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A Critique of 'Social Justice' Ideology: Thinking through Marx and Nietzsche

CLG Exclusive: A Critique of 'Social Justice' Ideology: Thinking through Marx and Nietzsche --By Michael Rectenwald 20/07/2017

In an earlier essay, I offered a brief sketch of the genealogy of social justice mechanisms and beliefs. To date, however, I have yet to examine the philosophical premises of the creed, or formally to offer a theoretical framework or set of frameworks for critiquing and refuting it. This essay represents a first effort at doing both.

First, I will briefly trace a Soviet and a few postmodernist contributions to social justice ideology. Then, I will turn my attention to two major thinkers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche – in order to find ways that the two thinkers may be adduced to provide resources for understanding and critically assessing the social justice ideology.

My decision to treat these two thinkers is based on more than a mere hunch. I once figured Nietzsche as an unambiguous anti-social-justice figure. Yet I also recognize that Nietzsche is a well-known source for postmodern theory, and thus, indirectly, for some aspects of social justice ideology. Postmodernism adopted Nietzsche’s view that power and knowledge are inextricable, that values are historically contingent and socially constructed, that truth is a function of the most plausible narrative explanations as inflected by power, and so forth. Likewise, Nietzsche’s relation to social justice ideology is not only a matter of applying the slave morality, ressentiment, and critiques of egalitarianism to social justice ideology. However, as I do not have the space to consider the consonances between postmodernism/social justice and Nietzsche, I will limit my discussion in this respect to a Nietzschean critique of social justice.

Many contemporary critics of social justice ideology see Marxism as the obvious progenitor of the creed. Some even mistakenly equate Marxism, postmodernism, and social justice. Yet substituting special identity groups for social classes does not establish a perfect analogy between social justice ideology and socialism. Too many postmodern theoretical antecedents have mediated the relationship between social justice and the Marxist-based Left. Furthermore, Marxism and postmodernism are far from compatible. As such, social justice ideology and Marxism bear only a faint philosophical family resemblance. Yet, fruitfully, any resemblance they do bear is best understood in terms of a Nietzschean critique.
Postmodernism and Social Justice Ideology
The social justice notion that each person has their own truth based on their particular type of subordination has its origin in “standpoint epistemology.” First introduced by the Hungarian Soviet theorist Georg Lukács in his book History and Class Consciousness (1923), standpoint epistemology is the notion that particular social outlooks lend greater access to knowledge of reality. Lukács argued that the unique position of the working class within the social structure accorded the class a privileged vantage point for discerning objective truth. In her book The Science Question in Feminism (1986), feminist Sandra Harding adopted Lukács’s proletarian standpoint epistemology and adapted it for a “feminist standpoint epistemology.” Having been relegated to being caretakers of men, children, and themselves, women experience a deepened and unified sense of “hand, heart, and head” activity, and thus appreciate a deepened “sensuous, concrete, relational” access to the world. Their standpoint accords them an enhanced cognitive and perceptual grasp of objectivity.
The notion of standpoint epistemology was then siphoned through other identity filters and inflected by postmodernism. In the hands of postmodernists, it came to suggest an absolute epistemological relativism, the belief that truth was a function of the standpoint of any particular persons, but particularly subordinated ones. Further, each group or individual had their own exclusive access to their own truth, and no one else could possibly understand their truth. This is the form it takes in social justice ideology. I call it an epistemological solipsism.
Social constructivism is a major prong of the postmodern outlook. According to postmodern theory, a social construct is a socially, culturally, and historically contingent construal of collective, conscious, and less-than-conscious human perceptions, cognitions, beliefs, and ideations. Social constructs include the construal of identities, groups, beliefs, sensibilities, tastes, sexual attractiveness, and theories themselves, among many other phenomena. Social constructivism holds that even such categories as “nature,” as well as the most enduring methodology we have for studying it, namely science, are also social constructs.
Social constructivism comes in several flavors. I’ll discuss only the most radical type here, namely, “radical constructivism.” Developed within the postmodern quarters of the anti-science postmodern academic Left and within the interdisciplinary field known as “Science Studies,”[1] “radical constructivism” is the position that the material world does not significantly constrain our perceptions of it. It does not impose any significant constraints on our theories about it either. Likewise, in science, one theory is as good or almost as good as any other. The relationship between a scientific theory and its “natural object” is arbitrary or nearly arbitrary. This is a form of what philosophers call “social idealism,” the belief that our ideas about the world are not only in our heads, but mostly, if not exclusively, made up by us. Something is surely “out there,” but whatever it is, it does not necessarily bear any relationship to our ideas about it, or vice versa.
Contemporary gender theory derives indirectly from the same provenance as such ideas. The transgender belief is that gender – or even, as the story currently goes, “sexual difference” itself – is a social construction. Gender identity is determined not by genetics, anatomy, hormones or physiology. Such words are anathema and can only be used ironically or with derision in a Gender Studies classroom. Gender is determined by beliefs about sometimes inconveniently non-conforming phenomena, and ultimately, by names and words. This is social idealism through and through. Such social idealism had been made au courant by postmodernist versions of Science Studies and postmodern theory in general, from the late 1970s onward. Contemporary transgender theory would be inconceivable without these postmodern precursors.
Transgenderism is a subset of a broader social justice ideology, and radical constructivism underlies nearly all social justice claims. In the terms set by social justice ideology, language constitutes reality, rather than merely attempting to represent it. Reality is formed from a linguistic putty that social justice believers mold into whatever entities they imagine or construe. Social justice ideology is thus a “practical postmodernism” – although the phrase necessarily strikes reasonable people as an oxymoron. How can postmodernism be “practical?” they ask. By being put into practice. By the same token, social justice ideologues are practical postmodernists. How can postmodernists be “practical?” By putting postmodernism into action. And this is exactly what they have done.

