One day, at my local neighborhood cafe, I was bantering with an elderly gentleman in his 70s. I don’t remember how I struck up the conversation, except that an older woman introduced me after she saw me ostentatiously smoking a pipe (a Danish White Star billiard, to be precise). We went through various subjects, most of them political, until at one point he gave me this stern declaration: “If you want to understand how the world works, you ought to read this book by Jack London. It’s called Might is Right.”
Both greatly amused and surprised, my instinctive reaction was to blurt out that AKSHULLY Jack London didn’t write it, but Arthur Desmond alias Ragnar Redbeard. The man strongly insisted on London’s authorship, however. I then he asked him if he had read Max Stirner. He had not. In any case, it showed to me that Redbeard’s message, “O ye generations of Christ-deluded imbeciles! Ye swarms of moonstruck meeklings! Ye burnt out cinders of men! — ye bleeding lambs! One day! One day! ye shall be flung to the lions! Behold! I spit upon your Idols — your Opinions. Now would I pour molten hell through the ventricles of your soul” — had a truly wide and uneven dissemination.
BAP is a Nietzschean, though I do not care for that aspect of him. I have not read his book and don’t intend to, nonetheless I commend him on his role as a leader of the e-right, which has been near impeccable in comparison to the mediocrities who preceded him. Darren J. Beattie keeps harping on that “Nietzsche was the greatest anti-reactionary and anti-conservative thinker,” that “he first made it possible to be anti-egalitarian without being reactionary,” and that this is the only path forward with any depth and vitality. But what inspired me to write this was an article on IM-1776 titled “Nomos of the Nightclub,” where the author proclaims nightclubs to be “hidden pockets of hard-right bacchanalia,” for “as overpriced Finnlandia seduces and melts the ice in your cup, you experience, for a moment, the freedom and vigor that is best in man.” If what is life-furthering and life-preserving is to be suckered into overpriced vodka while house music deafens your ears, then a more fitting epitaph for Lebensphilosophie couldn’t be written.
Nietzsche is a man of the right. I will not deny him that. His early reception by people such as Oscar Levy, George Chatterton-Hill, Anthony Ludovici, J.M. Kennedy and others correctly interpreted him as the eugenicist aristocratic radical he was, and Nietzsche was influential in the Edwardian-era England eugenics movement, as documented by Dan Stone in Breeding Superman (2002). Nonetheless, his appropriation by left-wing socialists began contemporaneously, which is the subject of Seth Taylor’s Left-wing Nietzscheans: The Politics of German Expressionism, 1910-1920 (1989). This ambivalence of Nietzsche’s reception persists to this day and reached its culmination in the 1960s when he became the darling of Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze. This was no coincidence. Nietzsche’s works began appearing in the agrégations de philosophie (entry exams for teaching positions in university philosophy departments) in the late 1950s, with Georges Canguilhem playing a pivotal role in this development and indeed in the entire direction of French “theory.”
How could a man with endless contempt for the “chandalas,” a fierce and consistent critic of the socialist movement who celebrated the master morality of the “blond beasts,” become a rallying point for subversives and degenerates? In more recent years, a lot of leftists have wised up to this discrepancy. Among them we can count Domenico Losurdo, Geoff Waite, Malcolm Bull, Luc Ferry, Alain Renaut, Richard Wolin and others, all of whom have awoken to his “proto-fascist,” “fascoid-liberal” or otherwise unsavory nature for those committed to egalitarianism.
Yet even though portraying Nietzsche as some playful meta-ironic witticist is a clear distortion, neither is such an interpretation wholly fabricated when one factors in his ‘middle period’ writings. In Daybreak, we have this great chapter dealing with the “interregnum” of moral valuation:
Who would now be in a position to describe that which will one day do away with moral feelings and judgments! -however sure one may be that the foundations of the latter are all defective and their superstructure is beyond repair: their obligatory force must diminish from day to day, so long as the obligatory force of reason does not diminish! To construct anew the laws of life and action – for this task our sciences of physiology, medicine, sociology and solitude are not yet sufficiently sure of themselves: and it is from them that the foundation-stones of new ideals (if not the new ideals themselves) must come. So it is that, according to our taste and talent, we live an existence which is either a prelude or a postlude, and the best we can do in this interregnum is to be as far as possible our own reges and found little experimental states. We are experiments: let us also want to be them!
