The Politics of Independence: a Nietzschean Interpretation of the Two-Party State

At The Think 3 Institute, Sam Wilson considers the possibility of "a Nietzschean interpretation of American politics."  The occasion is an op-ed for the Sunday Times Union by Jack Bronston, a former state senator from New York City.  Bronston argues that we must be careful not to fall prey to the form of resentment famously described and derided by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in the late nineteenth century.  Bronston writes:
One hundred years later, we can observe this potent combination of resentment, hatred and morality -- a feeling around the world that the helplessness of the average person in the face of events and economic forces is the product of immoral forces which undervalue and victimize that person. The modern politician understands very well how to play this card.
Sam provides a short summary of the theory of morality in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, and then engages Bronston, writing:
Bronston wants to oppose ressentiment to some simple idea of rationality, or some acknowledgement that opportunities still exist for free people, but the correct opposite to Nietzchean ressentiment is that pre-morality that exalts the strong and despises whatever falls short. Only libertarianism, perhaps, comes anywhere close to that dubious ideal, and I don't think that's what Bronston wants for America or the world.
On this score, I have to disagree with Sam, not regarding Bronston, but rather Nietzsche.  One can make a strong case that the "correct opposite to Nietzschean ressentiment" is not a return to pre-morality, i.e. the master morality of ancient Greece, Rome or Germania.  Arguably, such a return would be impossible if only because of the advent of a morality based on the distinction between evil and good as opposed to good and bad.  One might rather posit that, on Nietzsche's view, the best corrective to a morality of ressentiment is the drive toward a post-morality, or even immorality, as indicated in the title of the work that directly preceded the Genealogy of Morals, namely, Beyond Good and Evil

But what would a thoroughgoing Nietzschean interpretation of American politics look like?  In the current context, the question would be how to get beyond the form of political moralism that underpins the two-party state.  On the basis of the Genealogy of Morals, can one not develop a fairly strong critique of lesser-evilism, for instance?  I've relied on Nietzsche before in my critique of the reactionary character of Democratic-Republican party politics, but maybe it would be interesting to take that line of thought a step or two further.  One of the simplest ways to distinguish between the two primary modes of morality delineated by Nietzsche in the above work is simply to note that so-called "master morality" is active and affirmative, whereas "slave morality" is negative and reactive.  The former is based on the master's primary affirmation of himself and his mode of action as good, with the side-result that anything which is unlike him is considered bad.  The primary judgment that forms the basis of the slave morality, on the other hand, does not have anything to do with the slave himself. Rather it is a negative judgment of the master, and the judgment is that the master is evil.  From this it follows that, since he is unlike the master, the slave is good.

With that, do we not have the most concise formula of Democratic-Republican party politics?  Is not ressentiment the very basis of Democratic-Republican party politics, just as it is of Nietzsche's slave morality?  The partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties do not argue that we should support their candidates because they are good.  Their primary argument is not even that their candidates are worth actively supporting.  Indeed, truthful Democrats and Republicans, when they can be found, will even come right out and admit that their candidates are not any good; yet they still make the case that these candidates are worthy of support.  And we all know how they do so: they argue that we should support their candidates because the other party's candidates are evil!  Today, even the president and vice president can be found articulating a variant of this argument when they rhetorically urge disaffected liberals and Democrats to "consider the alternative."  To their credit, many Democrats and Republicans have enough intellectual integrity not to conclude that their candidates are good from the assertion that the other duopoly party's candidates are evil.  They are content asserting that they represent the lesser evil.  But how much longer can we possibly endure a politics that provides nothing more than a choice between admitted evils?  But what is the alternative?

There is only one real alternative to the negative and reactive politics of the Democratic-Republican two-party state.  And that is an active and affirmative politics of independence, liberated from the mental, ideological and institutional prison that has been imposed upon us by the ruling corporate-political class and their representatives in the Democratic and Republican parties.


Samuel Wilson said...

Nietzsche struggled toward a transvaluation of all values with the uebermensch, presumably, being the final object. Superman morality, as you suggest, would be more affirmative than reactionary, but I worry whether it would do away with the still-useful concepts of justice and injustice as a political motivator. Since his is an individualistic ethos, I question whether Nietzsche is useful as a guide to collective endeavors, or for anyone dedicated to the well being of everyone rather than the maximum rewards for the best. Your recommendation to folks in general to stop scapegoating and look ahead, however, is valid whether its Nietzschean or not.

d.eris said...

That worry, I think, is justified, but not because "transvaluation" would necessarily do away with the concepts of justice and injustice, but because it requires one to pose the question of justice itself once again as an open question, which, ironically perhaps, is the old Platonic question that stands at the very beginning of western political philosophy: what is justice?

Unlikely said...

Thanks for a provocative post.
I've come to see that Nietzsche was wrong on one account -- that God's death is permanent.
The most radical religious belief in our culture is that of resurrection. Some people think that religion is dangerous and violent, but at it's core Christianity is the most radial system of belief because it identifies God's death to the culture and to individuals while also announcing the new life of the individual even before their physical death.
Jesus followers are radical because they aren't stuck within the institutional prisons that you so well name. In deed the very language of the most radical Christian is that they have died to self in order that Christ might live through them.
Thanks for a provoking post.