Marx and Nietzsche 

Before turning to Marxian and Nietzschean critiques of social justice ideology, a comparison between the two thinkers is in order. First and foremost, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche should be understood as fundamentally antithetical with respect to at least one crucial issue – egalitarianism.
Scholars have debated whether or not Marxism amounts to an ethical system. The most convincing arguments suggest that it does not. As Bertell Ollman notes in Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (1971):
… all ethical systems, that is all those ways of thinking which are generally accepted as such, have a basis for judgment which lies outside that which is to be judged. This results in a suspended commitment until the ‘facts’ have been gathered and their relation to the standard for judgment clarified. The evaluation, when it comes, is a matter of conscious choice.
One of the problems with understanding Marxism as an ethical system is that for Marx no “outside of the system” exists and thus no previously-existing standard can be applied to the elements within the system. Further, the elements already embed values, which are inextricable from the facts as such. That is, under Marx’s analysis of capitalism, no value-free facts exist that can be evaluated in terms of externally-derived values.
Yet, despite the lack of an explicit ethics in Marx’s work, his economic and philosophical arguments are inexplicable without reference to at least one value-laden premise: the working class is not naturally inferior to the capitalist class. Nothing intrinsic to the working class makes its exploitation inevitable or justifiable. Since the working class is not comprised of naturally inferior beings, its predicament must be explained in other terms. Marx explained the class’s predicament in terms of its socio-economic positioning, which guarantees its subordination and exploitation. Further, its structurally-determined positioning and the contradictions this entails make the class a world-historical agent, the only agent capable of eradicating class society altogether. This is hardly the portrait of an enfeebled and intrinsically deficient mass.
Thus, Marx must be regarded as essentially an egalitarian. Further, as Marx sees it, capitalist exploitation and its lottery-like conditions for workers render equality moot. According to Marx, liberal, abstract egalitarianism, or egalitarianism de jure, is a sham.
Nietzsche, on the other hand, scorned egalitarianism en toto, both in the abstract and in its concrete expressions. Nietzsche suggested that egalitarianism represented a moral valuation proffered on behalf of the weak by a monotheistic priestly caste – which by his time had included socialist intellectuals – in order to level the social order.

Egalitarianism enabled the trammeling of the natural superiors of the masses, and thus potentially foreclosed the emergence of the utmost in human individuality and possibility, as represented by the Übermensch, Nietzsche’s natural aristocrat.

Nietzsche’s most clear objections to egalitarianism are put forth in Beyond Good and Evil (1886) in the section, “What is Noble?”

