Nietszche and the Marginalists

by Henry on May 14, 2013

A kind of coda and suggestion for future work regarding Corey’s essay on the links between Nietzschian thought and modern economics. In one respect, I’d ask whether there may be stronger connections than Corey suggests. In particular, I can’t help wondering whether Max Weber might be an interesting vector of contagion. His more sociologically inflected account of the economy clearly had great influence on the Austrians whom Corey is interested in, but his later work, especially Politics as a Vocation, has strong and explicit Nietzschian overtones. However, for Weber, politics rather than the market is the “theater of self-disclosure, the stage upon which we discover and reveal our ultimate ends.” His heroes are politicians, who attach themselves to an end, follow a particular god despite that end’s radical contingency – the value of politics is that it provides a ground in which these very few individuals can fully develop themselves through struggle with others holding equally strongly to other gods who are equally contingent.

Weber’s political aristocracy, however, has little directly to do with the actual aristocracy of German politics in the early twentieth century, despite his right wing views. It’s clear that those on the left, as well as those conventionally subject to contempt as journalists and scribblers can be as heroic as those on the right, as long as they recognize and embrace the paradoxes of political action. It seems to me at least possible that this account might have served as a bridge, through which Nietzschian influences might have escaped into economic thought. If this were so, though, it would suggest that the key was not marginalism, so much as a very particular interpretation of marginalism by Austrians, whose relationship to mainstream economics has always been rather awkward.

This, in turn would lead to a somewhat different interpretation of Hayek, Schumpeter and the others. What is most valuable about Corey’s essay to me is its discovery of a frankly aristocratic element in Hayek’s work (this is less surprising in Schumpeter’s, since Schumpeter, if not quite a fascist himself, was likely a sneaking regarder). An alternative hypothesis is that this aristocratism was less rooted in marginalist accounts of values, than in the fundamental problem that standard economic theory has in dealing with innovation. Standard economic models tend to predict equilibria from which there is no very good reason for economic actors to deviate. This more or less rules out radical innovation by definition – while economists can make some arguments about e.g. the incentive effects that different institutions might have for innovation, they are very clearly outside the territory where standard economic theory is most comfortable and most useful. To the extent that true innovation is in the realm of uncertainty rather than risk, it is outside the realm of things that can usefully be analyzed by standard economic theory.

What Schumpeter and Hayek tried to do was to come up with accounts of economics which were less formally neat, but which provided greater room for understanding where innovation might come from. This, I think, is where the notion of the entrepreneur comes in – Hayek and Schumpeter’s understandings of innovation are very different from each other, but both emphasize the role of entrepreneurship in spurring change. For Hayek:

the method which under given conditions is the cheapest is a thing which has to be discovered, and to be discovered anew, sometimes almost from day to day, by the entrepreneur, and that, in spite of the strong inducement, it is by no means regularly the established entrepreneur, the man in charge of the existing plant, who will discover what is the best method.

This seems to me to plausibly link to Corey’s quote about the crucial importance of rare individuals in spurring change in tastes (they are different kinds of discovery, but both discovery nonetheless). Schumpeter’s account of the entrepreneur-as-innovator is more direct still – it is the innovative action of entrepreneurs that drives Schumpeter’s cycle of creative destruction.

So what this suggests to me is a kind of consonance of methodological problem and political priors. The methodological problem is that of making an inherently rather static framework – equilibrium-centered economics – something that is better able to take account of dynamic effects, and in particular of the ways in which individuals may innovate. However, there are many ways in which one might theorize innovation – much recent work has looked at the role that contexts rather than individuals play. The political priors have to do with a vision of the world that is most aptly expressed by Nietzsche and perhaps others, which emphasizes how the individual self-development of those few with the capacity for heroism is being stifled by an increasingly routinized and banausic world of bureaucracy and restraint. Weber most obviously expresses this in Nietzschian terms (and makes clear his debt to Nietzsche). But something similar spurs both Schumpeter and Hayek’s pessimism about the likely consequences of social democracy.

What we see (if this guess is right) in the varying Austrian approaches to economics are the consequences of a perceived coincidence of the methodological and the political problems – a set of arguments which are intended both to provide a counterweight to more standardly marginalist accounts of the economy, and a possible antidote to the political disenchantment of the world. Again, what I really like about Corey’s take is that it highlights the specifically aristocratic implications of Schumpeter’s and Hayek’s answers – one could have come up with different possible solutions, and the solution that they did come up with reflects a specific set of political values, and either an elective affinity with, or indirect influence from, the ideas of Nietzsche.

{ 109 comments }

1

Hazel Meade 05.14.13 at 8:08 pm

2

Jacob McM 05.14.13 at 9:48 pm

Schumpeter appears to have been much more than a closet admirer of National Socialism:

http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20080709_19921061schumpeterscuriouspoliticsbernardsemmel.pdf

3

john c. halasz 05.14.13 at 11:28 pm

Weber, though he grounded his work in Neo-Kantian philosophy, was fairly explicitly influenced by (reacting to) both Nietzsche and Marx. And though much of his vast fragmentary work was actually devoted to the sociology of world religions, it’s little remarked that he was writing in support of Austrian-style market liberalism, against the German historical school of economics (and the alleged ghost of Hegel).

That said, I doubt he had much influence on Austrian economists, (as opposed to other bug-bears of Corey Robin, such as Schmitt), so it’s not really a more plausible channel of influence for Robin’s rather tenuous thesis.

At any rate, the alleged aristocraticism, (which has nothing to do with Nietzsche’s sense of the term)m of the Austrian school can be explained quite proximately by the fact that they were, er, Austrian. (Hayek was actually a minor aristocrat on both sides, with the “von” having been dropped by law after the War), which is culturally rather different from being German. It was a highly hierarchical, conservative society, in which nonetheless Anglophilism was in vogue, (unlike in contemporary Germany), hence, as I’ve put it before, their stance amounts to a championing of “free markets” as a kind of reactionary utopianism, (in contrast to Austrian realities). The purely “qualitiative” stance of later Austrian economists, as opposed to quantitative equilibrium, has to do with the failure to make their “time theory of production” version of marginalism work out mathematically. The “heroic” entrepreneur then comes to displace the alleged time-renouncing sacrifice of the interest-collecting rentier. (Obscuring the role of economic rents being IMHO one of the main motivations of the marginalist turn). Either way, rationalizing a competitive system as the key to established order/elite hierarchy is the sine qua non, and if there is ever a fault in the market system, it is due to markets never quite being “free” enough. Because “liberty” is always understood as an elite endowment.

“Creative destruction” might seem to have a faintly Nietzschean resonance, but there is a world of difference between what more soberly would be described as disruptive technological change and the “active nihilism” by which new “value” is to be created and bestowed upon an otherwise thoroughly disenchanted world.

4

Mike Beggs 05.14.13 at 11:28 pm

Great points Henry. The Austrians were a big influence on Weber too – see his treatment of money in ‘The Theory of Economic and Social Organisation’ (Economy and Society vol. 1), where he endorses Mises’ vision of money.

Re: the riposte linked to by Hazel (#1) – anyone who doubts Hayek was elitist should read Chapter 8 of the ‘Constitution of Liberty’, on ‘Employment and Independence’. It puts the hitherto abstract discussion of ‘liberty’ in context:

The problem is that many exercises of freedom are of little direct interest to the employed and that it is often not easy for them to see that their freedom depends on others’ being able to make decisions which are not immediately relevant to their whole manner of life. Since they can and have to live with out making such decisions, they cannot see the need for them, and they attach little importance to opportunities for action which hardly ever occur in their lives. They regard as unnecessary many exercises of freedom which are essential to the independent if he is to perform his functions, and they hold views of deserts and appropriate remuneration entirely different from his. Freedom is thus seriously threatened today by the tendency of the employed majority to impose upon the rest their standards and views of life…

etc.

5

Freddie deBoer 05.14.13 at 11:47 pm

One fruitful way to look at it is simply to observe that even though most libertarian boilerplate is denuded of explicitly aristocratic content, its expression in contemporary libertarian argument almost always points in an aristocratic direction. I’ve pointed out many times before that a fairly predictive way to guess which side libertarians will fall on in a dispute is to determine which side has more money and assume that’s the side they’ll support. Libertarian in practice certainly seems to be aristocratic, which is why Corey’s point is more than genetic.

6

John Quiggin 05.14.13 at 11:56 pm

I’m hoping to respond at length to Vallier, but the central point is made in Henry’s post.

The Austrians have a particular interpretation of marginalism which is central to their awkward relationship with the mainstream. Roughly, they claim that marginalism is, or should be, a purely subjective theory of value but they can’t decide between “is” and “ought”. So, they oscillate between asserting that marginalism=subjectivism and claiming subjectivism as a specifically Austrian insight derived from Menger, while the mainstream is descended from Jevons via Marshall. Vallier’s critique is very confused on this point.

7

floopmeister 05.15.13 at 12:10 am

So what this suggests to me is a kind of consonance of methodological problem and political priors. The methodological problem is that of making an inherently rather static framework – equilibrium-centered economics – something that is better able to take account of dynamic effects, and in particular of the ways in which individuals may innovate.

Sounds like there are resonances here with ‘far from equilibrium’ thermodynamics and the broader concept of emergence (of complex but broadly stable systems growing unpredictably out of lower scale actions).

Could it be said they were struggling with the bugbear of reductionism?

8

Henry 05.15.13 at 2:22 am

John – my understanding from some desultory reading is that there is good evidence of friendly ties between Weber and the Austrians, and indeed with Schumpeter (whom Weber helped along in various ways early in his career). Peter Boettke has written about the general influence of Weber’s methodology. All this said, there’s no evidence I’m aware of in re: the specific linkage I suggest to PAAV, which should be taken as a speculative ‘maybe there’s something there worth investigating’ class of a suggestion, and nothing more.

9

Hazel Meade 05.15.13 at 2:37 am

Mike Beggs: I fail to see the “elitism” in Hayek’s quote.
He’s saying that other people’s freedom of action has an impact on your own well-being, even if you don’t see it directly. That freedom of action doesn’t necessarily have to be ONLY the freedom of a rich elitist. It can be the freedom of a distant poor farmer to make locally informed choices about which crops to plant in a particular year. One could easily see this as an extension of the knowledge problem with a hint of a universalist liberty-promoting morality (as long as one man is in chains then all are not free).

10

Rafael Khachaturian 05.15.13 at 2:56 am

I pointed out the possible connection between Nietzsche and Weber in a blog post a few days ago (http://pathstoutopia.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/nietzsche-hayek-and-the-marginalists-and-max-weber/). Glad to see that someone else picked up on the idea of Weber as a bridge from Nietzsche into economics, although I wasn’t aware of the nature of his relationship to the Austrians as Henry writes in post #8. Definitely worth investigating further, in my opinion.

11

js. 05.15.13 at 3:03 am

It can be the freedom of a distant poor farmer to make locally informed choices about which crops to plant in a particular year.

Huh? You read:

many exercises of freedom are of little direct interest to the employed…. [The employed] regard as unnecessary many exercises of freedom which are essential to the independent…. Freedom is thus seriously threatened today by the tendency of the employed majority to impose upon the rest their standards and views of life…. [all emph mine — js.]

and you think of a “distant poor farmer”?

12

Dan Nexon 05.15.13 at 3:53 am

“despite his right wing views”

Weber’s political beliefs — and how they evolved — are somewhat more complicated than that.

13

ben w 05.15.13 at 4:10 am

What is most valuable about Corey’s essay to me is its discovery of a frankly aristocratic element in Hayek’s work

Isn’t this also one of Holbo’s points about Hayek on freedom? That if we could just find the people who would actually make the best use of their freedom, it would be best just to give it to them; the arguments for freedom for all are practical (we don’t know who’d best make use of it), not principled.