Now to mock this as a prototype of Sam Harris is grossly unfair to the man, and that’s not my point. It is rather to bring up reasons for why so many leftists have been able to appropriate him for their causes. Still, we did very much obtain our “foundation-stones of new ideals” from “our sciences of physiology, medicine, sociology,” which is why everyone now “knows” because of Dr. Benjamin Spock that it’s atrocious to spank your kid, and that we are gripped by an epidemic psychological profile of “right-wing authoritarianism,” as “discovered” by Bob Altemeyer.
For me, the most fruitful interpretive framework for Nietzsche is to place his philosophy as a response to Max Stirner. The controversy over whether Nietzsche read Stirner has raged since the 1890s, though it has not been a major research topic in a long time. We do know for certain that Nietzsche was aware of Stirner from secondary sources like Eduard von Hartmann and Friedrich Albert Lange. Adolf Baumgartner, a pupil of Nietzsche’s at Basel, claimed to have borrowed Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own in 1874 at Nietzsche’s recommendation. German scholar Bernd A. Laska marshals considerable circumstantial evidence that Nietzsche had read Stirner in 1865 while a guest at the house of the Mushacke family, with the father Edward Mushacke having personally known Stirner as a veteran of the Young Hegelian radical scene in 1840s Berlin. Laska claims that reading Stirner was the inciting event for Nietzsche’s personal crisis that culminated in his embrace of Schopenhauer. Given the powerful impact that Stirner tends to have on people (myself included, for I credit Stirner with waking me out of my libertarian slumber and driving me into an intellectual crisis of my own that I fortuitously resolved by my rediscovery of the Christian faith and the counterrevolutionary tradition), I find this perfectly believable. Moreover, the residues of what appear to be Stirner’s can be found across Nietzsche’s philosophy, with this paragraph in The Gay Science being the most explicit example I’m aware of:
What? You admire the categorical imperative in you? This “persistency” of your so-called moral judgment? This absoluteness of the feeling that “as I think on this matter, so must everyone think”? Admire rather your selfishness therein! And the blindness, paltriness, and modesty of your selfishness! For it is selfishness in a person to regard his judgment as universal law, and a blind, paltry and modest selfishness besides, because it betrays that you have not yet discovered yourself, that you have not yet created for yourself any individual, quite individual ideal:—for this could never be the ideal of another, to say nothing of all, of every one!——He who still thinks that “each would have to act in this manner in this case,” has not yet advanced half a dozen paces in self-knowledge: otherwise he would know that there neither are nor can be similar actions,—that every action that has been done, has been done in an entirely unique and inimitable manner, and that it will be the same with regard to all future actions; that all precepts of conduct (and even the most esoteric and subtle precepts of all moralities up to the present), apply only to the coarse exterior,—that by means of them, indeed, a semblance of equality can be attained, but only a semblance,—that in outlook or retrospect, every action is and remains an impenetrable affair,—that our opinions of “good,” “noble” and “great” can never be demonstrated by our actions, because no action is cognisable,—that our opinions, estimates, and tables of values are certainly among the most powerful levers in the mechanism of our actions, that in every single case, nevertheless, the law of their mechanism is untraceable. Let us confine ourselves, therefore, to the purification of our opinions and appreciations, and to the construction of new tables of value of our own:—we will, however, brood no longer over the “moral worth of our actions”! Yes, my friends! As regards the whole moral twaddle of people about one another, it is time to be disgusted with it! To sit in judgment morally ought to be opposed to our taste!… We, however, would seek to become what we are,—the new, the unique, the incomparable, making laws for ourselves and creating ourselves!
