A Critique of the Nietzschean Aristocratic Ideal

See Will to Power Reasonings I, II, III, IV, V and VI

Against herd values, I defend aristocracy. – Nietzsche

Nietzsche deems what he calls the “unnatural equality” preached by the mobs and by accepted political doctrines in the West as the bane of natural selection; since those who excel are not selected, this equality is unnatural and degenerate according to Nietzsche. It exalts mediocrity.

But what does excelling constitute? Who is noble enough to be worthy of this aristocratic ideal? It is important to clarify these questions for many reasons.

Nietzsche’s efforts to philosophize on behalf of an aristocracy deserves some criticism, particularly insofar as it blindly exalts might, perhaps naively assuming that nature always “prefers” it to other qualities: might vs softness/weakness are not the only two qualities to choose from, and creatures who outlive and outwit the mighty are often stealthy, fast, or intelligent and even social, collectively-minded, and able to communicate efficiently. Might does not always make right, even in nature. For instance, the health of certain species of baboons suffers greatly as a result of excessive levels of cortisone–the stress hormone–due to their high rank-obsession, volatility and testosterone-fueled needless violence.

Also, our reasonings on Lao-Tzu regarding Taoist military advise reminded us that the deployment of excessive force often results in unwanted, equally violent counter-attacks that are detrimental to society’s best interests and to the ultimate aims of government. We must also remember that violence is frequently required to preserve an aristocracy, and that people have difficulty trusting a bully.

Besides, at times those in power–however clearly they may assert their “might”–are so corrupt and evil that they deserve every ounce of our rebellion against them. At times those with strength are so evil that life is unbearable under their bullying. Terrorists and their regimes. Dictators. Sociopaths. The fact of acquisition of power does not constitute merit, it is not the same as deserving power.

Certainly, many members of the aristocracy are exceedingly intelligent and capable, but one wonders what Nietzsche would make of the banality, superficiality, and profound ignorance exhibited by, say, Donald Trump, who expresses himself in English at the level of a grammar school student and who appears to lack a concrete ideology outside of “me, me, me!”. He is also an opportunist who deems his frequent bankruptcies as admirable feats, as they served the one ideal he holds dear: himself. Is HE a Nietzschean aristocrat? Can a narcissist or a sociopath fit the profile of a Nietzschean Overman?

One must likewise question Nietzsche’s exaltation of the individual when one sees the many distortions produced by corporatism and capitalism as it exists today in America, at the heart of neoliberalism, where many of the members of the 1% do not exhibit particular merit outside of their ability to seize an opportunity at the expense of others. If we must imagine the Overman as being a one-percenter, then what price are we willing to pay for having Overmen rule over us? Does this not take away from Nietzsche’s zealous defense of the aristocratic ideal? Should the ideal not be revisited in light of the many crises that capitalism–with its supposedly merit-based ethics–has visited upon modern society?

And, most importantly, can it not be legitimately argued that mass solidarity can do more than serve the mediocrity of the mobs: that it can serve as a safety net against powerful narcissists?

In WtP 184, Nietzsche describes the aristocrat as “noble, exalted, and proud“, and these terms are acceptable on their face, but they must be concisely and clearly defined in order to be useful. Arrogance, when paired with stupidity, is a sad thing to see, and many so-called “aristocrats” exhibit quite ignoble traits.

In WtP 383 and 400, N argues that “only the castrated man is a good man” and that morality impedes the development of a higher man, by which he means the resentment-based morality of the mobs. But–beyond being unmoved by common mores–what is a higher man, then? What IS nobility? Who IS pride-worthy? What makes an elite worth honoring and preserving, and what makes an elite worth rebelling against? These questions are left to post-Nietzschean discourse to answer, as otherwise many of N’s considerations about nobility seem arbitrary. In WtP 943, the noble seems to be defined more or less as prudent, as having to do with good manners, as having time for leisure, and as exhibiting duty only to his peers.

One possible key to defining nobility clearly is offered in WtP 385, where he asks: “How do we employ our greatest drives?”. By this he may mean that the individuals in a true aristocracy must exhibit fruitfuness and mastery–and of course what “drives” can be deemed “greatest” is a big question here. Beyond this, reasoning about aristocratic values leaves us with more questions than answers, which is perhaps Nietzsche’s intended goal: higher men and women must define and create themselves and must be, at all times, individuals. We will evaluate additional considerations related to these questions in a future essay on specifically-leftist Nietzschean discourse.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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5 Responses to A Critique of the Nietzschean Aristocratic Ideal

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  5. mcc1789 says:

    All such philosophers I believe mostly assume the person who advocates them will be part of the elite. This foolish, since by definition it’s more probable to be the opposite. Moreover, when you base everything on “might makes right” there is nothing wrong in the “mob” they despite taking power to enforce what the elitist dislikes. They invariably contradict themselves as a result. For my part, I agree with the Epicurean view-the just society is one of mutual advantage, not an elite ruling the rest at their expense.


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