14

John Holbo 05.15.13 at 5:32 am

“Isn’t this also one of Holbo’s points about Hayek on freedom? That if we could just find the people who would actually make the best use of their freedom, it would be best just to give it to them; the arguments for freedom for all are practical (we don’t know who’d best make use of it), not principled.”

Yes!

15

Neville Morley 05.15.13 at 5:36 am

@ John C. Halasz #3: I’d be inclined to characterise Weber’s response to different schools of economics as rather more complex, if not indeed confused. Yes, he argues against leading figures in the German historical school (my immediate thought is of the ‘Roscher und Knies’ piece), but I wouldn’t see this as a whole-hearted turn to the market liberals so much as a demand for a better historical economics, able to reconcile the idea of transhistorical principles and the basic arguments of historicism in a more logically coherent manner. Agreed re the rejection of Hegelian-ish ideas.

The risk with this sort of genealogical project is that one can start to see possible connections everywhere if you think they are there to be uncovered – cf. Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. I find myself wondering whether there’s also a secret line of influence from Thucydides here (simply because that’s one of my personal obsessions); not a writer who has much if anything to say about economics (despite the claims of some of his more obsessive admirers), but poster boy for the idea of Realism, both as a disposition (stripping away wishy-washy illusions like justice and religion to reveal that everything is always about self-interest) and as a methodology (uncovering the universal principles that govern the apparent chaos of events). He’s read in something like these terms by Wilhelm Roscher (key figure in German historical school, attacked more out of sorrow than anger by Weber) and Nietzsche (drawing on Roscher), and the period when he’s falling out of favour with historians for looking too much like a social scientist is not too distant from the time when he gets taken up by various of those social scientists. Maybe we can blame him for Austrians as well as Neocons…

16

Jeremy 05.15.13 at 5:44 am

A little more Hayek from chapter 8 of The Constitution of Liberty, on selecting a class of people “who can back their beliefs financially” to provide leadership “in the propagation of new ideas in politics, morals, and religion”:

The selection through inheritance from parents, which in our society, in fact, produces such a situation, has at least the the advantage (even if we do not take into account the probability of inherited ability) that those who have been given the special opportunity will usually have been educated for it and will have grown up in an environment in which the material benefits of wealth have become familiar and, because they are taken for granted, have ceased to be the main source of satisfaction. The grosser pleasures in which the newly rich often indulge have usually no attraction for those who have inherited wealth. If there is any validity in the contention that the process of social ascent should sometimes extend through several generations, and if we admit that some people should not have to devote most of their energies to earning a living but should have the time and means to devote themselves to whatever purpose they choose, then we cannot deny that inheritance is probably the best means of selection known to us.

On the next page, we see the attitude to be expected of the masses toward such people:

The successful performance of such a task by the wealthy is possible, however, only when the community as a whole does not regard it as the sole task of men possessing wealth to employ it profitably and to increase it, and when the wealthy class consists not exclusively of men for whom the materially productive employment of their resources is their dominant interest. There must be, in other words, a tolerance for the existence of a group of idle rich—idle not in the sense that they do nothing useful but in the sense that their aims are not governed by considerations of material gain.

Two pages later:

It is undeniable that such a leisured group will produce a much larger proportion of bons vivant than of scholars ad public servants and that the former will shock the public conscience by their conspicuous waste. But such waste is everywhere the price of freedom; and it would be difficult to maintain that the standard by which the consumption of the idlest of the idle rich is judged wasteful and objectionable is really different than that by which the consumption of the American masses will be judged wasteful by the Egyptian fellaheen or the Chinese coolie.

Yeah, pretty much sounds elitist to me.

(fingers crossed that there’s no coding errors)

17

Rakesh Bhandari 05.15.13 at 7:17 pm

Robin writes:
“And just weeks before he went mad in 1888 and disappeared forever into his own head, he wrote, “The cause of every stupidity today…lies in the existence of a labour question at all. About certain things one does not ask questions.”

One can hear in the opening passages of “The Greek State” the pounding march not only of European workers on the move but also of black slaves in revolt. Hegel was brooding on Haiti while he worked out the master-slave dialectic in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Though generations of scholars have told us otherwise, perhaps Nietzsche had a similar engagement in mind when he wrote, “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.”

I am confused here. I thought that this was exactly how Lukacs (Destruction of Reason), Dominico Losurdo and many others have interpreted Nietzsche. It’s true that their interpretations have been dismissed as vulgar Marxist ones.

At any rate, how is this interpretation different from theirs? I am sure there are very interesting nuanced differences.

18

Rakesh Bhandari 05.15.13 at 7:19 pm

Schumpeter’s aristocracy is expressed in his explicit critique of marginalism.

In regards to marginalism’s economic agent,the subjectivist theory of
value accords a wholly unreal power and autonomy to the consumer in
the determination of value. Josef Schumpeter long ago pointed out:
“First of all, whether we like it or not, we are witnessing a
momentous experiment in malleability of tastes–is not this worth
analyzing? Second, ever since the physiocrats (and before),
economists have professed unbounded respect for the consumers’
choice–is it not time to investigate what the bases for this respect
are and how far the traditional and, in part, advertisement-shaped
tastes of people are subject to the qualification that they might
prefer other things than those which they want at present as soon as
they have acquired familiarity with these other things? In matters
of education, health, and housing there is already practical
unanimity about this–but might the principle not be carried much
further? Third, economic theory accepts exisiting tastes as data, no
matter whether it postulates utility functions or indifference
varieties of or simply preference directions, and these data are made
the starting point of price theory. Hence, they must be considered
as independent of prices.But considerable and persistent changes in
prices obviously do react upon tastes. What then is to become of our
theory and the whole of microeconomics? It is investigations of this
kind, that might break new ground, which I miss.” [“English
Economists and State-Managed Economy,”, 1949]. Schumpeter also wrote
in Business Cycles that “we will throughout act on the assumption
that consumers’ initiative in changing their tastes–i.e., in
changing that set of our data which general theory comprises in the
concepts of ‘utility functions’ or ‘indifference varieties’–is
negligible and that all change in consumers’ tastes in incident to,
and brought about by, producers’ actions. ” (p. 73) Nathan Rosenberg
(1994) argues that Schumpeter has here destroyed the sanctum
sanctorum of the neo-classical citadel–“The commitments to the
exogenity of consumer preferences and the associated virtues of
consumer sovereignty.”

19

Rakesh Bhandari 05.15.13 at 7:30 pm

Erik Reinhart has written an essay on Nietzsche’s influence on Sombart and Schumpeter; Peter Sedgwick has written a book on Nietzsche’s Economy which I meant to read before it got recalled. Perhaps Nietzsche’s most interesting contribution is that discussed by CT favorite David Graeber–the connection between debt and guilt.

20

Rakesh Bhandari 05.15.13 at 7:40 pm

I would look for the connections between Hayek and social Darwinism, not Nietzsche. Nietzsche was not a Darwinian. For a study of how classical liberalism drew from social Darwinist metaphysics, see Andre Pichot’s recently translated book.

21

Rakesh Bhandari 05.15.13 at 8:33 pm

I am also puzzled by the claim that the marginalists did not know Marx well enough to have been responding explicitly to him, a claim that is followed by evidence of their anti-socialism and -trade union politics. There is one school that sees them trying to ape scientistic methods (Mirowski) and another that sees them as explicitly political (see the evidence in Guy Routh, Origin of Economic Ideas; and who questions the political aims in relation to JB Clark’s formulation of marginal productivity theory…certainly not JB Clark himself!).

Point above though is that Schumpeter moved beyond Labor Theory of Value and ultimately marginal theory (though he uses it against Marx in CSD). As suggested, neither built a source of dynamic change into its structure. Marginal theory sees consumers determining the allocation of the resources through their autonomous preferences, but as Schumpeter those preferences are shaped by producers and even formed by innovative producers. This would seem to make the market a little less democratic than marginalist theory would suggest, but of course that would not be a problem for Schumpeter.

22

jake the snake 05.16.13 at 12:56 am

@Rakesh Bhandari

As much as I might hate to admit it, Schumpeter might have had a point.
Consumers couldn’t desire a Blackberry (or later an Iphone) until it existed.
Though, I suppose a Platonist would say that the idea of an Iphone has always existed.

It has been obvious to me that most Libertarians are as hierarchal as Burke or Nietzsche. And along with it goes authoritarianism. You can’t have a hierarchy without
authority. Why would you want to?

23

Rakesh 05.16.13 at 2:13 am

Yes but Schumpeter’s point does not follow from marginalism as Robin seems to be suggesting; it is made in opposition to it. Of course this comes down to how we define marginalism. If consumer sovereignty is in the hard core, then Schumpeter is anti-marginalist. His aristocratic views are not rooted in marginalism.

Now for Hayek, he is a very difficult character. He does not seem to be justifying market activity because it would only be just to let the market enforce factor incomes being roughly proportional to factor contributions, though he seems to accept the marginal theory of distribution.

More likely he would consider market-determined incomes as not unjust because they generally do not result from coercive and hence unjust dyadic relations. In this way advantage from inheritance would not provide any socially unjust advantage because the making and passing on of a fortune usually does not depend on coercion. See Raymond Plant’s very perceptive work on neo-liberalism for this.

Hayek would then critique any attempt via social democracy to redistribute income on the grounds that there is no coherent idea of social justice in terms of which redistribution could be justified.

The point here is the meaning of marginalism. The most important version for neo-conservatives is the one in which the marginal productivity theory of distribution is in the hard core.

About that theory Tim Wendling has written:

“The pre-eminent intellectual justification of the liberal, meritocratic ideal comes from neoclassical economics. Labour, according to this paradigm, will be employed until its falling marginal productivity (the way it creates wealth) equals its rising marginal cost (the disutility suffered by people who work). Capital will similarly be employed until its falling marginal productivity equals its rising marginal cost (the disutility suffered by the capitalist when he foregoes consumption to invest). This determines the capital intensity of production, and also the distribution of income between wages and profit. Wages are determined by the marginal productivity of labour; profit or interest by the marginal productivity of capital. Both workers and capitalists are thus seen as creating wealth that returns to them as fair compensation for the costs they incur.

This is an attractively simple theory, and serves as a neoclassical meta-narrative, explaining – and justifying – why the world is as it is. It is a way of making sense of the world, and in a way satisfying to many. But like many a meta-narrative, it fails the text of falsifiability. The problem, identified by Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa and others (See Cohen and Harcourt, Whatever happened to the Cambridge Capital Theory Controversies? ), is that you can’t actually use this theory to predict the rate of profit. To do so you would need to quantify “capital” which, in the real world outside of single commodity models, can only be done by price, which itself depends on the rate of profit you want to determine. Sraffa demonstrated the possibility that rising interest rates can coincide with rising capital intensity and thus falling marginal capital productivity (“re-switching”), bringing into question the whole notion that the relative productivities of labour and capital determine their share of the product. The neoclassical picture of value creation and distribution requires a leap of faith into the untestable and logically questionable.”

24

Jacob McM 05.16.13 at 3:33 am

When has Domenico Losurdo’s book on Nietzsche as “vulgar Marxism”? All the reviews I’ve seen have hailed it as a breakthrough in Nietzsche studies that shakes many cherished assumptions of Nietzsche’s left-liberal fans.

25

reason 05.16.13 at 1:35 pm

Jacob McM @24
Nietzsche has left-liberal fans? Who?

26

Jerry Vinokurov 05.16.13 at 1:56 pm

@reason:

Brian Leiter, for one. But I’m not sure there’s any reason one can’t be a left-liberal fan of Nietzsche, provided “fandom” just means “enjoys reading and get something useful out of.”