What could I say about Mad Max to the uninitiated? He completed the system of German idealism, or rather wrecked it. At the center of his philosophy is the Unique One [Der Einzige], or the “creative nothing,” which is his term for the irreducible and undefinable substance of the individual. The egoist. All ideas, essences, forms and thoughts exist purely for the gratification, play and struggle of the individual egoist, and the moment he starts to reify any ideas as a “higher cause” that he must be subject to, he at that point becomes a pawn of these fixed ideas, these “spooks” as he famously calls them. Now if this sounds like the most solipsistic individualism, one must keep in mind that from the perspective of an atheist or secularist, his reasoning is virtually irrefutable, and indeed Stirner’s refutation of all secular ethical systems is absolutely devastating. Stirner completely mocked “the discovery of Man” with a capital-M, the center of Bruno Bauer and Ludwig Feuerbach’s Young Hegelian revolutionary humanism, in terms that are superficially similar to Joseph de Maistre’s famous statement that “Now there is no man in the world. I have seen… Frenchmen, Italians, Russians… I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be a Persian: but as for man, I declare that I have never encountered him.” As is well known, the development of historical materialism by Marx and Engels originated as a response to Stirner’s critique of idealism, as a way of “egoist-proofing” their philosophy, or to put it less charitably, as a cope.
“I have set my cause on nothing,” “Nothing is more to me than myself,” “All things are nothing to me” are just a few of Stirner’s phrases. The substance of his critique of humanism is that “the rights of man, the precious work of the Revolution, have the meaning that the Man in me entitles me to this and that; I as individual, as this man, am not entitled, but Man has the right and entitles me. Hence as man I may well be entitled; but, as I am more than man, namely, a special man, it may be refused to this very me, the special one,” furthermore that “my business is neither what is divine nor what is human; it is not what is true, good, right, free, etc., but only what is mine; and it is no general business, but it is—unique, as I am unique.”
What made Stirner so aggravating to Marx and Engels (besides his fierce attack on communism) was his decidedly anti-political stance. The whole notion of an ideal form of society is completely antithetical to his thought. It is also not necessarily true that the Stirnerite egoist should be some hedonistic slave to his passions, and his entire teaching does exhort to a certain self-mastery. In fact, what is characteristic of egoism is that it does not have to lead to any exterior change in behavior whatsoever. A man’s outward behavior and praxis can remain identical before and after becoming an egoist, as the only necessary change is the internal consciousness of the fact that all thoughts and ideas are tools to be used by himself, the Unique, for his own ends, and not for those ideas to set his ends for him in advance. There is absolutely no way of telling if your neighbor is an egoist or not unless you can read mental states. A few quotations from Stirner will satisfactorily summarize his philosophy for the purpose of this article:
“Now, as my object is not the overthrow of an established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not a political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose and deed.”
“My intercourse with the world, what does it aim at? I want to have the enjoyment of it, therefore it must be my property, and therefore I want to win it. I do not want the liberty of men, nor their equality; I want only my power over them, I want to make them my property, material for enjoyment. And, if I do not succeed in that, well, then I call even the power over life and death, which Church and state reserved to themselves – mine. Brand that officer’s widow who, in the flight in Russia, after her leg has been shot away, takes the garter from it, strangles her child therewith, and then bleeds to death alongside the corpse – brand the memory of the – infanticide. Who knows, if this child had remained alive, how much it might have “been of use to the world!” The mother murdered it because she wanted to die satisfied and at rest. Perhaps this case still appeals to your sentimentality, and you do not know how to read out of it anything further. Be it so; I on my part use it as an example for this, that my satisfaction decides about my relation to men, and that I do not renounce, from any access of humility, even the power over life and death.”
“Feuerbach, in Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft, is always harping upon being. In this he too, with all his antagonism to Hegel and the absolute philosophy, is stuck fast in abstraction; for “being” is abstraction, as is even “the I.” Only I am not abstraction alone: I am all in all, consequently even abstraction or nothing; I am all and nothing; I am not a mere thought, but at the same time I am full of thoughts, a thoughtworld. Hegel condemns the own, mine [das Meinige] – “opinion [Meinung].” “Absolute thinking” is that which forgets that it is my thinking, that I think, and that it exists only through me. But I, as I, swallow up again what is mine, am its master; it is only my opinion , which I can at any moment change, annihilate, take back into myself, and consume. Feuerbach wants to smite Hegel’s “absolute thinking” with unconquered being. But in me being is as much conquered as thinking is. It is my being, as the other is my thinking.”
