Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Marx and Nietzsche: ..a comparison....


Marx’s theory of alienation is concerned primarily with social interaction and production; he believes that we are able to overcome our alienation through human emancipation. Marx’s theory of alienation is the process by which social organized productive powers are experienced as external or alien forces that dominate the humans that create them. He believes that production is man’s act on nature and on himself. Man’s relationship with nature is his relationship with his tools, or means of production.

 Man’s relationship with himself is fundamentally his relationship to others. Since production is a social concept to Marx, man’s relationship with other men is the relations of production. Marx’s theory of alienation specifically identifies the problems that he observed within a capitalist society. He noted that workers lost determination by losing the right to be sovereign over their own lives. In a capitalist society, the workers, or Proletariats, do not have control over their productions, their relationship with other producers, or the value or ownership of their production. Even though he identifies the workers as autonomous and self-realizing, the Bourgeoisie dictates their goals and actions to them. Since the bourgeoisie privately owns the means of production, the workers’ product accumulates surplus only for the interest of profit, or capital. Marx is unhappy with this system because he believes that the means of production should be communally owned and that production should be social. Marx believes that under capitalism, man is alienated in four different ways. First, he says that man, as producers, is alienated from the goods that he produces, or the object. Second, man is alienated from the activity of labor to where the tools are taking control of the user. Third, man is alienated from himself through integrated social interaction. Finally, Marx believes that man is alienated from other workers because he experiences other workers as threats and competitors. In all of these forms of alienation, Marx views alienation as materialist, with labor at the center.

Marx believes that his theory of alienation takes three faces: God, the State, and Money. Since Marx believes that emancipation means freedom, human emancipation is “when man has recognized his ‘own powers’ as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power.” (Marx) In “On the Jewish Question,” Marx expresses the difference between human emancipation and political emancipation. He explicitly says that they are not the same thing for the purpose of establishing political emancipation as the separation of church and state. This separation establishes a secular government where man takes on a dual role being both civil man and religious man. “[P]olitical emancipation is not a form of human emancipation.” Political emancipation is only a step towards human emancipation because within human emancipation, Marx believes that we should completely get rid of religion so that we are truly free and utilizing our social and political powers for social relations. To Marx, to be truly free, we must have the freedom to control our social relations. Like Marx, Nietzsche is a theorist of alienation, but he believes that man is alienated through morality and our progression through the slave morality. Nietzsche broadens this explanation throughout his book On the Genealogy of Morals. Nietzsche’s problem is the origin of the moral standard of “good and evil.” He explains that the originally the standard of judgment was good and bad. Those with power were good and represented the noble morality. Those who were weak we thought to be bad and represented the slave morality. The slave morality emerges from those who are not able to act and who perceive the world as hostile and suffering. For this perception of the world, they believe that someone should be blamed. The slaves introspectively look at the world and present a new moral system of good and evil to judge the nobles by. The problem is that the deeper system of good and evil also reigns and restricts the lives of the slaves. Like Marx’s theory, the slave morality presents a creator who becomes alienated and controlled by his creation. The force that the slave creates is foreign to this world. Even though Nietzsche is impressed with the depth of the slave’s knowledge, he is disgusted that they are ruled by their creation. Within Nietzsche’s work, alienation is present through his belief of a theological prejudice that is outside of the world that rules the world. As theorists of alienation, both Marx and Nietzsche have theories of human nature that contribute to their reasons of alienation. To Marx, his theory of human nature is called species being. Species being describes human as social producers of goods. Based on his theory, humans do not work for their own survival or need, but rather they produce for the benefit of society. Given this, it is the human’s nature to build things even without others. As a part of species being, humans work and produce so that they could forge social connections.


Marx specifies in his theory of alienation that species being is not about trading or making money, but rather social relationships. As Marx explains, the disruption from species being leads to man being alienated in labor through the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but upon human emancipation, man can once again return to his original nature. Like Marx, Nietzsche has a belief in human nature that is disrupted in modern man. His theory of alienation describes a theory of human nature called the will to power. Nietzsche’s will to power is a creative force that man inflicts on others. The will to power is the main driving force in man that contributes to his ambitions and achievements. Nietzsche describes the will to power as “the essence of life” and “the instinct of freedom.” Nietzsche’s will to power can act as an isolating quality to overcoming his problem within his theory of alienation. The will to power is demonstrated throughout social interactions, but it is exemplified through self-overcoming. By comparing the will to power with species being, it becomes clearer how the will to power is isolating instead of social. Since species being does not rely on the preservation of life, which is isolating, it is easier to realize how its social interactions become the main driving force. This is similar to the will to power; it does not depend on the preservation of life but the will of power involves an internal drive that dictates social interactions. Generosity and bravery are internally driven as actions to gain power over others. Nietzsche believes that there are not altruistic actions since the will to power is individualistic. Even though Marx and Nietzsche are viewing theories of human nature on completely different motivations, both theories serve their purpose with ensuring freedom of the individual from the alienated state. Essentially, emancipation and overcoming are necessary to the respective theories of Marx and Nietzsche, but the outcome of both theorists seems to resemble something very similar. Marx’s emancipation acts as freedom based on dissolution. To Marx, political emancipation is “the dissolution of the old society on which the state alienated the people.” (Marx) His idea of human emancipation is based on the dissolution of religion. A similar dissolution is found within The Communist Manifesto. Marx envisions a society where the class struggle between the proletariats and bourgeoisie leads to the classes dissolving and eventually leading to the state dissolving itself. Dissolution as the end of struggle, like in “On the Jewish Question,” allows Marx to envision man overcoming his alienation. Nietzsche sees a very similar end for alienation. His idea of overcoming envisions man’s depth and his will to power as remain throughout the destruction of the moral constraints that man have placed on himself. Since Nietzsche believes that man’s creation of good and evil in the slave morality has constricted him but shown that man has a sense of deeper understand and creativity, overcoming the creations of the slave morality is important for man to not be alienated.