27

David Woodruff 05.16.13 at 3:07 pm

Re Beggs #4:

Weber did not agree with Mises on money in all aspects. In particular, Weber loved Knapp’s State Theory of Money and in the section Beggs mentions adopts a definition of money heavily reliant on Knapp. Mises, by contrast, despised Knapp.

Weber was also pretty contemptuous of the marginalist ambition to come up with a science of human choice, and has some choice zingers in his “Objectivity” essay.

28

Wonks Anonymous 05.16.13 at 4:20 pm

The Austrians started out considering themselves in the mainstream of economics. It was only as economics became more mathematical (under the influence of Walras, Schumpeter’s idol) that they found themselves marginalized.

Hayek’s bit about the idle rich being able to afford to do things other than behave like Econ 101 agents, thereby advancing society, seems like a funhouse mirror version of Schumpeter’s take on the wealth created by capitalism. He thought it would create a class of people who could afford to agitate against capitalism and eventually destroy it.

The quote about employees not understanding the importance of decisions of “independents” is actually not so aristocratic on its face. Most self-employed people (its more common the third world) are not that well off. Hayek makes explicit that the man who may come up with a good idea for production may not be the one who is currently managing a plant (which raises the question of how such ideas will come into fruition without the means of production). Was he influenced by Burnham’s “The Managerial Revolution”? Burnham, like Schumpeter, seemed to think individualist capitalism was fading out and that fascism/communism was the future.

29

Bruce Wilder 05.16.13 at 5:02 pm

I have read Corey Robin’s essay and followed this thread and the previous one, and find myself completely at sea, unable to grasp, even, at what level or quality of thought these putative connections between thinkers are supposed to flow. Only in Rakesh’s comments do I detect referents that I even recognize.

Are we talking about particular propositions or analyses, and their implications? About methods, methodologies and epistemic convictions? Or, about the umbra cast by a particular set of propositions? Or, the umbra cast by a particular rhetorical style or trope (e.g. the hero and heroic labor)?

And, then, there’s the whole matter of historical context, and reactions and responses in historical context. All of these people are responding to the emergence of a new dynamic world order, and the fall of an old order, which they are struggling to understand and adjust themselves to; can we hope to understand them, or their relation to one another, without placing them on a timeline (as well as a geography)? Their relationships are in 4-D time-space, no?

I think Corey Robin misreads Nietzsche, but it has been a very long time since I read that stuff, so what do I know? I thought Nietzsche’s main point was that philosophy is psychology, that much of formal philosophical systems can best be understood as the cowardly rationalizations of men, who were too afraid to write truthful epigrams, and, instead, wrote fancifully elaborate tomes. In Nietzsche’s philosophy qua psychology, metaphysics becomes ressentiment, and much of his exposition takes on the form of a kind of parody. He’s making fun, for example, of the way the Hegelians marched across the 19th century, from Christian idealism to atheism, all the while dressed up in the most florid colors of romanticism. And, can we ignore the evidence that Nietzsche is in the process of being driven mad by whatever organic condition is causing his deteriorating health? If later maniacs take seriously the babblings of a madman, what are we to say about the transmission of ideas?

30

Bruce Wilder 05.16.13 at 6:15 pm

On Hayek and Schumpeter, I think their political conservatism is probably temperamental and, if not entirely antecedent to their analytical ideas, then the relationship is idiosyncratic.

Schumpeter is in love with the capitalist economy as a living thing, and like any good lover, he can see every detail just as it is, and wants to study and contemplate and marvel and be surprised and delighted anew at every development and unique occurrence. For him, as a lover in love, his beloved is perfect even or especially in its imperfections, a thing to be appreciated, but never used or manipulated. In some ways, he’s like a biologist dedicated to studying cockroaches, and so in love with his subject, that when approached by exterminators with a practical interest, all he can advise, is ways to live in harmony with the delightful creatures.

Hayek is far more of an instinctive polemicist. I don’t know if he has any real analytic affinities with the Marginalists, beyond the obvious borrowings of what is convenient. He seems to me, to be more the love child of Dr. Pangloss and Herbert Spencer. What strikes me as weird in Hayek is the hostility to coordination by rules — something he shared with Spencer, who was sure that the City of Birmingham’s streets department would soon mire dynamic industrialism in neo-feudalism.

john c. halasz @ 3 seemed to me to have the basic outline right, as far as the relationship of the Austrians and the Marginalists is concerned, including the importance of anglo-philism and worship of the modern in fin de siècle Vienna. The hopelessly antiquated and dysfunctional government of the Austrian Empire adopted classical liberal policy as a cover story for being barely able to carry out any policy whatsoever. The Austrians could never make round-about-ness work as an analysis of capital investment, but they did lend to the marginalists some of their methodological determination to ignore all inconvenient facts, by ignoring all facts, except the suitably “stylized” ones, all washed and properly dressed. That we compulsively describe as a “market economy” an economy overwhelmingly dominated by hierarchies is a tribute to the power of the methodological foundations of neoclassical economics — which owe as much, or more, to the Austrians as to the Marginalists, themselves.

It may be that Hayek’s fondness for aristocracy, hierarchy and authority came out in his remarks on the value of inherited wealth; or, maybe, he was just sucking up to, or fishing for patrons. The main body of his work, though, seemed aimed squarely at persuading us that the most prominent hierarchies of the political economy had no functional reality. Odd, really. Shouting “freedom” to drown out the noisy machinery of authority working constantly in our lives?

The methodological blindness built in to neoclassical economics (though hypocritically denied, in contrast to Austrian economics, where it is advertised as a badge of honor), suggests that attention ought to be paid to relationships with that other Austro-Anglo liberal, Karl Popper.

31

Harold 05.16.13 at 6:41 pm

I can’t help but recall the novel, A Legacy, with its background incident of South German pre-World War I right-wing politicians who would paper over any crime, no matter how heinous, that threatened to interfere with their schemes for reviving the Thousand Year Reich of the Holy Roman Empire, protector of the Catholic Church.

32

Bruce Wilder 05.16.13 at 7:58 pm

Jeremy @ 16 provided some enlightening Hayek quotations on the virtue of the idle rich. What I don’t understand is why the dialectic from the left with Hayek does not include more of things like this:

http://stopmebeforeivoteagain.org/2013/05/the-problem-with-poor-people-is-quite-simple/

33

Jacob McM 05.16.13 at 8:25 pm

That article I posted above makes it evident that Schumpeter’s political sympathies from the 1930s on were, uh, decidedly illiberal.

Allen’s revelations-that in the 1930s and throughout World War II Schumpeter was an anti-Semite (well beyond the conventional anti-Semitism of the time), as well as a supporter of the war aims of fascist Germany and Japan–give cause for sadness.

Allen reveals that the economist was quite serious about these views. Allen ascribes Schumpeter’s anti-Semitism and his support for the Nazis to turnof-the-century Viennese prejudice and to his having seen Germany as a defender of the West against Slavic barbarism and Bolshevism.

Fortunately,” Allen notes, “no one paid any attention to his political views,” which did not emerge in his writings. In 1931 and 1932, Schumpeter advised some of his students to join the Nazi party to offer it sound advice on economic matters, and at the same time further their careers. In a farewell speech at Bonn in 1932, he declared that the Nazi party was “like a monster of infinite impulse,” capable of producing “either catastrophe or glory” for the German people. He urged his students to “orient” themselves to parties with “non-rational programs” since these had the greatest possibility of success. None of his students apparently heeded this counsel. Allen speculates that Schumpeter was attracted to the Nazis because he sympathized with their acceptance of bourgeois values (discipline, saving, and family) and their stress on racial purity.

He didn’t like “Jewish philosophers[,] for theirs is a Jewish philosophy,” adding that “racial creed is the Jewish creed,” and he worried about the political influence of the “New York Jews.” Even as he deplored racism on the part of the Jews, he praised a eugenic science that would seek to improve racial stock. “We could solve all the problems of this country,” he declared, “if we limited citizenship to people whose parents were born here … even better, whose grandparents were born here.” Now and then some uncertainties on the matter appeared, as when he asked “Am I losing my faith in race?”

34

Harold 05.16.13 at 8:37 pm

When turn of the century Viennese reactionaries posited themselves as mystic (non-rational) defenders of “Western” Civilization from Jews, liberals, and the Enlightenment, I think they meant, defenders of Roman Catholic civilization. Nietzsche, on the other hand, seems to have been more of a vitalist — I don’t really know much about this, however — could it go back to Goethe? What a toxic soup!

35

john c. halasz 05.16.13 at 8:42 pm

Schumpeter BTW was by origin Sudetendeutsch.

36

Lee A. Arnold 05.16.13 at 9:10 pm

The interesting thing about Schumpeter is his book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. It is famous for the phrase “creative destruction”, but the book isn’t about that. It is about how capitalism must develop into socialism, with a discussion of how democracy will fare through the transition. He didn’t want it to happen, and that makes his regretful analysis all the more clear-eyed and irrefutable. I am a little surprised that the left isn’t more familiar with it, because his scenario is pretty much still on course.

37

Harold 05.16.13 at 9:21 pm

He was a trimmer!

38

novakant 05.16.13 at 9:53 pm

Nietzsche has left-liberal fans? Who?

Me.

Nietzsche was great at cutting through hypocritical, sanctimonious bullshit and did groundwork for the linguistic turn and deconstruction. Anyone who takes his political ideas seriously is either a sociopath or a fool.

39

Anderson 05.16.13 at 9:57 pm

“Nietzsche was great at cutting through hypocritical, sanctimonious bullshit and did groundwork for the linguistic turn and deconstruction.”

Absolutely. I remember, after sitting through the Western Philosophy survey & boggling at the abstruse metaphysical theories, reading N.’s question “at what *morality* does a given metaphysics aim?” and having the light bulb go off over my head. Dude was smart.

… 36, I have CSD on my shelf but haven’t read it. Sounds like you think it’s worth a go. Thanks!

40

Chris Mealy 05.16.13 at 10:47 pm

Mirowski’s appraisal is fun:

Hayek was a romantic writer, which is why he appeals so very much to our fin de siècle sensibilities after languishing so long amongst a small coterie of Austrian economists and conservative politicians. His entire oeuvre can be compared to a roman à clef which looks very much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There is a mad scientist, and a monster, and a “constructivist” project which is bound to fail because no one can fully encompass the unintended consequences of trespassing where angels fear to tread. It all is set in a castle somewhere in Eastern Europe, though the hero is British. The moral of the story is that there is knowledge which is intrinsically forbidden fruit; there are things which are better left unknown. The whole thing turns Gothic when we realize that there is plenty of room here for any number of sequels, all with roughly the same plot.

41

floopmeister 05.16.13 at 11:42 pm

Nietzsche was great at cutting through hypocritical, sanctimonious bullshit and did groundwork for the linguistic turn and deconstruction.

Exactly – read as literature (personal, contradictory and impassioned) it’s frankly exhilarating. Philosophising with a hammer, indeed. But then I was raised by conservative Christian parents, so…

Anyone who takes his political ideas seriously is either a sociopath or a fool.

Likewise his misogynism.

42

Lee A. Arnold 05.17.13 at 12:21 am

Harold #37: “He was a trimmer!”

Schumpeter may have hoped to trim the course, but there is no program to do so in Capitalism, Socialism, and Freedom, nor in its later afterward, a lecture written just before his death.

His argument is that capitalism is an evolutionary process, and it MUST TURN ITSELF into socialism, because of what we might now call a “change in the social preference”. (I want to thank Rakesh Bhandari for the quote in #18 because I am surprised; but it fits in perfectly: Schumpeter thought about changes in preference from micro on up.)

