The Leopold and Loeb of Modern Libertarianism

by Corey Robin on May 9, 2013

“Nathan Leopold is not the only boy who has read Nietzsche.” So said Clarence Darrow at the trial of Leopold and Loeb, the two University of Chicago law students who had murdered young Bobby Franks for no other reason than to prove that they were Nietzschean Supermen who could.

When I’m feeling mischievous, I think of using that line as an epigraph for an essay on Nietzsche and libertarianism. How many teenage boys, after all, have found their way into the free market via Nietzsche? None, one insider tells me; a lot, says another. My impression is that the latter is right, but good data is hard to come by.

Every ten years, Liberty Magazine polls its readers about their intellectual influences. The magazine draws up a list of candidates to vote on. Nietzsche is never on it. Even so, he gets written in each time by the readers. So much so that the editors have been forced to acknowledge on more than one occasion that should they put his name on the pre-approved list of possible influences he might draw more votes than some if not many of the others.

Ask any scholar about this connection between Nietzsche and libertarianism and she’ll tell you those teenage boys don’t know what they’re talking about. Nietzsche loathed capitalism almost as much as he loathed capitalists, whom he loathed almost as much as he loathed economists. Still I’ve wondered: Might there not be more than the misguided enthusiasm of adolescents connecting Nietzsche to the modern movement for free markets?

Today The Nation is publishing an essay by me—”Nietzsche’s Marginal Children“—that attempts to provide an answer. It’s long; I’ve been working on it for more than a year. But it’s my best guess as to what the connection might be.

As I make clear in the piece, it’s not a connection of influence: Though there’s been some claim that Friedrich von Wieser, who taught Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, was taken by Nietzsche—and though Schumpeter, who plays an interesting supporting role in this story, was influenced by Nietzsche and Nietzschean theorists of elite politics—the evidence for claims of direct influence are thin.

No, the connection between Nietzsche and the free-market movement is one of elective affinity, at the level of deep grammar rather than public policy. It will not be found at the surface of their arguments but in the lower registers: in the startling symmetry between Nietzschean and marginal theories of value; in the hostility to labor as the source or measure of value; in the insistence that morals be forged in a crucible of constraint; in the vision of an idle class of taste-makers creating new values and beliefs.

Along the way, “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” makes a number of other claims.

First, ever since Walter Kaufmann, writers and readers have been convinced that Nietzsche is an apolitical or anti-political thinker. Four decades of postmodern and post-structural Nietzsches have done little to dislodge this belief; indeed, in a curious way, they have only amplified it. As this piece makes clear, I don’t think that position tells the whole story. The Nietzsche that emerges in this essay cares much about the fate of high culture, absolutely, but he’s also attuned to need for creating a polity or politics that might protect high culture from the masses, who’d been growing increasingly agitated over the labor or the social question, as it was variously called. (The fear and loathing of various working-class movements is a critical point of contact between Nietzsche and the economists who helped inspire libertarianism.) As Don Dombowsky has argued, if there is one consistent political position in Nietzsche’s thought, it is his hostility to socialism. Far from being a simple knee-jerk reaction or peripheral concern, Nietzsche’s antipathy to socialism was symptomatic of—and grew out of—a range of ideas about value, work, appearance, and caste that were central to his cultural and political vision.

Second, it’s long been noted that fin-de-siècle Vienna was a crucible of modernism in the arts and humanities as well as in politics, on the left and the right. The dying Habsburg Empire gave us Wittgenstein, Hitler, and Freud. But while there is now an academic cottage industry devoted to this notion, few have noted that fin-de-siècle Vienna also gave us the Austrian School of economics—Wieser, Böhm-Bawerk, Mises, Hayek, Schumpeter (ish), and more—and that the Austrian economists have as much a claim to the modernist inheritance as Schoenberg or Klimt. “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” seeks to put the Austrians back in Vienna, where Nietzsche was a presiding influence, and to read them as contemporaries of fascism and Freud. If nothing else, I hope my reading of the Austrians restores them to their rightful place in the modernist pantheon, and reveals the philosophical range and cultural significance of the questions they were raising. For the economic questions the Austrians were raising were are also very much cultural and philosophical questions of the sort that Nietzsche and his successors wrestled with.

Third, speaking of the F word, we know that many fascist intellectuals read or were influenced by Nietzsche. And while my piece takes that connection as a given—which is not the same, it should be noted, as saying that the fascist interpretation of Nietzsche is the only or correct one or that all of Nietzsche’s roads lead to fascism; empirically, we know, that’s not the case—it seeks to parse a different connection. Where one road from Nietzsche (I’m speaking figuratively) led to the fascist notion that heroic or high politics could be recreated in the modern world, another led down a different path: to the notion that heroic or high politics could not (and perhaps should not) be recreated but that it could be sublimated in the free market. Fascism and the free market, in other words, offered two distinctive answers to the labor question Nietzsche so acutely diagnosed. And while one answer would have a remarkably short shelf life, the other, well, we’re still living it.

Which brings me to the final point. While the disparity between the free-wheeling philosophy of the market and the reality of coercive capitalism has long been known, the last four decades have sharpened it. Partly because of the rise of an aggressive defense of untrammeled markets in the name of liberty, partly because of the assault on the welfare state and social democracy. For some on the left, today’s disparity between libertarian theories of the market and the reality of capitalism proves that the idea of the free market is a simple ideological mystification. “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” takes a different tack: it tries to show that the practice is built into the theory, that it is not elided there but embraced.

In writing this piece, I hope  to begin—and this is really just the beginning of a long-term project on the political theory and cultural history of the free market—to make good on a promissory note in The Reactionary Mind, which is now available in paperback. There I briefly noted that the libertarian defense of the market—while often treated as a source of tension on the right because it conflicts with the conservative commitment to stability and tradition, virtue and glory—is in fact consistent with the right’s reactionary project of defending private hierarchies against democratic movements from below. But with the exception of a chapter on Ayn Rand, I didn’t really develop that argument. So I was often asked how Hayek and Mises and other libertarian thinkers fit in. Particularly since these thinkers seemed to voice a commitment to liberty that was out of synch with my portrait of the right’s commitment to domination and hierarchy, coercion and rule. So I’ve tried to show in “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” what liberty means for the libertarian right, particularly for Hayek, and how consistent that vision is with a notion of aristocratic politics and rule.

I’m writing this post in Luxembourg, where I’m presenting at a conference in honor of European historian Arno Mayer. I’ve known Arno and his work since I was an undergraduate history major at Princeton. As I said in The Reactionary Mind, Arno (along with UCLA political scientist Karen Orren) was one of the two most important influences on my thinking about the right. And it was from Arno’s Persistence of the Old Regime that I first stumbled upon a way of thinking about Nietzscheanism as something more than the philosophy of and for apolitical aesthetes. So it’s fitting that I write this post here. For in Arno’s vision of an aristocracy that manages to persist long past its shelf date, in part through it capacity for reinvention, we see a glimpse of Nietzsche von Hayek and Mises von Nietzsche, the Leopold and Loeb of modern libertarianism.



Josh G. 05.09.13 at 2:49 pm

I wonder if perhaps it is time for certain philosophers to be drummed out of polite society. We no longer tolerate the expression of open racism in the public square (it may be legal, but it is not in any way socially acceptable) and this extends to academics who suggest that IQ differences are genetic in nature. Yet philosophy faculty continue to teach, and take seriously, people whose views are objectively every bit as evil, if not more so. Maybe it’s time to purge not only Nietzsche but also Strauss, Plato (the root cause) and possibly Hegel as well from the curriculum. Make it clear that these people and their views are evil and discredited.

Plato, via Leo Strauss, caused the Iraq War. And his teachings have been responsible not only for great tragedies but small ones, such as the absurd fantasy that is Cartesian dualism (a position held in large part by most of the populace who envision the dead as ghosts floating in heaven, even though they couldn’t explain it in any coherent way). We need to be actively debunking Plato all throughout the educational process. He is the great enemy of the people, the ur-fascist who has oppressed humanity throughout the ages.


William Timberman 05.09.13 at 3:16 pm

Josh G. @ 1

I’d really rather not purge anyone, even if it means that our nuanced disputations will go on until the end of time. If impatience is a virtue, we’ll always have a plentiful supply of the virtuous to build our bridges, aqueducts and war machines, and when they have a moment, to tell us that we’re wasting our time. They’ll get their inevitable say, never fear.

On the other hand, if you think of human consciousness as a kaleidoscope, which I more or less do, it seems obvious that we don’t gain much clarity when we stop turning it. Leave all these philosophers you disdain where they are, I say. There was — and still is — more to them than you’re making out.


pedant 05.09.13 at 3:34 pm

“Plato, via Leo Strauss, caused the Iraq War.”

Um, really?? This is about as sensible as saying “Hans Blix, via George Bush, caused the Iraq War.”

The first one said some stuff, the second one lied about what he had said, bad things ensued.

If you want to say that counts as “causing”, then we’re going to have to include a lot of innocent people among the causes of a lot of bad things. Readers are invited to offer their own examples of the trope.

And really, Josh, I don’t know who gave you such a false impression of Plato, but he does not deserve this weird trip you are putting on him. Did you read him with Straussians? Because that would explain a lot. They just don’t have the faintest clue what Plato was about.

Furthermore, you know that Nietzsche himself had the same poor opinion of Plato that you do? (Only with a great deal more sympathy and understanding than you manifest). In a letter to Overbeck of Jan 7, 1887, he complains about Simplicius and then writes:

“Und an alledem ist Plato schuld! er bleibt das größte Malheur Europas!“

Plato is the root cause of some evil, and some good, but really has very little to do with Nietzsche, even less to do with Strauss, and nothing whatsoever to do with the Iraq War.


David 05.09.13 at 3:39 pm

Corey Robin : Nietzsche :: Josh G. : Plato


Corey Robin 05.09.13 at 3:40 pm

Am I wrong in thinking that Josh G. was being facetious and simply satirizing the penchant — which he perhaps sees in my post and article here — for holding philosophers responsible for the terrible political realities that we are forced to endure?


Josh G. 05.09.13 at 3:45 pm

Well, I was being half-facetious. I really think that Plato’s philosophy is terrible and is at least indirectly responsible for all kinds of bad real-world results, but obviously someone so central to the whole enterprise of philosophy isn’t going to be drummed out. The question then becomes what should be done to inoculate people against harmful memes? Plato writes stuff that has a strong pro-elite, anti-populist vibe but is at least within the bounds of discussion. Nietzsche takes it and goes further, making the pro-elitist and anti-populist themes much more explicit… but still, most philosophers think, within the bounds of civilized discussion. Then Ayn Rand takes Nietzsche and vulgarizes this line of thinking even further (to the point where Rand loves Aristotle and hates Plato without being able to see the Platonic influences on her own inspiration in Nietzsche). Then we get every right-wing crackpot in the US taking Rand, Hayek, and their compatriots and using them as a charter to undermine decent civilization. How do we stop this process?


pedant 05.09.13 at 3:45 pm

I would be very happy to be told that Josh G. in 1 above was only being facetious and satirical.

I would also tell him to brush up on his facets a bit, and re-calibrate his satire-ometer, but I’d rather believe that he just expressed himself badly than believe that his views are really that thick.


Jim Harrison 05.09.13 at 3:57 pm

When I read “Plato, via Leo Strauss, caused the Iraq War,” I check to see if the line comes from an episode of Ghost Hunters. Defunct Athenians never made any living person do anything. What does have redoubtable force are powerful ideas that can’t be exorcized as easily as departed spirits. Josh G. reminds me of a story I heard someplace about a certain morose Chinese emperor who didn’t like music and ordered all the flutes broken in order to banish it from the realm. Of course when the tyrant died, people made new flutes.


Z 05.09.13 at 3:58 pm

I discern two arguments in your article Corey.

The first is that a strong strain of anti-socialism was a huge influence in the intellectual climate of turn of the previous century Vienna. I found your intellectual archaeology extremely interesting (I had no idea, for instance, of the strength of Nietzsche hatred of the labor movement). I think defiance towards the masses and the belief that only strong individual can embody power and authority is also common in Freud (see especially his work on crowds). I’m convinced (and grateful) about this part.

