I like Fredrich Nietzsche. As a Heideggerian, I cannot deny the depth of Nietzsche’s commentary on the Death of God. As a Chrisitan, I can find very few opponents as worthy as the great German. As a reader, I admire how Nietzsche wields words like a rapier, making a stinging point, then drawing back in a flash, only to strike again in the next paragraph. However much I might appreciate the thinker as a metaphysician (the last Platonist as Heidegger says), a sparring partner, or a clever writer, he is lacking when it comes to political formulas.
For too long the right has tried to use Nietzsche as a cypher to understand the 20th, and 21st, centuries. Philosophically, the reliance on “the will to power” strips the right of its most important moral claims. Historically, right-Nietzscheanism has always failed, while the legacy of Nietzche has led to the sucess of the new-left. Keep in mind that I am not gunning after Nietzsche here. What I am concerned with is offering a critique of the historic use of Nietzsche by the right. Why am I concerned with this task? Because, as with my piece on Moldbug, I see the right stuck in losing formulas, and I believe the stakes are too high for that. We need to step over “right-Nietzscheanism” just as we stepped over “Yarvinism.”
The Moral Failure of Nietzscheanism
Before we take a historical look at right-Nietzscheanism, let us examine its philosophical and moral weakness. Chief among Nietzsche’s contributions that the right has cottoned on to is his Genealogy of Morals. In this text, Nietzsche traces Christian morality back to the needs of the weak (slave morality). The weak man is unable to hit back, so he says, “turn the other cheek.” Since he is humble and nothing to look at, especially when compared to the aristocrat, the weak man says, “blessed are the meek.”
In Beyond Good and Evil (which is the best work to begin with Nietzsche because of how many key themes it hits on), the great German tells us that high and hard nobility and self-reliance is almost felt as an insult and arouses mistrust amongst those inundated with slave morality. Elsewhere, Nietzsche defines rights as “that part of my power which the others have not only conceded to me but in which they wish to preserve in me. What leads them to do this? First, their prudence and fear and caution–whether they expect something similar in return from us (protection of their rights), or consider a fight with us dangerous or pointless” (The Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 169). Morality is conditioned by strength, the “will to power.” Conventional morality is that of the slave and is designed to protect the weak against the strong. There is no real moral issue with the strong dominating the weak, although the weak may protest and use “morality” as a shield. If you want to see this approach to morality illustrated, I would highly recommend reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Although written before Nietzsche, the character of Heathcliff is perfectly Nietzschean.
We can already see the appeal Nietzsche has for many on the right. Confronted with a left that is anti-masculine and justifies almost all of its demands by “think of the poor____! We need to treat them with dignity and respect”, and has, with this justification, pushed through gay “marriage” in 2015, and successfully implanted drag queens in Elementary Schools just five years post-Obergefell v Hodges, it is tempting to smash the very foundation of leftist morality, and Nietzche provides just that hammer. This has been a temptation of the right for a hundred years, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves.
Okay, why is Nietzche, when applied to the right, a moral failure? Simply, there are two competing claims that are irreconcilable. First, the right decries a number of things as immoral. Whether it is the Great Replacement, abortion, LGBT+, or the weaponization of the legal system against anyone to the right of Mitt Romney. These items are taken to be immoral, regardless how many people mistakenly think they are moral. Second, Nietzscheans, if they are consistent, have to admit that there is nothing inherently immoral about the strong dominating the weak. These two claims come into conflict when it is acknowledged that the items decried in claim one are being advanced because the right is too weak to resist the advances of the powers that be.
If the right was strong, it would be able to put an end to the Great Replacement, or it might be able to combat the weaponized (under President Obama) legal system. It looks like Roe v Wade will be overturned, thank God, and this should be celebrated, but it is simply one victory. On what grounds, given Nietzscheanism, can the weak claim the strong is immoral? Yes, the weak can dislike the strong and even dislike what the strong is advocating for, but it cannot say the strong or their agenda is immoral. This does not seem compatible with how those on the right feel, speak, or believe. Talk to anyone on the right and they will tell you the Great Replacement is morally wrong, not something they simply dislike. Perhaps they bite the bullet and say, “it is bad for my people, but I am not making a universal claim.”
Presumably, then, if your people are replaced and no one is left to complain, then it would be okay? If the Great Replacement benefited a group of people different from yours, and presumably it benefits someone if it is happening, then who are you to say your interests are worth more than this other group? If this group outcompetes you, that is just the strong besting the weak and if you are a good Nietzschean, then you have to admit that they are to be praised for replacing your people.
