Nietzsche: Social Theory in the Twilight of the Millennium

Robert J Antonio. Handbook of Social Theory. Editor: George Ritzer & Barry Smart. 2001. Sage Publication.

Nietzsche revealed this primordial fact: once God had been killed by the bourgeoisie, the immediate result would be catastrophic confusion, emptiness, and even a sinister impoverishment. (Georges Bataille, [1927-30] 1985: 38)

Prior to Nietzsche, all those who taught that man is a historical being presented … history as in one way or another progressive. After Nietzsche, a characteristic formula for describing our history is ‘the decline of the West.’ (Allan Bloom 1987: 196)

I beg pardon for seeing Nietzsche everywhere, and only him. (Thomas Mann, [1918] 1983: 366)

Theorizing with a Hammer

I know my own fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous—a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite. (Nietzsche, [1888] 1969: 326)

In this well-known, prescient passage, Nietzsche stated vividly the way his thought has come to be remembered. The exploitation of Nietzsche as a Nazi totem and claims that his ideas constituted a Zeitgeistof fascism seem to uphold his prophetic self-description. In this light, the famous pictures of Nietzsche’s sister greeting Hitler at the doorway of the deceased philosopher’s archives and Hitler posing and staring intently at his bust appear to be prima facie evidence of the tie between Nietzscheanism and fascism. Mussolini’s Nietzscheanism manifested the same affinity (Aschheim, 1992: 133, 200-1, 315-30; Sluga, 1995: 29-52, 123-53, 179-86). But Nietzsche also had an ‘antipolitical’ side, treating mass politics as the bane of all ‘culture’ and rejecting fanaticism, especially the nationalistic sort. From the start, his ‘open’ texts have been read in many ways, inspiring liberal as well as radical critiques and flights from politics as well as intense political responses. However, diverse thinkers have seen him as ‘the’ harbinger of the twentieth century’s deepest crises and as cultural dynamite. This often repeated theme is evident again, today, at the turn of the new millennium. I will address the connections between ‘Nietzschean theories,’ modernization theory, Marxism and postmodernism, focusing especially on the convergence of radical ‘left’ and ‘right’ Nietzscheanisms in a ‘totalizing critique of modernity’ and contrasting this theme to a divergent, largely ignored ‘anti-political Nietzscheanism.’

Nietzschean Theory and Epochal Exhaustion: An End to History?

Everything of today—it is falling, it is decaying: who would support it? But I want to push too! (Nietzsche, [1883-1885] 1969: 226)

Nietzsche thinks nihilism as the ‘inner logic’ of Western history. (Martin Heidegger, [1943] 1977: 67)

Although Nietzsche was largely ignored during his lifetime, very shortly after his death many people embraced his ideas. At the turn of the twentieth century, early Nietzscheans, like the current wave, stressed fin de siècle sensibilities about cultural decline. Also similar to today, many first-wave Nietzscheans were young people with strong romantic or aesthetic inclinations, who felt that bourgeois culture was too workaday, uninspiring and mediocre. After the loss of the First World War and the consequent erosion of national self-esteem and multiple crises, Max Weber addressed surging Nietzschean sensibilities among younger Germans. He warned that alienated refugees from the Youth Movement and idealistic revolutionaries lacked the ‘ethic of responsibility,’ which he viewed, perhaps, as modernity’s most precious cultural resource and ethical basis of the ‘vocations’ of politics and science (he hoped that they would moderate the fragmentation accompanying disenchanted mass democracy). However, Weber feared that the new Nietzschean generation, with its musical impatience for routine, was not up to facing the ‘demands of the day,’ and would become fodder for authoritarian leaderships, already emergent and poised to forge ‘a polar night of icy darkness and hardness’ ([1918] 1958a: 127-8; [1918] 1958b: 134-5, 140-1 155-6; Marianne Weber, [1926] 1975: 318-20, 455-64).

Weber was probably right that a major part of his day’s romantic antimodernism could be traced ‘back to Nietzsche’ (i.e., his vision of epochal cultural exhaustion, scathing critique of rational culture, and aestheticism) ([1921] 1958c: 393). But Nietzsche anticipated this appropriation, seeing self-proclaimed Nietzschean ‘free spirits’ as ‘incorrigible blockheads and buffoons of “modern ideas”’ and counting them among his worst enemies. In his view, they were pathetic ‘last men,’ rather than the vaunted ‘solitary,’ ‘hard,’ ‘aristocratic,’ ‘sovereign individuals’ that he believed would resist the ‘herd’s’ all-pervasive ‘decadence’ and ‘resentiment’ and its ‘great men of the masses’ and forge postmodern values and beings. Nietzsche opposed bitterly the manipulative moralizing, demagoguery of airy New Age sects and nationalist political fanatics, which his ideas ironically helped grow ([1886] 1966: 53-6; [1888] 1969: 280).

Karl Löwith asserted that: ‘Nietzsche was a precursor to the German present, and at the same time its sharpest negation—“National Socialist” and “Cultural Bolshevik”—either, depending on how he was used’’ ([1939] 1994: 83). Regardless of Nietzsche’s warnings about political fanaticism, his ideas gave rise to radical Nietzscheanisms of ‘right’ and ‘left,’ which are often so dismissive of bourgeois culture and call for such a complete rupture from it that the new order is not prefigured in the present and must forged de novo. Their aesthetic anti-rationalism and ambiguous idea of the future, especially with regard to new social and political institutions, blur the line between right and left. Clear right and left theories, policy-regimes and parties are connected inextricably to the distinctly modern culture and societies that radical Nietzscheans hope to overcome. Operating in fluid cultural and political space, they escape definitive categorization or shift suddenly from one pole to the other (Aschheim, 1992; Kolnai, 1938: 113, 235-6).

A most famous, historically important example of radical Nietzscheanism, Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West ([1918-1922] 1991) captured the imagination of many Weimar-era Germans. Its aesthetic tone, prophetic qualities and ambiguous politics defied the conventional left and right. A rabid critic, Spengler lambasted Western modernity’s drab economism, workaday emphasis on the machine and technique, imperialist tendencies, arid culture, confused people and ‘barrack cities.’ In his view, the West was in the ‘autumnal’ phase of a descending spiral from ‘Culture’ to ‘Civilization’; a degenerate slide that signaled the imminent collapse of earlier sociocultural orders. Lacking any creative impulses and merely reproducing endless, superficially modified, decadent cultural forms, he argued, the West is a ‘souless,’ ‘rootless,’ ‘nihilistic’ shell of a culture. Spengler ([1918-1922] 1991: xxxi), acknowledged his great debt to Nietzsche and the Nietzschean facets of his work are easy to detect. Like almost all other ‘Nietzscheans,’ however, he mixed themes from Nietzsche’s texts with diverse and often opposed ideas of his own and ones borrowed from other theorists. Thus, ‘Nietzschean’ is a proximate label. For example, putting aside Nietzsche’s scathing attacks on nationalism and the state, Spengler called for a corporatist-nationalist socialism to overcome class splits and unify the German people. His protofascism foreshadowed the German future, but, like other aristocratic, radical-right Nietzscheans, he rejected Nazism’s plebeian philistinism, opposed the regime and was marginalized by it (Hughes, [1952] 1962: 59-64, 98-36).