“[The egoist] does not look upon himself as a tool of the idea or a vessel of God, he recognizes no calling, he does not fancy that he exists for the further development of mankind and that he must contribute his mite to it, but he lives himself out, careless of how well or ill humanity may fare thereby… What, am I in the world to realize ideas? To do my part by my citizenship, say, toward the realization of the idea “state,” or by marriage, as husband and father, to bring the idea of the family into an existence? What does such a calling concern me! I live after a calling as little as the flower grows and gives fragrance after a calling.”
“They say I have a right to this tree, or it is my rightful property. So I have earned it by might. That the might must last in order that the tree may also be held – or better, that the might is not a thing existing of itself, but has existence solely in the mighty ego, in me the mighty – is forgotten. Might, like other of my qualities (humanity, majesty, etc.), is exalted to something existing of itself, so that it still exists long after it has ceased to be my might. Thus transformed into a ghost, might is – right. This eternalized might is not extinguished even with my death, but is transferred to “bequeathed.” Things now really belong not to me, but to right.” “Right – is a wheel in the head, put there by a spook; power – that am I myself, I am the powerful one and owner of power. Right is above me, is absolute, and exists in one higher, as whose grace it flows to me: right is a gift of grace from the judge; power and might exist only in me the powerful and mighty.”
“Where the world comes in my way—and it comes in my way everywhere—I consume it to quiet the hunger of my egoism. For me you are nothing but—my food, even as I too am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of utility, of use. We owe each other nothing, for what I seem to owe you I owe at most to myself. If I show you a cheery air in order to cheer you likewise, then your cheeriness is of consequence to me, and my air serves my wish; to a thousand others, whom I do not aim to cheer, I do not show it.”
“What is truth? Truth is the free thought, the free idea, the free spirit; truth is what is free from you, what is not your own, what is not in your power. But truth is also the completely unindependent, impersonal, unreal, and incorporeal; truth cannot step forward as you do, cannot move, change, develop; truth awaits and receives everything from you, and itself is only through you; for it exists only – in your head. You concede that the truth is a thought, but say that not every thought is a true one, or, as you are also likely to express it, not every thought is truly and really a thought. And by what do you measure and recognize the thought? By your impotence, namely, by your being no longer able to make any successful assault on it! When it overpowers you, inspires you, and carries you away, then you hold it to be the true one. Its dominion over you certifies to you its truth; and, when it possesses you, and you are possessed by it, then you feel well with it, for then you have found your – lord and master. When you were seeking the truth, what did your heart then long for? For your master!”
In parallel to this, Nietzsche asserts that the “rights of others constitute a concession on the part of our sense of power to the sense of power of those others. If our power appears to be deeply shaken and broken, our rights cease to exist: conversely, if we have grown very much more powerful, the rights of others, as we have previously conceded them, cease to exist for us,” “insofar as the individual is seeking happiness, one ought not to tender him any prescriptions as to the path to happiness: for individual happiness springs from one’s own unknown laws, and prescriptions from without can only obstruct and hinder it.” (Daybreak)
In Human, All Too Human we have a remark on the radical incommensurability of being: “The invention of the laws of number has as its basis the primordial and prior-prevailing delusion that many like things exist (although in point of fact there is no such thing is a duplicate), or that, at least, there are things (but there is no “thing”). The assumption of plurality always presupposes that something exists which manifests itself repeatedly, but just here is where the delusion prevails; in this very matter we feign realities, unities, that have no existence.”
The Gay Science affords another strongly egoistic observation, and not only that but it speaks candidly of possession in a very Stirnerite sense: “Our love of our neighbour,—is it not a striving after new property? And similarly our love of knowledge, of truth; and in general all the striving after novelties? We gradually become satiated with the old, the securely possessed, and again stretch out our hands; even the finest landscape in which we live for three months is no longer certain of our love, and any kind of more distant coast excites our covetousness: the possession for the most part becomes smaller through possessing. Our pleasure in ourselves seeks to maintain itself, by always transforming something new into ourselves,—that is just possessing. To become satiated with a possession, that is to become satiated with ourselves.” Later, Nietzsche remarks: “How much faith a person requires in order to flourish, how much “fixed opinion” he requires which he does not wish to have shaken, because he holds himself thereby—is a measure of his power (or more plainly speaking, of his weakness).”
