Trotsky on Nietzsche

(Excerpts from On the Philosophy of the Superman)


If we must “speak well of the dead or say nothing at all,” in this case it is preferable to observe a respectful silence rather than obscure the social significance of the deceased by a flood of unctuous praise devoid of meaning. We can and we must have an impartial attitude towards the persons of our social enemies by according them the tribute owed to their sincerity and their varied individual virtues. But an enemy, if he is sincere or not, living or dead, remains an enemy, in particular an enemy who lives in his works even after his death. In remaining silent we commit a social crime: “Not opposing actively,” a famous Russian thinker said, “means supporting passively.” This should not be forgotten, even in the face of the tragedy of death.

These reflections have led us to dedicate a few words to the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, recently deceased, and in particular to the aspects of his doctrine that concern his concepts concerning and judgments of society, his sympathies and antipathies, his social criticism, and his societal ideal.

For many people Nietzsche’s life and personality explain his philosophy: he could not passively accept the situation his illness placed him in. His forced retirement from public life led him to elaborate a theory that gave him not only the possibility of living under those conditions, but conferred a meaning on that life. The cult of suffering was the consequence of his illness. “You want to annihilate suffering as much as possible and we, it appears, want to increase it, make it stronger than it was. The cult of suffering, of great suffering: is it possible that this cult has led men to the highest summits?”

But the cult of suffering is only a part, and not one of the most characteristic ones, of Nietzsche’s philosophical system; a part that was rashly put in the forefront by several of our philosopher’s critics and exegetes.

The social axis of his system (if it is permitted to offend Nietzsche’s writings with a term as vulgar in the eyes of their author as that of “system”) is the recognition of the privilege granted a few “chosen” to freely enjoy all the goods of existence. These happy chosen are not only exempted from productive labor, but also from the “labor” of domination. “It is for you to believe and serve (Dienstbarkeit)! Such is the destiny Zarathustra offers ordinary mortals in his ideal society, whose number is too great"(den Vielvuzielen). Above them is the caste of those who give orders, of guardians of the law, of warriors. At the summit is the king, “the highest image of the warrior, judge, and guardian of the law.” Compared to the “supermen” all of them are auxiliaries, they are employed in the “rude tasks of domination:” they serve to transmit to the mass of slaves “the will of the legislators.” Finally, the highest caste is that of “masters,” of “creators of values,” of “legislators,” of “supermen.” They inspire the activity of the entire social organism. They will play on earth the same role that God, according to the Christian faith, plays in the universe.

Thus even the “labor” of leadership falls not on superior beings, but only on the most elevated among the inferior. As concerns the “chosen,” the “supermen,” freed of all social and moral obligations they lead a life full of adventure, happiness, and joy: “Given that I live, “ says Nietzsche, “ I want life to overflow, that it be in me and outside me as prodigal, as luxurious as possible.”

Nietzsche contests all the norms of the society around him. All the virtues of the philistines disgust him. For him the average bourgeois is a weak being, every bit as much so as the proletarian. And this is quite natural. The average bourgeois is a reasonable individual; he nibbles slowly, in accordance with the system, accompanying himself with emotional phrases, moralizing sermons, and sentimental declarations on the sacred mission of labor. A bourgeois superman does not at all act like this: he grasps, he takes, he pillages, he eats everything down to the bone and he adds: “There’s nothing more to be said.”

Bourgeois society has elaborated certain moral and juridical codes that it is strictly forbidden to transgress. Since it likes to exploit others, the bourgeoisie doesn’t like to be exploited. But the Uebermensch of all kinds grow fat dipping into the bourgeois funds of surplus value, i.e., they live directly at the expense of the bourgeoisie. It goes without saying that they can’t place themselves under the protection of its ethical laws.  The life of a noble being, Nietzsche teaches, is an uninterrupted chain of adventures full of danger. Happiness doesn’t interest him, but rather the excitement procured by risk.

According to Nietzsche, humanity will raise itself to the superman when it will have rejected the current hierarchy of values and, above all, Christian and democratic ideals. Bourgeois society, at least in words, respects democratic principles. Nietzsche for his part, as we have seen, separates morals into the morality of masters and the morality of slaves. His mouth foams at the word “democracy.” He is full of hatred for the democracy infatuated with egalitarianism that strives to transform man into a contemptible herd animal.

Things would go badly for the superman if the slaves were to adopt their morality, if society were to find it unworthy of itself to dedicate itself to slow, productive labor. This is why, with the open cynicism that characterizes him, Nietzsche writes in a letter that the popularization of his doctrine “presents a considerable risk”, not because of those who dare act in accordance with that doctrine, but because of those to whom it is spoken of. He adds: “My consolation is that no ears exist to hear my great novelty.”

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 15, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    really enjoyed this playlist

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