It is not impossible to the two above claims, but it is impossible to do consistently. Either claim one (that the Great Replacement, abortion, LGBT+, and the weaponization of the legal system, is morally wrong independent of how many people believe it is morally good) must give or claim two (the Nietzschean paradigm) must give. For those that choose option one, and I have met a few, it is only rhetorical. If they found themselves the last man of the right in all of the world, if it was demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that the left has won and will stay victorious due to its strength, these people would stand against the world. As someone who truly believes that the left’s agenda is immoral, and that no number of victories by the left would change that, I have to reject Nietzche as the foundation for my morality.
The Historic Failure of Right-Nietzscheanism
Rightists looking to Nietzsche is not new. In the 1900’s H.L Mencken was rising to prominence as a journalist. Mencken was an early right-wing adopter of Nietzsche, writing an introduction to The Anti-Christ, and incorporating his philosophy into The American Mercury. With the rise of William F. Buckley and National Review, Mencken fell out of favor on the right, but experienced a revival in popularity when Murray Rothbard and Paul Gottfried resurrected him, along with the likes of Garrett Garrett, under the label “the Old Right.” Mencken was a successful journalist, but none of his political objections were achieved.
What about the Paleo movement? Did Gottfried achieve anything other than playing the role of principled opposition? No. He wrote some good books and gave decent talks, but that is the sucess of an academic, not a political leader. Nietzscheanism produced some good content, but no political victories in America. I am not one to bash content, but content will not save our children from replacement, violent crime, or poverty.
Moving outside of the states, we can see Nietzsche’s influence in the German Conservative Revolution. Carl Schmitt and Ernst Junger were both influenced by Nietzsche, embracing Nietzsche’s “realism”, and exaltation of the hero through the archetype of the master. With the rise of the Third Reich, members of the Conservative Revolution, who opposed the new government, or were at least cautious, were made to step in line and much of their pre-regime work came to halt. Ernst Junger was even considered for assassination because he represented a right alternative to the Third Reich, but the attempted was aborted because the government feared public backlash.
Interestingly, the German Conservative Revolution never had much impact on the right, let alone a right that won, but did have a sizable influence on the New Left. So much so that Telos Press, the leading journal and publishing house of the New Left, has led the efforts in publishing the works of Ernst Junger and Carl Schmitt. Correct or not, the New Left saw in the German Conservative Revolution a common cultural critique. Both movements identified “alienation” via individualistic capitalism as the chief problem in modern society. Reading Culture Industry, by Adorno and Horkheimer, if you blanked out the authors names, would read like a companion to Ernst Junger’s The Worker. For whatever reason, the left has been able to turn Nietzscheanism into a winning formula, but the right has not. Those elements on the right that did pick up on the Conservative Revolution were, by and large, members of the New Left, such as Alain de Benoist, who diverged on questions surrounding Islam. These folks too, lost and had little impact on the political scene.
Why right-Nietzscheans never won is open to interpretation, but my guess it that believing yourself to be the aristocrat above the masses fooled into slave morality does not make you inclined to play well with others, let alone appeal to the wants and demands of “the herd”, as any successful political movement must do. It might be that very attractive element of right-Nietzscheanism, the aristocratic and anti-democratic attitude, that ends up kneecapping a successful movement. Right-Nietzscheans are, in that regard, the “beautiful losers” that Samuel Francis spoke about: thinkers who could not appeal to the people and who lived in the world of ideas because they had no life to live.
Left-Nietzscheanism does not suffer from this flaw, as it does not take the same aristocratic posturing, but rather uses Nietzsche as a hammer to smash bourgeois morality and, through the German Conservative Revolution, attack the alienating aspect of modernity, by which they mean capitalism. This is not to say Nietzsche was “on the left”, he probably would despise all sides were he alive today, but simply that the left has been able to use parts of his philosophy successfully.
Morally, right-Nietzscheanism is a failure. It cannot give an account for why the Great Replacement, abortion, LGBT+, or the lawfare against conservatives is morally wrong, as it can only describe the strong dominating the weak. As someone who truly believes these things to be immoral, and not simply the interests of my group, I cannot accept the relativizing vision of Nietzsche. Historically, right-Nietzscheanism is a failure. Maybe you will be the one to make it work, but you better believe yourself to be more competent, smarter, and stronger, than H.L Mencken, Carl Schmitt, and Ernst Junger. Far better men than you have failed at this task and forgive me if I do not believe you can right their mistakes.
As I said in the beginning, the stakes are too high to be repeating failed formulas. No, this is not purity spiraling, this is simply me saying that things are too serious to be repeating game plans that have never won. It the time we have left we need to look to what has worked in the past and what can be realistically applied to today.