Every enhancement so far in the type ‘man’ has been the work of an aristocratic society – and that is how it will be, again and again, since this sort of society believes in a long ladder of rank order and value distinctions between men, and in some sense needs slavery. Without the pathos of distance as it grows out of the ingrained differences between stations, out of the way the ruling caste maintains an overview and keeps looking down on subservient types and tools, and out of  this caste’s equally continuous exercise in obeying and commanding, in keeping away and below – without this pathos, that other, more mysterious pathos could not have grown at all, that demand for new expansions of distance within the soul itself, the development of states that are increasingly high, rare, distant, tautly drawn and comprehensive, and in short, the enhancement of the type ‘man,’ the constant ‘self-overcoming of man’ (to use a moral formula in a supra-moral sense) … 
     Mutually refraining from injury, violence, and exploitation, placing your will on par with the other’s: in a certain, crude sense, these practices can become good manners between individuals when the right conditions are present (namely, that the individuals have genuinely similar quantities of force and measures of value, and belong together within a single body). But as soon as this principle is taken any further, and maybe even held to be the fundamental  principle of society, it immediately shows itself for what it is: the will to negate life, the principle of disintegration and decay. Here we must think things through thoroughly, and ward off any sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially a process of appropriating, injuring, overpowering the alien and the weaker, oppressing, being harsh, imposing your own form, incorporating, and at least, the very least exploiting, – but what is the point of always using words that have been stamped with slanderous intentions from time immemorial?
Nietzsche’s remarks regarding the masses might seem to suggest that the Übermenschen should exert control over and directly aim to exploit the masses – a totalitarianism of the natural aristocracy as such. But was Nietzsche really a totalitarian?[2] Totalitarian recommendations are not explicit in his writing. In fact, even if he had suggested that the masses should be dominated, he dismissed specific measures for dominating them. Such measures had been rendered unnecessary. As “herd animals,” the masses submitted to mediocrity, thus effectively remaining under subjection without the need for superordinate efforts on the part of their overlords. Their subordination had been accomplished by the slave morality. Due to their historically determined mass personhood, the question of mass social control had been rendered moot – except in terms of the question of the domination of the social order by the masses. Yet Nietzsche did not fear a socialist uprising.[3] He did suggest, however, that egalitarianism made exceptions to the mediocre legions of the masses – and the emergence of Übermenschen – less likely.
For Nietzsche, the problem with egalitarianism was that it depended upon squelching greatness, and likewise upon denying the actualization of true individual human excellence. Egalitarianism, as Nietzsche saw it, was necessarily subtractive in character, based upon a morality of denial. Social leveling occurred not by elevating the majority but by suppressing the great, even by denying their possible existence. The weak masses had been encouraged by the priestly caste to believe in a subtractive, negative egalitarianism, using a religious or religiously-derived morality, by which they imposed a “bad conscience” on the exceptional. 
For Nietzsche, socialism represented a direct descendent of Christianity, and Christianity a direct descendent of Judaism. All three were premised upon what began primarily as imaginary inversions or reversals of the social hierarchy, which the priestly caste then imposed on the social order. According to this inversion ideology, the lower orders, the subordinated, the subaltern, were actually the true superiors:  “… the socialists’ conception of the highest society is the lowest in the order of rank...” (The Will to Power (1901)).

The superiority of the subordinated was generally asserted in terms of moral value or worth, or on the notion that subordinated status itself actually signified superiority in its own right:

