Master Morality and Slave Morality

It just struck me: when Nietzsche (in the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Section 11) evokes his fantasmatic master race, writing of “triumphant monsters who perhaps emerge from a disgusting procession of murder, arson, rape, and torture, exhilarated and undisturbed of soul, as if it were no more than a students’ prank,” he is in fact giving a perfect, precisely literal description of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. Though I can’t help thinking that Nietzsche would have been sorely disappointed and disillusioned if he had actually encountered such men, and realized that they were the living embodiments of his ideal.

16 Responses to “Master Morality and Slave Morality”

  1. Dan Smith says:

    Hmmm. Really? Nietzsche: “How much reverence has a noble man for his enemies! — and such reverence is a bridge to love. For he desires his enemy for himself, as a mark of his distinction; he can endure no other enemy than one in whom there is nothing to despise and everything to honor! In contrast to this, picture “the enemy” as the man of ressentiment conceives him — and here precisely is his deed, his creation: he has conceived “the evil enemy,” “the Evil One,” and this is in fact his basic concept, from which he then evolves. . . (GoM, I.10).

    Am suprised that someone as sensitive as you to affect/intensity would read the “beast of prey” stuff at the level of content/signification/reference.

    Bush and Company: slave boys if ever there were.

  2. Steven Shaviro says:

    Well, of course you can find almost anything in Nietzsche, from the praise of reverence and love, to the praise of raping and murdering: both of which characterize the “noble” personality.
    I myself am inclined to believe that “slave morality,” reactivity, and “ressentiment” are the only positions that exist, and that Nietzsche’s evocation of nobility, and of “good and bad” (rather than “good and evil”) is a wishful fantasy that needs to be radically interrogated, in the same way that Nietzsche interrogates everything else. Which was sort of the point of my saying that Nietzsche would have been “sorely disappointed and disillusioned” by the actually existing embodiment of his fantasy.

  3. Dan Smith says:

    Okey-dokey.

  4. Gordon Potter says:

    Certainly, I also think Nietzsche would be sorely disappointed by these so called nobles George, Dick, and Donald. However, I think they lack a certain quality that is essential to the Nietzschean ideal. Namely the ability to transend the hate that they feel. In the previous section Nietzsche says “To be incapable of taking one’s enemies, one’s accidents, even one’s misdeed seriously for very long — that is the sign of strong, full natures in whom there is an excess of the power to form, to mold, to recuperate and to forget…”

    This is the essential problem with Bush and company in a sense the entire body politic of America post 9/11. We hate. I have always thought of Nietzsche’s noble was an ideal always striven for but never achieved. It embodied a kind of will to transend the morass or the moment and actually live the christian challenge to “turn the other cheek” (masochism?). Bush and company can’t see beyond the pain of the terrorism and instead evoke a murderous rage and response. A “kill ‘em all…” kind of response. This is most certainly not Nietzschean nobility.

    Alas, as cynical as it sounds, I also am of the mind that “slave morality” and reactivity is the only position that exists in practice. And I think that Nietzsche understood this as well. With the recent London bombings I have to fight the internal urge to just throw up my hands and retreat behind a “kill ‘em all” resignation. But it is only the Nietzsche that I have read that really keeps me focused and provides the tools to stave off this sentiment.

    By the way here is further proof that George and his crew don’t “get” Nietzsche:

    In referring to the terrorists George Bush, in his September 2001 State of the Union address said the following:

    “We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety.  We have seen their kind before.  They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century.  By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions — by abandoning every value except the will to power — they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism.  And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends:  in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.”

    Beside the immensely naive reading of “will to power”, it seems that George omits a glaring fact that transforms this statement into mind boggling irony. We (the dominant global powers) are all the progenitors of the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. We are all living in world of failed nobility.

    If worldwide peace and prosperity someday abounds in another century I can only imagine how those people will look back, read Nietzsche, look at the 100 plus years after Nietzsche and go “What The F$%@ happened there?”.

    I am sad to admit that it is very likely we as a civilization are still not far enough in the future to truly “read” Nietzsche.

  5. Dan Smith says:

    Word

  6. John C. Turner says:

    Has George Bush ever gotten closer to murder than the word? Isn’t he unaffected by virtue of a self-imposed isolation? I mean, does he really understand murder well enough to be unaffected by it?

  7. Steven Shaviro says:

    It’s amazing how even the slightest suggestion of a criticism of Nietzsche raises people’s hackles. I’d like to suggest a text: Nietzsche’s Corps/e by Geoff Waite. This book is absolutely brilliant: a violent, paranoid anti-Nietzsche rant, dense, theory-savvy, and polymathically comprehensive, grounded in a reading method which can best be described as Lenin meets Leo Strauss. (That is to say, Waite is a Leninist, and not in the least a Straussian, but his approach is sort of a leftwing appropriation of Strauss’ methods of close reading). Now, I’m not saying I necessarily agree with this book, but it is bracing to read because it is as crazily energetic and demented and outrageously polemical as Nietzsche himself, and about how many books can you say that?

