Friedrich Nietzsche is a notable German philosopher, popular for his concept of “the will to power” as well as “overman” (sometimes translated as “superman”). Contrary to some people’s beliefs, Nietzsche was not a nihilist and the overman was his answer to how we could still provide meaning in a godless world.
And with regard to his books, his philosophical novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra is especially popular. Nietzsche wrote much in his life and on many subjects, often reducing his opponents ideas to more concise and charitable (not to mention aesthetically pleasing) forms than the original authors.
Despite this, fascists and other right-wing folks (though some understand) still take Nietzsche out of context or rely on the testimony of his Nazi-sympathizing sister (who exploited Nietzsche’s love of outdoing his enemies after his death), rather than seeking out Nietzsche’s own words.
And while I think we would have to engage in a certain amount of ideological over-eagerness to claim Nietzsche as some sort of anarchist (or even a libertarian), he had his moments of opposition to war and to everything he thought the state stood for. Most notably, Nietzsche inspired the famous anarchist Emma Goldman who called him a “poet, rebel and innovator.”
Interestingly enough, Nietzsche himself was no fan of anarchism, as evident in Beyond Good and Evil:
This is attested to by the increasingly frantic howling, the increasingly undisguised snarling of the anarchist dogs that now wander the alleyways of European culture, in apparent opposition to the peaceable and industrious democrats and ideologists of revolution, and still more to the silly philosophasters and brotherhood enthusiasts who call themselves socialists and want a “free society.”But, in fact, they are one and all united in thorough and instinctive hostility towards all forms of society besides that of the autonomous herd (even to the point of rejecting the concepts of “master” and “slave”.
Nietzsche’s basic criticism of anarchism was that it resembled a sort of secular Christianity. It claims to hold separate values and ideas than society but ultimately reinforces them through an over-reliance on negation and a promised land where all are free. Anarchists, despite their rhetoric, love the herd and conforming to norms, as well as inhabiting bodies of unproductive resentment that lead to nonsensical violence in the accelerationist hope of bringing about judgment day sooner.
Despite my disagreements with Nietzsche, there is some truth to this.
Anarchists, like all individuals, often conform to the morality of our times in some ways. Some anarchists are too interested in the aspect of anarchism that involves negation to make any positive headway in our world. And of course, there are Christian Anarchists, and anarchists who deify certain aspects of their ideology like Christians regard God (such as markets, syndicates, communes, etc.).
Anarchists also have a bad tendency of making their own sects and divisions that, if no one conforms to, the non-believers are deemed lost. Individualist anarchists are just apologists for capitalism, anarchist communists are just apologists for the USSR, primitivists are just apologists for a glorified genocide…well, okay, that one is true.
Despite these pointed criticisms, many anarchists based much of their ideas around Nietzsche. Besides Goldman, many European anarchists, especially individualist anarchists like Renzo Novatore and Emile Armand, were heavily influenced by Nietzsche in both their theory and style.
Yet Nietzsche seemed to hate anarchism, so where does his anti-political side come from? We can look at several quotes that highlight anarchists love of Nietzsche.
The following examples come from multiple works:
The European Man and the abolition of nation.
Trade and industry, books and letters, the way in which all higher culture is shared, the rapid change of house and scenery, the present nomadic life of everyone who is not a landowner—these circumstances necessarily produce a weakening, and finally the abolition, of nations, at least in Europe; and as a consequence of continual intermarriage there must develop a mixed race, that of the European man… (Human, All-Too-Human, p. 61 of The Portable Nietzsche)
The means to real peace. —No government admits any more that it keeps an army to satisfy occasionally the desire for conquest. Rather the army is supposed to serve for defense, and one invokes the morality that approves of self-defense. But this implies one’s own morality and the neighbor’s immorality; for the neighbor must be thought of as eager to attack and conquer if our state must think of means of self-defense.
Moreover, the reasons we give for requiring an army imply that our neighbor, who denies the desire for conquest just as much as does our own state, and who, for his part, also keeps an army only for reasons of self-defense, is a hypocrite and a cunning criminal who would like nothing better than to overpower a harmless and awkward victim without any fight.
Thus all states are now ranged against each other: they presuppose their neighbor’s bad disposition and their own good disposition. This presupposition, however, is inhumane, as bad as war and worse. At bottom, indeed, it is itself the challenge and the cause of wars, because, as I have said, it attributes immorality to the neighbor and thus provokes a hostile disposition and act.
We must abjure the doctrine of the army as a means of self-defense just as completely as the desire for conquests.And perhaps the great day will come when people, distinguished by wars and victories and by the highest development of a military order and intelligence, and accustomed to make the heaviest sacrifices for these things, will exclaim of its own free will, “We break the sword,” and will smash its entire military establishment down to its lowest foundations.
Rendering oneself unarmed when one had been the best-armed, out of a height of feeling—that is the means to real peace, which must always rest on a peace of mind; whereas the so-called armed peace, as it now exists in all countries, is the absence of peace of mind. One trusts neither oneself nor one’s neighbor and, half from hatred, half from fear, does not lay down arms. (The Wanderer and His Shadow, p. 71 from The Portable Nietzsche)
As little state as possible. All political and economic arrangements are not worth it, that precisely the most gifted spirits should be permitted, or even obliged, to manage them: such a waste of spirit is really worse than an extremity. (The Dawn, p. 82 in The Portable Nietzsche)
And there is an entire section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, called On the New Idol, where he writes:
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Cold it tells lies too; and this lie crawls out of its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.” That is a lie! … But the state tells lies in all the tongues of good and evil; and whatever it says it lies—and whatever it has it has stolen. (pp. 160-61 of The Portable Nietzsche)
From these quotes (and others like them), it is not hard to see why anarchists borrowed so heavily from Nietzsche. But it wasn’t just these negative sentiments anarchists took (as Nietzsche may think), but also his positive notions of overman. That is, the idea that we can rise above our herd-grown morality and become better than the human beings before us.
In a way, anarcho-transhumanism as an idea is the ultimate form of Nietzschean utopia. A world in which no one will be the subject to another, and yet, none of us will be humans anymore but beings that have transcended our bodies. Thus, we will have become much more powerful, wise and so forth. We shall treat those who came before us as we treat the monkeys who came before us, with embarrassment and disbelief at their primitiveness.
As Nietzsche writes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment.
And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment… (p. 124 of The Portable Nietzsche)
Nietzsche had his faint ideas of what a utopia might look like but he never focused on rigid systems of thought around them. Nietzsche’s goal was often, perhaps ironically, given his distaste of anarchists, a deconstruction of existing herd-mentality and mores.
That said, Nietzsche was also a die-hard romantic and an enthusiast of wordplay, using both to great effect in Zarathustra especially. The latter of which has both frustrated and fascinated many a would-be translator. There is much to gain from Nietzsche’s writing, including a distrust of morality based on fear, morality based on conformity, and other forms of “slave mentality,” as he says. Whether it be the outdated (and recently killed, according to Nietzsche) notions of Christianity and its God or their secular knockoffs, the socialists and those who uphold science and its method without a second thought.
There are of course, the issues of Nietzsche’s well-known (at least arguable) misogyny that mar some of his best works like Beyond Good and Evil, but on the whole Nietzsche’s ideas are completely compatible with radical analysis of today’s society and the future to come.
This radical analysis will aid us in creating a future dependent on our own selves, fully realized through the freedom of achieving a real and meaningful peace. Realized through our everyday actions and behaviors that involve self-creation and realization against the machinations of the military industrial complex and herd morality.
And we will do this not just by negating existing contemporary oppressive structures, but building better ones in which we can all be overman, together.