‘Only those who suffer are good, only the poor, the powerless, the lowly are good; the suffering, the deprived, the sick, the ugly, are the only pious people, the only ones saved, salvation is for them alone, whereas you rich, the noble and powerful, you are eternally wicked, cruel, lustful, insatiate, godless, you will also be eternally wretched, cursed and damned!’ (Genealogy of Morals (1887)).
Socialism, like Christianity before it, and Judaism before it, represented the ressentiment of the lower orders for those who dominated them. As Nietzsche saw it, a morality of ressentiment had become the ruling moral system. By encouraging the maintenance of the weak, the sick, or the otherwise incapable, as Rainer Maria Rilke put it his short story “Der Apostel” (1896), the morality of ressentiment “had made the whole world an infirmary.” To appropriate and adapt a contemporary social justice term, it did this by encouraging and enabling a dis-ableism. It held in the highest regard the most degraded elements of humanity, as Nietzsche (and Rilke) figured them. For Nietzsche, class politics involved ressentiment and derived directly from the slave morality of Judaism and Christianity.
Despite these fundamentally irreconcilable differences between Marx and Nietzsche, we may nevertheless descry areas of overlap, and even some rationale for Marxists to draw on Nietzsche for the class struggle. Historically, attempts have been made to appropriate Nietzschean notions by Leftists, some of them Marxists – before, that is, the Soviet project was established, and then again after its dissolution. One of these notions is the will to power itself.[4] Some Marxists have found in Nietzsche a validation and support for the unabashed assumption of power and its use in order to overthrow class society.
Another potential overlap is Nietzsche’s notion of the slave morality. Nietzsche’s characterization of a morality that praised lowliness and extolled the virtues of humility and obedience may be reconciled with the Marxist conception of ruling-class ideology, which serves to justify the subordination of the vast majority by a minority, drawing on the same notions of humility, obedience, and long-suffering.
Yet another attractive notion for Marxist readers of Nietzsche is the latter’s notion of the transvaluation of values: the overcoming of conventional morality, followed by a period of nihilism, and the most difficult task of leaving nihilism in establishing a new value system. The transvaluation of values might be translated into the Marxist project of overcoming ruling-class ideology and replacing it with a socialist understanding of the world, although Nietzsche understood this as the province of individuals alone.
Marx and Nietzsche also shared atheism. But their atheisms served different purposes and were arrived at and valued for different reasons. For Marx, religion was a ruling-class ideology, a superstructural means for dominating the proletariat, subduing them psychically and thus helping to render the use of force less necessary. However, Marx’s atheism has sometimes been misunderstood. For Marx, the primary political work was not the intellectual task of eradicating religious belief. Rather, Marx figured religion as an almost necessary anodyne under capitalist social relations. It would disappear completely only with socialism, not merely with demonstrations of its falsity.
Marx’s most famous passage about religion, too often truncated, makes clear that for him religion was not the problem, per se:
Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1844)).
For Marx, religion existed because people were oppressed. Religion served as a displacement of equity, bounty, and justice onto a realm outside of the human realm, precisely because the human realm lacked these qualities. Likewise, the socialist – unlike such left Hegelians as Feuerbach, whom Marx criticized fiercely – should not primarily aim to eradicate belief in the supernatural. Instead, the socialist should struggle to eradicate the conditions that make belief in the supernatural necessary.
On the other hand, as Nietzsche saw it, religion, especially Christianity and Judaism, were products of the priestly caste, not the aristocracy. Judeo-Christian religiosity originally represented the ressentiment of the priestly caste for the aristocracy, and was an expression of their will to power. Meanwhile, atheism had been made possible by science and modernity. God, or God’s functions, had been rendered obsolete. But Nietzsche also suggested that most so-called atheists merely substituted a new godliness for a now-dead one. Scratching the surface of their atheism revealed yet another form of religiosity. Socialism was one such form of atheism, as Nietzsche saw it. After all, socialism retained a Christian-like eschatology and merely substituted a new savior, the working class – or the vanguard in Bolshevism – for the Christ. Further, socialists perpetrated a very similar sense of hallowed social values that subordinated the great — a subtractive egalitarianism, a morality of denial, and ressentiment for their worldly superiors.