The second is a claim (which actually I’m not quite sure you make) that the intellectual production of that epoch influences contemporary libertarian thinking. I don’t think there is much logically sound current right-libertarian thinking beyond reflexive defense of economical inequality and defiance towards collective action so I’m happy to believe that right-libertarians, in their quest for intellectual references, might stumble on theories forged at another moment of extreme inequality and defiance towards the masses. I can also easily believe that they might find some comfort in the existence of these theories, but is there really anything beyond that in your opinion?


pedant 05.09.13 at 4:00 pm

Sorry, posted my #7 before Josh G. came clean in his #6.

“How do we stop this process?”

How about this: we read philosophers carefully, try to figure out which parts are true and which are false, and don’t treat any of them as authority figures?

Why should the fact that Plato said something have any tendency to make me believe it? He said some cool things and he said some face-palmingly stupid things.

I really have to think you came to the study of philosophy via Straussians or their ilk. They are the ones who are into hero-worship and the unquestioning acceptance of anything said by anyone in the canon. (Or anything “said” by anyone in the canon, where you have to take the Straussians word for what the greats really “said”).

This habit of taking old texts as gospel to be believed on faith–that’s the problem. You “stop the process” by ceasing to believe them on faith. Not by ceasing to teach them, study them, scrutinize them and criticize them.


bob mcmanus 05.09.13 at 4:04 pm

To be deleted, but maybe CR will read it

1) Read the whole thing. Is there a way to download it as a file?

2) You realized that Nietztsche was not a/the direct influence on the Marginalists/Austrians, but I did not see a move to find what were the more direct influences on them. I don’t know either. I think Kojin Karatani and others trace subjectivism back to Kant. I do think a deeper understanding of where marginalism comes from is very disturbing for liberals.

3) For Marx, under capitalism labour + capital creates value in a social setting unconsciously. For Nietzsche, the individual is she who creates value deliberately, and the mass believes values are discovered. For the marginalists, although individuals have preferences, the market aggregates those choices again to find value unconsciously. For all three the social, the social democratic “will to value” is discounted, nascent for Marx.

4) For socialists, the bourgeois cannot become conscious of their social role in creating value (Lukacs.) The proletariat is the class that not only creates value through labour, but is the only class that can become aware of the “social construction of reality.” But the social construction of value is not universal, but historical, contingent, particularized and local. Again, problematic for liberalism.


phosphorious 05.09.13 at 4:25 pm

To derail the thread slightly, I think Aristotle is worse than Plato. Or at least, Aristotle has been put to worse use than Plato. Conservatives of all kinds. . . from C.S Lewis to Ayn Rand. . . take Aristotle’s word as final on every topic imaginable, and Aristotelean “reasoning” underlies everything from creationism to bell curve style nonsense to “natural law” arguments against gay marriage.


Jerry Vinokurov 05.09.13 at 4:37 pm

Oh boy, philosophical purges! I nominate David Chalmers.

More seriously, this sounds like a fascinating essay. I’ll be reading it throughout today.


bob mcmanus 05.09.13 at 4:37 pm

so I feel a little lost here without, to paraphrase a joke, “a historicized theory of the (social) subject.” And if I were writing this I would spend another year looking at all the Europeans who have been working on this for decades. I said Kant, but I think fashion has now moved back to the source of all our problems being Descartes, and re-evaluating Spinoza and Leibniz.

Aristocratism just doesn’t work, and so that is not how the aristocrats a) extract the surplus, and b) repress the social. It is very important that the discourse in Europe is not “bankers profit and workers starve because bankers are better people”, but
“sorry, the cold equations of economic science and our democratic institutions decree debt deleveraging and 25% unemployment.” And I think Merkel and maybe even Koch may actually believe it.

It is “science” and (post?)-democracy that delegitimize the social subject.


Polonius 05.09.13 at 4:45 pm

Glad to see that Josh G. brought in Rand’s pot-boiler, vulgarized, ersatz Nietzcheanism into the discussion. The many libertarian, free-market fundamentalist foot-soldiers with whom I’m forced to associate through family connections wouldn’t know Nietzshe from Bentham but love them their Rand big-time. And it’s hardly just the foot-soldiers — see, e.g., Greenspan and Ryan. Not to defend the dubious aspects of Nietzsche’s thought, but blaming him for Rand is like interpreting Darwin through a reading of Jack London.

As for Plato, his elitism aside, I’d always thought that the pervasively nefarious effects of his basic philosophy stemmed from his idealism, which is, unfortunately, still with us. Not ever wishing to study Rand in any depth (sic), I wonder if her identification with Aristotle wasn’t an attempt to distance herself from the idealism that is actually integral to her “thought.”


rea 05.09.13 at 4:57 pm

Ask any scholar about this connection between Nietzsche and libertarianism and she’ll tell you those teenage boys don’t know what they’re talking about

Which, of course, explains how those teenage boys get led to libertarianism by reading Nietzsche.


Marcus Pivato 05.09.13 at 5:06 pm

JoshG @6

I really think that Plato’s philosophy is terrible and is at least indirectly responsible for all kinds of bad real-world results, but obviously someone so central to the whole enterprise of philosophy isn’t going to be drummed out.
The question then becomes what should be done to inoculate people against harmful memes?

Seriously? The point is not that Plato “isn’t going to be drummed out” of the curriculum, so we’re sort of stuck with him like a stain in the carpet. The point is that Plato shouldn’t be “drummed out” of the curriculum, for two reasons:

1. Plato said an awful lot of things on an awful lot of topics. A lot of it was wrong. But a lot of it was right. And a lot of it, whether it was right or wrong, was very clever and interesting and well-argued, and deserves our intellectual attention. Plato set the stage for much of the philosophy of the next 2000 years. Your beef with Plato seems to stem from his “antidemocratic” conclusions in The Republic. But this is only a small part of Plato’s contribution.

2. Even if everything Plato said was wrong and “evil” (as you seem to claim), the best way to inoculate students against evil ideas is to confront these ideas head on, and refute them. Let Plato (and his defenders) make the best possible case for their position, and then explain, clearly and carefully, why their position is wrong, or even incoherent. (There was this ancient Greek guy who made a career out of doing this. Hint: he was Plato’s mentor; his name begins with a “sigma”.)

If we starting “drumming out” every philosopher in history who has ever staked out a political position which (by modern standards) is disagreeable, then the philosophy syllabus would end up being very short. And if we “drummed out” every philosopher whose name has been invoked (rightly or wrongly) to justify/excuse atrocities, then it would get even shorter. Nobody ever killed anyone for the sake of Plato and his “philosopher kings”. But millions have been murdered in the 20th century in the name of Marx. Should we drum him out of the syllabus, too?


Uncle Kvetch 05.09.13 at 5:13 pm

The first libertarian I ever encountered (during my first year of undergraduate studies) was a fervent devotee of both Nietzsche and Rand. I’m not sure which was the chicken and which the egg, however.


Ben Alpers 05.09.13 at 5:16 pm

If we’re talking early 20C Vienna and its influence on US thought, some mention might be made of the Vienna Circle and logical positivism. Do they fit this story at all, Corey? (As I understand it, the Vienna Circle philosophers read Nietzsche, but didn’t really consider him to be a philosopher….and they were hardly all antisocialists.)


Anderson 05.09.13 at 5:17 pm

It’s an interesting essay, though I’m not sure what Nietzsche is doing in it. But N. would scarcely be in a position to argue against being the object of an interpreter’s own will to power.

Couple of specific points:

“Labor belonged to nature, which is not capable of generating value. Only the man who arrayed himself against nature—the artist, the general, the statesman—could claim that role. * * * Value was not a product of the prole; it was an imposition of peerless taste.” This is incorrect. N. goes on at no small length about the “slave revolt in values,” the (supposed) creation of a ressentiment-based morality by the Jews and its popularization by Christianity. N. dislikes those values and prefers aristocratic values, but it’s mistaken to say that slaves, proles, etc., can’t or don’t create values. That they *do* is precisely the problem, says N.

As regards nature and value, I have doubts about taking an N. quote about “values” and importing an economic sense. The sense in which nature doesn’t generate value is simply that there are no morals in nature. “Nature” doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether an asteroid destroys all the life on Earth or not. There is no “value” in the world except what humans inevitably, in the course of deeming their own thriving & surviving a good thing, impose for their own purposes. Workers obviously generate stuff that gives aristocrats leisure to create, so I can’t see N. denying that labor is useful and has “value” in that sense.

“As much as Nietzsche railed against the repressive effect of laws and morals on the highest types ….” You do go on to qualify this, but it’s particularly the effect of *Christian* laws and morals that disturbs him. He does not think that a “higher man” can be without values, laws, morals … he just needs different ones than the masses do. As Blake wrote in that very Nietzschean book “The Marriage of Heaven & Hell,” “one law for the Lion and the Ox is oppression.”


Harold 05.09.13 at 5:20 pm

“Plato was essentially a poet—the truth and splendor of his imagery, and the melody of his language, are the most intense that it is possible to conceive. He rejected the measure of the epic, dramatic, and lyrical forms, because he sought to kindle a harmony in thoughts divested of shape and action; and he forebore to invent any regular plan of rhythm which would include, under determinate forms, the varied pauses of his style.” — P. B. Shelley

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” — P. B. Shelley (borrowed and “improved” from Rasselas by Samuel Johnson)


Rich Puchalsky 05.09.13 at 5:24 pm

“We no longer tolerate the expression of open racism in the public square (it may be legal, but it is not in any way socially acceptable) and this extends to academics who suggest that IQ differences are genetic in nature.”

Half-facetious though Josh G was, in point of fact this assertion above is incorrect. We do tolerate them in the public square — actually, we tolerate them right here on Crooked Timber. I remember past trainwrecks including the one in which Harry (I think) explained why he had to write a thoughtful critique of Charles Murray’s latest (because otherwise it would go uncritiqued in the public square), and that’s how it always is. Nothing that an academic, or even a think tanker, can do can make them non-respectable once they’ve been declared respectable. I even tried to slippery slope the argument all the way down to “Would you have publicly debated Carl Schmitt when he was an active Nazi, knowing that the Nazi Party was getting the usual public exposure from holding a debate?” and the answer was yes.

So let’s not have this bit about how they aren’t respectable in the public square.


Corey Robin 05.09.13 at 5:34 pm

Anderson at 20: “This is incorrect. N. goes on at no small length about the ‘slave revolt in values,’ the (supposed) creation of a ressentiment-based morality by the Jews and its popularization by Christianity. N. dislikes those values and prefers aristocratic values, but it’s mistaken to say that slaves, proles, etc., can’t or don’t create values. That they *do* is precisely the problem, says N.”

I deal explicitly with that issue in the previous paragraph.


Andrew F. 05.09.13 at 5:35 pm

It’s an interesting and good article that I plan on rereading, but I’m initially and respectfully doubtful concerning this central claim about Hayek:

Hayek has much more in mind than producers responding to a pre-existing market of demand; he’s talking about men who create new markets—and not just of wants or desires, but of basic tastes and beliefs. The freedom Hayek cares most about is the freedom of those legislators of value who shape and determine our ends.

Imho, Hayek believes that it is to the benefit of any given majority to allow for the expression and pursuit of ideas and ends which that majority had not yet adopted (and may never adopt). As he writes in The Constitution of Liberty, “[i]f minority views are to have a chance to become majority views, it is necessary that…representatives of all divergent views and tastes be in a position to support with their means and their energy ideals which are not yet shared by the majority.”

So, these are not so much legislators of value as they are advocates of value, whose arguments the great market will judge. Not supermen, these advocates, but wealthy vendors hawking their wares and hoping that they sell (whether that sale be by purchase, or adoption, or agreement, or mere appreciation). To the extent they are legislators, they are legislators standing for continual re-election, in a system that Hayek claims should be vigorously multiparty.

I do think that there’s something to the parallel you’re drawing between the ubermensch in Nietzsche and the businessperson in Hayek, but I suspect you may have overstated the case.