He explicitly calls his analysis a Marxian analysis. You have to comb the sequence out of the book: The mechanization of innovation will make entrepreneurs obsolete and workers disconnected. At the same time, the owners become unfit for true leadership capability. Meanwhile property becomes abstracted into stocks and bonds, so people have no personal relationship to it. Everybody still votes for a welfare state. An intellectual class provides reasoning for the discontent, and is protected from persecution by bourgeois laws.

It is more complicated than this, (he also thinks interest rates will go down to nothing) and he makes some mistakes in my opinion, but the basic thesis is something like: Capitalism will denature itself psychologically, and turn itself into socialism. Not a revolution necessarily, but an evolution surely.

I think it essentially correct, and now computers are speeding the mechanization of innovation.

When I first read Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy in the late 1970’s, I knew nothing about Schumpeter, and I thought it was a socialist tract! I am always surprised to find him championed by the conservative rightwing. Maybe they haven’t actually read the book; they don’t appear to read complicated things.

43

Harold 05.17.13 at 1:43 am

@42 You make it sound interesting. I don’t think the rants of the nineteenth-century medievalists against utilitarianism were completely crazy, either.

44

LFC 05.17.13 at 3:17 am

@38
Nietzsche … did groundwork for the linguistic turn and deconstruction.

Btw, on a slightly different point, read anything biographical or expository about Foucault and it will talk about his interest in Nietzsche — I remember reading that F’s copy of one of N’s books (can’t remember which) was heavily underlined. Whether this is a recommendation of N. I suppose will depend on your view of F.

45

Doug Neiss 05.17.13 at 3:51 pm

I found your essay very stimulating, especially about Nietzsche, who I know much better than the Austrian economists. I agree that Nietzsche may well have smoothed the way for them but disagree about his counter-morality being less radical than theirs (the market as proving ground of values and morals). You yourself note that Edmond Goncourt, who applauded the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, was insufficiently radical for Nietzsche.
You write, “Nietzsche had little, concretely, to offer as a counter-volley to democracy.” True, but what he did have to offer, imaginatively, has proved very potent – the idea of the superman, which you ignore but he took seriously. The choice he presents us with is between continuing on the “unnatural” course of Christianity, democracy and equality, leading to man’s utter degradation, or a course of wars to cull the herd and the imposition of something like the Hindu caste system, leading to a higher humanity. Nietzsche’s superman is no mere great human being of the sort familiar from history, either, no disappointing Richard Wagner, but something far above that, a demigod. Could the stakes be any higher? Yet this was perfectly in tune with lurid contemporary fears of racial degeneration and the barbarizing effects of democracy, of civilization going to the dogs absent drastic counter-measures.
To me the question about Nietzsche most worth asking is why so many people who should see him as a thoroughgoing reactionary identify with him, take him for an isolated, misunderstood hero. Why is there such concern to protect his good name? Why are there so many books devoted to explaining what he really meant but could not manage to say clearly despite his literary brilliance? What accounts for the seeming paradox of his popularity, which began in his lifetime? I have my own ideas – his genius for self-dramatization; his extravagant, if mostly implicit, flattery of readers as fellow members of a natural aristocracy; his unbridled rejection of Christianity and Judeo-Christian morality – but I am curious if other people think about this and what ideas they have.

46

Marc 05.17.13 at 5:04 pm

@45: What is the impulse to read historical figures into current events as a sort of morality play? Why read people in the least charitable way possible?

47

Josh G. 05.17.13 at 5:22 pm

Harold @ 34: “When turn of the century Viennese reactionaries posited themselves as mystic (non-rational) defenders of “Western” Civilization from Jews, liberals, and the Enlightenment, I think they meant, defenders of Roman Catholic civilization. Nietzsche, on the other hand, seems to have been more of a vitalist — I don’t really know much about this, however — could it go back to Goethe? What a toxic soup!

I think that if a meteorite had wiped out Vienna in 1910, the whole world would be a lot better off for it.

48

Josh G. 05.17.13 at 5:24 pm

Marc @ 46: “What is the impulse to read historical figures into current events as a sort of morality play? Why read people in the least charitable way possible?

If history isn’t a morality play, then it’s dead to us and of no use. The best justification for studying history is the one given by Santayana.
And it’s one thing to extend some level of charity, and to understand historical figures in the context of their times, but this can be taken much too far, and often is by many historians, who solemnly lecture us about how we must never, ever judge historical figures.
We shouldn’t pretend that Nietzsche said something other than what he did just because what he actually said is too abhorrent. You can be a good writer and also be a reactionary scumbag.

49

LFC 05.17.13 at 5:51 pm

Josh G.
If history isn’t a morality play, then it’s dead to us and of no use.

So we should only study things that are ‘useful’? Doesn’t history have an intrinsic interest apart from the ‘lessons’ one might extract from it?

50

Lee A. Arnold 05.17.13 at 6:08 pm

I think of Nietzsche in light of Lovejoy. Nietzsche sounds like a combination of scattered good sense about how individuals react to things, with bad sense about a monumental inversion of intellectual concepts that scientific modernism had already put into process, though it was difficult to get the true dimensions of the change, because it impacted all parts of culture at the same time. This inversion has been entirely assimilated by scientists now, made part of the intellectual fabric; and so it still is not apparent, or forgotten about, by many people today.

The primer to read is The Great Chain of Being, by Arthur O. Lovejoy. The basic idea is that for thousands of years the structure of the world was top-down, an emanation from an Absolute. The “great chain of being”. This began to be inverted, particularly strongly by the 17th century, to a bottom-up, evolutionary approach. It predates Darwin on the social explanation: Vico and Adam Smith are notable examples.

(These two polar approaches are direct opposites, in many ways which aren’t immediately apparent. For example, in the emanation from the Absolute, all gradations are realized; there must be an example of every gradation from the species “lion” to the species “elephant”. Which people believed for thousands of years; you can find drawings that show what the interstitial animals must look like; there was not enough knowledge of the world to disprove it. On the other hand, in the bottom-up approach, there are gaps between species. In the political realm: monarchy vs. democracy. Lovejoy demonstrated how it was also expressed in poetic imagery.)

Nietzsche is an exemplar of the transition period: his linguistic approach (which was begun by Vico, who came to lots of erroneous conclusions) is part of the bottom-up analysis of older concepts and ideas, and you sense the enormous excitement and vitality given by this approach, in his writings. But the Superman concept is a vestige of the old top-down approach: We discard emanation from an Absolute; God is dead, so what hangs things together, and where is Man going upward? These new questions are not entirely settled even by the great successes of the scientific enterprise, and so we still have not exited from the modern transition period.

51

Jacob McM 05.17.13 at 7:21 pm

I have my own ideas – his genius for self-dramatization; his extravagant, if mostly implicit, flattery of readers as fellow members of a natural aristocracy; his unbridled rejection of Christianity and Judeo-Christian morality – but I am curious if other people think about this and what ideas they have.

I think this is basically correct, but I would also add that I think many on the secular/atheist/agnostic left remain uncomfortable with the Judeo-Christian inheritance, and the extent to which left-wing values remain indebted to it. Nietzsche was not the only reactionary to note the connection between Christianity and the political left, but he was probably the most gifted and articulate. The more you study intellectual history, the more obvious it becomes that the “Enlightenment” was not the radical break with previous centuries that both its proponents and detractors claim it is, but a natural development of various ideas and doctrines that previously had a theological (namely Christian) basis, and still did for certain major Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke. The prevailing narrative has been questioned in recent years by people like Jürgen Habermas and Jeremy Waldron, but the myth of the fundamental conflict between Christianity and the Enlightenment persists unabated in the minds of many.

Because atheism and non-Christian spirituality are chic among the educated these days — and I admit I myself have trouble reconciling myself to Christian dogma in light of modern scientific knowledge and find many right-wing Christian problematic — it’s much more convenient to downplay the link between Christianity and the Enlightenment/liberalism/left-wing, so that the former can be filed away as “reaction” and safely discarded. Because Nietzsche is still popular and thanks to his literary talents will likely remain so, it’a easier to recast him as an idiosyncratic heir to the Enlightenment skeptical tradition, not necessarily a threat to it, and to portray his calls for a new morality as similar or at least consonant with someone like Marx’s. so that the full scale of our crisis of values and lack of foundations need not be confronted. As luck would have it, Nietzsche predicted this is exactly what would happen: When the madman announces the death of God, no one grasps what he means and they continue about their daily business.

So there’s that, and also the difficult to dismiss inkling that National Socialism truly was the closest approximation to a Nietzschean political project. Trust me, I’ve heard all the arguments against this, and the only major chasms separating Nietzsche from Nazi ideology are anti-Semitism and Slavophobia. Nietzsche would’ve categorically rejected the Nazis’ vulgar and paranoid anti-Semitism and their attitude towards the Slavs. I don’t dispute that. Everything else?

But Nietzsche hated German nationalism! True, but the Nazis were not merely run-of-the-mill German nationalists. Nationalism was simply a springboard for their true goal: the establishment of a supra-national aristocracy that united the best elements of the Aryan race from all European nations. Is this really so far from what Nietzsche, the Good European, wanted?

But Nietzsche dismissed “racial purity” babble! Well, he’s inconsistent on this point. He adds a racial element to the slave revolt in morality, and sees the contemporary rebels as descendants of the “pre-Aryan” races. He also flirts with the language of racial hygiene, and associates nobility of soul and intellect with certain physical traits. He makes a point about the “ugliness” of Socrates as the cause of his ressentiment. It’s not an accident that his work was popular among eugenicists like Alfred Ploetz, who shared his hatred of Christianity for its belief in the inherent dignity of every person.

But Nietzsche hated the rabble! True, but high-ranking Nazis, Hitler included, were often cynical about their manipulation of the masses. It’s clear that creating a new elite was their overriding concern, and their populist appeals were a means to that end, and particularly effective at that. The more aristocratic and snobbish conservative groups centered around the Juniklub, the Herrenklub, etc. offered no competition to the Nazi juggernaut. Without another mass movement to counter it, Germany might have fallen to the Reds, and would Nietzsche have really preferred that?

And, no, the Nazi hierarchy did not like Christianity, despite revisionist claims to the contrary, and made a series of maneuvers to erode its influence. The racialist core of Nazism was incompatible with Christian universalism, and people at the time knew it.

Then there are the many other points of agreement between Nietzsche and the Nazis: their shared hostility to egalitarianism, democracy, rationalism, socialism, bourgeois comforts, feminism, utilitarianism, the English model of governance, as well as their shared approval of slavery, heroism, struggle, the warrior ethic, Great Men, conquest, pre-Christian Europe, and so on.

I should reiterate that my argument here is with regard to Nietzsche and Nazi ideology, not Nazi actions. Of course Nietzsche would’ve been horrified by the Holocaust, the crimes on the Eastern Front, etc.

52

Jacob McM 05.17.13 at 7:22 pm

That first paragraph in my last post should be a Blockquote.

53

novakant 05.17.13 at 7:29 pm

#47

Vienna in 1910 must have been awesome (and that article isn’t particularly comprehensive):

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiener_Moderne

#48

Where are you gonna draw the line? Most of intellectual history has been written by people who regarded some form of “the other” – slaves, “foreigners”, poor people, women, gays, whathaveyou – as inferior.

54

Josh G. 05.17.13 at 7:47 pm

novakant @ 48: “Where are you gonna draw the line? Most of intellectual history has been written by people who regarded some form of “the other” – slaves, “foreigners”, poor people, women, gays, whathaveyou – as inferior.

You grade on a curve. Compare historical figures to others of their own cultural milieu; were they more or less progressive? Did they represent the way forward, or were they reactionaries clinging to a rightfully dying past?