Although Spengler does not rank among the most creative ‘Nietzscheans,’ such as Heidegger, later Adorno, or Foucault, the thrust of his work manifests sharply a core theme in Nietzsche’s thought and major point of convergence among radical Nietzscheans—the idea that Western culture is totally spent or moribund. The title of Spengler’s magnum opus became, perhaps, the most famous signifier of this sensibility. Anticipating recent, post-Marxist ‘end of modernity’ discourses, Heidegger ([1961] 1991b: 6-9) held that Nietzsche heralded the ‘conclusion of Western history or the counterpoint to another beginning.’ His Nietzschean critique of ‘technological civilization’ exerted a major influence on key segments of the Weimar-era left, as well as his fellow ‘radical conservatives’ and, more recently, on post-structuralists as well as today’s ‘New Right.’ Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘dialectic of Enlightenment,’ Marcuse’s ‘one-dimensionality,’ and Foucault’s ‘carcéral’ stress a similar type of sweeping cultural exhaustion. The radical Nietzschean right and left contend that cultural homogenization and regimentation, rooted deeply in the West’s distinctive rational features, are manifested, in the extreme, in ‘advanced industrial society’ or ‘postindustrial society.’ They decry consequent hegemonic economism and instrumentalism and destruction of the creative and aesthetic impulses that nurture animate types of culture, community, identity and politics.

Dialectics of Modernity: Nietzsche versus Marx

‘The honesty of a contemporary scholar … can be measured by the position he takes vis-à-vis Nietzsche and Marx…. The intellectual world in which we live is a world which to a large extent bears the imprint of Marx and Nietzsche.’

Max Weber purportedly made this statement after a public debate with Spengler over Decline of the West. Holding that theorists ‘deceive’ themselves and others when they fail to recognize their debt to the two masters, Weber implied that Marx and Nietzsche framed the core questions and problems that set limits for modern ‘social theory.’ Although disagreeing about the worth and impacts of Marx’s and Nietzsche’s ideas, diverse thinkers have argued that the two made a basic and, perhaps, ‘the’ most fundamental contribution to framing the project of modern social theory. For example, Heidegger held that Nietzsche heralded the ‘consummation’ of ‘the modern age,’ while Marx represented its decline into technological civilization (1991b: 9); Karl Löwith stated that they ‘made the decline of the bourgeois-Christian world the theme of … a fundamental analysis’ ([1939] 1991: 175-6); Paul Ricoeur held that the two were framers of the hermeneutics of ‘suspicion’ (1970: 32-6); Leo Strauss saw them as the core theorists of the ‘third wave of modernity’ ([1975] 1989: 94-8); Michel Foucault said that ‘It was Nietzsche who specified the power relation as the general focus … whereas for Marx it was the production relation’ (1980: 53); and Wolfgang Baier called them ‘polestars’ of social theory (1981-2).

As Nancy Love has argued (1986), Marx and Nietzsche are leading ‘theorists of modernity,’ making deeply problematic the shape, direction and value of the social formations and cultural complexes accompanying the emergence of modern capitalism and mass democracy. They addressed modernity’s ‘differentiating’ and ‘homogenizing’ facets and their tensions and entwinement with the ideals of ‘justice’ and ‘freedom.’ Marx emphasized universalistic social struggles against inequality, rooted in developmental tendencies of sociocultural modernity, while Nietzsche stressed the mobilization of aesthetic sensibilities, rooted in the body and senses, to resist cultural homogenization and nurture human particularity. Transcending the particular historical moments in which the two theorists lived, their big questions reappear in times of sea-change, or when, as Weber held, ‘the great cultural problems’ shift and ‘the road is lost in the twilight.’ When the ‘value’ of specialized practices and concepts and middle-range or sociological theories is no longer taken-for-granted, Weber said, they are viewed from the ‘heights of thought’ ([1904] 1949: 112).

A century ago, Georg Simmel ([1900] 1978: 484) spoke of a ‘secret restlessness’ or ‘helpless urgency’ that pushes thinkers ‘from socialism to Nietzsche.’ Around mid-century, the Frankfurt School’s ‘dialectic of Enlightenment’ phase suggested a similar shift, following the dashed revolutionary hopes after Stalinism, Nazism, the Holocaust and triumphant capitalism. Their view that the prevailing society lacked historical resources for liberation led them from a critique of capitalism to a cultural critique of Western rationality and a move from Marx to Nietzsche. Their ideas about all-embracing ‘one-dimensionality’ and ‘negative dialectics’ helped inspire the New Left’s aesthetic radicalism, and foreshadowed postmodernism. Today’s radical Nietzscheanisms amplify a similarly strong sense of cultural exhaustion.

Richard Wolin’s (1990: 166) point about the relationship of Heideggerian Nietzscheanism to the Marxian tradition illuminates a core facet of the split between the two ‘polestar’ theorists:

Ironically, for all his criticisms of Nietzsche, Heidegger’s own position remains eminently ‘Nietzschean’ in at least one critical respect; he accepts without question the standpoint of ‘total critique’ that Nietzsche himself adopts vis-à-vis the failings of the modern age. Thus, for both thinkers, the essence of modernity is … a wholesale dissolution of the structures of value and belief that have traditionally made life meaningful. The method of ‘immanent critique’ is rejected insofar as there is essentially nothing about modernity as a social formation that is worth redeeming.

Heidegger rejected Marxian presuppositions about the fecundity of ‘history’; the idea that modern sociocultural orders contain determinate resources for mapping, securing and creating more progressive, democratic, or emancipated institutions and culture. He held that hegemonic, technocratic-economistic instrumentalism and consequent ‘darkening of the world’ and ‘always-the-sameness’ characterize socialism as well as capitalism and that ‘Europe lies in a pincers between Russia and America [polar capitals of economism], which are metaphysically the same …’ ([1953] 1961: 36-9).

Young Marx asserted in a letter to his father, explaining his conversion to Hegelianism: ‘I arrived at the point of seeking the idea in reality itself. If previously the gods had dwelt above the earth, now they became its center’ ([1837] 1975: 18). Marx’s famous ‘inversion’ of Hegel was supposed to radically historicize Hegelian ‘immanent critique,’ making it concrete and social. Marx’s ‘materialist’ version of the method, ‘ideology critique,’ sought more determinate bases for emancipatory change and for justification of his normative standpoint ‘within’ actual or emergent sociocultural conditions. His move, however, like Hegel’s, fashioned a historicist alternative to absolutist or transcendental normative arguments and rested, ultimately, on faith in history. Marx believed that modernity offers historical resources, which are refined by progressive rationalization, for a free, just, abundant society and culture. In his view, ideology critique follows history’s tracks, locating its progressive facets, honing them theoretically, turning them against repressive conditions, and guiding emancipatory movements. Seeing the future to be prefigured in the present, he detected taints of socialism in late-capitalist science, firms and labor movements. Although often indirectly, other modern social theories express similar optimism about immanent or historicist bases for social progress and normative critique. Nietzsche’s contrary views about exhausted modernity and postmodern rupture offer an entirely different type of—or aesthetic- alternative to absolutism and transcendentalism (Antonio, 1981, 1989, 1990, 1995, 2000a; Antonio and Kellner, 1992; Benhabib, 1986; Wallerstein, 1998).

