Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Politics of Master, Slave, and Higher Spirits

Everyone familiar with Nietzsche knows he considered there to be, broadly, two kinds of moral system -- master morality and slave morality. In this division, master morality sees the world as being divided into good and bad. It is an aristocratic morality that sees weakness, inferiority, cowardice, and dependence as bad, as things which need to be overcome. Strength, courage, opposition, strife, and danger are all considered good. Slave morality, on the other hand, sees the world as being divided into good and evil. It is the moral system of the oppressed and sees weakness, a need to be protected, getting along, peace, and safety as good, and strength, opposition, strife, and danger as evil. While bad can coexist with good, evil must always everywhere be destroyed.

As Lawrence Hatab observes, "Slave morality seeks the simultaneous exaltation of the weak and the incapacitation of the strong; but in doing so, slave types find enhancement not through their own agency but through the debilitation of others" (A Nietzschean Defense of Democracy, 26). The slave mentality is found in "the oppressed, the mediocre, and the discontented" (27).

People mistakenly believe that this means Nietzsche favors the master spirit over the slave spirit. However, this does not hold up, given that Nietzsche argued that the master spirit resulted in externalization and made people stupid (GM I, 6-7), while the slave spirit resulted in internalization, depth, and creative culture (GM II, 16). It was the higher types, which paradoxically combined both spirit (creating internal conflict), which Nietzsche in fact favored (BGE 260). Higher types were not just the most creative, they were the great innovators.

But, as Hatab observes, "Innovators are the new object of hatred and resentment (Z III, 12, 26), they are the new "criminals" (TI 9, 45), the new "cruel ones" (BGE 230), the new perpetrators of "war" (GS 283)" (48). Because innovators are disruptive, destructive, etc., they are "evil" to those with slave spirits. This is the true source of leftist's opposition to the creative destruction of capitalism. They embrace the resentment and envy of slave morality, which gets expressed in opposition to capitalism and embracing political correctness. Resentment, envy, and conformism all suppress creativity and growth and ought to be opposed.

Given that Nietzsche describes the master spirit as stupid, brutish, and superficial, one should not make the mistake of thinking we ought to just replace the slave spirit with the master spirit. Consider the following political divisions.

Are American conservatives representative of master or slave morality?

Traditional conservatives, which embrace "traditional values," for the most part represent the slave spirit. They see good and evil everywhere, and seek to create homogenization through elimination of difference (since all difference is evidence of evil). That difference can be in morals, nationality, sex, gender, race, etc., or some combination of these. They tend to embrace the protective functions of government for the sake of safety, and at the same time the support gun rights for self-protection and protection against government.

On the other hand, neoconservatives tend to embrace master morality. They tend to be aristocrats and elitists who believe they know what is best for everyone and that political power is the way to do that. They do not view their opponents as evil, only wrong. When they think them wrong. Neoconservatives have proven themselves to generally support the welfare state, making them in many ways a variety of progressive. Those who oppose their power are simply bad, then, since the ideologies are so similar. They tend to cynically express support for traditional conservatives' social views, but create conditions where passing legislation to actually support those views is difficult or impossible.

Are American progressives representative of master or slave morality?

Since progressives want change, one would think that they primarily represent the master spirit. Their aristocratic attitudes and general arrogance would seem to further support this. They see change as good and tradition as bad (not evil, just bad -- something to be overcome). There is little question that the earliest progressives embraced master morality. They tended to promote eugenics programs, including using the minimum wage for that purpose, in order to eliminate the weak, in order to strengthen society.

However, contemporary progressives have more of a tendency to embrace slave morality. They still see change as good, and they continue to support the same policies as earlier progressives, but they do so with the argument that those programs will in fact help the weak and oppressed. The politically correct left are exemplars of the slave spirit, seeking to tear down and destroy anything resembling strength, courage, etc.

In other words, there is a more complex combination of these two kinds of people within the political left and right.

But what about libertarians?

Classical liberals want to conserve the processes that create change, meaning they see both change and tradition as good. Does this mean classical liberals are those with the higher spirit? For some, no doubt that is the case. But for others, such a claim may be questionable at best.

For example, libertarians in the Randian tradition have a tendency to view things as good and evil. Rand sees businessmen as an oppressed class, and she sees government interference in the economy as an evil that must be eliminated. Resentment is reserved for government actions.

Certainly the conspiracy theory libertarians fully embrace slave morality. Government is seen as an evil entity which must be destroyed, while everyone else belongs to the oppressed groups. They behave in ways identical to the politically correct left. Both are paranoid in their belief in shadowy evil powers ruling everyone behind closed doors. Resentment and envy are directed at those with power, who seem to control everything.

On the other hand, we have libertarians like Hans Herman Hoppe who thoroughly embrace master morality. Hoppe's aristocratic world view drives him to reject democracy and to embrace ideas that many consider "brutish and stupid." In my experience, his supporters do tend to have those traits.

I would argue that Mises seems to represent the higher spirit. We see in his published work strong opposition to socialism -- though his arguments range from socialism being merely a bad idea to socialism being one of the great evils. Equally, his support for capitalism is that it is the best way for the weak and oppressed to become greater and stronger.

Hayek, however, seems to embrace a different kind of moral system entirely. Hayek has a tendency to see good and good -- he viewed his opponents as good people who were simply factually wrong and wrong in their understanding. He thought them to have good intentions, but as being ignorant of how to get there. Now, this sounds like aristocratic good-bad, but Hayek saw the tension as being productive and creative. Good-good is tragic ethics, and Hayek himself argued in favor of a tragic world view.

The bleeding heart libertarians seem to embrace slave morality in their concern with the weak and oppressed, but they also seem to think in more good-bad terms, if not often good-good terms. Or is theirs an aristocratic concern for the poor, seeking to create the conditions for raising the weak up and making them strong? It does seem they argue that we need to help people create agency and that we ought to reject resentment and envy. More higher spirits? A combination of all three moral systems?

The master spirit/morality and the slave spirit/morality are stable, equilibrium conditions (we see their dominance in stable eras and individuals). But higher spirits and tragic spirits are far-from-equilibrium or disequilibrium conditions (renaissance eras and renaissance men and women).

It is possible that the higher spirits could have a variety of moral systems. There could be good-bad-evil, good-good, or even bad-evil. In the latter case, one might view being weak as bad, but being strong as evil, resulting in a hatred of the powerful and contempt for the weak. Are there any bad-evil thinkers? Rousseau? Sade? Zizek? Nihilists? Misanthropes?

I raise these questions to mostly try to get people to think about their moral systems and to think about who they are and why they think what they think and believe what they believe. Are you a master spirit? a slave spirit? a higher spirit?


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