You’re probably thinking “Wait, that sounds like Whig History” and you’d be right. I am an unabashed proponent of Whig History.

55

Harold 05.17.13 at 8:29 pm

The Enlightenment was certainly a development of Christianity. But Christianity itself is a development of Jewish, Persian, Stoic and other currents. Pliny’s “Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem,” translating a Greek Stoic, “To help man is man’s true God” (a translation from a Greek stoic) was a favorite 18th C. quotation, according to Enlightenment scholar Peter Gay. Not a few Enlightenment and Unitarian thinkers dreamed of a Christian bible which would be purged of all traces of miracles and superstition.

Bertrand Russell has a passage in which he imagines Nietzsche debating with Buddha in the courts of heaven, “as in the first chapter of the book of Job.” “For my part,” states Russell:

“I agree with Buddha as I have imagined him. But I do not know how to prove that he is right by any argument such as can be used in a mathematical proof or a scientific question. I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit into a duty, because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die. But think the ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against any unpleasant but internally consistent ethic, lies not in an appeal to facts, but in an appeal to the emotions. Nietzsche despises universal love; I feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards the world. His followers have had their innings ….” [written in 1945].

On the other hand, for all of Nietzsche’s professions of contempt for sympathy and humanity, it has been pointed out that his last conscious act before lapsing into imbecility was to throw his arms around a horse in the road in an attempt to shield it from being beaten. He was unable to practice what he recommended.

56

Mao Cheng Ji 05.17.13 at 9:00 pm

“Compare historical figures to others of their own cultural milieu; were they more or less progressive?”

What nonsense. Compare them on how well they write (that is: how much you enjoy reading them), and whether they make you think. The rest is irrelevant.

57

Anderson 05.17.13 at 9:38 pm

55: (1) Russell’s chapter on N. may be the worst in that book, though it vies closely with the Hegel chapter.

(2) Your example about the beaten horse comes from when N. had broken down mentally (syphillis maybe). A better example might be “Gay Science” section 338, where N. considers compassion as a seduction, one that he feels & has to resist in working out his philosophy: “I want to teach them what is today understood by so few, least of all by these preachers of compassion: to share not pain, but *joy*.” (Playing off “mitleiden,” compassion, lit. “suffering-with.”)

58

Harold 05.17.13 at 9:50 pm

Yes, Russell has his limitations and probably didn’t understand and didn’t want to understand Nietzsche. His chapter on Rousseau is pretty bad, also. Still, many besides Russell found it easy to misunderstand Nietzsche (and Rousseau).

59

David 05.17.13 at 9:53 pm

I’ve always found the infamous horse incident to be indicative of psychological complexity in Nietzsche, contra his pop-philosophy image as an aphoristic prophet of sociopathy.

60

Anderson 05.17.13 at 10:01 pm

“contra his pop-philosophy image as an aphoristic prophet of sociopathy”

Yah, those “readers” always remind me of Kaufmann’s jibe about Hitler, that his reading of N. didn’t get beyond the titles.

N’s critique of compassion is important reading for liberals, I think, because compassion is pretty central to our thinking, and it’s dangerous not to critique one’s own principles. “The courage for an attack on one’s convictions,” as, uh, somebody or other once said ….

61

novakant 05.17.13 at 11:40 pm

#57

I remember the Hegel chapter – truly pathetic. I wouldn’t really care if it weren’t for the fact that Russel’s book was very popular and, I suspect, has led entire generations in the Anglo-American world to disregard Hegel altogether. Also he was awarded the Nobel prize in part for this book – what a shame.

62

Bruce Wilder 05.18.13 at 12:12 am

Jacob McM: Germany might have fallen to the Reds, and would Nietzsche have really preferred that?

That really made me smile.

63

Jacob McM 05.18.13 at 1:45 am

@62 your comment is too cryptic for me to interpret it correctly. But if Nietzsche wholeheartedly approved of the violent suppression of the Paris Commune, why wouldn’t he approve of similar tactics against Communism?

64

Substance McGravitas 05.18.13 at 1:52 am

Because Nietzsche was a complicated guy.

65

David 05.18.13 at 1:54 am

I can’t help but wonder if, being the contrarian he usually was, Nietzsche would have disapproved of the early Bolsheviks but appreciated Stalin and the Stalinist state when it came into being.

66

Jacob McM 05.18.13 at 1:58 am

Bertrand Russell also made this comment in his [i]Ancestry of Fascism[/i], which may surprise those familiar with his anti-Christian polemics:

This doctrine, that the ‘noble’ man is the purpose of humanity, and that the ‘ignoble’ man has no claims on his own account, is the essence of the modern attack on democracy. Christianity taught that every human being has an immortal soul, and that, in this respect, all men are equal; the ‘rights of man’ was only a development of Christian doctrine.

67

john c. halasz 05.18.13 at 2:27 am

Nietzsche as interpreted by Madame Blavatsky.

68

floopmeister 05.18.13 at 7:31 am

“I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain…” Russell

That’s the philosophy of an aspirin commercial.

I would think it’s truer to say N saw the worth of pain…

69

Harold 05.18.13 at 7:58 am

Well, I don’t like that he approved the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune. I’m with Russell here. (Though I do like that on the whole he approved of joy, rather than pain, which Russell did not mention). I’ve always been very fond of THWP, which I first read at the age of 14. I still have my tattered copy.

70

b9n10nt 05.18.13 at 8:10 am

drunk Nietzsche haiku (& you’re welcome):

I misunderstand

How could Nietzsche be right wing

If Science is Gay

71

John Quiggin 05.18.13 at 10:49 am

” Russell’s book … has led entire generations in the Anglo-American world to disregard Hegel altogether”

I doubt this. Presumably those inclined to accept Russell’s judgement are so inclined because they like Russell – his approach to philosophy, his plain and approachable writing style, his egalitarianism & pacifism and so on. Given those inclinations, people are hardly likely to like Hegel, whether or not they know they’ve read Russell’s assessment of him.

72

Martin 05.18.13 at 12:12 pm

Wait, what? It says “Nietszche” in the title. I am Austrian, thus I know first-hand that German native speakers wouldn’t be able to guess how to pronounce that name from looking at its written form alone, as the ‘/tz+ sch/ combination is a bit of a puzzle (and conversely, nobody would write it the way it is written from listening to how it is pronounced). But “Nietszche” is something like /tz+tch/, that’s just impossible.

Short version: Unless I didn’t get it, there is a typo in the title, I guess.

73

Anderson 05.18.13 at 2:50 pm

One scarcely needed to be a reactionary to have a negative opinion of the Commune, so that’s really insufficient to show how right-wing N. was.

74

Harold 05.18.13 at 3:50 pm

@73 What??! One scarcely needs to be a leftist to deplore the summary execution of thousands of people!

75

Anderson 05.18.13 at 3:56 pm

74: sorry, are you referring to murders by the Commune, or murders against the Commune?

76

Harold 05.18.13 at 4:16 pm

And another thing, if there is anything positive in the aristocratic ideal of disinterested virtue, then I would say that Bertrand Russell, who in 1931 succeeded to the title of Earl, and who in some ways resembled, I have always thought, Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth, had a better grasp of what it meant than Nietzsche (thanks for spelling correction), the bourgeois son of a Lutheran pastor.

77

Neville Morley 05.18.13 at 5:41 pm

Well, no, the whole point is that this is about aristocracy of the spirit, quite separate from anything to do with ancestry.

78

Harold 05.18.13 at 5:54 pm

Well, the point of the aristocracy of the spirit is helping others.

79

Doug Neiss 05.18.13 at 6:51 pm

Jacob McM has put his finger on what is Nietzsche’s greatest contribution to the cause of reaction, including neoliberalism. He has done more than anyone to discredit Judeo-Christian morality. Nietzsche “exposes” the concern for social justice as nothing but a cover for the revenge of life’s failures on the well turned out, to use his terms. Thus, moral arguments become suspect. Right down to the present, he has weakened the left’s ability to respond to the right. (Notwithstanding his reputation as a foe of anti-Semitism, Nietzsche appeals to anti-Semitism in his attack on Christianity by stressing its Jewish roots. He even lays the blame for anti-Semitism on the “Jewish instinct” in Christianity’s founders.)
Nietzsche is no liberator, not in any ordinary sense. He rejects Christianity because he sees it as revolutionary. It incites the lower orders to rebellion at the same time that Judeo-Christian morality sickens their rulers with conscience. What he wants is to remove conscience as an obstacle to putting the masses back in their place, whatever it takes, before it’s too late for civilization.
Right-wing Christians may see their religion as the opposite of revolutionary, but they agree with this self-proclaimed Antichrist about all essentials – power, authority, justice, human nature, gender roles, war. Their hostility to “government” has much in common with Nietzsche’s hostility to the modern state for conferring rights on people unfit for them – that is, most people. Like him, they want a government that keeps inferiors in their place. Their political aversions – socialists, communists, anarchists – are identical to his. They have as little use for liberation theology as he would. Strange that many who are close to Nietzsche politically abhor his name while many who abhor his political views but have fallen under his spell defend his good name by downplaying the place of reactionary politics in his philosophy.

80

Harold 05.18.13 at 7:30 pm

Helping others and refraining from harming them in word or deed – and it’s not only Judeo-Christian.

81

PJW 05.18.13 at 8:18 pm

In the Gadarene Swine story from the Bible, Russell found it to be un-Christian that Jesus, after deftly transferring the demons from Legion to the hogs and sending them over that crazy cliff, had to then go and drown the poor beasts.

82

Bruce Wilder 05.19.13 at 3:56 pm

Christian apologetics! Really?!?

Doug Neiss: [Nietzsche] has done more than anyone to discredit Judeo-Christian morality.

There’s a lot of competition in that race. I’d say he was smoked out of the starting gates by the Legion of Christian Hypocrites — they may be pigs, they’ve driven whole societies off cliffs, but they never seem to drown.

Harold: . . . the point of the aristocracy of the spirit is helping others

And, a completely natural and enlightening application of the term, aristocracy, as metaphor, because actual aristocracies are all about helping and being “noble” and all.

Bertrand Russell by way of Harold: I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain

This tiny bit made me wonder. The core of Christianity is the contemplation of pain. Do the Stations of the Cross in a Catholic Church sometime, and see what impression of Christianity you come away with, and then, read Nietzsche. Then, tell me there’s no fundamental conflict between the Enlightenment and Christianity.

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Jacob McM 05.19.13 at 5:30 pm

@82

There’s a lot of competition in that race. I’d say he was smoked out of the starting gates by the Legion of Christian Hypocrites — they may be pigs, they’ve driven whole societies off cliffs, but they never seem to drown.

And Europe’s success and achievements in philosophy, science, art, architecture, economics, technology, etc, had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity? Christians “only drive whole societies off cliffs”? Am I misinterpreting you here or are you really this ignorant?

The core of Christianity is the contemplation of pain. Do the Stations of the Cross in a Catholic Church sometime, and see what impression of Christianity you come away with, and then, read Nietzsche. Then, tell me there’s no fundamental conflict between the Enlightenment and Christianity.

Seems like you have an extremely reductive view of Christianity and perhaps of the Enlightenment as well. So any contemplation of pain or the tragic is tantamount to a morbid fascination with it at the expense of everything else? And why call this the “core” of Christianity? One could just as easily claim that the resurrection and Christ’s redemption of humanity — i.e. hope and forgiveness — are just as essential to Christianity as any reflection on suffering, which yes, is part of the human condition as well, as people like Voltaire acknowledged.