It is in Ecce Homo, his biographical work, that Nietzsche calls himself “dynamite” and announces that “I am by far the most terrible man that has ever existed; but this does not alter the fact that I shall become the most beneficent. I know the joy of annihilation to a degree which is commensurate with my power to annihilate. In both cases I obey my Dionysian nature, which knows not how to separate the negative deed from the saying of yea. I am the first immoralist, and in this sense I am essentially the annihilator.” Similarly, Stirner says that “In the unique one the owner himself returns into his creative nothing, of which he is born.”
On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense gives us an epistemology close to Stirner’s: “What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.”
In general, Nietzsche admired Heraclitus the most out of the Pre-Socratics, over the figure of Parmenides. The former is traditionally known as the advocate of “becoming,” and the latter of “being.” In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche says that “it is absurd to wish to devolve one’s essence on some end or other. We have invented the concept of “end”: in reality there is no end,” and also that “a man is necessary, a man is a piece of fatefulness, a man belongs to the whole, a man is in the whole; there is nothing that could judge, measure, compare, or sentence his being, for that would mean judging, measuring, comparing, or sentencing the whole. But there is nothing besides the whole. That nobody is held responsible any longer, that the mode of being may not be traced back to a primary cause, that the world does not form a unity either as a sensorium or as “spirit” — that alone is the great liberation.” Most forcefully in Beyond Good and Evil:
“In “being-in-itself” there is nothing of “casual-connection,” of “necessity,” or of “psychological non-freedom”; there the effect does NOT follow the cause, there “law” does not obtain. It is WE alone who have devised cause, sequence, reciprocity, relativity, constraint, number, law, freedom, motive, and purpose; and when we interpret and intermix this symbol-world, as “being-in-itself,” with things, we act once more as we have always acted—MYTHOLOGICALLY. The “non-free will” is mythology; in real life it is only a question of STRONG and WEAK wills.—It is almost always a symptom of what is lacking in himself, when a thinker, in every “causal-connection” and “psychological necessity,” manifests something of compulsion, indigence, obsequiousness, oppression, and non-freedom; it is suspicious to have such feelings—the person betrays himself.”
“THE REAL PHILOSOPHERS, HOWEVER, ARE COMMANDERS AND LAW-GIVERS; they say: “Thus SHALL it be!” They determine first the Whither and the Why of mankind, and thereby set aside the previous labour of all philosophical workers, and all subjugators of the past—they grasp at the future with a creative hand, and whatever is and was, becomes for them thereby a means, an instrument, and a hammer. Their “knowing” is CREATING, their creating is a law-giving, their will to truth is—WILL TO POWER.” “Not one of those ponderous, conscience-stricken herding-animals (who undertake to advocate the cause of egoism as conducive to the general welfare) wants to have any knowledge or inkling of the facts that the “general welfare” is no ideal, no goal, no notion that can be at all grasped, but is only a nostrum,—that what is fair to one MAY NOT at all be fair to another, that the requirement of one morality for all is really a detriment to higher men, in short, that there is a DISTINCTION OF RANK between man and man, and consequently between morality and morality. They are an unassuming and fundamentally mediocre species of men, these utilitarian Englishmen, and, as already remarked, in so far as they are tedious, one cannot think highly enough of their utility.”
Yet at the same, Nietzsche goes on to castigate belief in the afterlife as harmful to the attainment of “the general welfare,” in The Antichrist: “The vast lie of personal immortality destroys all reason, all natural instinct—henceforth, everything in the instincts that is beneficial, that fosters life and that safeguards the future is a cause of suspicion. So to live that life no longer has any meaning: this is now the “meaning” of life…. Why be public-spirited? Why take any pride in descent and forefathers? Why labour together, trust one another, or concern one’s self about the common welfare, and try to serve it?… Merely so many “temptations,” so many strayings from the ‘straight path.'”
But of course in Beyond Good and Evil he reiterates his advocacy of egoism, such that “I submit that egoism belongs to the essence of a noble soul, I mean the unalterable belief that to a being such as “we,” other beings must naturally be in subjection, and have to sacrifice themselves. The noble soul accepts the fact of his egoism without question, and also without consciousness of harshness, constraint, or arbitrariness therein, but rather as something that may have its basis in the primary law of things,” and moreover that “every system of unegoistic morality which takes itself unconditionally and appeals to every one, not only sins against good taste, but is also an incentive to sins of omission, an ADDITIONAL seduction under the mask of philanthropy—and precisely a seduction and injury to the higher, rarer, and more privileged types of men.”
