In order to properly analyze theviews and writings of Nietzsche it is important to understand him asanti-political, not holding beliefs consistent of any standard politicalideologies.
Therefore to call him both the most democratic and anti-democraticthinker is actually quite true if you view “liberalism” and “democracy” asrelated but separate topics. In doing this it is clear that while Nietzscheholds strong anti-democratic views he is also in support of many liberal valuesthat are inherent in democratic ideologies. Since the two terms arefundamentally linked it is impossible to completely dissociate liberalism fromdemocracy. By this logic Nietzsche’s liberal beliefs and support in thestruggle for liberty and individualism make him an extremely democratic thinker,just as well as his disregard of populism and egalitarianism make him widelyanti-democratic. Thisdistinction can be seen in a passage on his concept of freedom in which hestates, “there is nothing that harms freedom more severely and fundamentallythan liberal institutions” (Twilight ofthe Idols).
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While this could point to him being against liberal thought,what I believe he means by this is that it is the institutions of liberalismthat are present in democratic systems that inhibit freedom rather than actualliberalism. He elaborates more on this idea by stating that the “West no longerhas those instincts from which institutions grow” (Twilight of the Idols), we have tried tirelessly to base our moderninstitutions on those of the past, failing simply because we have since shiftedour ideas of freedom. To Nietzsche freedom is having responsibility foroneself, being indifferent to hardships and deprivation, and letting theinstincts for war dominate all other (Twilightof the Idols), the very same principles that those in ancient Athens andSparta based their institutions and government on. However today our moderninstitution have structured themselves around an idea of freedom that has lostthat rationality of the past, replacing it with ideas surrounding group powerand survival through pairing people together as opposed to individualism.
ForNietzsche it is not that liberal thought and ideologies have constrainedfreedom but that we have structured these institutions of modern liberaldemocracies around false ideas of liberty and sovereignty. Itis this opposition he felt towards the idea that society should function as acohesive unit of equal individuals that very clearly highlights hisanti-democratic positions. Nietzsche’s views on democratic societies maintainthat they all hold social structures composed of many people, all of whichregard superiors as having moral high ground (Beyond Good and Evil).
His main arguments against systems of thisnature revolve around his belief that “madness is rare in individuals – but ingroups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule” (Beyond Good and Evil). Within these democratic systems Nietzschebelieves that these egalitarian principles “undermine the will to power, theyare the leveling of mountain and valley elevated into a morality, they makepeople small, cowardly, and pleasure-loving” (Twilight of the Idols) and because of this they being to resembleherd animals. The problem with this lies in his views of freedom as beingattained through strength and individualism; therefore the egalitarianismwithin democratic institutions undermines a person’s freedom by equalizingthem. This is whatpeople call Nietzsche’s “herd-animalization” (Twilight of the Idols) theory, a theory claiming that liberalinstitutions eliminate the basic human instincts of freedom that push them towant to be better. These instincts became unnecessary as soon as our concept offreedom shifted; we once saw value in freedom because of what we paid toachieve it – what it cost us, now we hold value in freedom because of what weget by means of it (Twilight of the Idols).
Nietzsche understood freedom “as something that one has and does not have, thatone wills to have, that one conquers” (Twilightof the Idols); he believed that the means one takes to achieve theirindependence and the sacrifices they make along the way were what truly made ahuman free. By this logic it is not technically the institutions that undermineour freedom then because as long as we hold the same mindset we had when wewere building them as we do after we have attained them then they promotefreedom. Basically it is our fault that liberalism doesn’t promote freedomanymore because we allowed ourselves to lose the very instincts in which madeus great in the first place. As soon as liberal institutions put us aboveothers we saw no need to continue striving for greatness and strength.We then must comeback to Nietzsche’s view of greatness, one in which aristocracy prevailed asopposed to democratic ideals of equality. To him the advances of mankind havealways and only come from “a society that believes in the long ladder of anorder of rank and differences in value between man and man, and that needsslavery in some sense or other” (BeyondGood and Evil).
He believed that inorder for society and man to be great there must be a will to persist andovercome, that man needs to harness the same instincts he would have duringwartime in order to prevail. Only societies whose doctrines promote “equal forequals, unequal for unequals” (Twilightof the Idols) will foster true justice, because it is in these societiesthat man is able to act on his natural instincts. Societies that promoteequality hamper our natural instinct to view life as simply the will to powerover others and ourselves because “exploitation.
.. belongs to the essence ofwhat lives, as a basic organic function” (BeyondGood and Evil), and egalitarianism prevents exploitation. However what hemeans in terms of exploitation doesn’t always align completely with ourdefinition of it as the manipulation of others, but with mans manipulation ofhimself and his abilities. For Nietzsche “it is the business of the very few tobe independent; it is a privilege of the strong…whoever attempts it …provesthat he is probably not only strong but also daring” (Beyond Good and Evil); to him it was inconceivable for everyone inliberal democracies to be able to break free from their herd mentality.Therefore he believed that the man who was able to tap into his naturalinstinct of independence was the strongest of them all. Any man who is able toredirect his means of exploitation from the group to his own self would “pushthe virtue of liberality so far that it becomes a vice” (Beyond Good and Evil). To be able to see that it is not thosearound you which give you power and strength but yourself and the manipulationof your own virtues allows man to tap into his natural instinct for challenginghimself.
His thoughts on this topic are those consistent with anti-politicalideologies, ones that promote the utilization of oneself as opposed to theutilization of society and its institutions. A lot of Nietzsche’s views tend to be a sortof will to action, he speaks as if he is convincing a crowd or commencing arally. While I am able to call him anti-political for a number of reasons,there is always an undertone to these “anti-political” ideals that seem to becalling for people to unthink what democratic society has taught them and totake on another thought process. However this thought process is one thatpromotes freedom, individualism, autonomy, and liberty, all principles commonin liberal ideologies. Therefore I come to the conclusion that Nietzsche wasvery anti-democratic, he was against societies that diluted freedom throughegalitarianism and populism, believing that institutions were the main sourceof man’s downfall.
On the other hand though, Nietzsche was not interested inour standard ideologies so it is completely reasonable to see why he would havedistaste for democratic systems. However, he was still interested in the samequestions as we are and believed strongly in many ideals held by liberalthinkers, such as liberty, individualism, and freedom. It is unwise to callNietzsche a “democratic thinker” though, simply because his beliefs were notmutually consistent with other democratic thinkers.
We can easily prove thoughthat he is a liberal thinker and a supporter of liberalism, and since in ourmodern society the two terms seem to be intrinsically interrelated, he can becategorized under the umbrella term of democratic.