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Doug Neiss 05.19.13 at 6:16 pm

Bruce Wilder: “Christian apologetics! Really?!?”
Hardly. I was writing about Nietzsche and his reasons for rejecting Christianity. Hypocrisy is not one of them. Nietzsche condemns Christianity as anti-life because it tries to alleviate what he considers life’s necessary cruelty. Like its progeny, democracy and egalitarianism, it threatens evolution. As he says in section 2 of The Anti-Christ, “The weak and ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And one shall help them to do so.” To which he adds, “What is more harmful than any vice? Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity.” Active sympathy: Nietzsche attacks Christianity not for failing to live up to its preachments, as did humanists, Enlightenment thinkers, and even Christians, but for practicing them (on occasion).

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novakant 05.19.13 at 8:15 pm

#71

Yes and no. Of course people have a variety of reasons for picking their philosophical poison – intuition and personal taste are definitely factors. But it’s hard to ignore academic politics in this case, especially since Hegel was pretty popular in England before Russell’s attacks which have elements of a patricide. Subsequently mentioning Hegel was equivalent to farting at a dinner party. This is especially sad since “analytical philosophy” was never nearly as straightforward, hard-nosed and clear as it is often portrayed and there are interesting parallels between the more interesting analytical philosophers such as Quine and Hegel.

Btw, I’m not sure we can call Russell’s writing clear and approachable if we include his more serious works such as the Principia Mathematica – I’ve found all those ps and qs terribly confusing, but that might just be me.

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Bruce Wilder 05.19.13 at 11:18 pm

Europe’s success and achievements in philosophy, science, art, architecture, economics, technology, etc, had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity?

Considering how many of those achievements, including most especially the Enlightenment, were in opposition to Christianity, it seems to be a bit rich, well after the fact, to be giving blanket credit to Christianity.

Europe was a squalid, backward place during the centuries in which Christian domination was most complete. If Christianity was to civilize Europe, it would have done so, well before the 19th century of the Christian era.

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David 05.19.13 at 11:23 pm

I feel like you could write some sort of dissertation on the notion that trying to combine a radically anarchistic faith like Christianity with hierarchical feudal society created a tension so unresolvable that, in the long run it created the grounds for the Enlightenment and for liberal politics to emerge

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Bruce Wilder 05.19.13 at 11:25 pm

You are aware that the majority of Christians are Catholics, members of the oldest, hierarchical institution known to man, an organization that was old, when Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus.

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David 05.19.13 at 11:28 pm

Not sure what you are getting at by dating Christianity to before Julius Caesar (???), but Christianity itself was essentially anti-authoritarian and mildly socialist in its original incarnation before co-option by the Roman state.

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Bruce Wilder 05.20.13 at 1:44 am

As I said @ 29, I am always intrigued, but confused by these discussions of the genealogy of morals or beliefs or political arguments or philosophies. What is the authentic source of the Nile? Where is the Lake Itasca of Christianity? What flows in this riverbed?

Conservatism never fails, they say, and Socialism is never tried. Now David wants me to believe the Christianity is anti-authoritarian and mildly socialist, at its obscure origin; so, I guess century upon century of Catholic hierarchy just doesn’t count. If the Enlightenment, which defined itself by its fight against religious enchantment and dogma, must be credited to Christianity, why credit Nietzsche with Nazis? Why not give him credit for liberal fascism, while we’re at it?

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Harold 05.20.13 at 1:45 am

The Enlightenment was in opposition to the Catholic Church and to superstition, but not to Christian morality. Arguably, it grew out of Christian morality. Fénélon, a Catholic bishop, was one of the most popular authors of eighteenth and well into the nineteenth century. Jefferson owned numerous copies of his book Telemachus, which Mozart set to music in Idomeneo (to simplify somewhat). The rationalist John Toland, author of Christianity Not Myserious (1696) believed that the “superstitious elements” could be purged from Christianity, leaving its original morality intact. (Jefferson’s Bible attempted to do just that). Most believers of “Natural Religion” thought the the principles of Christianity existed long before Jesus, and perhaps were known to the Egyptians (hence the Egyptian themes in Masonic symbolism). They believed that all religions had degenerated from an aboriginal primitive purity and could be reconciled (but of course Christianity — for them — was predominant among the others). Of course the decipherment of heiroglyphics after the discovery of the Rosetta stone in 1801 put an end to these speculations. Toland, according to wiki, was the first to recommend full citizenship for the Jews, by the way.

Of course, more orthodox Christians denied all these ideas were truly Christian, considering them heretical. But they were influential, nevertheless, even among believers.

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Bruce Wilder 05.20.13 at 4:54 am

. . . but not to Christian morality.

I get that rationalization was a strategic move, which Christian apologists made, in response to the Enlightenment. And, sure, if Christianity is just a blob of Silly Putty, without fixed shape and picking up the print from any text it comes into contact with, then, sure, makes sense.

The Enlightenment did not derive from Christianity; the Enlightenment destroyed the Christian enchantment. And, Christianity morphed into something else: Christian morality became Enlightenment morality, but not as source — rather as adaptation to changed circumstances, a survival tactic.

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jb 05.20.13 at 5:28 am

Bruce:

Read the Gospels, particularly the Beatitudes.

Then tell me that nothing valuable came from Christianity, or that Christian morality is opposed to progress.

There are certain aspects of Christianity that are problematic, and Christian Churches have, throughout history, generally behaved badly. But this does not mean that Christian morality as a whole, is a bad thing.

94

Harold 05.20.13 at 5:38 am

Bruce Wilder, I humbly bow to your superior knowledge in most matters, but I don’t think you can project nineteenth century agnosticism and atheism back onto the eighteenth century, even though there were some philosophes, like D’Holbach and possibly Diderot, who were atheists (although Diderot kept it quiet, having been put in jail for his brilliant “Letter Concerning the Blind For Those Who Can See” which seems to foreshadow Darwinian evolution and atomism). Most Enlightenment figures were Deists, and Deism claimed to be a version of Christianity.

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Bruce Wilder 05.20.13 at 6:17 am

jb: Christian Churches have, throughout history, generally behaved badly. But this does not mean that Christian morality as a whole, is a bad thing.

By all means, let’s not learn from experience, even two millenia worth.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for post-Enlightenment Christianity, pared down to gentle, abstract principles of charity. And, I don’t deny that the medieval Church was doing its level best for peace in their attempts to restrain the chivalrous nobility in their love of pillage, and to salvage something of meaning if not material comfort for the poor. But, simony and burning witches and scholasticism — I don’t miss it. Even the prosperity gospel version is better than fighting wars over transubstantiation.

Just because Christianity reformed, somewhat, in line with the Enlightenment, doesn’t mean that we should attribute the Enlightenment to Christianity — that’s turning things on their head.

Harold: Most Enlightenment figures were Deists, and Deism claimed to be a version of Christianity.

Deism was a way to dodge persecution (and prosecution).

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Harold 05.20.13 at 6:37 am

I’m not a Christian, not even a reformed one, but I think one should take people at their word. That is, I don’t see how one can prove a statement like “Deism was a way to dodge persecution (and prosecution)” one way or the other. I think Unitarians and Deists like Toland were most probably sincere.

I do think, however, atheism gradually became more respectable after Pierre Bayle and Rousseau argued that it was theoretically possible for an atheist to be virtuous. Theirs was a very radical position, however, and they really did undergo persecution for making this suggestion.

The eighteenth century was also a time of a tremendously emotional religious revival known as “pietism”, or “quietism” in Fenelon’s case.

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Bruce Wilder 05.20.13 at 6:44 am

Harold: I think one should take people at their word.

I don’t.

I haven’t done a survey of philosophes, so I won’t generalize, but quite a few figures from Hobbes thru Newton to Hume, were forced to be very careful about what they said, about their own beliefs. And, others like Voltaire, were such artful trimmers, they probably had no idea what their own beliefs were.

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Harold 05.20.13 at 2:53 pm

Hume was very careful. That is true. But he was no hypocrite and never pretended to be religious. I do agree that it is very difficult to put one’s self in the shoes of people who lived 300 years ago. As for Hobbes, who lived quite a bit earlier, some commenters point out that he wrote surprising amounts of religious material and I gather Newton’s beliefs were very strange.

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Jacob McM 05.20.13 at 8:05 pm

It’s hard to do justice to this topic here because I have to effectively recapitulate over 1000 years of history, but I’ll try:

1) As has been pointed out, Christian radicalism existed from its inception; not only among the many communistic and pacifist pre-Nicean sects, but also among various saints and Church Fathers. St. Gregory of Nyssa condemned slavery as an institution wholesale as early as the 4th century, as did St. Patrick. But perhaps even more important was the revolution Christianity represented in Western consciousness against most pagan religions: man was no longer the puppet of impersonal forces of nature, but now entered into dialogue with God as an equal, endowed with free will and as the possessor of a unique and immortal soul. Gregory of Nyssa drew upon the equality of all souls before God in his argument against slavery:

Is there any difference in any respect between slave and master?. . . . Do they not both preserve their nature by eating the same food? Is there not the same structure of internal organs? Do not both become the same dust after death? Do they not have the same judgment? Do they not go to the same heaven or the same hell? You who are equal in all respects, why should you be superior such that while you are only a man you think you can be the owner of a man?”

2) For most of the period prior to the Reformation, the Church held a virtual monopoly on the exchange of communication. The population was largely illiterate and vernacular translations did not exist, so only an educated elite had any clue as to what the Bible truly contained or the import of various theological debates. Because the Church ran such a tight ship, and heresy was punished severely, few people would advance interpretations which shook the status quo, and those that did could be easily suppressed or contained. Even so, there existed reform movements such as the Waldensians, the Lollards, and the Hussites as well as those who sought to establish egalitarian societies along Christian principles: Gérard Segarelli and Fra Dolcino in Italy, the Taborites in Bohemia, John Ball and Wat Tyler in England, to name a few.

3) It’s popular among Whiggish histories to cite Protestantism as the midwife of modernity, but scholars such as Quentin Skinner have pointed out that many of the radical political arguments made by Protestants during the 16th and 17th century on the nature of liberty, constitutionalism, resistance to authority, subjective rights, and so on either expanded upon or were simply retreads of arguments made by Scholastic theologians.

Thomas Aquinas developed the Church’s most cogent doctrine of Natural Law by which temporal rulers much be judged Building upon that, William of Ockham signals the turn from ancient concepts of rights to individual subjective rights. Later Scholastics such as John Mair/Major and Francisco de Vitoria, as well as the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas , worked out theories of natural rights that extended even to non-Europeans. These men along with Francisco Suarez and other figures of the School of Salanca and the Dutch Calvinist Hugo Grotius.laid the foundations for international law.

Also important were the Conciliarist debates. John Neville Figgis stated that the decree which Jean Gerson had penned for the Council of Constance was “probably the most revolutionary official document in the history of the world,” for it prefigured the arguments of early-modern revolutionaries, expressed in the phrase, “the road from Constance to 1688.”

The influences at work here were often recognized by contemporaries. They’re not simply the imaginative reworkings of scholars. For example, Mary Astell wrote in 1704 that “the deposing doctrine…is…rank popery.” She proceeded to reveal the origins of the “poison of rebellious principles” and the doctrine of the “mutual compact between king and people” in the works of Bellarmine, Mariana, Molina, Soto and Suarez, and in turn in “John Major, a Scotchman, and Buchanan’s master.” John Maxwell, a royalist during the English Civil War wrote that it was a mistake to find the roots of revolution only in the Calvinists, in Knox, and Buchanan, for the rebels against King Charles I “borrowed their first main tenet of the Sorbonnists,” and particularly from William of Ockham and Jacques Almain.