I also think you’re a bit harsh when characterizing Hayek’s view of those who work for a salary (a bit, not entirely). He views them as having made a choice to exchange a certain amount of opportunity for initiative and independence for security – and he considers himself one of their number (see footnote 10 in Employment and Independence in The Constitution of Liberty). His point that the employed will be less appreciative of the liberties they themselves use less frequently is also made with respect to the value intellectuals place upon the skills and abilities of a purchasing manager for a factory and with respect to the value businesspersons (entrepreneurs included) place upon the skills and abilities of artists and political advocates. The constant theme is that we should be wary of endorsing only those freedoms for which we ourselves have immediate purpose. Because every choice we make as to the lives we lead will likely close off alternative lives, none of us has an unbounded view; and because of our limited views and powers, we are reliant upon those who lead different lives; and so we each must be careful to remain appreciative, and enabling, of freedoms that allow choices other than those we made.


Corey Robin 05.09.13 at 5:36 pm

Ben at 19: I think they do, Ben, though not in the same way. I did mention Wittgenstein in my piece, and that old book from the 70s, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, does a pretty good job of getting into it. There’s also a newer book that I read last year — it’s on probability theory in Vienna (more on science than logical positivism, but Popper pays a big role there, if I’m remembering correctly) — and it is certainly part of the mix.


Anderson 05.09.13 at 5:39 pm

23: right, but that doesn’t make the quoted part correct. Needs a tweak, is all.


William Timberman 05.09.13 at 5:40 pm

I don’t know, but it seems to me, and not only to me, that implicit in any support for democracy is a willingness to tolerate bad thinking, and to accept that bad thoughts will often be used as clubs. The potential for demagoguery and chaos in mass decision-making has always been worrisome, and all the best people, from Plato to Augustus, to Alexander Hamilton, to Bismarck, to Lenin, to the brothers Koch (ouch), have argued for an aristocracy of some sort, not all of them in bad faith.

The jury is still out — as the recent post and comments thread on EOW’s Envisioning Real Utopias made (imperfectly) clear. I may be in a minority, but despite all the kvetching, I still have hope that the circle can someday be squared. Not in my lifetime certainly, but as the unacknowledged legislators of the world keep telling us, the eternal is always lurking just beyond our mundane focus….


Anderson 05.09.13 at 5:48 pm

“all the best people … have argued for an aristocracy of some sort, not all of them in bad faith.”

In the Keynes thread, I was tempted to suggest that ethics in general – having a thought-out system of ethics, rather than just adhering to whatever’s conventional in one’s society – is and always has been, if not aristocratic, then elitist, in the strict sense of peculiar to an elite. That is a problem with MacIntyre: the ancient world did not have an ethical system that has since decayed. A few intellectuals had one.

Anybody writing a book of ethical theory today, arguing “this is how people should or shouldn’t behave,” is trying to be a value-creator in Nietzsche’s sense. Corey Robin certainly is. That’s separate from the merits of the values, and of course I prefer Robin’s to Nietzsche’s in most respects.


CK MacLeod 05.09.13 at 5:48 pm

Useful, informative, and penetrating essay by Professor Robin, but the turn, even satirically or half-satirically, to the idea of proscribing “wrong” philosophers illustrates the general problem of rendering philosophy as intellectual history, since it provides a standing excuse for bashing one great name against another as a substitute for thinking, or, in other words, for leaving prejudices undisturbed by discussion. In this specific instance, it would seem that, because Robin, The Nation, and this web-site are all associated with the Left, any interesting implications of and also the criticizable presumptions of Robin’s work are swept aside in favor of a tribalistic or, if you prefer, ideological re-assertion of what “everyone” or everyone decent must of course believe, or face the fate of being associated with Hayek, National Review, and all the bad web-sites.


Anarcissie 05.09.13 at 5:51 pm

Well, maybe philosophy is a kind of vice — ‘the disease for which it is supposed to be the cure’. It is true we are stuck with not just Plato, but philosophy as a whole, but maybe that just means we need to develop immunities.

Setting foot in the infectious mire anyway, I have to say that Nietzsche and libertarianism seem utterly opposed, if by ‘libertarianism’ you mean the sentimental recollection of Locke and company in the modern world with its devotion to law, property, wealth, submissive labor, and the cleanly state to hold them all.


Sioan Bethel 05.09.13 at 6:17 pm

How does one jive John Galts and established financial institutions accepting public bailouts, in the U.S. and European Union, with authoritarian notions of elitism? If the commonweal is not served, than notions of elitism are self-serving, a return to the jungle.


QS 05.09.13 at 6:18 pm

Interesting essay, I learned from having read it. So thank you.

Nietzsche is perhaps the most flamboyant and interesting person to read of those who pit culture against the masses, but he does not comprise this position alone. Raymond Williams’ excellent Culture and Society details the construction of the idea of “culture” in England from the late 18th century. It arose as an aristocratic construct designed to valorize their way of life and establish a world separate from mass politics and economics, one that would be aloof from the quotidian and superior to it. Perhaps Matthew Arnold is the English Nietzsche?


CK MacLeod 05.09.13 at 6:24 pm

Anarcissie (@ A main point for the thought-criminal Strauss, working from the examples of the thought-criminal Plato and especially the thought-criminal Socrates, was that to the city and its gods, whether represented by the democratic jury of the citizenry of Athens or by the democratic jury of the commenters of the Crooked Timber web site, an authentically philosophical project will tend to appear as vice, disease, corruption, threat the moment it ceases to be irrelevant. One of the things that’s most enjoyable about Professor Robin’s essay, whose appearance in The Nation I’m tempted to portray as somehow typical of a our political moment, is the overall impartiality of the presentation, notwithstanding a few gestures seemingly intended to signify continued good left-citizenship. I mean this observation as a compliment to Robin, though I can imagine it easily being taken as an indictment.


Stephen 05.09.13 at 6:51 pm

Josh G:
“I wonder if perhaps it is time for certain philosophers to be drummed out of polite society. We no longer tolerate the expression of open racism in the public square (it may be legal, but it is not in any way socially acceptable) and this extends to academics who suggest that IQ differences are genetic in nature.”

Open racism: sure, but with some uncertainty as to the boundary between racism and culturalism.

Unacceptability of IQ differences being genetic in nature: uncertainty as to what you mean.

If: Uncertainties and ambiguities about IQ measurements are so great nothing can be usefully said about them, very arguable position.

If: belief that intelligence (vaguer but more defensible concept than tested IQ) is entirely genetic in nature, nobody believes that (as far as I know: I have not studied the wilder shores of American Republicanism).

But if you mean, we no longer tolerate the expression of the belief that some part of intelligence is genetically determined; well, that may be true (though I would like to think not) of the CT community, but in a broader sense it’s not at all so.

Consider the following argument: first, unless you are a creationist (unlikely, I hope) you will agree that we are descended from some sort of ape, descended from some sort of monkey, descended from something rather like a tree-shrew, descended from some sort of reptile, descended from some sort of fish … and with living distant relatives like Balanoglossus, which looks like some kind of worm.

Second: you will I hope agree that all readers of CT, or even members of the w.s.o.t.A.R. party, are in a meaningful sense more intelligent than some sort of fish or worm.

Third: if you believe that evolution has happened by a Darwinian process of natural selection for inheritable genetic characteristics, you must agree that evolution from the rather limited state of intelligence of some sort of worm, or fish, to the unsurpassed heights of contributors to CT has occurred through selection for inheritable genetic factors relevant to intelligence.

QN, from your point of view, ED.


David 05.09.13 at 7:16 pm

The problem with the racial IQ question is that it is nigh on impossible to separate actual factual inquiries from politics.

Most in modern society would accept that variety among races in IQ, if it were proven, would not change anything as regards legal and economic rights, because most do not accept the idea that said rights should be distributed strictly according to any measure of natural talent. “All men are created equal” is best viewed as a statement of normative intent rather than a factual premise.

However, people most given to hammering on the issue are also the ones on the Far Right most eager to oppress targeted minorities, causing what should be an issue of honest and non-moralistic inquiry to become a universally recognized Fascist shibboleth.


Z 05.09.13 at 7:17 pm

it’s on probability theory in Vienna (more on science than logical positivism, but Popper pays a big role there)

Yeah, I wondered about how Popper fit into this as well. On the one hand, he founded Mont Pelerin with the usual suspects and was a very close colleague of Hayek, on the other, what I remember of his writing was deeply mistrusting of authoritarianism and not quite rabidly anti-socialist.


Rich Puchalsky 05.09.13 at 7:36 pm

“Open racism: sure, but with some uncertainty as to the boundary between racism and culturalism.”

No more faux and / or actual naiveté, please. This is a live political issue. The guy working for the Heritage Foundation who wrote “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against” at Harvard, in 2009, is still employed there as far as anyone knows, and if he came here, people would politely debate him just as they did with Steve Sailer, another scientific racist, just a few threads ago.


bob mcmanus 05.09.13 at 7:40 pm

20:N. dislikes those values and prefers aristocratic values, but it’s mistaken to say that slaves, proles, etc., can’t or don’t create values. That they *do* is precisely the problem, says N.

We really aren’t all professed existentialists. Yes, I think N would say that we all create our own values…and yet still there are elites and servants. The problem is that slaves don’t believe they are creating their values, they think they are obeying found or given values, values that everybody else should also obey. Moses at least claimed he didn’t write the Commandments.

The “ascetic ideal” is the will not to will, the will to suffer domination, the will to obey.

“Why don’t they all rise up?”

Now I guess CR is in the fairly wide group that thinks that Nietzsche thought that master/slave morality was somehow innate. I am not so sure, because I don’t know why Nietzsche, if he thought so, would write his books. Or why he would attack Christianity and Idealism, as if they could condition people to obedience and bad faith.
Aristocrats don’t need liberating.

Even so, you don’t have to believe obedience is innate, you can believe it is culturally engineered and everybody can be liberated to Nietzschean standards and practices.

Revolution is subjectivity.


Anderson 05.09.13 at 7:40 pm

As someone who is not nearly as smart as he tests, let me state my extreme skepticism regarding IQ as a measure of “intelligence.”


Rich Puchalsky 05.09.13 at 7:50 pm

Anderson: “As someone who is not nearly as smart as he tests, let me state my extreme skepticism regarding IQ as a measure of “intelligence.””

I’m not trying to start an actual debate about it. That debate has been scientifically settled — go read Cosma Schalzi on intelligence if you want to — and, just like anthropogenic global climate change, it’s been settled with a conclusion that the right-wing doesn’t like, so they pretend that it isn’t.

I’m trying to tell people here to stop with the “we don’t tolerate open racism” bit. Yes, people do, and people commenting here most especially do, because they are very sensitive to taunts that if they don’t, they’re treating people as “thought-criminals” as CK MacLeod says.


Aaron Baker 05.09.13 at 7:53 pm

I believe that Brian Leiter regards Nietzsche as (mostly?) anti-political (see Leiter’s Nietzsche on Morality). Have you read Leiter or had any dealings with him?


The Raven 05.09.13 at 7:56 pm

OT—oh, gods, IQ and race. Every time this subject comes up, I want to beat someone to death with a copy of Neisser’s The Rising Curve, but I suppose it wouldn’t be polite, so I will cite it instead. I cannot stress sufficiently that IQ and similar measurements are empirical and enormously influenced by environment. They are not measurements of any fundamental neurological or psychological property of brain or mind, the way mass is a physical property of a brick. They are useful guides for educators, especially the educators of children, and that’s about it.


Dr. Hilarius 05.09.13 at 8:09 pm

We are drifting off topic from Prof. Robin’s work but David@34 and Rich Puchalsky@36 are correct, the IQ wars simmer down once in a while but never go away. In a trivial sense, everything human is genetic as it is our genotype, via phenotype, that interacts with the environment. The real problem is the persistent folly of thinking that all facets of cognition can be reduced to a single number, and a constant number at that. The desire to rank order human worth by a single number can’t be defended as anything other than racism.


john c. halasz 05.09.13 at 8:29 pm


“The “ascetic ideal” is the will not to will, the will to suffer domination, the will to obey.”

Umm…not quite. Isn’t it the priests who promulgate the ascetic ideal and in the process must first of all impose it on themselves? So asceticism is just a repressed/disguised form of the will-to-power.


Jim Buck 05.09.13 at 8:30 pm

Cosma Schalzi ? No results on yahoo.


Corey Robin 05.09.13 at 8:34 pm

Aaron at 40: I’m a big fan of Brian’s work on Nietzsche and we’ve corresponded quite a bit on this piece, leading up to its publication. We do disagree about whether N can be considered a political thinker, but his book has been invaluable to me.


