Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

... we give value to our lives by working for the good of the highest specimens’
(Rawls, 1972: 325). Other theorists have argued for a more liberal–democratic
interpretation: what Nietzsche terms the ‘will to power’ (‘Wille zur Macht’) denotes
an internal struggle: each individual should strive to overcome his weaknesses and
pursue a higher good (Cavell, 1990: 50–1). Willing to power does not necessarily
entail domination over others. It follows that on thisinterpretation Nietzsche
(implicitly) endorsed moral equality.
Nonetheless there are many passages in Nietzsche’s work that support an elitist
and fundamentally anti-egalitarian position (Detwiler, 1990: 8). Even if we cannot
decide finally on the interpretation of his work it is clear that Nietzsche has inspired
anti-egalitarian streams of thought and drawing on various concepts – in addition
to the will to power – we will reconstruct the Nietzschean case against moral
equality. Nietzsche’s style is aphoristic rather than systematic, but among the more
systematic works is On the Genealogy of Morality(published 1887). Divided into
three Treatises, in the first Treatise Nietzsche distinguishes the valuations good/bad
and good/evil (Nietzsche, 1998: 14–17). Since ‘good’ can only be understood relative
to its opposite it follows that the ‘good’ in each pair does not mean the same thing.
The good of the first pair denotes something powerful and life-affirming, whereas
the good in the second pair corresponds to the Judaic (and Christian) notion of
self-denial or meekness. Nietzsche traces the historical origins of goodness as self-
denial to the slave revolt of the Jews against the Romans, and through Judaism to
Christianity. The slave does not take revenge against the master through physical
action but through an imaginary – we might say metaphysical – act (Nietzsche,
1998: 18–21). The slaves convince themselves that the meek will inherit the earth
and they define the strong as ‘evil’.
The struggle between slave and master is internalised with the construction of
the ‘soul’. Corresponding to this internalisation is the development of social forms,
such as the state. The basic drive of human beings – the will to power – is turned
inwards as human beings move from being nomadic ‘birds of prey’ to socially con-
stricted citizens. Since the will to power cannot be extinguished it is turned inwards
and takes the form of ‘guilt’, as distinct from ‘shame’. Protestant Christianity is the
clearest expression of a culture of guilt. Kant’s moral philosophy is often described
as securalised Protestantism: that the highest good for Kant is a pure will means
that all those things that make us human – that, for Nietzsche, constitute ‘life’ –
are devalued in favour of a characterless self. We are all morally equal but at the
price of lacking any character. Morality requires that we will a law that all rational
agents could will – we ‘put ourselves in the shoes of each other person’ – and we
should feel guilt when we fail to do so. For Nietzsche the internalisation of guilt
entails forgetting the historical origins of this ‘slave morality’: the resentment
(ressentiment) of the weak against the strong (Nietzsche, 1998: 45–6).
In a culture of shame – as distinct from guilt – we judge ourselves to have failed
insofar as we fall short of a basically non-moral ideal. The soldier who shows
cowardice in the face of the enemy feels ashamed without necessarily feeling guilt.
Shame is outward-looking whereas guilt is introspective. There is, for Nietzsche, no
‘inwardness’ in the Christian sense and therefore the idea of moral equality makes
no sense. Value is extrinsic. Rawls may be right to argue that Nietzsche is committed
to a strong perfectionist ideal of creating and serving great men, but such a

60 Part 1 Classical ideas

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