In recent years, intense theoretical debates and cultural wars over ‘modernity’ versus ‘postmodernity’ and Marx versus Nietzsche indicate that we may again be experiencing the type of rupture that Weber referred to a century ago. Mounting inequality in the wake of neoliberal globalization and rapid normalization after the ‘Revolutions of 1989’ dimmed soaring illusions about a ‘second modernity’ or postmodern ‘progress’ (an implicit idea, since the word is now taboo). A severe economic downturn would likely raise Marx from the dead once again; some theorists already see his ‘specter.’ However, in this millennial twilight time, with its over-ripe fin de siècle sensibilities, ‘realism’ about ‘wasteful’ social programs, restless ambivalence about the seamy underside and self-indulgent neglect of the stockholders’ republic, and rampant ethnic-racial chauvinism and nationalism, I paraphrase Thomas Mann: ‘I see Nietzsche, only Nietzsche.’

In the Ruins of Postwar Modernization: Nietzsche Rising

Just as in Nietzsche’s day educated philistines believed in progress, the unfaltering elevation of the masses and the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number, so today they believe … in the opposite, the revocation of 1789, the incorrigibility of human nature, the anthropological impossibility of happiness—in other words, that the workers are too well off. The profound insights of the day before yesterday have been reduced to the ultimate in banality. (Theodor Adorno, [1951] 1978: 188)

Although of enduring importance for ‘social theory,’ Marx and Nietzsche were largely ignored by ‘sociological theorists,’ during the rise and initial expansion of professional sociology (starting in the United States in the 1920s and elsewhere mostly after the Second World War). During much of the postwar era, Marxian ideas had wide impact outside the US, through successful labor and socialist parties, leftist youth movements and revolutionary politics. Although they sometimes were ideological dress for political power, they often provided sharp critiques of hegemonic forms of welfare liberalism, social democracy and postwar modernization projects, pushing for more ‘socialization’ or ‘participation.’ By the 1960s, Marxian questions, concepts and analyses were central to international sociological circles. Even in North America, where labor was weaker and socialist ideas had little currency, ‘conflict theorists’ (for example, C. Wright Mills, Lewis Coser, Alvin Gouldner) challenged dominant functionalist theories, especially the Parsonsian variety stressing ‘normative consensus’ and ‘Americanization.’ ‘Conflict theory’ was a loose collection of general approaches and normative sensibilities ‘critical’ of social ‘scientific’ arguments that Keynesian liberalism and the Pax Americana constituted a conflictless ‘post-industrialism’ and ‘end of ideology.’ They attacked the ideas that welfare capitalism overcame the divisions of industrial capitalism, which it supposedly superseded, and that it attained unparalleled, sweeping substantive legitimacy. ‘Conflict theory’ was identified with diverse theorists (for example, Simmel, Weber, Mead and others), but Marx was eventually portrayed as the main classical figure of this supposed ‘alternative’ to mainstream sociology.

By the later 1960s and early 1970s, many ‘critical’ social theorists and sociologists, often younger people active in the student and antiwar movements and New Left politics, forged new theory circles and journals (for example, Telos, New German Critique, New Left Review), stressing ‘Western Marxist’ theorists (for example, Lukács, Gramsci, Adorno, Althusser) and cultural issues. Breaking with orthodox Marxism, they argued that the Western working classes were conservative and integrated into the ‘system,’ that Eurocommunism was bureaucratic and conformist, and that Soviet-style communism was repressive. Older Marxists embraced left versions of modernization theory, but the New Left, especially segments that fused radical politics with hippy culture or embraced ‘revolutionary’ Marxisms (for example, European Maoist and Red Guard factions), manifested romantic themes that suggested deep disenchantment with postwar modernity and prepared the way for ‘post-Marxist’ and ‘postmodernist’ approaches. Although weaned on Heidegger and Nietzsche, even Foucault allied, for a time, with the Maoist student-left (Miller, 1993: 165-207). By the early 1970s, Marxian ideas started to be engaged seriously in certain sub-areas of North American sociology (for example, stratification, sociology of development, sociology of work, sociological theory). Marx later joined Durkheim and Weber in the discipline’s classical theory canon or ‘Holy Trinity.’ Marx was the ‘liminal’ figure of the three and signifier for radical critique.

The ‘revolutions of 1968’ in Prague, Paris and Chicago and the Chinese cultural revolution lifted radical hopes, but were deflated almost immediately by a crushing normalization (that is, the Brezhnev Doctrine, Nixon election, American-Chinese accord, and Gaullist restoration) followed by more decisive defeats and neoliberal hegemony, during the later 1970s and 1980s (Anderson, 1998: 93-4). Anderson has held that, by the late 1970s, regardless of the success of empirically based Marxist sociology, Western Marxist theory had ‘come to an end,’ being replaced, on the ‘left’ by postmodernist theory (1983: 20-7; Laclau and Mouffe, 1985; Wood, 1986). While Marxism was still gaining a foothold in North American sociology, the New Left was collapsing, neoconservatism was ascending, and new Nietzschean approaches, forged by Foucault and other ‘new cultural theorists,’ were gaining in left-leaning theory circles. The much heralded ‘cultural’ or ‘discursive’ turn was most decisive in the humanities, where postmodernist theories were widely embraced by younger faculty and graduate students, dominant in many sub-areas and programs, and nearly everywhere the focus of intense generational splits and ‘culture wars’ over the canon, political correctness and cultural decline, which went beyond academe. In the 1980s, Marx’s place in sociology’s classical canon was well established. He was memorialized as the exemplar of one of the three main theoretical paradigms, but, as his sociological respectability grew and his ideas were applied in research programs, he faded as the main liminal figure of social and cultural theory. By the mid-1980s, Nietzsche replaced Marx.

The ‘new social movements’ (that is, ethnic, racial, feminist, gay and lesbian, and other forms of identity politics) rose to prominence and replaced the New Left. They emerged in the context of an international shift in emphasis from postwarera national parties, labor-oriented leaderships, state-centered reforms, and social planning to ‘local struggles,’ ‘pluralistic alliances,’ ‘cultural politics’ and ‘risk avoidance,’ and from emphasis on material needs, structure and class to ‘cultural identity,’ ‘agency’ and ‘discourse’ (for example, Beck 1992; Beck et al., 1994; Giddens, 1994; Mellucci, 1989, 1996a, 1996b; Sassoon, 1996: 647-90). The new social movements had diverse followings and standpoints, but movement theorists usually stressed an epiphanic break with Marxism as ‘the’ essential move in attaining a fresh awareness and ‘ascending’ to a ‘politics of difference’ (for example, Aronson, 1995; Nicholson and Seidman, 1995). Their new cultural theories, often postmodernist positions, were fashioned to address the new sociopolitical and cultural context and they often converged, albeit often implicitly, with Nietzschean views about cultural homogenization and cultural pluralism (Antonio, 1998). They were highly critical of the theory and politics of postwar liberals and radicals, which they contend ignored and obscured cultural domination. They held that Marx was the master theorist or forerunner of the postwar era’s overly ambitious planning and statism, insouciant disregard for minorities and women, and, overall, failed modernization, masking paternalistic domination as assistance, progress or emancipation. Similar themes appeared in sociology, especially among its left-leaning cultural theorists and movement activists. The sociological critics charged that the postwar left ignored non-class issues and cultural domination, upheld patriarchal, heterosexist and Eurocentrist tendencies of the mainstream, and, overall, propped-up the cultural, political, and disciplinary status quo. They saw the deficiencies of postwar theory and politics to be rooted in the classical canon’s alleged retrograde blindspots; emblazoned on teeshirts at American Sociological Association meetings in the 1990s, the Holy Trinity became ‘Dead White Males.’