It is also worth comparing the views of Nietzsche and Stirner on Socrates. For Nietzsche, Socrates was a resentful dialectician who eroded good instinct for rationality: “With Socrates, Greek taste changes in favor of logical argument. What really happened there? Above all, a noble taste is vanquished; with dialectics the plebs come to the top. Before Socrates, argumentative conversation was repudiated in good society: it was considered bad manners, compromising. The young were warned against it. Furthermore, any presentation of one’s motives was distrusted. Honest things, like honest men, do not have to explain themselves so openly. What must first be proved is worth little… To have to fight the instincts — that is the definition of decadence: as long as life is ascending, happiness equals instinct.” (Twilight of the Idols)
For Stirner, Socrates was a sap who was enslaved by his own fixed ideas, reifying a foreign interest over his own egoistic interest. There is an analogy to the two interpretations, but Stirner is the more consistently nominalistic: “How they do praise Socrates for his conscientiousness, which makes him resist the advice to get away from the dungeon! He is a fool that he concedes to the Athenians a right to condemn him. Therefore it certainly serves him right; why then does he remain standing on an equal footing with the Athenians? Why does he not break with them? Had he known, and been able to know, what he was, he would have conceded to such judges no claim, no right. That he did not escape was just his weakness, his delusion of still having something in common with the Athenians, or the opinion that he was a member, a mere member of this people. But he was rather this people itself in person, and could only be his own judge. There was no judge over him, as he himself had really pronounced a public sentence on himself and rated himself worthy of the Prytaneum. He should have stuck to that, and, as he had uttered no sentence of death against himself, should have despised that of the Athenians too and escaped. But he subordinated himself and recognized in the people his judge; he seemed little to himself before the majesty of the people. That he subjected himself to might (to which alone he could succumb) as to a “right” was treason against himself: it was virtue.”
Nietzsche rejected the ideas of being, essence, form, causality and free will in their conventional explications, and a common bugbear of his was the “reversal of cause and effect,” “imaginary causes,” and so on. This becomes significant because amidst his largely egoistic and nominalistic ethical foundations, his later writings are famously full of a concern about the preservation of hierarchy, about “gradations of rank,” his praise of the Hindu caste system, his affirmation of the superior man’s instincts, etc. In the Genealogy of Morals, we read that “there is no ‘being’ behind deed, its effect and what becomes of it; ‘the doer’ is invented as an afterthought, – the doing is everything.” He begins to proudly call himself an “immoralist” (notably distinct from an amoralist) and makes the affirmation of life his ethical criterion of sorts, as for instance in The Antichrist: “Wherever the influence of theologians is felt there is a transvaluation of values, and the concepts “true” and “false” are forced to change places: whatever is most damaging to life is there called “true,” and whatever exalts it, intensifies it, approves it, justifies it and makes it triumphant is there called “false.”” In Twilight of the Idols, he equates the good with the instinctive: “”Every mistake (in every sense of the word) is the result of a degeneration of instinct, a disintegration of the will: one could almost equate what is bad with whatever is a mistake. All that is good is instinctive — and hence easy, necessary, uninhibited. Effort is a failing: the god is typically different from the hero.”
Throughout The Will to Power, his posthumous work, we read: “‘I am writing for a race of men which does not yet exist: for “the lords of the earth.”; “Fundamental concept: the new values must first be created—this remains our duty! The philosopher must be our lawgiver. New species.”; “The order of rank: he who determines values and leads the will of millenniums, and does this by leading the highest natures—he is the highest man.”; “Not “mankind,” but Superman is the goal!”; “”The modicum of power which you represent decides your rank; all the rest is cowardice.”; “The majority of people are only piecemeal and fragmentary examples of man.”
But in the same manuscript: “A virtuous man is of a lower species because, in the first place, he has no “personality,” but acquires his value by conforming with a certain human scheme which has been once and for ever fixed. He has no independent value: he may be compared; he has his equals, he must not be an individual,” which is more Stirnerite. “Egoism! But no one has yet asked: what is the ego like? Everybody is rather inclined to see all egos alike.”