Gareth Wilson 05.09.13 at 8:41 pm

IQ tests clearly measure something important, and whatever that is has a significant heritability. It might be better if we didn’t call this “intelligence”, since that concept has so many other inappropriate connotations. If you pick the five “smartest” people in human history, it’s not clear what relationship IQ test results have to their smartness. The Army uses “trainability” – they don’t claim to be finding geniuses, just people really easy to train.


Bruce Baugh 05.09.13 at 8:57 pm

Anderson: In the Keynes thread, I was tempted to suggest that ethics in general – having a thought-out system of ethics, rather than just adhering to whatever’s conventional in one’s society – is and always has been, if not aristocratic, then elitist, in the strict sense of peculiar to an elite. But look at how many labor and working-class movements have included self-improvement and study groups of many different kinds, in addition to study groups working on the same kinds of questions in the context of a shared church or whatever. Lots of people want to know not just what the right thing to do is but why it’s right, how you know it’s right, and the like. It’s one of the things that the right wing tries to tear down access to with its cuts at the lower ranks of post-secondary education, so that community colleges can’t provide a haven for people with those concerns.


Jerry Vinokurov 05.09.13 at 9:04 pm

Jim Buck: it’s Cosma Shalizi, actually.


Todd Gitlin 05.09.13 at 9:11 pm

Very stimulating, CR. A minor note about N. & Plato, derived chiefly from John Richardson’s readings of N. N.’s loathing for Plato is the foundation of his loathing for Christianity, which is premised on both Plato’s and Christianity’s radical, unbridgeable separation between the here and the there, the earthly & the heavenly. Still, dialectically, he also honors the ascetic priests (even them!) for what they achieved as value-bringers. (I agree with John Halasz at 43.) This said, there’s possibly a third way of framing the possibilities of w-to-p besides fascism & unbridled capitalism. It was a democratization of N. articulated by Rorty, basically reducing to this: Keep your w-to-p in your imagination & in the imagination of others; keep it to culture, in other words, where it’s enlivening, rather than politics, where it becomes monstrous. I’m not so sure this washes, but it’s at least a suggestion of where to look for a dialectical Aufhebung for the Nietzschean left.


Todd Gitlin 05.09.13 at 9:13 pm

Sorry, obviously (above) I don’t know how to manage my italics.


Anderson 05.09.13 at 9:17 pm

47: “lots of people,” I think, in that it’s a big planet, so 1%-2% = lots. But I may be mistaken.

45: Leiter’s book is good all right, but his denial of N’s having a “political philosophy” (1) relies on defining that term as “a theory of the state and its legitimacy” (at 296) and (2) doesn’t address whether N has a *politics*.

Citing N’s contempt for “the state” and then defining political philosophy as a theory of the state is … well, it’s a bit much for Leiter to toss off in an afterword, let’s just say that.

(The US’s Republican Party has no coherent theory of the state, or coherent theory of anything really, but they are quite political.)


Bruce Baugh 05.09.13 at 9:28 pm

Anderson: Well, sure. The thing is that where there’s an opportunity for study of ethics, along with other generally elite-monopolized topics, working-class people show up to take advantage of it. The major limiting factor seems to be the opportunity.


Aaron Baker 05.09.13 at 9:33 pm



Jean Curthoys 05.09.13 at 9:55 pm

I think you are all underestimating just what a knock out this article is. Although I’ve been convinced for ages that Hayek was no democrat – he says as much himself, though his followers don’t take that seriously – no one, as far as I know, has identified a deeper link between fascism and neo-liberalism than is apparent in the disregard of democratic principles which enabled Friedman and Hayek to co-operate with Pinochet. Nor has the fact that neo-liberalism emerged out of fin-de-siecle Vienna been more than noted by historians of these ideas. This a truly major piece of work. Congratulations!


jonnybutter2 05.09.13 at 10:12 pm

“Plato was essentially a poet—the truth and splendor of his imagery, and the melody of his language, are the most intense that it is possible to conceive…”

whew. Thanks for the incisive Shelly quote. I thought the same thing when I read ‘Republic’ and it’s nice to hear someone else say it. You get the distinct idea in ‘Republic’ that some of Plato’s belittlement of ‘poets’ has to do with his sense of competition with them.


rootless (@root_e) 05.09.13 at 10:25 pm

Why not bring in Henry Grattan and Flood and Demosthenes and
Edmund Burke?


Matt 05.09.13 at 10:50 pm

People interested in Nietzsche and politics could do much, much worse than to read Tamsin Shaw’s very interesting (and pretty short) book _Nietzsche’s Political Skepticism_.


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 10:54 pm


IQ per se is clearly mostly heritable, within the context of developed capitalist societies. I think estimates for heritability are around 70-75%, which means that differences between people within a group are going to be mostly genetic in origin. That said, it isn’t necessarily true that IQ differences between ethnic groups are genetic in origin. they could be largely due to epigenetic effects of nutrition, disease, etc. which might be overcome over several generations. The ‘IQ differences between races are genetic’ claim looks convincing at first glance, but thre are some very serious problems with the hypothesis on closer examination. I’d go for the Epigenetic explanation myself, rather than the genetic one.

It’s of course true that the debate about how much differences between groups are due to genetics, epigenetic effects, culture, environment, etc. is a topic of hot debate, and I don’t think it’s one where ‘race realist’ voices are particularly censored, at least in scientific circles.


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 10:57 pm

Dr. Hilarious,

I do think its a big problem that we treat intelligence as an index of human worth. It’s a arbitrary trait like height, with similar heritability, and doesn’t really have a moral component.


rootless (@root_e) 05.09.13 at 10:59 pm

“IQ per se is clearly mostly heritable, within the context of developed capitalist societies.”

Money is clearly heritable within the context of developed capitalist societies too, oddly enough.

@anderson 52
“The US’s Republican Party has no coherent theory of the state, or coherent theory of anything really, but they are quite political.)”

On the contrary, they have an exceptionally coherent theory of the state but are spectacularly dishonest about it.


Anderson 05.09.13 at 11:00 pm

55: that does look very worthwhile. Thanks for the tip!


Corey Robin 05.09.13 at 11:24 pm

55 and 59: I haven’t read Tamsin’s book but it is supposed to be fantastic. On my summer reading list.


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 11:29 pm

Re: Money is clearly heritable within the context of developed capitalist societies too, oddly enough.

I don’t think so. “Inherited” isn’t the same thing as ‘heritable’. (Some traits that may influence your ability to make a lot of money, like aggression, high IQ, low altruism, sociopathy, might be partly heritable though).


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 11:31 pm

I mentioned ‘developed capitalist’ environments because heritability is environment specific, and depends on the range of genetic variation as well as the range of environmental variation. So it’s necessary to somewhat specify what kind of society we’re talking about.


Christofer Pierson 05.09.13 at 11:31 pm

Corey Robin, I really enjoyed reading your Nation piece, as well as this one. I learned a lot from both. Hoping this will form the basis for a book, which I look forward to reading–despite the high nausea quotient contact with libertarian thought instills. Regardless of how they strike one viscerally, at least they grapple with the elemental stuff of modern economics and politics in a way few other persuasions of political thought do any more. You’ve done us a real service getting down into the dirt and grappling with their thinking yourself.


Bruce Wilder 05.09.13 at 11:41 pm

Inheriting a lot of money increases the likelihood that a person will make a lot of money.


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 11:45 pm

Re: Inheriting a lot of money increases the likelihood that a person will make a lot of money.

Yes. That’s not what ‘heritable’ means.


rootless (@root_e) 05.09.13 at 11:50 pm

“Yes. That’s not what ‘heritable’ means.”

Much effort is invested attempting to disguise a racially stratified class system as a meritocracy


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 11:52 pm

Although some recent evidence suggests that heritability of IQ is lower than I mentioned above, more in the range of 50%, and that prenatal environment might account for a good portion of why twins reared apart have similar IQ.


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 11:53 pm

This suggests only about 50% heritability as well:


Hector_St_Clare 05.09.13 at 11:55 pm

Re: Much effort is invested attempting to disguise a racially stratified class system as a meritocracy

Uh, where did I ever suggest that the American class system was meritocratic?

Wealth and income (or the ability to acquire it) are clearly very largely *inherited*, that doesn’t have anything to do with their *heritability*.


Bruce Wilder 05.10.13 at 12:08 am

That’s not what ‘heritable’ means.

heritable = “capable of being inherited or of passing by inheritance”

Great wealth is how most people, who make a lot of money, make a lot of money, and wealth can pass from one to another by inheritance.

It may not be what you want ‘heritable’ to mean; far be it from me to inhibit your philosophizing.


Hector_St_Clare 05.10.13 at 12:18 am

“The heritability of a trait within a population is the proportion of observable differences in a trait between individuals within a population that is due to genetic differences.”

This isn’t totally correct, because you can have heritable changes in gene expression (epigenetic effects) that ‘look’ heritable without actually being genetic. And of course, a problem with estimating heritability from adoption studies is that you aren’t controlling the prenatal environment (which is probably the aspect of ‘environment’ that’s most important). Still, estimation of heritability is supposed to work by factoring out what we normally think of as ‘environmental’ effects, like how you’re raised, family circumstances, etc.

So, for example, *how religious you are* is a partly heritable trait (around 50%, iirc) but *what religion you subscribe to* isn’t, as far as we know (though there probably is some hereditary component to that too: it’s quite possible that certain psychological personality types are more drawn to, say, Unitarianism than others).


Gareth Wilson 05.10.13 at 12:30 am

I don’t believe that identical twins usually inherit more similar amounts of money than fraternal twins. But they really are more similar in IQ scores. That’s where the definition of heritability matters.


rootless (@root_e) 05.10.13 at 12:52 am

People cite these weak and contradictory studies of whatever it is such tests measure as if they were like unto Galileo’s investigations of gravity. But they are akin to phrenology more than physics.


Bruce Baugh 05.10.13 at 1:39 am

Remember: people with unusual whatever-it-is-that-IQ-tests-measure are benefitting from great genetics and are blessed by the God in the double helix, but people with unusual gender identities, targets of romantic love, and the like are all just sinners to be beaten until they reform. This is the whole of the conservative movement law and the prophets.


The Raven 05.10.13 at 1:46 am

oh, dear. IQ discussion. kraw.

Oh, well. Prof. Robin I love your article and think it is a wonderful contribution to understanding the history of the modern ideology of aristocracy. I am constantly astonished at how it is that men—it is mostly men—who are not to the manner born feel themselves so threatened by the liberation of the people who do the work, and so much love some aristocratic ideal, when the real aristocrats of their time and place invariably treat them as at best convenient ornaments. I can understand being terrified by the violence and chaos of 19th-century revolution, but must one therefore espouse an inhuman ideal of order and subservience? I went through your article, looked up the names of the major thinkers you cite, and found that only one of them, Friedrich von Wieser, could claim to be anything more than hedge nobility. Most of them were not even that; children at best of the wealthy, more usually children of the middle class—but none working class, I suppose not surprisingly. Why then this stirring defense of aristocracy, albeit a new sort of aristocracy? I’ve been watching the modern libertarian rank and file for decades, and asking myself the same questions about them and I think you have provided part of an answer. Thank you.


Bruce Wilder 05.10.13 at 2:20 am

This isn’t totally correct

Ya think? Wikipedia is wrong?!? Say it isn’t so!

heritable ≠ genetic

You clearly know enough about the subject to recognize that much. So, why are you arguing a point you know is pure rubbish?


Lee A. Arnold 05.10.13 at 2:51 am

I always think Nietzche was a first-rate basket case, or now perhaps second-rate to Hayek, considering the remarkable Hayek quote in Corey Robin’s piece: “However important the independent owner of property may be for the economic order of a free society, his importance is perhaps even greater in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs.” –Whoo, boy! That was written in the 20th century, people!

But I wish to point out, in Nietzsche’s defense only, that the history of slave revolts never showed much to recommend them in the Cultural Improvements department. Indeed, the recent American revolt (Jefferson: “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government”) was, at least in Tocqueville’s judicious recent report back to Europe (2 vols.), not really much of a shining demonstration either — at least in the Arts department. And of course the contemporary U.S. civil war was nothing so much as a shocking modernization of bloodletting, and you (the 19th century you) might brood on its omen of the “total war” that would soon be possible.