Postmodernist Nietzscheanism appeared early in France, long before parallel changes occurred in the United States. Arguably one of the most creative predecessors of postmodernism, after Nietzsche, Henri Lefebvre, argued, in the early 1960s, that ‘Marx’s thought terminated’ in ‘dead ends’ and that ‘a new analysis and a new account’ is needed to address the ‘technicity’ and ‘scientism’ that animate domination in socialist as well as capitalist regimes ([1962] 1995: 206-15). Following in Lefebvre’s tracks, in the later 1960s and 1970s, Michel Foucault subverted incisively the normative and epistemological bases of postwar social theory and politics, albeit in a somewhat roundabout and historically indirect way. He described the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century rise of a ‘panoptical’ order, based on all-pervasive ‘minute,’ ‘meticulous’ discipline and ‘surveillance’ or self-regulated and nearly total cultural control, clothed in the mantle of the ‘human sciences’ and exerted by various testing, measuring, and helping techniques ([1975] 1979). He implied that panopticism reached full maturity in the postwar era. Also, Jean-François Lyotard held that modern Western ‘metanarratives’ about freedom and science serve technocracy uncritically. Seeing Marx as the master theorist of this dead modern theory, Lyotard decried his ‘totalizing model and … totalitarian effect.’ In Lyotard’s view, Marxian theory justifies ‘totalizing’ practices of capitalist as well as socialist ‘system managers’ ([1979] 1984: 12-3, 46, 60-7). Foucault and Lyotard made basic contributions to an ascendent postmodernist vision of the repressive ‘therapeutic state,’ which treated Keynsian liberalism, social democracy, and democratic socialism as manifestations of the same sweeping ‘normalization.’ Following Nietzsche, they argued that control mechanisms are now far more numerous, varied and deceptive, and, although less overtly and brutally coercive, much more economical and effective in exercising domination. In the 1980s and 1990s, postmodernists from North America and other parts of the world espoused similar lines, seeing postwar modernity as the high-tide of Western rationalization and as a cultural noose (earlier inscribed in Marx’s abortive dream) that foreclosed all possibilities for liberation (for example, Bauman, 1992; Jencks, 1985: 180-1, 371-3).

After the ascendance of new cultural theory and its Holy Trinity or postmodernist canon of Foucault, Lyotard and Derrida, the neoconservative philosopher, Allan Bloom, held emphatically that ‘Marx has become boring for’ and ‘does not speak to’ young American intellectuals (1987: 217, 222). The chorus on the post-Marxist left sang the same tune that ‘Marxism is over’ (for example, Aronson, 1995: 40-67). But Bloom argued that ‘so-called Marxist teachers’ now employ a Nietzschean language and that a wholesale turn to Nietzsche began in the New Left era and is continued by postmodernism. He declared that: ‘The New Left in America was a Nietzscheanized-Heideggerianized Left. The unthinking hatred of “bourgeois society” was exactly the same in both places.’ He held that this ‘mutant breed of Marxists … derationalize Marx and turn Nietzsche into a leftist’ (1987: 222, 314). He saw this ‘Nietzscheanized left’ as a leading force in the ‘decomposition’ of American universities and culture. Although his estimation of the left’s dubious achievements and claim that ‘today virtually every Nietzschean as well as Heideggerian is a leftist’ are grossly overblown, his point that Nietzsche has emerged again as a major figure for left-leaning social and cultural theorists has much credence. Postmodernists often identify Nietzsche as a most important precursor, but, more importantly, they take up, at least tacitly, his core positions on cultural exhaustion and difference. As suggested above, his very name is entwined with today’s ‘endings discourses’ (that is, the ‘end of history,’ ‘end of the social,’ ‘end of the political’ ‘end of left and right,’ and ‘end of alternatives’) and with views that equate postwar modernization with sterile and repressive technocracy, differing only by degree from the Holocaust and Gulag. Anderson may be right that the ‘deeper sense’ of these Nietzschean claims about endings ‘lies in cancellation of political alternatives,’ or a fundamental constriction of such possibilities (1998: 92).

When History Fails: The ‘Body against the Machine’

That thirst for more of the intellectual ‘war and laughter’ that we find Nietzsche calling us to may bring us satisfactions that optimism-haunted philosophies could never bring. Malcontentedness may be the beginning of promise. (Randolph Bourne, [1917] 1964b: 64)

The sky of modernity has seen several stars … ascendant, the sable sun of melancholy and ennui, disaster’s pale moon, the red sun of joy. We are faced with an unforeseen astrological conjuncture, from which we are unable to calculate a horoscope. (Henri Lefebvre, [1962] 1995: 224)

Spiritual forerunner to the New Left and today’s literary radicals, Randolph Bourne employed Nietzschean ideas of ‘herd-instinct’ and cultural regimentation in sharp critiques of US progressives, who justified US entry into the First World War with high-handed slogans about ‘saving the world from subjugation’ ([1917] 1964a: 7, 11, 13). In his Nietzschean-titled ‘Twilight of the Idols,’ Bourne skewered his former teacher and hero, John Dewey, for giving into nationalist impulses and supporting participation in the war (1964b; Westbrook, 1991: 195-227). Bourne attacked incisively the optimistic posture that the war would increase social solidarity and lead to global democracy. He implied that Dewey’s historicism was blind to the grim realities of the day. While praising democracy abstractly, Bourne held, such supporters of the war contribute to forces that silence the democratic opposition. With the help of a Nietzschean optic, he detected early signs of a wartime hysterical, propagandistic, reactionary erosion of democracy, which progressives missed. He held that their all-too-cheery liberalism and scientism confused the ideal and the real and ignored the underside of American life. But Bourne, qualifying his critique, asserted that he and others on the Nietzschean left were not ‘cultural vandals’ and that their ‘skeptical, malicious, desperate, ironical’ mood was a ‘sign of hope’ and of ‘more vivid and more stirring life fermenting in America today’ (1964b: 63-4). Bourne did not break entirely with progressivism, but tried to make it much more critical.