Zarathustra teaches: “But so wills it my creating Will, my fate. Or, to tell you it more candidly: just such a fate- wills my Will. All feeling suffers in me, and is in prison: but my willing ever comes to me as my emancipator and comforter. Willing emancipates: that is the true doctrine of will and emancipation- so teaches you Zarathustra. No longer willing, and no longer valuing, and no longer creating! Ah, that that great debility may ever be far from me!” / “God is a thought- it makes all the straight crooked, and all that stands reel. What? Time would be gone, and all the perishable would be but a lie? To think this is giddiness and vertigo to human limbs, and even vomiting to the stomach: verily, the reeling sickness do I call it, to conjecture such a thing. Evil do I call it and misanthropic: all that teaching about the one, and the plenum, and the unmoved, and the sufficient, and the imperishable! All the imperishable- that’s but a parable, and the poets lie too much. But of time and of becoming shall the best parables speak: a praise shall they be, and a justification of all perishing!”
Now the concept of “the Overman” is a deeply un-egoistic notion, and it implicitly depends on a gradation of being, of a hierarchy of the soul that rises from base to noble. But on what grounds can an “overcoming of man” be justified when Nietzsche rejects most of classical metaphysics as theological mystification? Here is how Stirner dispensed with any idea of the “Overman,” instead favoring his ownness:
Now, as this rose is a true rose to begin with, this nightingale always a true nightingale, so I am not for the first time a true man when I fulfil my calling, live up to my destiny, but I am a “true man” from the start. My first babble is the token of the life of a “true man,” the struggles of my life are the outpourings of his force, my last breath is the last exhalation of the force of the “man.”
The true man does not lie in the future, an object of longing, but lies, existent and real, in the present. Whatever and whoever I may be, joyous and suffering, a child or a greybeard, in confidence or doubt, in sleep or in waking, I am it, I am the true man.
But, if I am Man, and have really found in myself him whom religious humanity designated as the distant goal, then everything “truly human” is also my own. What was ascribed to the idea of humanity belongs to me. That freedom of trade, for example, which humanity has yet to attain – and which, like an enchanting dream, people remove to humanity’s golden future – I take by anticipation as my property, and carry it on for the time in the form of smuggling. There may indeed be but few smugglers who have sufficient understanding to thus account to themselves for their doings, but the instinct of egoism replaces their consciousness. Above I have shown the same thing about freedom of the press.
Enough, there is a mighty difference whether I make myself the starting-point or the goal. As the latter I do not have myself, am consequently still alien to myself, am my essence, my “true essence,” and this “true essence,” alien to me, will mock me as a spook of a thousand different names. Because I am not yet I, another (like God, the true man, the truly pious man, the rational man, the freeman, etc.) is I, my ego.
Still far from myself, I separate myself into two halves, of which one, the one unattained and to be fulfilled, is the true one. The one, the untrue, must be brought as a sacrifice; namely, the unspiritual one. The other, the true, is to be the whole man; namely, the spirit. Then it is said, “The spirit is man’s proper essence,” or, “man exists as man only spiritually.” Now, there is a greedy rush to catch the spirit, as if one would then have bagged himself; and so, in chasing after himself, one loses sight of himself, whom he is.
And, as one stormily pursues his own self, the never-attained, so one also despises shrewd people’s rule to take men as they are, and prefers to take them as they should be; and, for this reason, hounds every one on after his should-be self and “endeavours to make all into equally entitled, equally respectable, equally moral or rational men.”
The Unique One, as an eternal becoming without fixity or essence, who is consistently above and beyond any property (he is something more than his properties), is quite in keeping with Nietzsche’s own anti-realist and perspectivist suppositions. The Nietzschean will implore others to “affirm life,” and the egoist could then rightfully respond that “life” is not my life. Hierarchy means “sacred rule,” as in a cosmic hierarchy of angels, and yet it was precisely this that Nietzsche aimed to overthrow. Gradations of rank, therefore, cannot have any stable basis on inferiors resigning themselves to their place; rather there will be a permanent struggle of orders in a subjective world without moral valuations. The only unambiguous assurance of anything is the exercise of power, as Nietzsche states in The Will to Power: “Our attitude towards knowledge is more natural; we are innocent in our absolute spiritual debauchery, we hate pathetic and hieratic manners, we delight in that which is most strictly prohibited, we should scarcely recognise any interest in knowledge if we were bored in acquiring it. Our attitude to morality is also more natural. Principles have become a laughing-stock; no one dares to speak of his “duty,” unless in irony. But a helpful, benevolent disposition is highly valued. (Morality is located in instinct and the rest is despised. Besides this there are few points of honour.) Our attitude to politics is more natural: we see problems of power, of the quantum of power, against another quantum. We do not believe in a right that does not proceed from a power which is able to uphold it. We regard all rights as conquests.”