Toward Marxist and Nietzschean Critiques of Social Justice Ideology

We see the modus operandi for which Nietzsche savaged Judaism, Christianity, and socialism also operative within contemporary social justice ideology. The social justice Left’s attempts to overthrow the hierarchy are premised precisely on inversion or reversal; the supposedly subordinated is taken to be ethically and morally superior to the socially dominant. The subordinated is accorded a superior epistemological standpoint from which to put forth assertions. Finally, the subordinate’s low status becomes the very basis for its (newly acquired) high status. Those supposed to be without privilege within the existing social hierarchy are accorded the most esteem and privilege under social justice.
As such, social justice ideology does not represent egalitarianism but rather a reversal or inversion of hierarchy. Hierarchy is kept in place; only the order of rank is inverted. It is no wonder then that social justice activists and other participants compete vigorously for the status of “most subordinated” – in the games derogatorily referred to as “the Oppression Olympics” – because the lowest position puts one on the top of the totem pole in social-justice-dominated spaces. These spaces now include the major institutions of academia, mass media, social media, and others.
The social justice phrase “check your privilege” is best understood, then, in connection with this inverted hierarchy. It should be interpreted as follows: Note where you stand on the (inverted) social-justice hierarchy, and act accordingly. Defer to all those ranked above you. Acknowledge their superior access to knowledge, experience, or what have you. Never suggest that you have knowledge or experience that they do not have. And finally, speak only if/when granted permission by your social justice superiors.
We saw these social justice rules recently play out at Evergreen State College in Washington state, where social justice student activists inverted the social hierarchy, took command of the college, and exerted their will to power over professors and the college president. They were able to silence professor Bret Weinstein and president George Bridges – “Shut up, Bret!” and “Shut up, George!” they yelled – even after the two had been asked questions. 
Nietzsche saw such inversion ideologies as means by which the weaker, less accomplished or otherwise dominated or degraded exerted their will to power. Unlike the forthright expressions of the natural aristocracy, these attempts, which were successful in the cases of Judaism and Christianity, involved surreptitious, devious and necessarily veiled power gambits – stealthy assertions of the will to power:
The beginning of the slaves’ revolt in morality occurs when ressentiment itself turns creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who, denied the proper response of action, compensate for it only with imaginary revenge. Whereas all noble morality grows out of a triumphant saying ‘yes’ to itself, slave morality says ‘no’ on principle to everything that is ‘outside’, ‘other’, ‘non-self ’: and this ‘no’ is its creative deed. This reversal of the evaluating glance – this essential orientation to the outside instead of back onto itself – is a feature of ressentiment: in order to come about, slave morality first has to have an opposing, external world, it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all, – its action is basically a reaction … His soul squints, his mind loves hide-outs, secret paths, and back doors; everything that is hidden seems to him his own world, his security, his comfort; he is expert in silence, in long memory, in waiting … (Genealogy of Morals).
Surprisingly, perhaps, the early Marx also criticized such subversive tactics as a part of leveling ambitions:
Universal envy setting itself up as a power is the concealed form of greed which merely asserts itself and satisfies itself in another way. The thoughts of every private property owner as such are at least turned against those richer than they as an envious desire to level down. This envious desire is precisely the essence of competition. Crude communism is only the completion of the envy and levelling down to a preconceived minimum. It has a particular and limited standard. How little this abolition of private property constitutes a real appropriation is proved by the abstract negation of the whole world of culture and civilization, a regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor man without any needs who has not even arrived at the stage of private property, let alone got beyond it (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1932)).
Thus, like Nietzsche, Marx critiqued subtractive, negative egalitarianism, an egalitarianism premised on envy, a near equivalent of ressentiment. Such a subtractive egalitarianism did nothing to establish communism. Further, it posed a threat to culture and civilization themselves, without which humanity was no better off than non-productive beasts. (The above passage also implies a Marxist critique of primitivism.)
Unlike social justice ideology, for Marx, the leveling down or stripping social superiors of “underserved privilege” has nothing at all to do with achieving “justice” or “equity.” Lacking any critical opposition to capitalism, the primary means by which the social order is structured, and involving no arguments or tactics for overthrowing capitalism, it is rendered impotent.
Social justice ideology is primarily concerned with morality, with an abstract justice and a hierarchical inversion, or at least a leveling, of individuals and groups. But if, as Marx argued, the proletarians, or the vast majority of the human race, are exploited, robbed of the fruits of their labor and essentially of their very lives, then collective action resulting from the recognition of collective self-interest, and not some attempt to realize an abstract “social justice,” is the only effective means for realizing liberation.
Marx’s answer for social quandaries and plaguing inequities did not involve the exposure of an ethical breach but rather a systemic analysis of capitalism’s economic and social structure and the overcoming of these structures. In short, existing social relations – the class system – depend on a socially-organized labor force that operates within a privately-owned system of production. Only by overthrowing these social relations and eliminating this ownership system can equity be achieved.
Marx’s object was universal human emancipation, which is not a mere matter of reducing the “privilege” of one’s social superiors. In fact, such jockeying for social ranking would have been more appropriate within feudal society, although mostly impossible within it as well. In Marx’s terms, inequity within capitalist society is not due to a surplus of privilege for some and a corresponding lack of privilege for others. Such honorific notions are abstractions involving mere ephemeral social signaling. Were he alive today, Marx would instantly note that even if the aims of social justice could be achieved, the most significant matters of material inequity, exploitation, poverty, and social domination would remain intact.


Whether one takes a Nietzschean or a Marxist view of the social justice creed, or, if such is possible, a combinatory position, we can see that social justice should be opposed and likely defeated by several major social contingents. 

