Would Friedrich Nietzsche have admired Ayn Rand?

Nietzsche scholar Brian Leiter has a rather strong opinion about this:

This typically idiotic remark in a recent NY Times book review caught my attention:

“Rand’s inclusion of businessmen in the ranks of the Übermenschen helps to explain her appeal to free-marketeers — including Alan Greenspan — but it is not convincing. At bottom, her individualism owed much more to Nietzsche than to Adam Smith (though Rand, typically, denied any influence, saying only that Nie­tzsche “beat me to all my ideas”). But “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” never sold a quarter of a million copies a year.”

Rand’s “individualism”–if that is what one wants to call her juvenile fantasies about her industrialist heroes–owes as little to Nietzsche as to Smith.  Nietzsche loathed capitalism and capitalists (and the cultural and aesthetic vulgarity he saw as their legacy) and also despised what he called “the selfishness of the sick” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) and the “self-interested cattle and mob” (Will to Power).  What he admired was “severe self-love,” the kind “most profoundly necessary for growth” (Ecce Homo).  “Virtue, art, music, dance, reason, spirituality”–all the things “for whose sake it is worthwhile to live on earth” (Beyond Good and Evil)–all demand such severe self-love, and for this reason, and this reason only, Nietzsche wanted to disabuse those capable of such excellences of their false consciousness about the morality of altruism.  He certainly did not think everyone ought to be selfish, or that the pursuit of material goods had any value, or that indulgence of selfish desires was a virtue.  What he did think is what is almost certainly true:  namely, that if someone like Beethoven had taken Christian morality seriously, and lived a Christian life, he would not have accomplished what the actual Beethoven did (one need only read the famous Maynard Solomon biography to see that Beethoven was no moral saint).  The “John Galts” of the world are just a more prosperous example of the “self-interested cattle and mob” Nietzsche always derided.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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15 Responses to Would Friedrich Nietzsche have admired Ayn Rand?

  1. Andrew Clunn says:

    Been gone at a Libertarian convention. Lots of updates here to catch up on. Still reading Neitzsche so I can’t comment on this with authority yet. I see you’ve quoted text here but not made your own comments. Have you read Rand?

    • santitafarella says:

      Andrew:

      Hope you enjoyed your Mill and Locke and Rand convention.

      I didn’t comment—because I had no time yesterday—but I wanted to at least register Leiter’s opinion and think about it.

      Have I read Rand?

      Yes. Off and on since I was a teenager. She really jarred my fundamentalist noodle when I was a teen. The first time I read her—it was her book “For the New Intellectual”—I was dazzled by her blatant atheism (a naughty read for me at the time) and her mockery of religion in her essay, “Atilla and the Witch Doctor.”

      I still love that essay. It’s a great piece (in my view) of atheist didacticism.

      —Santi

  2. Gunlord says:

    I’m no Nietzsche scholar, but to be fair to the Randians, they might argue that the sort of self-interest they espouse is the truest kind of “severe self-love” and that Nietzsche’s love of ‘virtue, art, music, dance, and all that other nifty stuff’ was indicative only of how he himself didn’t manage to quite let go of Christian ‘slave morality.’ They might say that ‘vulgar capitalists’ are the ~*real*~ overmen, while Nietzsche himself was just another wannabe.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Gunlord:

    Your interpretation is amusing, but Nietzsche made a real distinction between “macht” (power) and “kraft” (force), although only academics, and not the more blunt and rough readers of Nietzsche—like, say, the Nazis—bother to note it.

    In other words, force (“kraft”) is Dionysian and conflicted, going in all sorts of wild directions. Force is the great contingency of competing energies in the world, BUT the will to (or for) POWER (macht) is turned into an Apollonian project (a piece of art, a piece of music etc.) that has mastered forces (kraft). Nietzsche was about sublimating contending “wills” and Dionysian forces to an Apollonian project. To overgo is to make forces go in the direction of something new. It is not, for example, making money for money’s sake by just multiplying items already in the world over and over again (making, for example, another can of chicken soup for mass marketing). For Nietzsche, if you are overgoing then you’re not engaging in an iterative game, or a zero-sum game (you win, somebody else loses), or violence for violence’s sake, or violence because of resentment, or for the sake of revenge, or as a self-esteem booster (national or individual). Instead, you are trying to be FRUITFUL, trying to bring something that is overgoing into the world—something not already here; something really new and interesting.

    And so I think that Ayn Rand’s character, Howard Roark, is a Nietzschean hero. His interest in exploitation and imitation is zero: he wanted to build an aesthetically great building: something one of a kind and new; something representative of his spirit and power (macht), and he achieved it by an act of Apollonian creativity and will.

    Perhaps the best way to think of Nietzsche (if there is a best way) is to think of childbirth. Nietzsche’s philosophy is a masculine version of concentrating all your force to bring something new into the world.

    Nietzsche was a mother. Don’t let that walrus mustache fool you.

    —Santi

    • Gunlord says:

      Ah, I see. Thank you very much for the explanation.

    • Anonymous says:

      Engaging in economics is not a zero-sum game. Capitalism is creation — think of all the things that have been created in the pursuit of profit! The steam engine, the electric light-bulb, the Model T, the elevator. Almost every technology in existence today exists because of people who wanted to make money. The best businessmen are the most “fruitful” people in the world. As such, I think Ayn Rand and Nietzsche have a great deal of agreement among the way they encourage people to live.

      • Yes but capitalism itself is always in a state of becoming – early stage capitalism may have brought much new things to the world, but the current late stage capitalism is more based on imitation and exploitation than creation. It has been heading this way for a long time and continues to do so. Notice the things you mentioned are not recent inventions, and given new technologies and capacities, shouldn’t creation accelerate as opposed to the obvious deceleration? To quote Peter Thiel (using a hardcore capitalist to give credibility): We wanted flying cars and all we got was 140 characters.

  4. It’s always something. But I’m afraid I can’t take the leap that if Beethoven would have been a christian he could not have been Beethoven. Well I think the term christian has as many opportunities for the artistic tortured genius to lead lives of over whelming self-indulgence and egoism as any other profession including libertine. Blake was right the bar and the church are one.

  5. Optimal says:

    It’s not so much that Nietzsche disapproved of capitalism. It’s that he disapproved of economic materialism, superficiality and the cult of objects that can result from capitalism. Left-liberals need to leave Nietzsche the hell alone. He was not of their kind.

  6. Rafael Vivas says:

    Nietszche hated it when a cultural super achiever was held morally hostage by the mob of under achievers so that he might be prevented from giving full expression to his personal gifts and genius in order to sattisfy the sanctimonous demands of the latter . Rand hated it when an basically an economic super achiever was held morally bound to share in the economic fruits of his achievement with people who did nothing personal to deserve such benefit .

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I like the connection between Nietzsche and Rand that you’ve made, but it raises for me the question of resentment. Nietzsche thought slave morality was the morality of resentment. But is rich resentment of the poor bothering them also a kind of slave morality? In other words, what do the rich expect of the poor–what ideology builds up around the “creators” that is then communicated as a guilt trip to the poor? What do the rich expect the poor to do for them? Are there, for instance, double-binds that the rich put on the poor?

      I think it’s more than just, “Leave me alone.” A whole host of dark radiation messages get sent from rich culture to poor culture. Do these amount to a guilt trip on the poor, hindering their flourishing for the sake of the rich?

      –Santi

  7. Warren says:

    As a thermo-economist, I can assure you that capitalism is a zero sum game. The energy debt is simply put on the poor or future generations, or “thankfully” paid off by literally deaths. All profit comes at a price.

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