  8. Dan Smith says:

    I didn’t realize you were criticizing Herr Nietzsche. Why you I oughta . . . !

    But seriously, I was simply responding to what I thought was a questionable claim about the “assholes of evil” being the embodiment of master morality.

    No hackles raised here, bro. I don’t worship at the altar of the overman. (The altar of Jessica Alba, perhaps, but that’s another issue.) Tightropes scare me.

    Respect,
    DS

  9. Carl Sachs says:

    “I myself am inclined to believe that “slave morality,” reactivity, and “ressentiment” are the only positions that exist, and that Nietzsche’s evocation of nobility, and of “good and bad” (rather than “good and evil”) is a wishful fantasy that needs to be radically interrogated, in the same way that Nietzsche interrogates everything else.”

    I think you’re right. Most readers of Nietzsche don’t want to ask what happens if we read Nietzsche in the way he read other philosophers, and ask to what extent “master morality” (or “the Ubermensch”) is a power-fantasy. Nietzsche at his best shows how much resentment and hatred drives morality, but it’s not clear that his proposals differ in any significant way. His own deepening hatred of Christianity and modernity in the late 1880s suggests otherwise. One of the reasons I prefer Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents) is his acknowledgment of the necessity of repression. Foucault develops this thought in his analyses of processes of subjectivization.

    For what it’s worth, Adorno makes a similar point against Nietzsche towards the end of Problems of Moral Philosophy.

  10. Dan Smith says:

    Carl’s right, Adorno offers some food for thought regarding problems w/ Nietzsche’s ethics. Before he offers his critical perspective on Nietzsche, however, Adorno writes: “It is not my intention to score points off Nietzsche since, to tell the truth, of all the so-called great philosophers I owe him by far the greatest debt–more even than to Hegel” (Prob of Moral Phil, 172).

  11. cliff duffy says:

    yea well some people think Nietzsche did not even get laid. I recall speaking with Kathy (the late Kathy Acker) about this when she was doing readings and we thought, geepers, what is that guy, some sort of sacred cow? after he was the one that said don’t follow me if you really think what I am doing is important. My real followers are non-followers. Somewhere in [t]Zarathustra. Cheers.

  12. cliff duffy says:

    “… just struck me: when Nietzsche (in the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Section 11) evokes his fantasmatic master race, writing of “triumphant monsters who perhaps emerge from a disgusting procession of murder, arson, rape, and torture, exhilarated and undisturbed of soul, as if it were no more than a students’ prank”

    A disturbing quote and would also describe other monsters like Hitler or these psyco murderers. A lineage of murderers and beings with feelings for others, beings with a moral nullity at the center?

  13. Ps _ I meant “a disturbing quote and one that would also describe….”

  14. terry swann says:

    “… just struck me: when Nietzsche (in the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Section 11) evokes his fantasmatic master race, writing of “triumphant monsters who perhaps emerge from a disgusting procession of murder, arson, rape, and torture, exhilarated and undisturbed of soul, as if it were no more than a students’ prank.”

    I suggest to you that this quote can only be read one way by a man with the limited intelligence of George Bush: I can do whatever I want in pursuit of my goals.

  15. jibberjaberwocky says:

    Mmmm, sociopathic humanism, erhm, ie “New Wilsonian-sim.” Ah yes Mr. Rumsfeld, one known-unknown we can all appreciate now is the taste of fecal persperation of naked-hairy ‘terrerrists’ on the torture free floors of Abu Gharib and Guantanomo Bay. Our Slave Boy In Chief pardoned Sooter, :( . . .
    “The Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper!”
    . . . :)

  16. bumpkin says:

    For those who do not believe that there was ever such a thing as “Master morality,” I recommend reading the very examples Nietzsche provides. He sees the Romans and the Greeks as historical cases where a master morality has been expressed. Master morality involves hate through jealousy, not hate through resentment. So, since the weaker are do not invoke jealousy, then there is no need to hate them, they are sheep that must be part of the herd that the master will control. Nietzsche writes about how the Greeks were foolishly jealous with their master morality. Nietzsche promotes master morality because he sees slave morality in the mass population. He wants us all to be our own master, our own overman, and though it is unrealistic, “humanity needs a goal,” so it’s not about the end but about the healthy journey to the goal. Cheney, Bush, and other neoconservatives, as well as fascists and tyrants throughout history, have made amoral decisions based purely on their lust for power and not by resentment. The Iraq War is a clear example, as it was done to maintain oil prices and make tons of money for the people who sold it, like Cheney, etc. There are parallels to Nietzsche’s concepts of master morality and Satanism, though I should say Nietzsche was not into occult activity nor a follower of Satan.

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