Expressing Nietzschean opposition to Cold War-era Marxism, Lefebvre held that historicism had become a metalegitimation for a drab, uncritical, conformist, materialist, workerist lockstep, which capitulated to Soviet domination, French Communist Party bureaucrats and technocracy. Prefacing the work with a passage from Nietzsche, he lambasted Marxism’s limp ‘unconditional optimism, faith in the future’ ([1962] 1995: 26-32). In his view, Marxism had degenerated into a philistine state ‘religion’ incapable of addressing critically or even seeing the new pattern of technocratic domination and history’s contrary and divergent directions and tendencies. For Lefebvre, Marxist historicism had lost its analytical power as social theory and inspirational force as a political vision. He declared ([1962] 1995: 249):

History, the historical? We … of the second half of the twentieth century are fed up … with it. We have lived through many historic hours, far too many, too often have we felt the passing winds of destiny … There are certain blinkered pedagogues who use Marxism as justification for treating us like naughty schoolchildren forced to keep our eyes on the blackboard. But there is something sickening about history as a spectacle, and the notion of history as action requires a great deal of patience—too much—and a lot of mutilations. The philosophy of history ends up making the very thought of history unbearable.

In the affluent United States, during the same period, the capital-labor compromise, standard consumer package and social security neutralized the classical Marxian scenario. Hanging on to ‘Marxism’ by a thread, Marcuse described a condition of euphoric alienation where workers embrace the system, legitimacy derives from the delivery of goods (not from grand ‘ideologies’), and opposition to capitalism disappears. In his view, the ‘distinguishing feature of advanced industrial society is its effective suffocation of those needs which demand liberation.’ The ‘absorption of ideology into reality,’ he held, evaporates the dialectical tension in modern history between the ideal and the real; two-dimensional culture is collapsed into one conformist horizon (1964: 11). He argued that ‘domination is transfigured into administration’ and that ‘products indoctrinate and manipulate,’ promoting ‘a false consciousness … immune against falsehood’; thus, Marx’s revolutionary ‘working class … no longer appears to be the living contradiction to the established society’ (1964: 11-12, 31-2). Regardless of political divergence, Marcuse’s portrayal of stultifying homogeneity had taints of his former teacher Heidegger’s vision of technological civilization.

Lefebvre amplified facets implicit in Marcuse’s scenario, which foreclosed critique even more sharply. Lefebvre argued that new forms of media and information production reduce ‘social reality’ to a ‘system of signs and significations.’ Anticipating Baudrillardian ‘simulation’ or ‘hyperreality,’ he held that ‘social reality … loses all its solidity, its substantiality and its frames of reference; it begins to crumble—or rather, to evaporate.’ Hence, arises a ‘world of boredom’ and ‘nostalgia,’ dominated by the ‘aleatory’ or chance ([1962] 1995: 204, 222-3). In his view, modern theory’s basic epistemological and normative distinctions (for example, ideal-real, truth-falsity, good-bad, base-superstructure, culture-society) are blurred so hopelessly that ‘progressive’ facets of history cannot be distinguished from their opposites. Lefebvre implies a near complete dissipation of historical sensibilities and the cultural bases for social theory. History and society dissolve into pure contingency, historicism fails and immanent critique comes up empty. Adorno described this moment, when ‘culture’ loses its ‘salt of truth,’ as an ‘open air prison’ ([1967] 1981: 19-34).

In such ‘pessimistic’ times social theory often becomes a ‘message in a bottle,’ cast out to sea with the hope that it might have some impact when history rights itself, if it ever rights itself. Thus, strategies for criticism often shift; some theorists move back to absolutism (for example, Leo Strauss), while others pose deontological or quasitranscendental positions (for example, John Rawls and Jiirgen Habermas). But retreat from history is frequently the case. Such a climate is ripe also for Nietzschean alternatives; aesthetic critiques or ‘negativity’ anchored in ‘bodily’ or ‘instinctive’ capacities. Although not breaking entirely with historicism and immanent critique, Marcuse framed a Freudo-Marx-ist position, partially rooted in Nietzsche, stressing organically based needs and envisioning the ‘aesthetic dimension’ as an underground reservoir of resistance to domination that flows in the darkest of times. In his view, ‘Eros’ cannot be eradicated entirely by brutal repression or euphoric alienation; mounting unmet needs can spur the Utopian imagination. Referring to Nietzsche, he urged turning ‘the body against the machine.’ He called for a Nietzschean ‘gay science’ to redirect ‘advanced industrial society’s vast productive forces from their linkage to repression and destruction to the service of life and joy. He wanted ‘to activate arrested organic, biological needs: to make the human body an instrument of pleasure rather than labor.’ He urged going beyond the depleted, regimented humanity that he criticized in his One-Dimensional Man and that he now depicted as ‘the determinate negation of Nietzsche’s superman’ ([1955] 1966: xi, xiv-xv; also see 118-24). Marcuse’s aesthetic radicalism was aimed to preserve the Utopian impulse when the prospects for political change appeared to be blocked. Although lean with regard to concrete proposals for change, he helped expose the inauthenticity of a Marxist historicism perpetuated mainly as a catechism to discipline the faithful in the face of drastically changed historical conditions, which seemed contrary to the theory. The Nietzschean moves of Bourne, Lefebvre and Marcuse let light and air into the dank basement of the conformist left. Posing innovative critiques that illuminated conditions that others ignored, they paved the way for the New Left. Similarly, intellectually serious versions of today’s new cultural theories, such as Foucauldian theory, helped stimulate new forms of resistance in the wake of moribund types of Marxism and the collapsed New Left. At least in part, intense battles over the new approaches derive from their critical force.

In the Land of ‘Zero Options’: Twilight-Time Nietzscheanism

All hopes have seemingly been betrayed. The Owl of Minerva which once flew at dusk has folded its wings, … the direction of History has been lost, and it knows not what to tell us. (Daniel Bell, 1990: 43)

Nietzsche continues to be the epitome of German unreason, or what is called the German spirit. A gulf separates him from those who unscrupulously preach his message, yet he prepared the way for them that he himself did not follow. (Karl Löwith, [1940] 1994: 5)

As Luc Ferry holds, Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s Nietzschean-influenced dialectic of Enlightenment ‘was wary of any romantic escape from the modern era’ (1990: 2). In my view, even the bolder Nietzschean moves of Lefebvre did not depart entirely from Enlightenment culture. Although Ferry would probably disagree (1994; Ferry and Renaut, 1990: 68-121; 1997), a similar claim could be made about the Holy Trinity of Foucault, Lyotard and Derrida. Their deconstructive broadside of the liberal-left order is overblown, but their critiques of a moribund Althusserian left helped open the way for the new ‘micropolitics.’ Foucault’s Nietzschean views about the entwinement of ‘power and knowledge’ supplemented structural theories of power, which did not illuminate the types of exclusion and disrespect stressed by the new politics of ‘recognition’ or ‘difference.’ He supplied an epistemological and normative alternative to postwar Marxism and a fresh lexicon (for example, ‘totalitarian theories,’ ‘normalization,’ ‘local criticism’ and ‘subjugated knowledges’) employed widely among ‘new social movements’ theorists (1980: 80-1, 107). As Julie Stephens argues, Foucault is ‘an obvious reference point’ for an ‘antidisciplinary politics’ that links postmodernism and the new social movements to their roots with the New Left (1998: 23).