4) This is not to entirely discount the importance of Protestantism, and it’s no coincidence that the Reformation occurs not long after the invention of the printing press, and in less than a century after Martin Luther posts the 95 Theses, radical doctrines proliferate throughout Europe, already presaged by Thomas Müntzer and the Peasants’ War. Along with the Anabaptists, who argued for freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state, one of the more interesting of these was the Monarchomachs, chief among whom were French Huguenots such as Philippe de Mornay and Théodore de Beza, though the term sometimes includes the Spaniard Juan de Mariana and the Scotsman George Buchanan. I’ll quote excerpts from Skinner’s Foundations of Modern Political Thought to give you a taste of how much these people anticipated modern political developments:

It is of course true that the men who argued in favor of revolution during this period tend to be Calvinists. But it is not true that in general they made use of specifically Calvinist arguments. The suggestion that the theories lying behind the rise of modern radical politics were distinctively Calvinist in character only remains plausible so long as we ignore the radical elements in civil and canon law, as well as the whole tradition of radical conciliarist thought stemming from d’Ailly and Gerson.at the start of the fifteenth century. […] we find the Huguenots largely adopting and consolidating a position which the more radical jurists and theologians had already espoused.

Since “no one is born a king, and no one is a king by nature,” and since “a king cannot rule without a people, while a people can rule itself without a king,” it is “clear beyond all doubt” that the people must originally have lived without kings or positive laws, and only decided at some later date to submit themselves to their rule. The underlying assumption that the condition in which men are placed in the world by God must be one of natural liberty is then spelled out. We are all “free by nature, born to hate servitude, and desirous of commanding rather than yielding to obedience.” And we are all said to possess this freedom as one of our natural rights, as “a privilege of nature” which can never be fully withdrawn.

If no one is naturally in a state of subjection, how and why are political societies ever brought into existence? In answering this question the Huguenots produce as analysis which parallels that of the radical Scholastic theologians at every point. […] If the people agree to set up a commonwealth, thus putting an end to their state of natural liberty, this can only be due to the fact that “they expect some very considerable profit to arise out of agreeing in this way to submit themselves to the command of others.” And he adds that it behooves all kings to remember that “it is due to the people, and for the sake of the people’s welfare, that they exercise their power,” so that “they must not say, as they often do, that they hold their sword by the ordination of God unless they also say that it was the people who first placed it in their hands.”

As the author of The Awakener puts it, ‘the rights of the people” (les droits du peuple) must include the right to demand that their magistrates and elected representatives should at all times follow “the good customs of the realm” […] It follows that if the king neglects this promise and becomes a tyrant, “he can by right (par droit) be resisted” by the people’s representatives. Beza reaches the same crucial conclusion in his Right of Magistrates. If the king violates the terms of the contract by which he has been installed in office, then the lesser magistrates — and even more clearly the representatives of the people — “have the right to correct the person they have elevated to dominion.”

The theory developed by Mornay, Beza, and other leading Huguenots after 1572 soon began to exercise a potent influence, in particular in the Netherlands, where a similar revolutionary situation arose in 1580 […] A good example of this influence is provided by the anonymous pamphlet entitled A True Warning which appeared in Antwerp in 1581. The writing begins with by appealing to the Scholastic idea of the natural and fundamental liberty of mankind, arguing that “God has created man free” and that they “cannot be made slaves by people who have no power over them save that which they themselves have granted.” […] if the king is found to be “breaking the conditions” on which the people’s representatives “accepting him as their lord and prince,” this gives them a right, in view of his broken promise, to resist him and “resume their original rights.”

With the publication of the major Huguenot treatises of the 1570s, Protestant political theory passes across a crucial conceptual divide. Hitherto even the most radical Calvinists had vindicated the lawfulness of resistance in terms of the powers that be to uphold the true (that is, the Protestant) faith. But with Beza, Mornay, and their followers, the idea that the preservation of religious uniformity constitutes the sole possible grounds for legitimate resistance is finally abandoned. The result is a fully political theory of revolution, founded on a recognizably modern, secularized thesis about the natural rights and original sovereignty of the people.

5) So we know that these men exerted a profound influence in Holland, which in turn influenced England. And indeed, during the English Civil War, we find John Lilburne and his doctrine of “freeborn rights,” Gerrard Winstanley and the radical Diggers, in addition to Puritan radicals such as John Milton who penned treatises in favor of republicanism, regicide, qualified freedom of the press, and divorce, and participated in drafting the Agreement of the People. At the same time, Baptists such as Thomas Helwys and John Smyth continued the arguments for religious freedom, while people like Roger Williams imported them to America.

6) Up-to-date scholarship has established the Christianity of John Locke and the importance of his faith to his political doctrines. As for rationalism and science? In Western Europe, reason had long been given a central role in establishing the truth of religion, particularly during the Scholastic period. Rene Descartes, who probably inaugurated the modern form of rationalism characterized by epistemological humility about the physical world, was a devout Catholic and saw his philosophical inquiries as serving his faith. I don’t think anyone denies Isaac Newton was a sincere Christian, albeit a heterodox one. He did, after all, devote more of his time to theological questions than to his more famous scientific research. Newton and others who laid the foundations of modern science like Robert Boyle were not scientists who merely happened to be Christians; they themselves would’ve insisted that their faith guided them towards their discoveries.

7) So here we have arguments for universal and inviolable human rights, individual liberty and autonomy, representative government and the right of rebellion, the social contract, scientific inquiry, a framework of international law to establish harmony between nations, freedom of conscience and separation of church and state — all concepts often associated with the Enlightenment — established well before then by devout Christians, not deists and certainly not atheists. While I should mention that, yes, reading through the Greek and Roman classics helped flesh out some of their ideas and practical proposals, the ethical and theological assumptions of the above men were nevertheless Christian through and through. That’s why it’s simply false to claim that the Enlightenment was a radical break with the past or that Christianity “changed” in response to it; no, it clearly built on the edifice erected over the centuries by Christianity. And even Enlightenment deists like Montesquieu and Voltaire frequently had recourse to Christian teachings when advancing their arguments: e.g., Montesquieu makes an appeal to the immortal souls of slaves when denouncing slavery, Voltaire mentions that we are “all children of the same God” in favor of cosmopolitanism, and so on.

And I could continue by mentioning by the role of Quakers and other Protestants in abolitionism, the Christian communism of Étienne Cabet which probably influenced Marx and Engels at least a tad, the Catholic role in striking down America’s anti-miscegenation laws, etc. Knee-jerk anti-Christianity from people on the left is, in short, stupid.

Could another religion have played the same role? It’s impossible to say, because Christianity dominates so much of European history post-Constantine. While it’s true that some egalitarian and universalist currents existed in the pre-Christian world among philosophers like the Stoics as well as in non-Western religions like Buddhism, it’s really only in Christianity that we find all the necessary ingredients in one place: the inherent dignity of every individual, a concept of free will and autonomy, universal brotherhood and forgiveness, charity and solidarity extending beyond one’s familial or tribal loyalties, an aversion to war, the recognition that there are spheres of life beyond the reach of secular authorities, and the exaltation of the poor, the outcasts, and the downtrodden above the rich and the powerful. No one will deny that many Christians over the centuries have not honored these ideals in practice (particularly the ones concerning war and tribal loyalties), just as liberals and radicals have not always honored theirs, but the seeds were all planted at the very start, and a look at history will reveal that they did indeed beget fruit.

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Benquo 05.20.13 at 8:15 pm

Jacob McM @51:

the only major chasms separating Nietzsche from Nazi ideology are anti-Semitism and Slavophobia.

Oh, only those?

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Jacob McM 05.20.13 at 8:20 pm

I posted this over in the last Nietzsche-Hayek thread, if you want to see the context
http://crookedtimber.org/2013/05/14/nietszche-and-the-marginalists/comment-page-2/#comment-467787

but since that one is a little old, many people might not see it and comments there may be closed soon, so I’m re-posting in this fresh thread because it’s long and, I think, worth reading for those contemplating the historical links between Christianity and both liberalism and radicalism, and just why people like Nietzsche were so convinced that Christianity was a subversive force. Nor was he the only one. Joseph de Maistre said something to the effect of “the Gospels, read without the instruction of the Church, are poison.” The “Catholicism emptied of Christianity” tendency in France became more explicit under Charles Maurras, who was frank about his personal atheism. Here are his thoughts:

With some spare time, what a Treatise there would be to write on the intellectual decadence wrought by, first, the Christian spirit of mind that brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire; secondly, the Christian spirit of mind that in the sixteenth century disrupted Catholic civilization through the reading of the Bible in the vernacular tongue; thirdly, the Christian spirit of mind that drove on Rousseau, that encouraged the Revolution, and that elevated morality to the dignity of a super-science and a super-politics, equally metaphysical; and, lastly, the Christian spirit of mind that gives us, today, a theology of the individual, a theory of pure anarchy.

Anyway, this is the original post I made:

——————————-

It’s hard to do justice to this topic here because I have to effectively recapitulate over 1000 years of history, but I’ll try:

1) As has been pointed out, Christian radicalism existed from its inception; not only among the many communistic and pacifist pre-Nicean sects, but also among various saints and Church Fathers. St. Gregory of Nyssa condemned slavery as an institution wholesale as early as the 4th century, as did St. Patrick. But perhaps even more important was the revolution Christianity represented in Western consciousness against most pagan religions: man was no longer the puppet of impersonal forces of nature, but now entered into dialogue with God as an equal, endowed with free will and as the possessor of a unique and immortal soul. Gregory of Nyssa drew upon the equality of all souls before God in his argument against slavery:

Is there any difference in any respect between slave and master?. . . . Do they not both preserve their nature by eating the same food? Is there not the same structure of internal organs? Do not both become the same dust after death? Do they not have the same judgment? Do they not go to the same heaven or the same hell? You who are equal in all respects, why should you be superior such that while you are only a man you think you can be the owner of a man?”

2) For most of the period prior to the Reformation, the Church held a virtual monopoly on the exchange of communication. The population was largely illiterate and vernacular translations did not exist, so only an educated elite had any clue as to what the Bible truly contained or the import of various theological debates. Because the Church ran such a tight ship, and heresy was punished severely, few people would advance interpretations which shook the status quo, and those that did could be easily suppressed or contained. Even so, there existed reform movements such as the Waldensians, the Lollards, and the Hussites as well as those who sought to establish egalitarian societies along Christian principles: Gérard Segarelli and Fra Dolcino in Italy, the Taborites in Bohemia, John Ball and Wat Tyler in England, to name a few.

3) It’s popular among Whiggish histories to cite Protestantism as the midwife of modernity, but scholars such as Quentin Skinner have pointed out that many of the radical political arguments made by Protestants during the 16th and 17th century on the nature of liberty, constitutionalism, resistance to authority, subjective rights, and so on either expanded upon or were simply retreads of arguments made by Scholastic theologians.

Thomas Aquinas developed the Church’s most cogent doctrine of Natural Law by which temporal rulers much be judged Building upon that, William of Ockham signals the turn from ancient concepts of rights to individual subjective rights. Later Scholastics such as John Mair/Major and Francisco de Vitoria, as well as the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas , worked out theories of natural rights that extended even to non-Europeans. These men along with Francisco Suarez and other figures of the School of Salamanca and the Dutch Calvinist Hugo Grotius.laid the foundations for international law.

Also important were the Conciliarist debates. John Neville Figgis stated that the decree which Jean Gerson had penned for the Council of Constance was “probably the most revolutionary official document in the history of the world,” for it prefigured the arguments of early-modern revolutionaries, expressed in the phrase, “the road from Constance to 1688.”