On the other hand, I simply am not as despondent about the current looks of things. Corey writes at the end, “Nietzschean economics won the war.” No, not yet. That is the assertion that you need to prove, and “difficult to escape the conclusion” doesn’t cut it.

I’m guessing that the welfare state will win the war, considering the fact that the libertarian GOP continues to avoid administering the death-blow (because they know it is suicidal) and so they are trying to get the neoliberal Dems to do the deed. What nonsense. Even the neoliberal Dems always have to face the next election. First, you would need to change the opinion of the slave masses. The Great and the Good, hoping to retain their importance “in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs” (my favorite quote today) may try to dominate the debate by buying-up more newspapers and printing propaganda (see the Koch Bros: but maybe they just want to keep the print editions going, to cut down more trees). Yet somehow I think that isn’t going to work, any more. The only way for the welfare state to lose is if U.S. academicians continue to persist in the delusion that it is already lost.


rootless (@root_e) 05.10.13 at 2:56 am

It’s interesting that Hayek came along with a nicely crafted european ideology that was so compatible with confederate thinking.


QS 05.10.13 at 2:56 am

This has been sitting on my brain during the day, so I’ll rephrase my prior post as a question: why should we put read the marginalists alongside Nietzsche rather than Matthew Arnold or other English aristocrats who passed similar judgments?

Not a rhetorical question, I’m hoping to learn a little more about your selection of Nietzsche.


Hector_St_Clare 05.10.13 at 3:08 am

Bruce Wilder,

Heritable =/= inherited either.

The, uh, Shalizi person linked to earlier actually has some interesting stuff to say (after a quick googling) and it seems like the better estimates of heritable are lower than we thought, closer to 50% than 80%. (Which isn’t to say that ‘culture’ explains the rest, a lot of it seems to be maternal effects, which I’m surprised they didn’t take into account). there are enough legitimate points one could make, without resorting to silly arguments like ‘wealth is heritable too.’


bad Jim 05.10.13 at 4:22 am

* One of the Timbers noted that one’s accent is inherited.

* Stalin: “The writer is the engineer of the human soul.”

Hayek’s celebration of aristocrats and the inheritors of wealth stuck in my craw. Despite their extensive education, elevated tastes and leisure, they almost never create anything. A few, on rare occasions, have provided support to education and the arts, but in general their sensibilities have been comparable to those of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. Most geniuses, by contrast, had parents who worked for a living.

(I’m also peeved by claims that the artists of the past were inspired by religion, when it’s clear that they were ‘inspired’ by wealthy patrons no matter what the subject. An Annunciation? You got it. Naked ladies? We can do that too. A portrait? There’s an extra charge for hands. Samuel Johnson’s observation that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” is somewhat generalizable.)


Peter T 05.10.13 at 4:32 am

bad Jim

Dominic Lieven noted the many contributions of the Russian aristocracy (music, writing, geology and much more). It may have helped that most of them were poor.

Benjamin Disraeli wrote a whole book on the sad fates of impoverished authors and, indeed, the starving artist is a stock figure. If they wrote for money they were often sadly deceived.


Mitchell Freedman 05.10.13 at 4:32 am

If I get Corey right, he is saying: Nietzsche, Hayek, Schmitt all hated labor unions and socialism, especially the democratic kind as it would most effectively undermine the authority of the aristocrat. That’s why libertarians are so enamored with Nietzsche even when they should not be.

Corey as usual is getting to the id of the right wing mind, and that includes the business libertarians who think they are getting “the Man” when they cross a picket line.

I’m partially with Josh G in purging ourselves of the silliness that is so much “philosophy.” I am more of a public policy sorta guy, in the sense that I need empirical data, argument about the limits and scope of the data, and view that we pass laws to see how they perform and we reform as often as we can in response to new situations that arise from the laws. And that we do this with as much transparency as possible where as many people can vote as possible. I am not sure what I learn from Nietzsche and I also discern the elitist cant that lurks deep in the heart of Plato.

Maybe I’m just a cretin, but I get awfully tired of people who tell me about their principles, and use those principles to make ordinary people, often starting with women, suffer. Fuh-geda-boudit is how I see that sort of person….Give me Daniel Bell and Michael Harrington any day over every single one of the philosophers mentioned in Corey’s article. Any day.


john c. halasz 05.10.13 at 5:56 am

Well, having labored through CR’s lengthy screed, all I can say is that the attempt to connect the “Austrians” to Nietzsche is thoroughly unpersuasive. The most that could be said is that there are currents of late 19th century thought/culture that influence N. and that he riffs upon, materialism, psychologism, positivism, aestheticism, etc. and that traces of those concerns can be found in the “Austrian” economists, albeit much differently configured. And then there is CR’s bugbear “aristocraticism” which is supposed to cement the connection, when aside from there being widely variable accounts of the appeal to individualism in the face of the declining “authority” of traditional aristocratic regimes and their “religious” bases, scarcely bears the same meaning or valency in the two quite different bodies of thinking.

Of course, “aristocracy”, aside from the aping of mores by the emergent bourgeoisie, means etymologically “the power of the best”. And who wouldn’t want to be ruled by the more intelligent and more educated and knowledgeable, rather than the stupidest and most ignorant? But then who’s to say who or what intelligence and knowledge and education consist in?

There is a widespread tendency on the tubz to denounce the current crisis and impasse of corporate neo-liberalism as the advent of “neo-feudalism”. Especially by those who were ideologically entangled in it and failed to see its crisis coming. CR seems to be just indulging that trope: von Hayek and Nietzsche converge into “Madmen”.

On the other hand, the book referenced in @58 seems to get closer to the mark on Nietzsche than the CR can manage. From the Amazon blurb:

” Shaw argues that the modern political predicament, for Nietzsche, is shaped by two important historical phenomena. The first is secularization, or the erosion of religious belief, and the fragmentation of moral life that it entails. The second is the unparalleled ideological power of the modern state. The promotion of Nietzsche’s own values, Shaw insists, requires resistance to state ideology. But Nietzsche cannot envisage how these values might themselves provide a stable basis for political authority; this is because secular societies, lacking recognized normative expertise, also lack a reliable mechanism for making moral insight politically effective.

In grappling with this predicament, Shaw claims, Nietzsche raises profound questions about political legitimacy and political authority in the modern world.”

That at least gets at some of the animating concerns of the various and sundry conservative and reactionary thinkers that CR wants to lump together as merely selfishly defending “private” hierarchies against the overwhelming triumphant tide of democratic egalitarianism, no doubt culminating, Fukuyama-style, in the perfect Eden of “liberal democracy”. It was the eroding credibility of any traditional basis of authority, partly, if not exclusively, based on religion, amidst a continuing need for some basis for maintaining social order that underwrote their appeals for “desperate measures”. And, indeed, there is no foundational basis for “authority”, (and external authority is always more than a bit of a sham), even as the need for authority to underwrite social order and endeavor can’t be entirely dispensed with. It’s a point that CR, despite his assiduous citational abilities, doesn’t seem to have grasped.

But then Nietzsche, with his prophesy of “European nihilism” is rather the odd man out from that problematic, with his appeal to the self-overcoming of “man” in the Uebermensch, (cf. the transcendental ego), and it’s entirely ambiguous as to whether his unmasking of morality as a means of domination is an species of Enlightenment or Counter-Enlightenment criticism. But it’s at least clear that he is less of a political thinker than an anti-political thinker, (though, if one insists on the political, then the latter must be a political stance too, as exemplified by his innumerable progeny amongst the German mandarin bourgeoisie). And it should be at least as clear that he can’t be plugged in to do ideological service, even as he makes signal contributions to the detection of ideological operations.

But when Stephen Dedalus, a fictional character, declares his vocation as to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race, there one can detect Nietzsche, perhaps an equally fictitious character.


Hector_St_Clare 05.10.13 at 6:18 am

I think the stuff about Plato is silly. there’s nothing necessarily ‘right wing’ about elitism, per se. Left wing elitism = vanguard theory.

You can get to communism from Plato as easily as you can get to Leo Straus.


b9n10nt 05.10.13 at 6:24 am

Mitchell Freedman @ 86: “Maybe I’m just a cretin,…”

I have a similar reaction, but Corey’s article sparks a desire to investigate my principles and their potential to impose limitations on human development if they were to be adopted. Okay, that’s a ridiculous sentence for too many reasons, which builds on your perspective. However, it’s not as if one escapes the struggle to seek and proclaim the Good by adopting an empirical, consequentialist platform upon which to pursue public policy.

The Raven @78: “Why then this stirring defense of aristocracy, albeit a new sort of aristocracy?”

These are god-like humans who produce Beauty and all that is of the highest value. Otherwise, what’s the point? It seems like Nietzsche is echoed among the right today who look at the lower-middle classes of Western Europe with discomfort: they do not struggle, they watch their football, they are satiated but do not Live . And if God is Dead, if there is no interior to one’s experience beyond a meagre ration of serotonin from cradle to grave, etc…what of value is there to Civilization?

This is how I can best understand where the dude is coming from. Surely some modern pharmaceuticals would’ve calmed the poor man down.

bad Jim @ 84: “Despite their extensive education, elevated tastes and leisure, they almost never create anything.”

Take away the patrons of Vienna and you do not have a Beethoven. Here is, after all, a perfect Superman: proclaiming, defining, discovering aesthetic Truth. (Yes, the artist himself wasn’t a Lord and ironically the dilettante composer Nietzsche knew the role of the ascendent bourgeoisie in the flowering of concert music in his age. But art music was the hobby of the Elite, whom the bourgeoisie aped).

Same point could be made of Science, with Priestly playing the role of Beethoven: a middle-class genius whose personal and social struggles conform well to N.’s ideal of will to power.

But I don’t know. Am I talking rubbish?


Peter Murphy 05.10.13 at 7:01 am

However important the independent owner of property may be for the economic order of a free society, his importance is perhaps even greater in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs.

I can’t help think of the poetry of Gina Rinehart.


Kenneth Ferland 05.10.13 at 7:50 am

I would not call N anti-socialist, but rather anti-Marxist and Anti-Bolshevik simply because the latter two subsume the individual will under a class-struggle and party-leader respectively. Many self proclaimed socialists today would say that Marxism and especially Bolshevism were corruptions of socialism as it had been defined and understood up too that time, and I do not find any clear denunciation of “Socialism” which did exist as a separate idea and term at the time in any of his writings.

N shows as much if not more hostility towards the church, nationalism and the hyper-nationalism that ultimately grew to become fascism. Their is hardly an ism that N dose not condemn, some get more ink then others that’s all.

My general impression was that liberals generally hold Neitzche in high esteem because the type of individual that he holds up as the ideal, the poet, artist, philosopher types are unabashedly liberal in modern political discourse. Conversely the folks N condemns are the stock-villians of liberalism, church and fascists.

Modern American Libertarianism with its free-market fundamentalism strikes me more as an inversion of Soviet Marxism. All the Marxist values are reversed so that the capitalist is the savior/producer and the workers the villains/parasites. In a Neitzche interpretation this would be the master-slave value inversion in which the slave rather then creating original values simply inverts the values of his master (and poisons it with resentment). Ayn Rand and her family were of course victims of the Soviet Union so this all fits together rather nicely.

Note that this dose not invalidate any argument that Communist was itself originally just such a master-slave value inversion full of it’s own resentments, but the fact was it was the controlling ideology in Rands early life and in the position to be the ‘Master’ for a second inversion. Both could easily be slave morality and by N standards worthy of equal contempt.


bad Jim 05.10.13 at 7:53 am

Poor Schubert, who unlike Beethoven and Brahms was actually Viennese, couldn’t get anyone else to play his music; his last symphony was discovered and performed by the bourgeois Germans Schumann and Mendelssohn. Haydn was another who started out as an undernourished boy chorister from a humble family.

Priestly made the acquaintance of Franklin and used his connections to publicize the latter’s speculations on the nature of electricity. When his unitarianism and support of the French Revolution led a mob to burn his church and home he took refuge in the United States which at the time was quite congenial to that heresy.