However, leading postmodernist and Deweyean Richard Rorty recently posed a scalding critique of the US ‘Foucauldian left,’ implying that their critical powers fizzle in today’s historical context. Rorty concedes that they illuminate types of domination that were ignored by his generation and that their critiques of ‘socially accepted sadism’ and of ‘humiliation’ of disparaged minorities have made American society ‘more civilized.’ But his main emphasis is on the ‘cultural left’s’ alleged ‘dark side.’ He claims that their Nietzschean ideas of cultural exhaustion and textualism produce ‘spectatorial’ ways and ‘hopelessness.’ Most importantly, Rorty argues that they ignore mounting ‘economic inequality’ and ‘economic insecurity,’ beneath the prospering, stock-holding, professional middle classes and that they have no vision about how to rekindle battles for economic justice or to resist the protofascist tendencies emergent on the radical right (1998: 75-107). He still says that he concurs with the cultural left critique of ‘Enlightenment rationalism’ by ‘Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida’ and with the pluralist goals of the related politics of difference (1998: 96). And he remains a staunch anti-Marxist. However, he argues emphatically that the consequences of over twenty years of neoliberal restructuring and retreating welfare liberalism have immiserated very substantial segments of the populace and cry out for a revived ‘reformist left’ to engage material misery and revive social democracy.

Marxian theorists have posed sharper critiques, charging that postmodernists’ celebratory claims about cultural autonomy or ‘autoreferentiality’ distort gravely the neoliberal context of eroded regulation, hypermobile global capital, recommodified public goods, and hypernitchified mass culture (for example, Eagleton, 1996; Jameson, 1991; Offe, 1996; Wood, 1995;Zizek, 1997). They charge that the sharp cultural turn and attacks on labor-centered politics make economic power and injustice invisible, which disappear in jargonladen portrayals of a relativistic flatland of floating signifiers (where identity and consumption rule and needs are incommensurable). The critics argue that postmodernist approaches reflect the logic of neoliberal capitalism. Overall, they imply that the Nietzschean left addressed a postwar context that is now over. Marxist critics often agree that the cultural left’s critiques of postwar politics pointed to genuine gaps and that their politics of difference have laudable goals, which still need to be realized. However, they criticize the failure to illuminate adequately increased economic inequality, eroded work conditions and reduced welfare rights. If they are right, the peak of Foucaldian theory is past and the climate is ripe for another return of Marx. Faint signs are already visible (for example, Cassidy, 1997; Derrida, 1994), but a Marx revival probably will take another (periodic) moderate to severe economic crisis.

By contrast to the post-structuralist Holy Trinity and the broader cultural left, a more extreme and politically ambiguous postmodernism breaks much more sharply with modern social theory (Antonio, 1998). Jean Baudrillard radicalized Lefebvre’s early views about the ‘aleatory’ nature of media culture (e.g., 1983a, 1983b, 1987). His vision of ‘hyperreality’ and all-encompassing ‘simulation’ portrays a ‘regime of signification’ that evaporates the ability to stand back from, evaluate and judge events. He holds that the Foucauldian ‘panopticon,’ or ‘real’ surveillance and normalization, is replaced by ‘simulation’ or purely semiotic control. Under these conditions, he contends, efforts to reform or revolutionize sociocultural life are blunted and reversed by the swirl of signifiers, cacophony of divergent voices and ‘black hole’ of the ‘silent majorities.’ In his view, Foucauldian ‘micro-politics’ merely create the appearance of responsiveness and uphold the all-controlling sign system. Implying a nightmare version of Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence’ or of Spengler’s moribund last stage of decayed civilization, Baudrillard holds that simulation replays things ‘ad infinitum,’ imploding all meaning and defrocking historicism as ‘our own mythology’ (1987: 69). In the ruins of Enlightenment culture, he endorses the rule of hyperaestheticized, Nietzschean ‘fascination’ and ‘seduction’ (that is, living on the flat surface of culture and embracing its flow of aleatory images). This scenario implies total evaporation of the cultural resources for (including the epistemological and normative bases of) modern social theory and liberal democratic culture.

Baudrillard’s playful rambling should not be accorded too much veracity or blame, but it does amplify a ‘pathological’ side of cultural post-modernization, manifested intensely in key areas of mass culture and consumption; common sensibilities about media events, politics and advertising being so staged and so tied to instantly changing, fragmented images that the lines between truth and falsity and illusion and reality are blurred totally. Because signs lack clear referents, we cannot distinguish between true and false information and simulated and ‘real’ events. For example, the endless series of tabloid stories stretching from Watergate to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and Monicagate momentarily raise people’s moral hackles, but fade rapidly, cause little change, and seem hard to distinguish from other cheap forms of ‘entertainment.’ Thus, critical theories and genuine politics may be, indeed, fading away, as Baudrillard claims, into a netherland of simulation, ennui and boredom, opening the way for a return of another type of Nietzscheanism, which Nietzsche himself feared, stressing myth, will and collective redemption.

The Weimar-era ‘New Right’ or ‘radical conservatives’ blended Nietzschean ideas of cultural exhaustion with a one-sided reading of Weber. Universalizing his ‘iron cage’ thesis, they ignored his many qualifications about the historical openness, ambiguities and different directions of rationalization and failed to entertain the implications of his crucial distinction between limited state power and total states and of his point that rationalized bureaucratic jurisdictions and centralized decision-making (that is, ‘rule of small number’), within democratic regimes, block revolutionary change, but clarify responsibility and make reform possible. They also neglected his argument that distinctly modern cultural rationalization multiplies vastly specialized value and life spheres, rationalizing them according to their distinct internal logics, increasing differences and heightening capacities to detect them. Weber warned sternly that demagogic promises about eliminating the contradictions of rationalization could forge the very type of iron cage that they denounced in the abstract. Appearing on the left and the right in the 1920s writings of Marxist Georg Lukács and protofascist Carl Schmitt, this reading of Weber equated modern rationalization with descent into total administration, total meaninglessness and total cultural homogenization or evaporation of human particularity. This position was a sociological bridge linking Heidegger’s technological civilization to the Frankfurt School’s total administration, New Left’s technocracy and postmodernists’ therapeutic state. However, New Right Nietzscheans deployed this grim vision in a new position claiming to go ‘beyond left and right.’ They criticized economic insecurity and class divisions, and exhorted a revival of social solidarity against bourgeois individualism and capitalist instrumentalism. Yet they attacked, just as strongly, decadent liberal democracy for its egalitarian mediocrity, cultural fragmentation and political paralysis from too much tolerance of difference and interest group conflict.