The influences at work were often recognized by contemporaries. They’re not simply the imaginative reworkings of scholars. For example, Mary Astell wrote in 1704 that “the deposing doctrine…is…rank popery.” She proceeded to reveal the origins of the “poison of rebellious principles” and the doctrine of the “mutual compact between king and people” in the works of Bellarmine, Mariana, Molina, Soto and Suarez, and in turn in “John Major, a Scotchman, and Buchanan’s master.” John Maxwell, a royalist during the English Civil War wrote that it was a mistake to find the roots of revolution only in the Calvinists, in Knox, and Buchanan, for the rebels against King Charles I “borrowed their first main tenet of the Sorbonnists,” and particularly from William of Ockham and Jacques Almain.

4) This is not to entirely discount the importance of Protestantism, and it’s no coincidence that the Reformation occurs not long after the invention of the printing press, and in less than a century after Martin Luther posts the 95 Theses, radical doctrines proliferate throughout Europe, already presaged by Thomas Müntzer and the Peasants’ War. Along with the Anabaptists, who argued for freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state, one of the more interesting of these was the Monarchomachs, chief among whom were French Huguenots such as Philippe de Mornay and Théodore de Beza, though the term sometimes includes the Spaniard Juan de Mariana and the Scotsman George Buchanan. I’ll quote excerpts from Skinner’s Foundations of Modern Political Thought to give you a taste of how much these people anticipated modern political developments:

It is of course true that the men who argued in favor of revolution during this period tend to be Calvinists. But it is not true that in general they made use of specifically Calvinist arguments. The suggestion that the theories lying behind the rise of modern radical politics were distinctively Calvinist in character only remains plausible so long as we ignore the radical elements in civil and canon law, as well as the whole tradition of radical conciliarist thought stemming from d’Ailly and Gerson.at the start of the fifteenth century. […] we find the Huguenots largely adopting and consolidating a position which the more radical jurists and theologians had already espoused.

Since “no one is born a king, and no one is a king by nature,” and since “a king cannot rule without a people, while a people can rule itself without a king,” it is “clear beyond all doubt” that the people must originally have lived without kings or positive laws, and only decided at some later date to submit themselves to their rule. The underlying assumption that the condition in which men are placed in the world by God must be one of natural liberty is then spelled out. We are all “free by nature, born to hate servitude, and desirous of commanding rather than yielding to obedience.” And we are all said to possess this freedom as one of our natural rights, as “a privilege of nature” which can never be fully withdrawn.

If no one is naturally in a state of subjection, how and why are political societies ever brought into existence? In answering this question the Huguenots produce as analysis which parallels that of the radical Scholastic theologians at every point. […] If the people agree to set up a commonwealth, thus putting an end to their state of natural liberty, this can only be due to the fact that “they expect some very considerable profit to arise out of agreeing in this way to submit themselves to the command of others.” And he adds that it behooves all kings to remember that “it is due to the people, and for the sake of the people’s welfare, that they exercise their power,” so that “they must not say, as they often do, that they hold their sword by the ordination of God unless they also say that it was the people who first placed it in their hands.”

As the author of The Awakener puts it, ‘the rights of the people” (les droits du peuple) must include the right to demand that their magistrates and elected representatives should at all times follow “the good customs of the realm” […] It follows that if the king neglects this promise and becomes a tyrant, “he can by right (par droit) be resisted” by the people’s representatives. Beza reaches the same crucial conclusion in his Right of Magistrates. If the king violates the terms of the contract by which he has been installed in office, then the lesser magistrates — and even more clearly the representatives of the people — “have the right to correct the person they have elevated to dominion.”

The theory developed by Mornay, Beza, and other leading Huguenots after 1572 soon began to exercise a potent influence, in particular in the Netherlands, where a similar revolutionary situation arose in 1580 […] A good example of this influence is provided by the anonymous pamphlet entitled A True Warning which appeared in Antwerp in 1581. The writing begins with by appealing to the Scholastic idea of the natural and fundamental liberty of mankind, arguing that “God has created man free” and that they “cannot be made slaves by people who have no power over them save that which they themselves have granted.” […] if the king is found to be “breaking the conditions” on which the people’s representatives “accepting him as their lord and prince,” this gives them a right, in view of his broken promise, to resist him and “resume their original rights.”

With the publication of the major Huguenot treatises of the 1570s, Protestant political theory passes across a crucial conceptual divide. Hitherto even the most radical Calvinists had vindicated the lawfulness of resistance in terms of the powers that be to uphold the true (that is, the Protestant) faith. But with Beza, Mornay, and their followers, the idea that the preservation of religious uniformity constitutes the sole possible grounds for legitimate resistance is finally abandoned. The result is a fully political theory of revolution, founded on a recognizably modern, secularized thesis about the natural rights and original sovereignty of the people.

5) So we know that these men exerted a profound influence in Holland, which in turn influenced England. And indeed, during the English Civil War, we find John Lilburne and his doctrine of “freeborn rights,” Gerrard Winstanley and the radical Diggers, in addition to Puritan radicals such as John Milton who penned treatises in favor of republicanism, regicide, qualified freedom of the press, and divorce, and participated in drafting the Agreement of the People. At the same time, Baptists such as Thomas Helwys and John Smyth continued the arguments for religious freedom, while people like Roger Williams imported them to America.

6) Up-to-date scholarship has established the Christianity of John Locke and the importance of his faith to his political doctrines. As for rationalism and science? In Western Europe, reason had long been given a central role in establishing the truth of religion, particularly during the Scholastic period. Rene Descartes, who probably inaugurated the modern form of rationalism characterized by epistemological humility about the physical world, was a devout Catholic and saw his philosophical inquiries as serving his faith. I don’t think anyone denies Isaac Newton was a sincere Christian, albeit a heterodox one. He did, after all, devote more of his time to theological questions than to his more famous scientific research. Newton and others who laid the foundations of modern science like Robert Boyle were not scientists who merely happened to be Christians; they themselves would’ve insisted that their faith guided them towards their discoveries.

7) So here we have arguments for universal and inviolable human rights, individual liberty and autonomy, representative government and the right of rebellion, the social contract, scientific inquiry, a framework of international law to establish harmony between nations, freedom of conscience and separation of church and state — all concepts often associated with the Enlightenment — established well before then by devout Christians, not deists and certainly not atheists. While I should mention that, yes, reading through the Greek and Roman classics helped flesh out some of their ideas and practical proposals, the ethical and theological assumptions of the above men were nevertheless Christian through and through. That’s why it’s simply false to claim that the Enlightenment was a radical break with the past or that Christianity “changed” in response to it; no, it clearly built on the edifice erected over the centuries by Christianity. And even Enlightenment deists like Montesquieu and Voltaire frequently had recourse to Christian teachings when advancing their arguments: e.g., Montesquieu makes an appeal to the immortal souls of slaves when denouncing slavery, Voltaire mentions that we are “all children of the same God” in favor of cosmopolitanism, and so on.

And I could continue by mentioning by the role of Quakers and other Protestants in abolitionism, the Christian communism of Étienne Cabet which probably influenced Marx and Engels at least a tad, the Catholic role in striking down America’s anti-miscegenation laws, etc. Knee-jerk anti-Christianity from people on the left is, in short, stupid.

Could another religion have played the same role? It’s impossible to say, because Christianity dominates so much of European history post-Constantine. While it’s true that some egalitarian and universalist currents existed in the pre-Christian world among philosophers like the Stoics as well as in non-Western religions like Buddhism, it’s really only in Christianity that we find all the necessary ingredients in one place: the inherent dignity of every individual, a concept of free will and autonomy, universal brotherhood and forgiveness, charity and solidarity extending beyond one’s familial or tribal loyalties, an aversion to war, the recognition that there are spheres of life beyond the reach of secular authorities, and the exaltation of the poor, the outcasts, and the downtrodden above the rich and the powerful. No one will deny that many Christians over the centuries have not honored these ideals in practice (particularly the ones concerning war and tribal loyalties), just as liberals and radicals have not always honored theirs, but the seeds were all planted at the very start, and a look at history will reveal that they did indeed beget fruit.

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Jacob McM 05.20.13 at 8:21 pm

@100

Benquo, do you have a response to the arguments I made in #51 or not?

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Harold 05.20.13 at 10:12 pm

I don’t want to appear to be personally endorsing Christianity, but basically, what Jacob McM said. The dignity of man, along equally with the depravity of man, were time-honored stock topics for Christian oratory long before Pico — since the c. fourth century, in fact. The Church fathers made Cicero and Seneca practically honorary Christian saints, and they were among the most influential influences in the Renaissance. It was undoubtedly the Church that kept humanistic ideas alive during the Middle Ages. Representative government flourished in towns nominally under the rule of bishops, and an ambassador to the German emperor complained (around the 13th c. — don’t remember, exactly) that the Italian cities had never forgotten their republican freedoms and would never submit to Imperial rule.

The key date of 1572 that Jacob McM mentions is that of the curiously forgotten Massacre of St Bartholomew — a “foundational event” in the development of modernity http://www.massviolence.org/Massacres-during-the-Wars-of-Religion?cs=print

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Tim Wilkinson 05.21.13 at 2:10 pm

I’m not sure what exactly the thesis is here: that only Christianity could have come up with natural rights discourse and/or that Christianity inevitably did so? In any case, one would want to be sure that ‘Christianity giving rise to A’ is not confused with ‘people who happen, like everyone else at the time, to be Christians coming up with A.’

Also, some clarity about what the doctrines in question are. Equal dignity of humankind? Both Christianity (or the main Christian churches anyway) and most Christians were fine with slavery, until they weren’t.

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Benquo 05.21.13 at 3:17 pm

@102: Naziism without the campaign against Jews and Slavs would have been quite different. I don’t think we learn much about Nietzsche by using the Nazis as an example, when the single most salient characteristic of the Nazis – that they did the Holocaust – is not a point they have in common with Nietzsche’s ideas.

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Anderson 05.21.13 at 3:42 pm

“the only major chasms separating Nietzsche from Nazi ideology are anti-Semitism and Slavophobia”

Zarathustra’s little rant on “the New Idol,” the State, which lies and says “I, the state, am the people,” might be problematic too. Anyone passing just that section out as a pamphlet might have run afoul of the Gestapo.

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Harold 05.21.13 at 4:11 pm

@104 I think it can be argued that doctrines of human dignity could have developed without the rise of Christianity. An Italian article that I once read suggested that it was the Greek theater, specifically Greek comedy, that was responsible for the rise of such doctrines. Perhaps the earliest Latin statements about the nature of humanity occurred in a play (a translation of a Greek comedy) by Plautus (250-184 BC): “Homo homini lupus”: “man is a wolf to man.” A hundred years later, the statement ” “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”, or “I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” appeared in a comedy (also translated from the Greek) Publius Terentius (116 BC – 27 BC), born an African slave. It was intended as a joke, but by the time of St. Augustine, entire audiences would stand and wildly applaud when this line was delivered in the theater. So it is plausible (and pleasant) to think that the popularity of such ideas came from the ground up and were spread by (the equivalent of) mass media.

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Anderson 05.21.13 at 4:43 pm

“doctrines of human dignity could have developed without the rise of Christianity”

Sure, the Stoics were working in that direction. But Christianity had more appeal than Stoicism ever did or, perhaps, could.

The Christianity & human dignity thing gets exaggerated, however. Serfdom & slavery were A-OK for quite a long time, to say nothing of other horrors.

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Harold 05.21.13 at 4:58 pm

Well, the Christians exalted human dignity and deplored/or revelled in (whatever your perspective) human degradation about equally. As I said, both were stock rhetorical topics for preachers and orators. Vito Giustiniani suggests that the rediscovery of Plutarch may have been responsible for the new insistence on the notion of individual and secular virtu’ that some scholars have identified as coming to the fore with Renaissance.

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