Gauss and Faraday seem to have come out of nowhere, as did most painters of note. Mozart, Beethoven and Ives came from musical families. I think Brahms claimed to have grown up playing the piano in whorehouses, but it’s hard to believe that wasn’t a joke; he seems to have been an average insecure middle-class kid, showing up on Schumann’s doorstep, being told by one of the girls “Daddy’s not home”, coming back later, and doting on them forever after.


bad Jim 05.10.13 at 8:43 am

It’s beyond dispute that universal primary education has provided us with more supermen than the time-honored practice of aristocratic inbreeding, and it’s no mystery why this should be the case.


Dr. Hilarius 05.10.13 at 9:37 am

Inbreeding depression isn’t just a state of mind.


Mao Cheng Ji 05.10.13 at 9:54 am

“Ayn Rand and her family were of course victims of the Soviet Union”

Is it ‘of course’ or ‘arguably’? I got the impression that she, actually, greatly benefited, and her sister later refused to emigrate.


Anderson 05.10.13 at 11:38 am

“I would not call N anti-socialist”

See part 2 of “Beyond Good and Evil.”


Robert 05.10.13 at 3:10 pm

“However important the independent owner of property may be for the economic order of a free society, his importance is perhaps even greater in the fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs.” — Hayek

Hayek should know. Neoliberalism was promoted through the funding of reactionary multimillionaires. I refer to various think-tanks extending back into the 1950s, the Mont Pelerin Society, and even salaries and research projects at “respected” universities. Hayek was central in separating these fools from (some) of their money.

I’d like to think this swing to the right had more behind it than just that. One can tell a complicated story, consistent with historical materialism, about why the US and the UK were receptive to these ideas in the 1970s. I would not like the story to be solely a matter of the propaganda efforts I mention above.


Samuel Vriezen 05.10.13 at 3:14 pm

Mr. Robin, thank you for a great read about a subject I’ve often wondered about.

Indeed, why Nietzsche all the time in right-wing narratives? When at the same time, Nietzsche has so often been propped up as some kind of forebear in much more credibly emancipatory political philosophies and theories (his poststructuralist guises and beyond). This piece did leave me in the end with a very similar question, which I might phrase like this: I find the idea that some sort of translation, transformation or “elective affinity” from Nietzsche to Hayek can be traced very credible but it wouldn’t seem to establish isomorphism between those lines of thought. The process seems not to be without remainder. So I’m now wondering, what would the chances be that a radically left, emancipatory re-reading of Nietzsche might be used in some sort of deconstruction of Hayek and the whole radical project he is associated with? Might it be possible to open up a space to defeat that type of right on its own ground?


Anarcissie 05.10.13 at 4:03 pm

I have to confess that I read Nietzsche only for the poetry. No doubt his many contradictory ideas, self-contradictory ideas, can be selected, carved and beaten into one system or another, but that is for someone else to do; I prefer to take the sublime and the absurd together in their original mixture. I think of his work as a ‘corrosive’ in the sense used by William Blake.[1]

‘Aristocracy’ is one of those self-contradictory ideas. Obviously the aristocrat is not made such only by his own character and effort in some kind of vacuum, but by the submission of others and the recognition of his fellows and superiors. The aristocrat is not an example of individuality but is an excrescence of community. Just so, capitalists are created by the submission of a working class and the recognition of markets — rule-based, state-protected, multitude-populated markets — upon which they are utterly dependent. The living experience of individuality belongs not to aristocrats and capitalists but, after the end of primordial hunter-gatherer life, only to those who are rejected or drop out into the margins of the state. (Although some individuals commute for business purposes.)

So it’s rather interesting to see the false notion of heroic self-made aristocracy cropping up among the weeds of the libertarian mental garden, which I somehow missed in earlier less-than-attentive readings of dreary Mises and dreary Hayek. I’m reminded that that patriarch of liberalism Thomas Jefferson spoke of a ‘natural aristocracy’ when he wasn’t talking about all White men of property being created equal. I don’t know if we can blame it on Nietzsche, though.

[1] ‘… this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid. If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’


Jacob McM 05.10.13 at 11:09 pm


“But then Nietzsche, with his prophesy of “European nihilism” is rather the odd man out from that problematic, with his appeal to the self-overcoming of “man” in the Uebermensch, (cf. the transcendental ego), and it’s entirely ambiguous as to whether his unmasking of morality as a means of domination is an species of Enlightenment or Counter-Enlightenment criticism. But it’s at least clear that he is less of a political thinker than an anti-political thinker, (though, if one insists on the political, then the latter must be a political stance too, as exemplified by his innumerable progeny amongst the German mandarin bourgeoisie).”

Nietzsche makes it rather clear what he thinks of the Enlightenment in his later works when he proclaims the need for a “Counter-Enlightenment” (Gegenaufklaerung), which I believe he coined, and says something to the effect of “We Good Europeans declare war on the Eighteenth Century.”

Now I know people like to cite his admiration of Voltaire to counter this, but it needs to be borne in mind that 1) Nietzsche considered Voltaire to belong to the seventeenth century in spirit, thus separating him from the eighteenth century Enlightenment which he attacked and 2) the aspects of Voltaire that he emphasized were, unsurprisingly, his more elitist inclinations, such as V’s hostility to mass education and democracy, both of which Nietzsche shared.

Furthermore, Nietzsche makes it explicit the “self-overcoming” is destined only for a small elite. These are the people who will use their creative will to forge a “new morality” to replace the decrepit “slave morality” which he despises, and so shape the values of Europe in a way similar to how Christ shaped them for the previous 2000 years. He also makes it clear throughout his work, and Corey highlights some of these examples, that he believes hierarchy and domination are necessary for the flourishing of high culture. He is unyielding on this point.


floopmeister 05.11.13 at 12:55 am

90: I can’t help think of the poetry of Gina Rinehart

One of the editorials of the Victorian Writer’s Centre demolishes her ‘poetry’ – beautiful stuff (but can’t find a link as I think it’s only in print).

It then ends by revoking her poetic licence.


floopmeister 05.11.13 at 1:02 am

Regarding the casting out of dubious philosophers into the outer darkness…

I found that reading Nietzsche (‘Beyond Good and Evil’ and ‘Ecce Homo’ in particular) were the biggest help I had in facing the cancer that I went through about three years ago.

I survived it (I was lucky – touch wood) but there was nothing else that spoke to me about acceptance like his work. He was as mad as a hatter IMHO, but his insights that spoke to me in that pretty dark period were no less valuable for that.

The undergraduate Randroids don’t know the Nietzsche I do – and their particular take on him is their own shallow business.


Lawrence Stuart 05.11.13 at 2:57 am

Two points, if I may … The first regarding the essay, the second about Nietzsche in general.

I thought it very clever to invoke Nietzsche not as an influence, but as a diagnostician. Well, OK, that’s me thinking wishfully. You actually framed it as a ‘less than’ proposition. But I think the Nietzsche you invoke is the rather tedious advocate of the heroic in culture and politics. And that tedious Nietzsche compromises the utility of using a different reading of Nietzsche (about which more in a minute) in a more muscular diagnostic role.

But fair enough, the tedious stuff is all in there, and the link you make between that Nietzsche’s heroic Weltanschauung and the Vienna School is both plausible and gratifying, somehow. Having said that, I wish you would have drawn out the irony of the Austrians using the market as a source of heroic morality (hell, you could invoke Strauss for that!). But Nietzsche as diagnostician of bourgeois hubris, in fact Nieztsche as diagnostician of hubris per se (including, I would add, his own) is in crucial respects a different creature from the one you summon.

Your heroic Nietzsche is the inverter of platonism: the last metaphysician. And I’d argue that your Austrians are also saltimbanques of a sort, their trick being to render the lowly act of consumption a high ‘theater of self-disclosure, the stage upon which we discover and reveal our ultimate ends,’ as you put it so well.

The Nietzsche I’d invoke as counterpoint emerges from the sixth thesis that announces the final chapter in the history of metaphysics (from, of course, Twilight of the Idols):

6. The true world—we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.

(Noon; moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.)

Along with the ‘real’ world of slavish metaphysics, we have also abolished the ‘apparent’ world of noble heroism. We are left with — the world as a fable. Of this, much could be said.* But suffice it to say here, both the heroic Nietzsche and his marginal children stand accused of living in the apparent world, a world that is a function of history as the history of an error. As muscular diagnostician, Nietzsche points to the error of metaphysical inversion — in the shadowless light of noon the ragged tricks of the market saltimbanques look pretty nasty indeed.

*For e.g., Lacoue-Labarthe here:


praymont 05.11.13 at 4:31 am

In 1895, Rosa Mayreder wrote a short story in which she lampooned the Viennese Nietzsche cult (but not Nietzsche). The story’s called “Der Klub der Ãœbermenschen” and was published, I believe, in Neuen Deutschen Rundschau. I don’t think the story has been translated into English, but I wish it had been. In a brief summary of the story, Franz zu Solms-Laubach says that Mayreder satirizes “… the petty bourgeois clientele that forged this [Nietzsche] cult to give some deeper meaning to their mundane lives and to justify any immoral act they might want to commit.” (Franz zu Solms-Laubach, Nietzsche and Early German and Austrian Sociology [1991] p. 197)


praymont 05.11.13 at 5:17 am

Now I really wish this Mayreder tale was available in English. In her 1990 dissertation on Mayreder, Kay Lewis Mittnik says that “Der Klub der Ãœbermenschen” focuses on “the pseudo-Nietzschean, petty-bourgeois dictator Ferdinand Renitz”, who leads a group of adolescent, wannabe-Ãœbermensch students. One of their tenets is, “Everyone has as much as he can.” Mittnik says that in this story, Mayreder targets “the psychological manipulation by the strong of the weak and the weak’s blind cooperation in their own deception and betrayal.” (Kay Lewis Mittnik, Rosa Mayreder and a case of “Austrian fate” [1990] p. 185) Mittnik’s dissertation is at


boo 05.11.13 at 5:18 am

1) The first piece of evidence you give for Nietzsche’s connection with libertarians are the Liberty magazine polls about it’s reader’s intellectual influences.

According to those polls, about 65-75% of the poll respondents are atheists. Nietzsche is one of the leading philosophers of atheism. Have you considered that the reason some Liberty magazine readers like Nietzsche is because of their atheism rather than their political beliefs?

2) If you were to look past atheism, the main commonality between libertarians and Nietzsche is their admiration of heroic individualism: Zarathustra and John Galt. Yet at the very beginning of your essay you dismiss the idea that libertarianism is a philosophy of individualism:

The theory does not imagine a shift from government to the individual, as is often claimed by conservatives; nor does it imagine a simple shift from the state to the market or from society to the atomized self, as is sometimes claimed by the left.

Now maybe you think this, but it certainly isn’t how libertarians think of themselves, especially not those influenced more by Rand more than by Hayek (which would be most of them.)

These seem like the two simplest explanations of what connection, if any, exists between libertarianism and Nietzsche.

But it seems like your essay is an exercise in applying Occams butterknife, ignoring the simplest explanation in favor of the most convoluted and implausible.


philofra 05.11.13 at 11:09 am

Nietzsche hated democracy, capitalism, modernity and the equality of women. Then, might he not be today ‘Nietzsche the Taliban’?


Steve J. 05.12.13 at 6:22 am

Conservatives of all kinds. . . from C.S Lewis to Ayn Rand. . . take Aristotle’s word as final on every topic imaginable, and Aristotelean “reasoning” underlies everything from creationism to bell curve style nonsense to “natural law” arguments against gay marriage.

I’ve also noticed this and I’d add Victor Davis Hanson & Harvey C. Mansfield to your list.


Anon 05.12.13 at 4:36 pm

Is this what the piece is saying: Nietzsche hated labor movements because they represented a shift to a society in which there would no longer be labor-free individuals that could spontaneously create art for no other reason than to simply produce it for its own sake, to truly create and advance culture, and these economic theorists come along and feel sympathy with this threat insofar as they are afraid of a horrifying value-leveling socialism/communism, but they instead try to force a kind of horrifying synthesis of Nietzsche’s vision with a vision of society still organized around labor, essentially giving up on the idea that we can have such free individuals in our future society (and so giving up on Nietzsche’s true concern to allow for creative philosopher/artist types to create values and redeem the suffering of life through such free creation, Nietzsche’s answer to restoring meaning to life), and instead try to force the same type of individual in as a kind of king of labor society, someone on top who is so wealthy that their decisions to act have such little economic significance that they can simply “create” whatever values they want in accordance with their decisions because they aren’t forced into the choices that regular people have to make between ex. going to basketball camp or taking art classes (the more ordinary choices that reflect a person’s values by forcing their hand to choose), but these decisions are still tied up with the labor system and so end up looking like the kinds of ultimately shallow frivolous “art”/fancy nonsense (hence the scare-quotes around create) that sets the standards for all only by representing the desired items of future consumption for all (if you can just get rich enough!) and so we have a kind of horrifying labor-aristocracy that not only fails to be the kind of free creators Nietzsche envisions but, in its efforts to resemble such a class, entirely perverts and corrupts the possibility of such a group by replacing them with these horrifying doppelgangers, and society is left feeling an intense existential void by having even its highest values dictated in accordance with a system of consumerism. Nietzsche is rolling over in his grave!