Stirner agreed entirely, except that no judgment about him being a resentful slave could in any dissuade him from pursuing his own cause, the egoistic cause, and no “master morality” could get in the way of giving hell to any alleged superior of his if he stood in the way of fulfilling himself: “Peoples that let themselves be kept in nonage have no rights to the condition of majority; if they ceased to be in nonage, then only would they have the right to be of age. This means nothing else than “What you have the power to be you have the right to.” I derive all right and all warrant from me; I am entitled to everything that I have in my power. I am entitled to overthrow Zeus, Jehovah, God, if I can; if I cannot, then these gods will always remain in the right and in power as against me, and what I do will be to fear their right and their power in impotent “god-fearingness,” to keep their commandments and believe that I do right in everything that I do according to their right, about as the Russian boundary-sentinels think themselves rightfully entitled to shoot dead the suspicious persons who are escaping, since they murder “by superior authority,” “with right.””
“It is possible that I can make very little out of myself; but this little is everything, and is better than what I allow to be made out of me by the might of others, by the training of custom, religion, the laws, the state,” declared Stirner. In contrast, Nietzsche’s dictum that “every individual may be scrutinized to see whether he represents the ascending or the descending line of life” in no way rises above the egoist, since to the extent that these lines of life correspond to strength of will, and this will is a will-to-power/will-to-truth of creating values, it ultimately reduces itself back to conscious and unconscious egoism. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche speaks of the “fundamental instinct of life which aims at the expansion of power and, wishing for that, frequently risks and even sacrifices self-preservation” — which is the quest of the incommensurate Unique to make the world his property. Zarathustra says at one point that “You say ‘I’ and you are proud of this word. But greater than this (…) is your body and its great intelligence, which does not say ‘I’ but performs ‘I’” — in line with Stirner’s anti-idealism.
His literary merits not in dispute, Nietzsche’s ethics ultimately boil down to Spinozism. It was Spinoza’s Ethics (1677) that bombastically proclaimed: “It is plain from what has been said, that in no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it.” / “As for the terms good and bad, they indicate no positive quality in things regarded in themselves, but are merely modes of thinking, or notions which we form from the comparison of things one with another. Thus one and the same thing can be at the same time good, bad, and indifferent. For instance, music is good for him that is melancholy, bad for him that mourns; for him that is deaf, it is neither good nor bad.” Spinoza was also one of the first men to denigrate humility and repentance as vices and not virtues. It is no coincidence he was regarded as a scandalous atheist, with his clockwork god existing solely as immanentist primary substance, all matter as modes of his existence.
The will to power finally breaks down into Spinoza’s conatus, the attribute where “everything, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being,” and which “endeavour, wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own being, is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question.” Identity of essence and existence. Stirner’s own Einzige elevates the individual transitory ego to the status of primary substance with the entire world being modes of its Extension and Thought, the ego as personal self-deification. In fact, in a letter dated to July 30, 1881 Nietzsche confessed that “in five main points of [Spinoza’s] doctrine I recognize myself; this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world-order, the unegoistic, and evil. Even though the divergences are admittedly tremendous, they are due more to the difference in time, culture, and science.” Though in his later writings he would heap scorn on Spinoza, this core convergence would remain unperturbed.
Right-Nietzscheanism is thus a dead end. It is failed egoism. Nietzsche could not overcome Stirner. The relics of Saint Max remain uncorrupted as the Overman goes on to “create” the nonexistent and subordinate himself to his own phantasms. That Nietzsche was to become canonized as a “master of suspicion” alongside Marx and Freud was not exactly inevitable, but neither was it something unexpected. I do not judge him to be worth saving.