The Weimar-era New Right held that human particularity could be redeemed by reviving, cultivating, preserving and empowering national particularity. They called for a restoration of ‘organic community’ based on legitimate hierarchical-authority, natural inequality and mass military esprit and discipline. They wedded the totalized Weber, stressing relentless capitalist liquidation of particularity, to a stripped-down Nietzsche, sans his affirmations of sovereign individuality and cultural hybridity and fulminations about the evils of the state, nationalism and cultural regimentation. For example, Heidegger described totally homogenized technocracy and saw its tonic to be a Nietzschean ‘higher man’ transmuted into a ‘type’ concept (precursors of which he saw as ‘Prussian Soldiery and the Jesuit order’!) and ‘collective artwork’ that celebrates ‘national community’ and serves as ‘the religion’ ([1961] 1991a: 85-6; 1991c: 99-100, emphasis in original).

The New Right saw advocacy of anti-Nietzschean nationalism and regimented collective-being as an essential Nietzschean move to escape all-pervasive nihilism.5 Believing that revolutionary politics, rooted in mythologized national community, could resist capitalism and ‘overcome’ bourgeois humanity, they claimed to be heeding Nietzsche’s musical call for a ‘moment of decision,’ or ‘great noontide,’ when ‘preparatory human beings,’ choosing to ‘live dangerously,’ exert their will, clear away the cultural debris of moribund civilization, and make way for a ‘higher’ humanity (Übermenschen) that live beyond bourgeois morality, its ‘last men,’ and modernity ([1883-1885] 1969: 226-32, 279, 289-306; [1882] 1974: 228-9). Nietzsche’s powerful aesthetic thread has had diverse impacts; Bourne expressed it in his vision of a new generation of young American radicals overcoming corrupt, spent establishment progressivism; writers such as Hesse, Rilke, Mann and Kazantakis implied it in literary departures from bourgeois life, and, albeit somewhat tepidly, Foucauldian posthumanism manifests it. Nietzsche’s call to ‘live dangerously’ and seek ‘heights’ inspired Löwith’s generation to try to forge authentic and meaningful lives. However, it also led, as Löwith asserted, ‘in a roundabout and yet direct way … to Goebbels’ heroic clichés about self-sacrifice’ ([1940] 1994: 5).

First-generation radical conservatives (such as Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jiinger) have been rehabilitated and are widely read and considered legitimate beyond radical-right circles (Dahl, 1996). Resurgent New Right Nietzscheans play the old tunes in a postmodern fin de siècle rhythm, offering an ‘alternative’ to gridlocked mass politics and modern social theory. Exploiting the yearning for collective identity in a context where economic and cultural globalization erode the autonomy of nation-states, they amplify ‘retribalization’ or rampant ethnic-racial populism, separatism, nationalism and even ‘ethnic cleansing’ (for example, Barber, 1996; Betz, 1994; Betz and Immerfall, 1998). Their theories and politics have a seductive power deriving from their romantic references to the restoration of community, emphatic assertion of tabooed views of nationalism, race and immigration, and self-righteous indignation against ‘political correctness.’ They resurrect Schmittean ‘friend-enemy’ politics, criticizing liberal democratic citizenship and calling for majority-group nationalism. Schmitt saw political resistance to cultural homogenization to depend on nurturance of cultural particularity and collective identity, which, he believed, could be strong only when opposed to divergent cultural complexes and peoples. He argued that the heights of politics are reached only when a people grasp actively what they arenot and share clear, specific, bitter, collective enemies. In his view, genuine cultures are incommensurable, and real communication is limited by ‘ethnos’ or to the circle of friends. His ‘cultural theory’ had a fateful affinity for the prevailing anti-semitism of his day ([1932] 1996). Today’s New Right mix these Schmittean views deceptively with Gramscian references to ‘cultural hegemony’ and ‘cultural struggle.’ They offer bold and often intellectually sophisticated departures from postwar political frameworks, addressing the political-economic issues ignored by Foucauldian Nietzscheanism and the postmodern fragmentation, paralysis and ennui expressed by Baudrillardian Nietzscheanism. The New Right’s enchanted and mythic allusions to ‘ethnos,’ solidarity, morality and collective will strike at the prosaic heart of liberalism.

New Right theorists revive Heideggerian Nietzscheanism’s equation of Western rationalization with all-encompassing homogenization. They acknowledge their debt to Nietzsche, but, like first-generation radical conservatives, they put aside the antiauthoritarian aspects of his thought. They argue that the primary ‘cultural’ and ‘political’ task is revival, nurturance and protection of cultural particularity or community, based on common ‘ethnos,’ natural inequality (that is, genuine individual particularity), shared mythology and general will. They speak with special urgency about the ‘New World Order,’ or hegemonic neoliberalism, contending that this global, managerial-capitalist juggernaut is imposing universal markets hand-in-hand with universal human rights and leveling everything in its path. They see abstract universality, anchored now in a Janus-faced mix of economism and multiculturalism, to be creating a ‘global midnight’ or end-game of culture and individuality. They claim to be the genuine ‘Third Way,’ gleaning the best facets of left and right and offering the only alternative to a morally bankrupt neoconservativism, toady for international bankers and managerial capitalism, and to the ersatz ‘third way’ politics of Clinton, Blair and Schroder, the leading-edge of the New World Order’s neoliberal grim reaper and universal state.

Overall, New Right Nietzscheans subvert the foundations of modern social theory, liberal-left politics, and the democratic nation-state. Blurring left and right, they deploy skillfully postmodern sensibilities. They claim to represent ‘the right to difference’ or ‘ethnopluralism’ against cultureless, deracinated, identityless, disempowered victims of liberal democracy. In their view, ‘real’ diversity and identity require unified, politically empowered ethnic, racial and religious communities, resistant to the simulated difference and individuality based on manipulated and culturally impoverished mass consumption and egalitarianism. Their Nietzschean language of exerting political will, escaping ennui and overcoming liberal paralysis implies an exclusionary, hierarchical, postliberal or protofascist order. Although past history is not likely to be repeated, the New Right justifies existing trends toward parochial standpoint philosophy, cultural philistinism, ethnic and racial separatism and violence, and other authoritarian departures from liberal democracy.

Antipolitical Nietzsche: Against ‘Psychic Proletarianization’

All great cultural epochs are epochs of political decline: that which is great in the cultural sense has been unpolitical, even antipolitical… (Nietzsche, [1888] 1968, Vol 1: 63, emphasis in original)

‘Truth’ as every prophet, every sectarian, every latitudinarian, every socialist, every Churchman understands the word is conclusive proof that not so much as a start has been made on that disciplining of the intellect and self-overcoming necessary for the discovery of any truth, even the smallest. (Nietzsche, [1888] 1968, Vol 2: 171).