Strobe Fischbyne 05.12.13 at 11:34 pm

Jennifer Burns’ outstanding biography of Ayn Rand would help you hone your thesis. Burns notes that it was Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken who first appropriated the term “libertarian,” likely from European anarchists. Of course both men were Nietzsche devotees, but were fatalists in contrast to the activist bent of Rand. They were also true intellectuals, as opposed to Rand, who once said something like, “Who cares about who wrote what and who influenced whom?” Rand believed in her own individualism to such a degree that she was reluctant to acknowledge her intellectual debts to anyone, including Nietzsche. While Rand hagiographies say Rand experienced nothing more than a “Nietszchean phase,” Burns argues that this phase lasted her whole career, buttressed by readings of other writers influenced by Nietzsche, such as Mencken.

Nietzsche’s ubermensch are the great artists and scholars of history, but readers like Rand believe he is talking about them. Burn notes that Rand entirely missed Nietzsche’s anti-foundationalism.
She also discusses Rand’s relationshipswith Hayek and Mises.

That said, I agree with Kauffman that Nietzsche is anti-political. For Nietzsche, liberation is psychic and intellectual. He hated socialists, yes, but there is also nothing indicating he looked to industrialized capitalism as the framework for the ubermensch to thrive. Today’s libertarian Nietzsche is adulterated.


Josh G. 05.13.13 at 12:26 am

Anon @ 109: “Is this what the piece is saying: Nietzsche hated labor movements because they represented a shift to a society in which there would no longer be labor-free individuals that could spontaneously create art for no other reason than to simply produce it for its own sake, to truly create and advance culture

It seems to me that the most effective way to actually create a society like that would be to institute a universal basic income. This might not have been possible in Nietzsche’s day (productivity was so much lower, and the need for labor consequently much higher) but it surely is possible now. Technologically possible, at least. The politics are a different story.


David 05.13.13 at 12:30 am

The problem, Josh G, being that the individual living in the Universal Basic Income society is not psychologically identical to (does not possess the aristocratic mindset, the pathos of distance) Nietzsche’s Free Spirt type.


Sam B 05.13.13 at 1:16 am

Prof. Robin:

Thank you for the article. I think the basic juxtaposition is thought-provoking, though I wish there were more of that Ye Olde Intellectual-Historical “Influence” in it. Would it be so difficult to turn up? Simply reminding us that these economists breathed the air of fin-de-siecle Vienna is salutary, and I think you are right that it is a corrective we need given the attention paid to the period, but I want more.

Something about the focus on decision, perhaps. You say that progressives see “dime-store morality” in the idea of demonstrating values through consumption, but it wouldn’t only be progressives: as you mention, Schmitt and those who see Decision-with-a-capital-D occurring only in the realm of Politics-with-a-capital-P would also oppose this attempt. Something happens in the slide from heroic Nietzschean “decision” to mundane marketplace “choice” that is of crucial importance. I think it’s worth trying to draw out — especially if you’re right that we should read Hayek as trying to obfuscate that transition and to actually identify the two, or to locate decision within “choice.”

I also think that, given your mention of Aschheim’s book on Nietzsche reception in Germany, you would do well to focus a little more on A’s point that almost everyone who takes inspiration from Nietzsche has to suppress something in order to make it work. The Nietzschean socialists just as much as the capitalists. A greater focus on those in the Nietzschean socialist camp, like Gustav Landauer, might bring out a truer and deeper contrast with the Nietzschean capitalists than can be found elsewhere.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Thanks again for the piece.


Patrick 05.13.13 at 4:20 am

@27 It is not anti-democratic to believe that democratic institutions require people who think “correctly” (for whatever correctness we may envision) to organize and advocate for their views in order to see them translated into law/policy/collective action/whatever.

In practice the biggest problem with democracy seems to be not that idiotic mobs will over-rule all good sense, but rather that elite groups, due to greater resources are often able to unjustly prioritize their own preferences and interests. And sure things like racist policies had/have public support, but they didn’t emerge from nowhere with no connection to any elite desires.

@107 Unlike the apparently dissimilar conservative groups that Corey Robin is often in the habit of linking under a broad tradition, historically plausible lines of connection linking N to the Taliban seem unlikely to emerge.

To my recollection N did not write much if anything on Islamic religion, but it is doubtful to me that he would have found a religion whose name literally means submission worthy of much praise.


Jacob McM 05.13.13 at 6:40 am

From The Antichrist:

If Islam despises Christianity, it has a thousandfold right to do so: Islam at least assumes that it is dealing with men….


Christianity destroyed for us the whole harvest of ancient civilization, and later it also destroyed for us the whole harvest of Mohammedan civilization. The wonderful culture of the Moors in Spain, which was fundamentally nearer to us and appealed more to our senses and tastes than that of Rome and Greece, was trampled down (—I do not say by what sort of feet—) Why? Because it had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin—because it said yes to life, even to the rare and refined luxuriousness of Moorish life!… The crusaders later made war on something before which it would have been more fitting for them to have grovelled in the dust—a civilization beside which even that of our nineteenth century seems very poor and very “senile.”—What they wanted, of course, was booty: the orient was rich…. Let us put aside our prejudices! The crusades were a higher form of piracy, nothing more! The German nobility, which is fundamentally a Viking nobility, was in its element there: the church knew only too well how the German nobility was to be won…. The German noble, always the “Swiss guard” of the church, always in the service of every bad instinct of the church—but well paid…. Consider the fact that it is precisely the aid of German swords and German blood and valour that has enabled the church to carry through its war to the death upon everything noble on earth! At this point a host of painful questions suggest themselves. The German nobility stands outside the history of the higher civilization: the reason is obvious…. Christianity, alcohol—the two great means of corruption…. Intrinsically there should be no more choice between Islam and Christianity than there is between an Arab and a Jew. The decision is already reached; nobody remains at liberty to choose here. Either a man is a Chandala or he is not…. “War to the knife with Rome! Peace and friendship with Islam!”: this was the feeling, this was the act, of that great free spirit, that genius among German emperors, Frederick II. What! must a German first be a genius, a free spirit, before he can feel decently? I can’t make out how a German could ever feel Christian….

On a side note, why would “submission” bother Nietzsche so long as exceptions were made for the elite? He most certainly believes that the masses should submit to that elite. You can see some examples of that in Corey’s piece.


burritoboy 05.13.13 at 4:50 pm

Appel, in his “Nietzsche contra Democracy” argues (pages 130-133) that Nietzsche explicitly supported the new industrial revolution because it teaches the mass to be subservient to an elite. Appel goes on to argue that, while Nietzsche disliked the actual current industrialists of his time because of their burger backgrounds, Nietzsche perhaps hoped that either future industrialists might become more aristocratic, or, at least, that the industrialists teaching the workers to be subservient would be something positive that future aristocrats could take advantage of.


Patrick 05.13.13 at 5:31 pm

@115 While it’s certainly true that IN PRACTICE Islamic elites have gotten to exercise w-to-p, rhetorically at least, even the mightiest must submit before Allah. To the point where any expression of a plan for the future is often expected to be followed by the qualifier, “God willing.” It is expected that five times a day a Muslim will ritually prostrate himself before God, no matter how lofty that Muslim is. And how about the practice of the Hajj where there is a deliberate attempt to temporarily erase all barriers of class in mutual submission?*

N’s “praise” of Islam quoted above is a mixture of defense of Islam on the basis of presumed mutual anti-Christianity, and of Orientalist stereotypes of Islam. I believe a greater familiarity with Islam would have soured these initial impressions, for him. I think he may have retained admiration for Muhammad, or even the Quran in a similar way to how he had certain fondness for the Old Testament, but I don’t see him liking Islam.

*Obviously actual practice of Islamic religious customs does not always live up to these normative prescriptions, but they are broadly accepted as ideals, if nothing else.


Patrick 05.13.13 at 5:32 pm

But thank you for pointing me to his praise of Islam which I had overlooked or forgotten.


Anderson 05.13.13 at 5:44 pm

Philip Pilkington at Naked Capitalism takes issue with CR’s essay.

Robin has both completely misinterpreted the Nietzschean critique of values and, at the very same time, completely misunderstood the marginalist theory of value. This is extremely odd because he recognises that the Austrian apostles who followed the marginalists – that is, Hayek and Mises – elevated the marginalist theory into a metaphysical and moral structure, something Robin rightly recognises as being a path that “Nietzsche would never have dared to take”. But this is no coincidence; the reason lies in the fact that, as previously stated and as we shall now outline, the Nietzschean and the marginalist paths were entirely at odds with one another. The marginalist theory is, as we shall see, inherently static and requires that people, in a robot-like manner, order the world around them in a determinate way while the Nietszchean theory holds that subjective states are ephemeral and impossible to truly pin down in any quantifiable or quasi-scientific manner.


Wonks Anonymous 05.13.13 at 8:30 pm

Kevin Vallier has a critique here:
I thought the most relevant bit was when he brought up how many people listed Nietzche when permitted to in the poll: 2%. So it would make sense for some folks to say nobody they know arrived through Nietzche and other folks to say otherwise.


BG 05.14.13 at 2:06 am

Socialism is nothing but a secular version of Christianity. Nietzsche hated both of those things. I have always been baffled by the fact that “Nietzsche was a man of the right”
is a controversial idea among some. It is plainly true to me.


bob mcmanus 05.14.13 at 10:44 am

120: Reading that poll, post and thread I do not think trying to associate Nietzsche with libertarians and free market economists will do them any harm or damage, or limit their discourse, since Nietzsche was never part of their discourse anyway.

However, associating Nietzsche with the right is a step toward devaluing and removing Nietzsche as a figure in the discourse of the Left, and condemning figures like Gilles Deleuze, who used Nietzsche in some of their work. I might understand why certain parts of the Anglo-American center-left would want to tar the Continental Left by association.

But I repeat: Robin’s work here does nothing to harm the right, who are amused and perplexed by the piece. It does do serious harm to portions of the intellectual left.

PS:Nobody has ever read Nietzsche and said:”I am a Last Man and need an Ubermensch to rule me.” We, his readers, all think think we are at least potential creators of values. Understanding that, and N certainly did, should help to understand his discussion of aristocracy. N was exhortatory, not prescriptive.


bob mcmanus 05.14.13 at 10:58 am

Oh. And since everyone who reads Nietzsche with admiration thinks she is some sort of aristocrat (usually meritocratic), the key to a “Nietzschean Politics” is what he says about how aristocrats should and do treat each other.


Rich Puchalsky 05.14.13 at 11:35 am

“And since everyone who reads Nietzsche with admiration thinks she is some sort of aristocrat (usually meritocratic), the key to a “Nietzschean Politics” is what he says about how aristocrats should and do treat each other.”

This is the truest thing written so far in this thread.


geo 05.14.13 at 5:40 pm

everyone who reads Nietzsche with admiration thinks she is some sort of aristocrat

With respect, Bob (and Rich), this is nonsense. Tens of millions of people have read Nietzsche with admiration, including such exemplary democrats as Marcuse, Camus, Rorty, Corey Robin, and me, among countless others. It is scarcely possible to read The Genealogy of Morals, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Gay Science without admiration amounting nearly to awe. Yes, it’s difficult to reconcile all one’s heroes — Mill and Nietzsche, Morris and Bellamy, Lawrence and Russell — without one’s head exploding. But that’s the risk you take when you start to think.


Josh G. 05.14.13 at 5:57 pm

bob mcmanus @ 122: “PS:Nobody has ever read Nietzsche and said:”I am a Last Man and need an Ubermensch to rule me.” We, his readers, all think think we are at least potential creators of values. Understanding that, and N certainly did, should help to understand his discussion of aristocracy. N was exhortatory, not prescriptive.

