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Response By Thomas Gramstad
This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled "Nietzsche and Objectivism."
Slaves and Masters in Hicks’s Part One Introductory Essay
I thought I’d toss in a few comments and suggested answers to the questions posted by Stephen Hicks:
“Nietzsche’s main theses are that...3. Slave morality praises weakness, passivity, dependence, humility, and related traits.”
I think there exist also more “aggressive” types of slave morality: for example, the kind of vindictive revengefulness which eats up a person until s/he is virtually defined by it. This can lead to action and purposefulness, but it is still slave morality, because this person is defined by a primary evil that s/he is vengeful against, and any goodness or virtues are secondary to this perceived great evil that s/he is plotting and fighting against--and if s/he succeeds in vanquishing this enemy, is left empty and without a purpose.
“Questions for discussion: On point 1: a) Are the two types either/or or more-or-less characterizations? I.e., for Nietzsche, is everyone deep-down either a slave or a master, or are we all mixes and degrees of the two sets of traits?”
This raises an issue of the purpose of one’s reading, e.g., is the goal to:
- Find out what Nietzsche, the historical person, believed--contradictions, warts, and all;
- Find out what positions his system of thought, his premises, logically entail (may at times conflict with (1));
- To wash the gold out of the dirt, i.e., to seek and identify what is of value in Nietzsche’s thought and integrate this with Objectivism or “The Truth.”
I think we should probably be doing all three, and be as clear as possible at all times about when we are doing what.
I’d say that his system of thought implies a more-or-less view, that we are all mixes and degrees of the two sets of traits; that the goal is not to be “pure” one or the other, but to discover and grow those traits that make us vital and healthy (which are usually and mostly master traits).
“On points 2 and 3: b) Nietzsche never praises the masters for their intelligence or deep thinking. Instead he assigns to the slaves the virtue of intelligence. He regularly describes the slaves’ leaders as cunning, as having devised long-term strategies, as having interesting depths of mind, and so on. Why is intelligence on the side of the slaves?”
I don’t think it’s that “intelligence is on the side of the slaves”; it’s one particular form of calculating slyness which he sees as a developed compensation for direct strength and courage in those who lack the latter. Intelligence is a much wider concept than calculating slyness, so it doesn’t follow that Nietzsche holds that masters are unintelligent.
“d) By emphasizing weakness and passivity, how can the slave morality possibly be a life- and power-enhancing strategy?”
Four words: Sanction of the victim. If the strong and independent can be made to feel guilty and shameful, to accept collectivist altruist doctrines, then they can be exploited.
Also, a herd of angry, spiteful ants can conquer and eat a snake.
“On points 6 and 7: e) Why do a genealogy of morals? Why not say instead: Here are the opposed values and virtues of the master and slave moralities, and here is why the slave morality is false and the master morality true? Why should their origins be anything more than of historical interest?”
Because, for Nietzsche, the processes and the stages they pass through are the fundamental thing, constitute the fundamental answers, and therefore are the source of power and control. To say, “here are the opposed values and virtues of the master and slave moralities, and here is why the slave morality is false,” etc., would only give an instant image of a particular moment in time, while the important thing is the pattern, the direction of changes over time.
“g) There is a traditional Athens-versus-Jerusalem opposition in cultural history. What is the significance of Nietzsche’s choosing Rome instead of Athens to oppose to Jerusalem?”
Athens was an aristocratic republic; Rome was (mostly) an aristocratic dictatorship or oligarchy. By choosing Rome, Nietzsche gave himself, unfortunately, more leeway for the “Will to Power” idea.
“On point 8: h) How, given the characteristics of masters and slaves, could the slave morality possibly have won? If everything the slaves stand for is psychologically and constitutionally alien to the masters, how could the masters have given up or bought into the slave morality? Nietzsche said the slaves’ weapon was their moral code, but how could it have been effective?”
Isn’t the answer to that provided in John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged?
The two moralities aren’t entirely alien to each other, since they are both human. This issue underscores the more-or-less answer a couple of questions above. The altruist moral code is efficient for ruling as per Ayn Rand’s description; in addition, Nietzsche also describes historical processes whereby a master morality could decay into a slave morality, such as the example from the syllabus where he described an aristocrat master morality turning into a religious or priestly master morality and from there into a slave morality.
“On point 12: m) Nietzsche doesn't tell us what form a new or rejuvenated master morality will take. Is it in any way predictable, or do we just have to wait for the Zarathustras to emerge and see what they generate?”
David L. Potts wrote:
Thomas Gramstad writes, answering Stephen Hicks:
“‘b) Nietzsche never praises the masters for their intelligence or deep thinking. Instead he assigns to the slaves the virtue of intelligence.’ I don't think it’s that ‘intelligence is on the side of the slaves’; it’s one particular form of calculating slyness which he sees as a developed compensation for direct strength and courage in those who lack the latter. Intelligence is a much wider concept than calculating slyness, so it doesn’t follow that Nietzsche holds that masters are unintelligent.”
But this won’t do for an answer, because the text--at least The Genealogy of Morals--says quite otherwise. Intelligence is indeed a sort of compensation for weakness. It is acquired as a result of error and failure, most particularly punishment at the hands of the stronger (i.10, ii.3, 15). It is interesting and significant that Nietzsche ascribes the development of memory and reason not to man’s experience with nature generally but specifically to violence at the hands of other, more powerful men. This is the chief burden of ii.1-15. Hence “this really dismal thing called reflection” (ii.3) is not a native instinct; the faculty of thinking is “that most impoverished and error-prone organ!” (ii.16) And, contrary to what you say, there seems to be no other, alternative form of intelligence possessed by the masters. Rather, “cunning,” calculation, “in a certain sense constitutes thought” (ii.8, emphasis original).
Small wonder, then, that the blond beasts are never described as being very bright. Rather, lists of their attributes--“the active, the strong, the spontaneous and the aggressive” (ii.11) is typical--always emphasizing the unconscious and the instinctual. Indeed, people getting smarter is a sign of social decay (i.12)! Finally, Nietzsche says point blank that the men of ressentiment are smarter than the masters (i.7, 10).
The relative cleverness of the slaves and guilelessness of the masters provides a ready explanation for how the masters could have been hoodwinked by the slaves. But I don’t think it is the necessary explanation. Rather, Nietzsche simply did not associate “dismal reflection” with vitality. He agreed with the Hamlet that “the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” The texts quoted imply that Nietzsche regarded thought as a paltry thing compared with instinct. Instinct is the source of dynamic, spontaneous action; instinct feels free. Thought is labored and constraining, a recourse to which no one would turn whose muscles and instincts were sufficient.
This point is of the greatest divergence from Ayn Rand, who regarded the mind as efficacious and “instincts” as largely an excuse for not thinking; who regarded “the strong” to be strong precisely in virtue of their reasoning minds; who held that all virtue is essentially intellectual; who regarded intellect as our primary means of survival, not a fallback position. In evaluating the two thinkers, this is a contrast we must keep firmly before us.