Nietzsche referred to himself as ‘the last antipolitical German’ ([1888] 1969: 225, emphasis in original). This antipolitical theme runs counter to his impulsive aestheticism and vision of cultural exhaustion. By contrast to the Nietzschean right and left, he saw ‘culture’ and ‘politics’ to be contradictory domains. He criticized socialist, feminist and other mass democratic politics for putting a brake on cultural creativity, but he argued much more emphatically that the new politics of ‘nationalism and race hatred’ exert extreme narcotic, philistine, anti-cultural effects (e.g., [1873-1876] 1983: 3-8; [1887] 1969: 159; [1888] 1968: 60-3). He charged that ‘national scabies of the heart’ caused ‘the nations of Europe to barricade themselves against each other’ ([1882] 1974: 339). His vision of politics is informed by his broader views about the role of morality and ‘ressentiment’ in sociocultural reproduction. He argued that Western modernity originated from a ‘slave revolt’; ‘ascetic priests’ created a very harsh ‘slave morality’ (that is, Socratic philosophy and Christianity) to cope with disintegration following the collapse of pre-Socratic culture. Nietzsche contended that a much more sweeping type of cultural control was imposed by granting the ‘soul’ or ‘mind’ imperious lordship over the body and redirecting repressed instincts and feelings of inferiority, powerlessness and unjustified suffering into guilt; redemption required acquiescing to self-lacerating conscience, accepting spiritual regimentation and turning residual anger against divergent values and outsiders ([1887] 1969: 120-36; [1888] 1968: 29-34, 130-2).

Nietzsche anticipated Schmitt’s vision of ‘friend-enemy’ politics, but he saw it as a perversion that controls people by making them ‘sick.’ He argued that mass politics preys on the weak, inward Western personality, made even more vulnerable by later modernity’s homelessness, falsity and cheap mass culture. He held that extreme insecurity and overconcern with the ‘self and others’ perceptions of it makes people easy targets for the prédations of authoritarian demagogues. He stated that: ‘the less one knows how to command [i.e., exert self-control], the more one covets someone who commands severely—a god, prince, class, physician, father confessor, dogma, or party conscience’ (Nietzsche, [1882] 1974: 287, also see 175, 287-90, 338-40). The herd seeks ‘leaders,’ who promise to end their suffering, vanquish their enemies, and redeem their souls. In this light, Nietzsche considered appeals to collective subjectivity and national reawakening as leading to a nightmarish slave revolt and an even baser, more degraded herd, rather than to genuine community, identity and ‘higher’ people.

Nietzsche believed that moralism breeds fanaticism. He argued that the idea of morality operating ‘above’ and ‘guiding’ instrumental affairs (central to Western religion and philosophy) promotes ignorance about its effects and produces disastrous blindness and imprudence in political affairs. By contrast, he held that morality is entwined with power and knowledge, having an extremely pervasive, yet usually unexamined impact on nearly all action, blocking critical reflection and favoring instant responses ([1888] 1968: 65, 173). His declaration that ‘we are unknown to ourselves’ refers to morality’s blinders ([1887] 1969: 15). Traveling a slippery slope later traversed by Weber, he warned about treating morality as a separate domain, but still called for restraining moralizing impulses to make obdurate cultural and corporeal ‘realities’ visible as well as to enhance life.

Especially in his later work, Nietzsche spoke passionately about living ‘without illusions,’ ‘saying Yes to reality,’ and the ‘self-overcoming of morality’ ([1886] 1966: 50; [1888] 1969: 218, 272, 328, 331). He praised highly a type of ‘immoralism’ or ‘modesty’ that allows us to ‘see’ and approach inconvenient, unexpected, strange, unpleasant ‘realities,’ engage plural ‘truths’ and expose the ‘limits of reason’ ([1888] 1968: 62-6, 123-5, 162-75). He saw this realism as prefiguring postmodern beings, able to stand ‘above morality’ without ‘anxious stiffness’ or fear of ‘falling’ and, thus, to accept uncertainty, embrace diversity and exert responsibility ([1886] 1966: 145-98; [1882] 1974: 98, 164, 331-2). This immoralism, directed against the fanatic and true believer, manifests a facet of Nietzsche’s thought that Marcuse embraced, stressing a more joyful, creative, rich, uninhibited life, in touch with the body and less constrained by political power.

Even if one finds Nietzsche’s overall speculations about Western culture to be dubious, his antipolitical side encourages enquiry that goes beyond the manifest forms of material and ideological power, emphasizing the role of morality in creating psychic dependence and mass obedience within social movements and political organizations. He had a strong ‘suspicion’ of the moral vocabularies that claim to counter or overcome power, especially highhanded declarations about liberating people or defending community. Weber’s Nietzschean points about ‘pseudo-ethical self-righteousness’ and ‘psychic proletarianization’ suggest a type of demagogic manipulation that regiments people by stirring up fanatical emotionalism, dulling sensitivity to consequences and cultivating hatred of enemies ([1918] 1958: 125). Nietzsche argued that political morality commands obedience by shame, censure and guilt, causing already resentful followers to act in obsequious ways, become more resentful and direct their self-degradation and anger outward toward conventional targets. In his view, such morality is a prime source of cheap and cowardly forms of aggression, passed off as good reputation or trustworthiness among friends. Like other complex aspects of culture, political morality, has multiple directions and felicitous as well as harmful sides. However, Nietzsche offered valuable insight into its usually ignored, yet very important relation to power.

From this Nietzschean standpoint, morality has operated centrally in Stalinism, the Holocaust, the slaughter in Kampuchea, Jonestown, Serbian ethnic cleansing, US racism and Christian anti-semitism. Nietzschean suspicion challenges claims that authoritarian politics originate from an absence of morality and is best resisted by moral crusades. It questions moralizing silences (for example, how righteous indignation about terror in the Middle East might dull us to the plight of Palestinians). It also exposes the ‘kinder-gentler’ types of demagoguery closer to home. For example, it detects a dynamic of resentment, guilt and hostility in the left-liberal politics of difference, voice and discursive democracy as well as among the hard right and mainstream liberals. The later twentieth-century cultural left deployed their deconstructive insights about power and morality externally as a political weapon to expose enemy depredations. These latter-day ‘Nietzscheans’ seldom ‘problematized’ their own moralizing discourse and its relations to power. Nietzschean suspicion should be strong in the circle of friends (a center of struggles for self-recognition and identity and of moralistic self-deception) as well as in enemy domains. Properly aimed, it generates complex types of criticism, yields surprises and exposes much more nonlinear, ambiguous, contradictory moral terrain than is revealed in conventional deconstruction.

The Nietzschean antipolitical lens offers means for attuning ourselves to psychic proletarianization in our own thought and acts. For example, we ‘critical theorists’ might detect self-censoring forms of power and regimentation in our writing or speech as we couch words or accede to expected silences about ethically objectionable facets of our own groups and of favored thinkers in order to avoid being branded as ‘reactionary,’ ‘racist,’ or ‘liberal’ or to position ourselves in a politically or academically propitious fashion. This lens may help us diminish the normalizing acts in our reading, writing, teaching and politics. Nietzschean immoralism is, ironically, a heightened form of ethical imagination, which might enhance our politics by making them more self-reflexive and critical. In the early twentieth century, Bourne and Dewey both argued that a powerful Puritan thread was still very much alive in North America, being manifested in progressive as well as establishment politics. The same is still true today. Nietzsche offers a valuable tool for decoding the high-handed ways of our micro-politics as well as our national politics. Yet it also sheds light on the protofascist ‘politics of ethnos,’ which trots out Gramsci along with Nietzsche to seduce by moral means. The likely return of Marx need not push antipolitical Nietzscheanism into the grave. This side of Nietzsche might even be an ally of Marxism and critical social theory, combating repetition of the moral and political excesses of totalizing forms of theory and politics.