Of course, much the same is true of Rand. The people who worship Atlas Shrugged all think they’re going to be John Galt or Hank Rearden or Dagny Taggart – not Eddie Willers, the servant used up and left to die by the ubermenschen.


Rich Puchalsky 05.14.13 at 6:01 pm

“Tens of millions of people have read Nietzsche with admiration, including such exemplary democrats as Marcuse, Camus, Rorty, Corey Robin, and me, among countless others.”

How do you get to be an exemplary democrat without being a meritocratic aristocrat?


Anderson 05.14.13 at 6:09 pm

“Nobody has ever read Nietzsche and said: ‘I am a Last Man'”

Besides me, you mean.

127: a democracy of aristocrats!

(There’s still something weirdly compelling about Rorty’s fascination/repulsion re: Nietzsche in CIS and his failed attempt at domesticating N. I never followed Rorty’s later work; did he get over the Nietzsche thing?)


geo 05.14.13 at 6:30 pm

How do you get to be an exemplary democrat … ?

Well, I wrote away for a certificate. But I think you can also get them on E-bay.


Bruce Wilder 05.14.13 at 6:33 pm

I got mine at a yard sale. Cheap.


Harold 05.14.13 at 6:37 pm

I’m with geo. It takes all kinds to make a world.


Bucky F 05.14.13 at 7:00 pm

@1: I started to read Aristotle’s Politics but when I got to the justification of slavery — which was near the beginning — I put it down right away, and I never picked it back up. My interest in politics is not in the study of the peculiar excuses that long-dead plutocrats used to legitimate their power.

The reason people still read that ancient rubbish is the belief that it represents some kind of canon which all respectable people must know. But it’s always been the canon of an elite. It’s what was once learned to impress the Emperor, then to succeed in the medieval university, and now to fit in with the Harvard crowd. As long as those ones stay in power, the classics of elitism will find new readers.

The idea that there is actual value in these pre-historical philosophers — who understood less of their own biology and place in nature than a modern 10 year old — I do believe to be pure illusion, created by a historical prominence that was very much contingent on having the support of one class of elites or another, continuously, for thousands of years. The ancient canon survived the rise and fall of four empires without being purged, and up until the printing press, depended entirely on the elite of those empires to preserve them, by funding the copying of scrolls by hand.

This is how natural selection operates on texts over time: texts that support the existing elites survive, and if suitably “timeless,” may be reused by the next generation of elites. Texts that threaten the elites perish, and must be rewritten again and again, by every generation. (This was the world before the internet.)

The one interesting thing I learned from Aristotle’s Politics is that there were, in his day, philosophers who opposed the institution of slavery. We know about them because Aristotle wrote about them. Their works do not survive.


geo 05.14.13 at 7:15 pm

I started to read Aristotle’s Politics but when I got to the justification of slavery — which was near the beginning — I put it down right away, and I never picked it back up

This has been said many times before on Crooked Timber, but no harm, I hope, in saying it again: the fact that someone says something foolish does not mean she is a fool; the fact that someone writes something profoundly wrong or offensive doesn’t mean that everything she’s written is worthless. George Eliot is probably the only person who was never wrong about anything, but that doesn’t mean she’s the only writer in the world worth reading. To blow off Marx because he tossed out a few slurs about Jews, or John Stuart Mill because he made a few paternalistic remarks about India, or Henry James because he called my Sicilian ancestors “squalid ruffians,” or Shakespeare because he believed in the divine right of kings … well, you get my drift.


bob mcmanus 05.14.13 at 7:18 pm

125: Apparently, geo, you are elite enough to think you have at least one inferior on the Internets

Prologue to GoM

“We don’t know ourselves, we knowledgeable people —we are personally ignorant about ourselves. And there’s good reason for that. We’ve never tried to find out who we are—how could it happen that one day we’d discover ourselves? ”

I don’t even think I can begin to discuss the way N works his magic. He is trying to change his readers and their way of reading with almost every word he writes. N writes in a form of direct personal address that is deliberately challenging, annoying, irritating, alienating.

But if you got past the eighth word in the quote, it was by accepting an elite and conspiratorial subject position. You simply can get nowhere with Nietzsche if you say his “we” does not include “me,” if you don’t read him sympathetically.


JanieM 05.14.13 at 7:18 pm

George Eliot is probably the only person who was never wrong about anything,

Go, geo!


Bucky F 05.14.13 at 7:19 pm

Also, regarding democratic aristocrats, it seemed to have been common around Nietzsche’s time to imagine mass manufacturing creating a universal aristocracy of the factory, where the machines served the ancient role of slaves. To quote Oscar Wilde:

The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were
quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly,
horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become
almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and
demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the
machine, the future of the world depends.

The point here is that, because of modern technology, we no longer have to make a choice between human equality and the existence of human leisure. Thus, we can leverage at least some of the values of the leisure class in support of democracy and equality. A universal basic income, for example, might be defended less on the grounds of abolishing poverty and limiting human degradation, and more on the grounds of enabling a larger, more secure, and thus bolder and more innovative leisure class.


Bucky F 05.14.13 at 7:32 pm

geo @133:

Aristotle was not “saying something foolish” when he justified slavery. It was not a gaffe. Aristotle did not secure the paycheck of Philip II of Macedon by making foolish slips.

At the very foundation of Aristotle’s politics was a legitimizing theory of elite power. His comments on slavery, alone, suffice to illustrate that. He viewed society as consisting of superiors and inferiors — the superiors being those with power, and the inferiors those without — and political justice as the uninterrupted rule of superior over inferior.

If your point is that Aristotle might have said something intelligent about some topic *other* than politics, then fine: I can’t disagree.

But no decent concept of politics begins with the explicit premise that humans are inequal, some meant to rule and others to be ruled. Nothing of value in political thought is compatible with that fundamental view.


bob mcmanus 05.14.13 at 7:43 pm

Democracy is a question of means. I had not heard that, as a democrat, I am morally required to internalize and call my own the values of whatever community I accidentally find myself embedded in. When my self-determined values conflict with those of my contingent community in very important ways, I do not merely try to make my small voice heard within the crowd, I want to freaking rule.

“If my community is racist and imperialist, then I will be racist and imperialist, because, uhh, democracy?” No, although prudence may allow a disrespected quietism.

If my community is racist and imperialist, and I am not, and I think my values are “better” and should determine policy, than I am an aristocrat/elitist.


john c. halasz 05.14.13 at 7:48 pm


Aristotle as interpreted by Thrasymachos.


Anderson 05.14.13 at 8:14 pm

132: “The reason people still read that ancient rubbish is the belief that it represents some kind of canon which all respectable people must know.”

Excuse me? Your telepathy is broken. You have no idea why I read Aristotle.

Pretty snobbish for someone who needed smelling salts when he found out slaveholders actually rationalized slavery.


Rich Puchalsky 05.14.13 at 8:25 pm

“Well, I wrote away for a certificate. But I think you can also get them on E-bay.”

That’s good. Because it would be kind of faux naiveté to reply to “We, his readers, all think think we are at least potential creators of values” with “But I’m an exemplary democrat!” and not acknowledge that you do pretty much think of yourself as a creator of values. As an exemplar, if you will.


geo 05.14.13 at 9:11 pm

Bob: Assume the phrase “we knowledgeable people” is dripping with sarcasm — as I think it is. (I suspect you know that already.) How is that compatible with “an elite and conspiratorial subject position”?

And after many years of reading and writing comments on Crooked Timber, do you really not believe you have one inferior (a great many, I would have said) on the Internets?

Bucky: I’m not an Aristotelian myself — as you may have gathered from reading previous threads on CT, I’m a disciple of Mill, Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, and Chomsky, among other non-Aristotelians and non-believers in slavery or metaphysically-justified inequality. But credit where due. Here are a paper and a dissertation which suggest that Aristotle may actually have been up to some good: and


Harold 05.14.13 at 9:19 pm

Also a much cited paper by Lester H. Rifkin, “Aristotle on Equality: A Criticism of A. J. Carlyle’s Theory” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Apr., 1953), pp. 276-283.

And E. R. Dodds : The Ancient Concept of Progress and other Essays on Greek Literature and Belief (Oxford, 1966).


Magpie 05.15.13 at 5:16 am

Judging by what sense I could make of Philip Pilkington’s piece at Naked Capitalism, the issue he has is (1) with Prof. Robin’s open use of Marxist vocabulary, and (2) with an implication of Prof. Robin’s analysis: if marginalism/subjectivism has unpleasant philosophical implications, then people may look at the objective theories of value (say the “dusty old labour theory of value”)

But, (2) seems to have even more unpleasant philosophical implications for Pilkington.


Chris Coffman 05.15.13 at 9:48 am

Your NATION article, although insightful and accurate about Nietzsche, was deeply disappointing. Ultimately, your connection between Hayek and Nietzsche, for all the words that followed, is no deeper than the most diluted “elective affinity” you posit at the beginning of your article. Why not choose “synchronicity” or any other concept which–as you appear to believe–absolves you from making an intellectually coherent case founded on facts. Furthermore, gratuitous and despicable insults like calling Hayek and von Mises the “Leopold and Loeb of modern Libertarianism” as you do in this blog (or whatever it is) simply reveal to readers who don’t know you how reckless and irresponsible you are as a thinker.


Nick Danger 05.15.13 at 2:22 pm

Josh G illustrates the tolerance of the left!


Al_de_Baran 05.15.13 at 2:58 pm

@Rich Puchalsky:

“I’m not trying to start an actual debate about it [intelligence testing]. That debate has been scientifically settled ”

If you think that the way science works is by “settling” things once and for all”, then the naivete, faux or otherwise, is yours.


Al_de_Baran 05.15.13 at 3:10 pm

@Corey Robin:

“I’m a big fan of Brian’s {Leiter] work on Nietzsche”

Hope you aren’t a fan of Leiter’s view of Nietzsche’s perspectivism and views on truth, because, like his mentor Maudemarie Clark, he gets it completely wrong.


James Barham 05.15.13 at 3:26 pm

Nietzsche’s greatest political influence was surely on the Nazis. And, as Mises and Hayek rightly emphasize, German National Socialism was indeed—first and foremost—a form of socialism, namely, the dirigiste, state capitalist form.


burritoboy 05.15.13 at 8:05 pm

Nietzsche is explicit in saying that one cannot have masters without servants (no, not robots or machines, but actual human beings). The superman tests himself against the servile and this is an integral part of his very becoming . This would be completely implausible if the servile were machines.


Chris Coffman 05.15.13 at 11:07 pm

Dear Prof. Corey, would an Uebermensch take so long to moderate a comment? Think of the comment as a test of strength . . . ;)


Barry Cooper 05.16.13 at 1:24 pm

I have one simple question: what is the point of economic activity, if not to liberate the capacity for moral development? And if that is the point, is not the question of how to do this an empirical and not a moral question? Is it not obvious beyond any possibility of discussion that free markets create both wealth and the possibility of leisure–at least in a post-tribal society, and certainly in a crowded world–far better than any possible alternative?

The salient malignancy of socialism is that the egalitarian creed rejects morality outright. Morality depends upon the notion of progress, and progress in turn depends upon the notion that some people have developed more than others. This does not mean they were born that way, but that the very concept of a meritocracy depends upon the notion of people who are morally qualitatively different, even if equal before the law.

Unless you can answer my first question–again, “what is the point of economic activity, if not to liberate the capacity for moral development?”–then I will assume based on long experience that, despite your capacity to produce seemingly useful words, that your project is one of destruction, not creation; death, not life.


Barry Cooper 05.16.13 at 2:53 pm

I will add that the “essentialization of the Other” is very much alive among the most robust, most strident, most self satisfied cultural nihilists/comfortably ensconced Humanities professors. They simply consider anyone who views our cultural heritage with fondness, or the egalitarian project with scepticism, as being a very appropriate object of hate. Hate, per se, is not rejected, merely rationalized.

You have not even made a token effort to consider the benefits of free markets on actually living, actually laboring, actually suffering human beings. You have posited them as evil, and made of anyone who supports them a psychophilosophical riddle, when the reality is that we are simply more knowledgeable, more decent human beings than your elitist cabal.

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