Social justice ideology will (or should) be opposed by believers in true egalitarianism. Its inversion or reversal ideology is manifest in its ranking procedures and rituals, procedures and rituals under which those who have been at the top must take their places at the bottom. This is not a temporary condition for membership in the social justice movement. Only those egalitarians who believe that the inversion is a necessary and temporary measure, or otherwise do not recognize it as an inversion at all, will support the social justice movement. But hierarchical inversion will be a permanent feature of social justice, as the continuation of this inversion or reversal will be necessary for fueling the animus or ressentiment upon which the movement depends. 

Social justice ideology will also be opposed by those satisfied with whatever social position or currency they enjoy, including even the manual laborer and the (sociologically speaking) middle-class householder. That is, it will not attract those who do not harbor ressentiment or live under the sway of a slave morality. The exceptions to this will be those who are guilt-tripped into acting against their own self-interests, duped into believing that they must submit to a new form of hierarchy or otherwise experience a life dominated by guilt without remission. We can expect minions of the liberal “middle class” and some even from even higher classes to submit to this ordeal – for whatever reasons, whether they be masochists, or idiots, or both.
Since social justice ideology depends on anti-realist postmodern epistemological doctrines, it will be opposed by scientists and science advocates -- and by all believers in a real, material object world, however grasped. These will recognize that the postmodern-inflected social justice epistemology amounts to a denial of the material world as well as of the scientific means for knowing about it. The social justice charlatans will be exposed for what may amount to a giant Sokal Hoax perpetrated on the entire social order. I look forward to, continue to work for, and will welcome the day.

Michael Rectenwald is a Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University and author of seven books, including Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature (2016), Academic Writing, Real World Topics (2015), and Global Secularisms in A Post-Secular Age (2015). A prominent spokesperson for academic freedom and free speech, he has published widely and has appeared in numerous national and international media venues regarding politically correct authoritarianism and social justice ideology. He is currently working on a memoir tracing his encounters with the postmodernist theoretical precursors of social justice ideology. Follow him on Twitter @antipcnyuprof.

Copyright 2017, Michael Rectenwald and CLG News, Any reproduction of this essay in full or to extent beyond 1/6 of its total length, without permission, is prohibited by law.

[1] “Science Studies,” also known as “Science and Technology Studies” or “Science, Technology and Society” (STS) is a dialogue ranging across many academic disciplinary boundaries. It includes the History and Philosophy of Science (HPS), the Sociology of Science, the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), and such cross-disciplinary fields as the cultural studies of science, feminist critiques of science, Marxist analysis of science, and anthropological studies of science, amongst others. The postmodern wing of Science Studies became implicated in the “Science Wars,” a controversy involving humanities and social science critics, who were badgered by such defenders of science as biologist Paul R. Gross, mathematician Norman Levitt, and physicists Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal. The “Sokal Affair” or “Sokal Hoax” capped the controversy. When Sokal submitted a satirical article to the respected critical theory journal Social Text, the editors were duped and published it. The essay, entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” argued that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. It was gratuitously littered with postmodern jargon and amounted to an obscurantism emblematic not only of postmodernist Science Studies essays and books, but of postmodernist theory in general.

[2] In 1989, I posed this very question to my first literary mentor, Allen Ginsberg. “Bohemian scribbler” was the sum of Allen’s answer – suggesting that Nietzsche should be best understood as just another rebellious ranter, even one comparable to the Beats, one who rejected the dominant, bourgeois culture and had a flair for the dramatic.

[3] Nietzsche’s attitude toward the masses may be summarized as follows: “Who cares why people have been turned into sheep by their own weakness … The very fact that they allowed themselves to be turned into sheep is proof enough of the fact that they deserve to be sheep and therefore always will be sheep. To try and get the sheep to make a virtue out of their sheepishness through telling them that their weakness is a strength and that they can all liberate themselves through one form of ressentiment or another, through Christianity or class struggle, was a waste of time. Borrowing from Aristotle, his view was that there were natural slaves and natural masters and the existence of slaves and masters proved this.” Peter Thompson (2002) “‘The Übermensch is the Proletariat’. Marx + Nietzsche = ?,” Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 10:2, 201-19, at 209.

[4] See Seth Taylor (1990) Left-Wing Nietzscheans: The Politics of German Expressionism 1910-1920. (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter).