This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled " Nietzsche and Objectivism ." 

Nobility, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life

“[Mr. Darcy’s] behavior to us has in every respect been...pleasing”
“[Mr. Darcy] is perfectly amiable.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (272, 316)

“I should not like to undervalue the amiable virtues; but greatness of soul is not compatible with them. Even in the arts, the grand style excludes the pleasing.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Will to Power (1040)

I would like to begin with the above pair of quotations, since the striking contrast they bear to one another will help me to develop a point about Nietzsche that has bothered me almost from the beginning of this CyberSeminar. I imagine that Nietzsche and Jane Austen each have in mind the same sort of thing by “amiable” and “pleasing,” namely such virtues as friendliness, gentleness, affability, sensitivity, geniality, kindness, and the like. In Austen’s case, at least, no sort of obsequiousness or ingratiating behavior can be implied, since such qualities are impossible for Mr. Darcy. In fact, I would say that Darcy is the “great souled man” of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (bk. iv, ch. 3) transplanted to early 19th century England.

Nietzsche for his part likewise seems to be saying, not that there is anything exactly wrong with the amiable virtues but only that they are unsuitable to the highest sort of man (cf. also WP 932, 948). Note in this connection that politeness and “beautiful gestures,” if not geniality, are permitted--even required--of the great man (WP 943, 1033). The amiable virtues are denied him presumably because the highest, Olympian sort of man is engaged in self-overcoming, in surmounting and emerging ever stronger from hardships and deprivations, in revaluing all values, and in looking down on the contemptible herd. None of these is compatible with making oneself pleasing to others, which is to grant validity to their evaluations.

We have here the glimmerings of a basic difference in outlook as regards life and especially a noble life. On the Nietzschean side, which I’m inclined to think of as romantic even though Nietzsche himself rejects the term, an essential trait of the great souled man is creativity. The great man establishes values, particularly in the sense of whole new standards of value, and thereby enhances man, but at the cost of great suffering to himself (cf. BGE 225, 270). His achievements are seldom understood or understandable by others; he may even find it convenient to mask his true self behind some facade to avoid their misplaced sympathy (BGE 270, WP 962). He certainly does not submit himself to concern over whether his behavior is amiable. I call this romantic because one familiar exemplar of this concept of greatness is the cliche of the “starving artist” with unkempt hair and stormy countenance who sacrifices everything for his art, which nobody else understands until two generations after he has died unnoticed and in poverty. Nietzsche has more than just artists in mind, of course--and note especially that no sort of weakness is supposed to be predicable of the great man--but the “starving artist” may serve as a helpful image of this conception of greatness.

The great man establishes values and thereby enhances man, but at the cost of great suffering to himself.

On the Austenian side (which I’m going to continue to say is also the Aristotelian side; for an excellent general discussion of the ways in which Jane Austen may be loosely termed an Aristotelian moralist, see Gilbert Ryle (1968)), neither self-overcoming nor radical creation are required for greatness. Rather, the man of great soul excels on all dimensions of virtue. Since one such dimension contains the amiable virtues, the great man will possess them. A person of truly superior understanding, of course, will weigh others’ opinions according to their merits; but this is hardly incompatible with being pleasant and congenial. On this conception of greatness, the place of any given “great souled man” in society will depend on fortune and circumstance, but like as not he will be a solid citizen, and in any semi-rational society he will be well recognized and appreciated.

“I am only resolved to act in that manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”
Elizabeth Bennet, in Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (300-301)

“The happy man”: a herd ideal.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in Will to Power (696)

Let me switch the focus now from amiability to happiness. Is the noble soul a happy one? In the Austenian/Aristotelian view, happiness is certainly not guaranteed even to a noble soul, but it is an ideal. (For those unfamiliar with Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is the heroine and a noble character--for all that she is a mere herd animal in the world of Nietzsche.) Happiness consists neither in pleasure nor in getting whatever you want but in well-being, which might be characterized as the accomplishing of the goals of a person who wants the right things. As with the Austenian/Aristotelian conception of nobility, this conception of ideal happiness can be accused of being a tad prosaic. Nietzsche tars it with the brush of the bourgeois, and I am going to accept that association and sometimes call it “bourgeois happiness.” Economist D. N. McCloskey (1994) has taken to saying we should uphold “bourgeois virtue” as an ideal, and she has a point. Besides, the term “bourgeois” (by which I mean middle class) adds a helpful concreteness to the conception of happiness I am trying to describe. At any rate, well-being includes such things as health; education; a lively mind; sound judgment and a good knowledge of the world; good food, shelter, and clothing; agreeable and capable companions; stimulating activities; and the respect of one’s peers. As a first approximation, let us describe this ideal of happiness by saying that well-being includes the items just listed as well as others like them; that to live well is to achieve well-being; and that, life being an end in itself, happiness qua well-being is the ultimate end for man, beyond which there is nothing. To the extent you achieve happiness, you have done what man does; there is no higher rational goal in life.

I trust it is clear that Nietzsche does not accept bourgeois happiness as an ideal. We must take care, however, to be precise about what sort of happiness it is that he rejects. The quote above (WP 696) implies that he rejects happiness per se, but of course that is not quite right, since it is easy to find places where he speaks of happiness in a positive way. For example, “We the noble, the good, the beautiful and the happy!” (GM i.10; see also WP 94, 195, 868). Where happiness has positive associations in Nietzsche, it can usually be taken without much strain as an expression of power (he nearly defines it as such at WP 1023). On the other hand, the sense of happiness he attacks most forcefully is that of being comfortable, which he derides in one place as “green-pasture happiness,” namely “security, absence of danger, comfort, the easy life, and...[absence of] any kind of shepherd or bellwether” (WP 957; see also WP 944). The Nietzschean claim, then, would be that comfort and security may be happiness, but they can’t be fulfillment; therefore green-pasture happiness cannot be the highest goal of life.

Nietzsche does not accept bourgeois happiness as an ideal.

However, comfort and security are not all there is to bourgeois happiness. Comfort and security must not only be possessed; they must also be achieved. Further, it is not only for retrospective satisfaction that one must achieve one’s well-being; nor only for the knowledge that one earned it. What is more important is that the achieving itself, the process, involves an experience of efficacy which is critical to happiness. It seems to be a fact that material well-being alone, past a certain basic minimum, is largely incidental to the feeling of happiness (Myers and Diener 1995). Even lottery winners quickly return to their pre-jackpot level of subjective happiness. The likely reason is that we adapt to material conditions, such as wealth, similar to the way our eyes adapt to lighting conditions. Positive feelings such as elation and gladness require some change, some stimulus. Once the change has been adapted to, the feeling subsides. Achievement, however, provides such a stimulus. Achievement here means to accomplish something by means of one’s purposeful effort. It is an active process accompanied by feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment. Moreover, achievement is something that can occur frequently, taking the smaller scale sub-tasks of one’s career or personal projects into account, perhaps even on a daily basis.

The point is simply that achievement is necessary to happiness. Moreover, this is not a surprising conclusion but one which I believe most people understand. And although I’m not sure whom I might cite as theoreticians of bourgeois happiness, I doubt whether they would be found to be advocating mere comfort and security, even though unearned, as the roots of happiness. Neither Jane Austin nor Aristotle was much for emphasizing the value of work or the virtue of productiveness. Aristotle does have quite a bit to say about happiness, however, and it is worth noting that he emphasizes that happiness requires that one must not merely possess virtue but employ virtue and do good things. Olympic prizes, he says, are not for the finest and strongest, but for contestants (NE 1099a4-5). Epicurus might possibly be a counterexample, since comfort and security were practically his definition of happiness. However, his ideal called for opting out of society, by any one of several methods, and it is therefore difficult to see him as an exponent of bourgeois happiness. Certainly as a philosopher he would have little to offer tradesmen, entrepreneurs, builders, and the like. Thus Nietzsche’s green-pasture happiness is neither a psychologically accurate account of “the herd” nor a serious characterization of bourgeois happiness.

Nietzsche seems opposed, however, not just to green-pasture happiness but to any kind of bourgeois happiness, including the more robust form just described. Naturally, Nietzsche is scornful of the bourgeois (WP 247, 901, 943). People who are bourgeois are industrious, they are “shopkeepers à la Spencer,” they follow the rules. Mind you, these are meant to be criticisms. To Nietzsche, they are marks of mediocrity. Again, he constantly disparages prudence (WP 909, 912, 925, 929, 930). Not only is honor more important, no decent action results from prudence (WP 925). More significantly, one who seeks a higher kind of life wants danger (and not of course in the sense of a calculated risk) (WP 929). In short, Nietzsche is scornful of several characteristic features of bourgeois life and sine qua nons of well-being.

In the Zarathustra Prologue (Z Prologue 5), Nietzsche describes the “last man.” It is not wholly clear, to me anyway, what the “last man” is supposed to be, but it appears that the last man is intended to represent the low point of mediocrity to which the human race will eventually sink if at least some of us don’t strive for what is higher. The last man doesn’t long for the higher. He is unable to despise himself. He lives long because he avoids risk and sticks to living in warm places. The last man works for a living, but not too hard. He is sociable and agreeable. Comfort is his chief value. Happiness is his goal. These are all supposed by Nietzsche to be bad things, for the last man is the most contemptible and despicable of men. There is a certain amount of green-pasture talk here, it is true, but not much, and it doesn’t seem to be the main thrust of his criticism. If the last man were more active, more ambitious, and if it were clear that he must achieve his comforts and well-being, would Nietzsche be satisfied? Surely not. For such a being would still be man. The contrast character to the last man is the ubermensch. In the book’s first edition, the Zarathustra Prologue was titled “On the Ubermensch and the Last Man.” The ubermensch is a new, higher species that will transcend man and be as far beyond man as man is beyond the ape (Z Prologue 3). (We are probably not supposed to take the ubermensch literally as a distinct biological species.) And man, it seems, is not a sufficient end in himself; the life of man is not the aim but the ubermensch must be the aim (Z Prologue 3, 4; WP 859, 866, 997, 1001).

Nietzsche's ubermensch is a new, higher species that will transcend man.

That a human life is not inspiring enough or meaningful enough to be a final aim for Nietzsche is confirmed by his discussion of the men of science in Genealogy of Morals iii.23-28. In GM iii he is discussing “the ascetic ideal,” which makes forms of self-denial, such as poverty, humility, and chastity, into moral ideals. After analyzing the ascetic ideal as essentially anti-life, he asks what counter-ideal can be found and takes up the suggestion that the counter-ideal might be supplied by modern science. “Science” here should be taken broadly to include all rational inquiry. The suggestion, then, is that the life of reason might supply a satisfactory alternative to the ascetic ideal. But Nietzsche rejects this suggestion in no uncertain terms. Most scientists have no sense of science as a passionate ideal. Beavering away in their laboratories, they are trying to stay active in order to avoid facing the emptiness and meaninglessness of their lives (GM iii.23). As for the few passionate rationalists that do exist, their rationalism is itself an ascetic ideal! For it is based on faith in truth, and truth is a metaphysical, otherworldly (noumenal) goal (GM iii.24). And being otherworldly, it is self-denying. The will to truth in fact is asceticism, is Christianity, stripped to bare essentials (GM iii.27). The counter-ideal, therefore, must lie elsewhere.

Fortunately, the will to truth contains the seeds of its own destruction (GM iii.27), which results in turn in nihilism--the last item I want to mention of evidence that Nietzsche rejects happiness in the sense of a human life well lived as the final aim for man. The rational/moral imperative to seek the truth about things will destroy itself when it is turned upon itself and made to ask what is the value of truth (GM iii.27; WP 3, 5, 12). When we ask about truth, about the world of the categories of reason, we inevitably discover it is a fiction. That is when we reach the low point of nihilism, the belief that everything is in vain, meaningless, valueless. Nietzsche believed when he was writing that Europe was on the brink of a phase in which nihilism would become a very potent cultural force, a phase that would occupy the next two centuries (GM iii.27; WP Preface 2). It must be admitted that the course of Western history after Nietzsche has been discomfitingly similar to what he predicted.  

There is a good side to this, though, since once the old values have been destroyed we will be free to create new ones. There are places in which Nietzsche talks as though this freedom itself were the end point, the state of being truly a “free spirit,” where it would be valuable to remain (GM iii.24; WP 14, 15). The broader perspective, however, is that nihilism is a phase in the process of self-overcoming (GM iii.27). All values are transitory; we create them, then overcome them and create new ones in their place; this is the expression of our will to power and mastery even over our own creations, over our own selves (Z ii: On Self-Overcoming). Self-overcoming is thus a striving for what is higher that is inherent in life itself. This is why, and how, man must transform himself into ubermensch. It is also the process by which the societal “revaluation of all values” will grow out of nihilism (WP Preface 4). (Nietzsche in some places claims to have traveled this road himself already and to have emerged on the other side of the nihilist abyss (WP Preface 3; WP 25).) It follows that there is no true code of virtue we might discover and live by, and so achieve happiness. Indeed Nietzsche must reject the very idea of well-being as I have described it, as something grounded in human nature. For there is no truth about human nature, any more than about anything else, only artificial judgments serving the ends of power. So the aim of life cannot consist in excellence according to any fixed standards of human nature but must be pursued through constant striving for strength and power, for what is “noble” and “higher,” in being severe and hard with oneself (BGE 260), in cultivating one’s own suffering (BGE 270, WP 910), in making enemies (WP 944), and in general in living a what-does-not-destroy-me-makes-me-stronger kind of life (TI, Maxims and Arrows 8; WP 934). And the aim of this in turn? Once again, to reach a higher form of life: the ubermensch.

With this description of the character and activities of Nietzsche’s great man, we have returned to the starting point of this paper, so perhaps we should stop and take stock of the argument so far. On one conception, which I have attributed to Jane Austen and to Aristotle and have associated with the bourgeois, the aim of life–“the meaning of life”--consists in living well, according to standards set by human nature. What constitutes living well for a human being presumably is something we can determine empirically, not unlike the way we determine what constitutes the health of our bodies. An important component of living well no doubt involves adhering to a certain code of virtues, which is not easy but also not a matter of self-denial or mortification. Furthermore, the reward of a life well lived, barring accidents, is happiness. To live a happy life in this sense could be said--and is said by Aristotle--to be one’s highest moral aim. But happiness, even in the well-being sense, is not enough according to Nietzsche. For, to begin with, the whole idea that we can empirically discover anything about human nature is a mirage. “There are no facts” (WP 481, 556, 604). All our “facts” and values are created, not discovered, ultimately as instruments of someone’s will to power. The driving principle of life is the will to power, through which life reaches higher and higher forms. It is these higher forms which are the aim and meaning of life. And so in their service the best among us should strive for mastery and dominance and nobility of soul.

I believe what I have just said puts Nietzsche’s conception on these matters fairly in a nutshell--though no doubt imperfectly. If anyone sees how my description could be improved or corrected, I would be very curious to hear their ideas. In the meantime, I suppose it’s obvious that there’s not much to be said in favor of Nietzsche’s view. His “arguments” for such key principles as that truth is a fiction and that the main principle of life is the will to power, are, as usual for continental philosophers, practically nonexistent. And, since these principles are not plausible in their own right, I don’t propose to spend much time with them. Rather, what interests me is the attack on the Austenian/Aristotelian conception that one finds by implication in his work. For he is claiming as a matter of psychological reality that the pursuit of well-being is a mediocre, empty existence; that people cannot find meaning in the pursuit of happiness. His remarks cited above about most scientists having little passion for what they do and just keeping themselves busy to cover the emptiness of their lives are to the point here. Are the lives of people who simply work for a living and try to do well meaningful? Can such people be truly satisfied?

Nietzsche believed when he was writing that Europe was on the brink of a nihilist phase.

There is evidence that they are not. For example, there is a correlation between religiosity and subjective well-being (Myers and Diener 1995). People who are more religious report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with life. They are less likely to be substance abusers, to be divorced or unhappily married, to commit suicide, or to suffer from depression. At the same time they are physically healthier, they live longer, and recover more quickly from the unhappiness associated with adverse events such as unemployment, divorce, serious illness, and bereavement. Although Myers and Diener admit that not enough is known to reasonably infer an explanation for these facts, it is tempting to explain them by reference to the sense of meaning and purpose that religion supplies. This would be in line with Nietzsche’s argument of GM iii, that man cannot bear to be without ideals and will accept even an anti-life “ideal” (asceticism) than have no ideal at all. And Nietzsche’s argument against the Austenian/Aristotelian conception then could be put by saying that earning a living and enjoying life are not an ideal.

Yet this is the bourgeois conception, isn’t it? What can be said in reply to Nietzsche’s criticism? One thing I think should not be said is that the bourgeois conception only seems unidealistic because it is not being described idealistically, but if we wrap a philosophy like Objectivism around earning a living and treat it as an ideal, then it will be one. On the contrary, I think the ends of life should be meaningful in themselves, not just declared to be so by some ideology. Witness Epicurus, who tried to make pleasure the meaning of life by wrapping an ideology around it. It didn’t work, and I submit that the reason is that pleasure (no matter how defined) is not in fact a very substantial or meaningful goal.

A better answer might be the following: I have said above that material well-being must be achieved, not just possessed. Now notice that some projects are more challenging than others. Discovering a scientific law, establishing a scientific fact, learning a foreign language, raising a child, managing an office, creating a software system, driving a train, founding a company, writing a book, brokering a real estate deal--these projects all have different levels of difficulty and are differentially suited to persons of different talents, interests, and abilities. If a person who could be discovering a scientific law is flipping burgers instead, then peculiar circumstances aside it’s a fair bet that that person does not find flipping burgers a meaningful pursuit. If people do not pursue projects in life that challenge them, they will be less alert and engaged, and their lives will likely be less rich and less rewarding. On the other hand, challenging projects feel meaningful and lead to enhanced subjective well-being (Myers and Diener 1995; see also Csikszentmihalyi 1990). It is moreover to be expected that purposeful effort, being the fundamental means by which all goods are achieved, should be a critical component of an integrated, actualized life, and hence of feelings of well-being. To have a philosophy consistent with such a life is important as well, of course, for many reasons, not least of which being that it helps people to understand the meaning of their lives. But the sense of fulfillment should not be entirely “top down,” and in the well-lived life I am describing, it would not be.

It does not seem, therefore, that we must accept Nietzsche’s criticism of the pursuit of bourgeois happiness. With regard to Nietzsche’s own conception, on the other hand, I can’t resist pointing out a few of its ironies. I have already pointed out that the apostle of strength and power seems awfully ready to emphasize that nobility entails suffering. Doesn’t that seem rather ascetic? Is it not also strange that he locates the aim of mankind in a higher stage, the ubermensch? Why not just say that the final aim is power? That would seem actually more consistent with his framework, and after all power is a realizable goal, at least for the strong. I suppose the reason is that simple power looks ignoble. Whatever the reason, it is a fact that the ubermensch seems awfully elusive. It is tough to say how we would recognize this ubermensch if we ever encountered one (WP 876, 886), and whether there actually are any ubermenschen or ever will be. In view of these doubts, it is right to ask, why should we undergo all of Nietzsche’s noble suffering? We already know that “the great majority of men have no right to existence” (WP 872), but what about the few noble ones? Unless they are already ubermenschen, which does not seem to be the case, when will they ever realize the final aim from their exertions? Does it not seem that not only the great majority, but the few as well, are to be sacrificed to a phantom? And is this not just one of the things the socialism Nietzsche hates so much is criticized for? Walter Kaufmann, in an “Editor’s Note” to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, claims that for Nietzsche “the meaning of life is thus found on earth, in this life” (1968, 116, emphasis his), but this does not seem true after all.

I want to conclude this portion by quoting what Ayn Rand has to say about the place of working for a living as a moral ideal in Atlas Shrugged . This is the scene near the end of the book when society has collapsed and Eddie Willars is futilely trying to start a broken-down train in the middle of nowhere, and he recalls the time in their childhood when he had said to Dagny that he wanted to do great and noble things. “Dagny, that is what it [the best within us] was...and you knew it, then, but I didn’ knew it when you turned to look at the rails....I said, ‘not business or earning a living’...but, Dagny, business and earning a living and that in man which makes it possible--that is the best within us, that was the thing to defend...” (p.1166, emphases and ellipses original).

Civilization and Culture

Nietzsche makes a telling distinction between civilization and culture, which he identifies as contrary principles (WP 121, 122, 134). “Civilization” refers to “the taming of the human animal,” presumably including enforcing the rule of law and civility. “Culture,” on the other hand, presumably refers to great achievements in art and other “high” endeavors. Culture builds the Parthenon; civilization writes the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. The societal conditions that enhance culture are those that promote strength and growth--but moral corruption. On the other hand the forces that promote civilization are forces of weakening and disintegration--but moral high-mindedness. (Take a wild stab at which of the two is Nietzsche’s pick.)

Has Nietzsche any alternative but to think that civilization and culture are opposed? We have seen above how he feels about amiability and sociability. The “high” is rare and separate. Great men and their achievements require aristocracy and suppression of the masses (WP 866, 901, 902, 936). These are basic Nietzschean principles. Therefore anything that lubricates human relationships, or that promotes collective or cooperative action, he must see as a tendency toward weakness and mediocrity and as harmful to the interests of culture. In this light perhaps we can begin to understand Nietzsche’s disparaging attitude to the 19th century achievements of the United States and Great Britain. Neither country was notable for very high artistic achievements. On the other hand, they were both very “civilized,” in Nietzsche’s sense. They were both at the forefront of establishing “a government of laws and not of men.” They were both very democratic. They both excelled at cooperative activity, whether commercial or otherwise. Regarding Napoleon versus Wellington, the British empire was precisely not Wellington’s in the same sense as the Napoleonic empire was Napoleon’s. The British empire was not the achievement of a single man, and I would say that is just the problem Nietzsche has with it. To appreciate Industrial Revolution England and America, one has to appreciate cooperative, or rational, individualism; but Nietzsche’s obsession with great men who “create values” and sweep all before them, not to mention his love affair with power, conflict, noble suffering, daring risk taking, and contempt for the herd, blinds him to the value of cooperation and rationality both.


Stephen Hicks wrote, in his kickoff essay for Unit 3: “Nietzsche was widely mis-read in many of his statements. For example, the ‘blond beast’ he admires is a lion, not the Nordic racial type.” This cannot be right. Nietzsche refers to blond beasts two places I know of in GM: i.11 and ii.17. In both places it is clear that he is talking about people, not animals. “The deep and icy mistrust which the German arouses as soon as he comes to power, which we see again even today--is still the aftermath of that inextinguishable horror with which Europe viewed the raging blond Germanic beast for centuries...” (GM i.11). “I used the word ‘state’: it is obvious who is meant by this--some pack of blond beasts of prey, a conqueror and master race...” Obviously, “blond beast” is a metaphor, and in GM i.11 Nietzsche talks of “the blond beast at the center of every noble race,” making it clear that he is talking about the spirit of noble races. And lions are blond, and no doubt this is part of the metaphor. But so are the Germans, especially the old German race, and this is another part, as the quote from GM i.11 just given makes clear. See also GM i.5, where he talks about “the blond race which had become dominant, namely the Aryan conquering race...” The context here, by the way, is a discussion of the etymology of words for good and bad things; Nietzsche’s thesis is that words designating the good, noble, and pure often originally meant blond, whereas words designating the bad originally referred to dark-skinned and/or -haired people. Notice also in this passage Nietzsche’s anxiety to prove that the Celts were blond. It is clear from the text that he has spent a certain amount of time poring over ethnological maps of Europe. And don’t forget that his beloved Greeks were blond.

It is obvious that Nietzsche was a racialist. I don’t say “racist” because it doesn’t look to me as if he wished to categorize people absolutely on the basis of their race or derive an automatic, merit-free advantage for one group over another on the basis of race. Rather, his interest seems entirely on the strong and noble single person, regardless of origins. When he is describing the noble, he never includes racial characteristics. Also, he never reasons that “A is a member of race X, so A is strong/weak.” He does, however, believe that race is an important component in making people what they are. This may be simply a result of his biological approach to human nature. He talks constantly about breeding and the importance of advantageous descent (e.g., WP 47, 995). He even goes so far as to say, in one place, “There is only nobility of birth, only nobility of blood” (WP 942). And check out the eugenics program sketched at WP 734 and implied at WP 733. He sometimes blames social decline on the mixing of races (e.g., WP 864). On the other hand, sometimes he suggests that cross fertilization between races could produce a stronger breed (e.g., WP 960).

In short he has no clear racial program. He just believes in physiology, including the heritability of character. However, if his view is really so benign as I have been painting it, then it was irresponsible of him to have been so free with phrases like “noble races.” Talk of noble versus degenerate races, together with the designation of the Aryans as the master race and the nasty things he says about some other races, combined with sentences like “A declaration of war on the masses by higher men is needed!” (WP 861, emphasis original), and it is obvious what conclusions superficial readers will draw. Nietzsche’s constant jabs at the German anti-Semites do not prove his innocence in this regard, pace Kaufmann. German anti-Semitism was a populist movement. When was there ever a populist movement Nietzsche could stomach? Indeed, his anti-anti-Semitist remarks are all to the effect that the anti-Semites personally are ignorant and low, not that they aren’t right about the Jews. Was Nietzsche anti-Semitic? I don’t know. But I don’t see how he can complain of his use by anti-Semites. He asked for it.


Austen, Jane. 1961 (orig. published 1813). Pride and Prejudice. New York: New American Library.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1990. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row.
Kaufmann, Walter. 1968. The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Viking Press.
McCloskey, D. N. 1994. “Bourgeois Virtue.” American Scholar, 63 (2): 177-191.
Myers, David G. and Diener, Ed. 1995. “Who Is Happy?” Psychological Science, 6 (1): 10-19.
Ryle, Gilbert. 1968. “Jane Austen and the Moralists.” In B. C. Southam (Ed.), Critical Essays on Jane Austen (pp. 106-122). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Nietzsche Abbreviations

BGE Beyond Good and Evil
GM Genealogy of Morals
Z Thus Spoke Zarathustra
TI Twilight of the Idols
WP Will to Power  

Discussion of "Blond Beasts"

Back to  Part Three, On History and Culture

> Return to the parent page for this 2000 online CyberSeminar, "Nietzsche and Objectivism."


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