated, before passing it on to lesser hands, as the basis of much modern thought, seems one of N.’s prime objects of criticism.

But, since Hegel is only present by virtue of his absence there, as it were, I think the connection with Kant is key, (though I’m willing to be corrected by those more thoroughly verse and knowledgeable than I). It was Kant who rigorously established the independence, rationality and validity of judgments of aesthetic taste. And I take N.’s basic move to be to reduce all forms of judgment to judgments of aesthetic taste, (which, of course, is a highly problematic move). Following on that, I understand N. to be conducting a kind of parodic critique of Kant, blurting out all those half-truths that are repressed by the four-square Kantian conception of “Reason”. So in crudely schematic terms, “the will-to-power” = “the synthetic unity of apperception”, the “Uebermensch” = “the transcendental ego”, and “eternal recurrence” = “the categorical imperative” gone a bit beserk. (So, yes, anti-Kantian, but, hey!) The “death of God” refers not just to the declining credibility of religious belief, (which is already Kantian agnosticism), but rather to the loss of the forms of the ego which impose logical unity on the world, (of which the ultimate is “God”, hence the reference to Feuerbach, who I think was still current at the time). Which is still a very Kantian way of thinking.

I’m not saying that’s exactly right and there’s obviously much more to his corpus and thinking. Just that that’s the way, the thread, by which I would start to interpret him, bringing in the historicism, the evolutionary biology, the reaction to positivism, the Bildung-mania, etc. If I thought adding on just another Nietzsche interpretation and trying to straighten him out were within the scope of my abilities and the most urgent task.

@182:

McSubstance, indeed.

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Lawrence Stuart 12.01.12 at 7:24 pm

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