Nietzsche has an idea of a “Last Man” and the “Superman” that he explains in his novel Thus Spake Zarathustra. He believes that the last man is a calculating and is much like modern man. He says that the last man is like a domesticated and herded man who “looks into the abyss and blinks” (Nietzsche). This last man is burdened with a symptom of nihilism and is very much like modern man; ultimately, he believes that the last man is self-destructing and will remained burdened by the slave morality. The superman is what Nietzsche envisions man being like if we are able to overcome our current sense of morality. The superman is Nietzsche’s final product of man overcoming modern man and essentially overcoming humanity; the superman’s morality is not based on the modern concepts of good and evil, but they extend to the superman’s own creation and shows that the superman is an evolved. Nietzsche’s overcoming resembles the noble morality with the creativity and depth that is a result of the slave morality, only lacking the restraints of the creation on the creators. The basic understanding of “emancipation” and “overcoming” lead to the ideas both being very similar and equating to freedom. Emancipation and overcoming has a deep political significance for modernity and liberalism. Marx explains that there are three faces of his theory of alienation: God, the state, and money. As a theorist of modernity, Marx explains what role religion has in political society. He believes that God and religion is the primary form of alienation. Since God is the essence of human condition, we enrich God by imposing external rules over ourselves. God acts as an alien power within our lives, dictating our actions. This is one of the problems that Marx addresses in “On the Jewish Question.” He says, “[E]mancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” Once mankind has gotten rid of these religions, humans would be able to be free. Nietzsche has a similar view; he believes that religion is the response of the slave morality to implement power over the noble morality. In return, their creation has imposed more restrictions onto their lives. Nietzsche believes that we have judged ourselves based on our creation. The slave morality identifies that we suffer in life, but their creation of an omnipotent and benevolent God cannot be responsible for this suffering. The creation of the moral sense of good and evil establishes someone being responsible for the suffering in the world, but since someone must be punished for this suffering, more suffering is created. It must follow that we are responsible for our suffering since God cannot be responsible, for if he would be, then he would be evil. Once these religions are overcome, man becomes much like the superman and is able to remain to think more without judgment. To Marx, the state is another way that alienation presents itself. Marx believes that the state “consecrate liberation, creating a fantasy where human capacities are abstracted.” (Frank) Marx sees a problem with the private/public dualism that the state creates within the individual. He believes that civil society further enslaves us and that rights are not a method of emancipating, but rather a way of the state to enslave us. This is a primary reason why he explains that the state must whither away at the end of history. In his communist society, the state must relinquish its power for the sake of ensuring that the rights of man cannot be used to enforce inequality and social differences. Though Nietzsche does not explain much about the state, he believes that it “emerged as a terrible tyranny.” The state would represent the difference between the noble morality and the slave morality. Those who were powerful and noble were the people who were considered good. This idea created a sense of resentment within those with less power. This resentment drives the slave morality and causes the slaves to create a set of morals to overcome the nobles. The key in Nietzsche is that power is primary and morality is secondary.

These two concepts are significant to the Marx and Nietzsche’s modern political theory. They both believe that the individual has a significant role within society. The individual is more autonomous, than being ruled by an external power. In retrospect, the theorists bring modernity to an end by asking the questions that Machiavelli posed, more specifically, “What is distinctive about the political realm and how do we understand its relationship to morality?”

 Works Cited Frank, Jason. "Course Introduction." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 23 January 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Marx before Marxism." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 16 April 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Alienation II." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 18 April 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "What is Emancipation Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 20 April 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Historical Materialism." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 23 April 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Capitalism and Modernity." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 25 April 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Class Struggle and Freedom." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 27 April 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Nietzsche and the Death of God." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 30 April 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Morality and Power II Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 2 May 2012. Lecture. Frank, Jason. "Political Theory at Modernity’s End: Another Political Realism?." Introduction to Western Political Thought. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 4 May 2012. Lecture. Marx, Karl. “On the Jewish Question.” Early Writings. Trans Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton. London: Penguin Group, 1843. Print. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Trans. Samuel Moore. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Print. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Josefine Nauckhoff. Cambridge University Press, 1882. 118-121. Print. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin Group, 1888. 50-51. Print Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy



One aspect of philosophy I really enjoy is the connections and similarities of philosophers and philosophies. These similarities or connections are more common in parallel strains of philosophy, but can also crop up in starkly different philosophies. One such similarity is the perspective of Christianity as a disease that infects human kind and that limits and restrains them.

Marx and Nietzsche, while focusing on very different things in their works, share in common their mistrust of Christianity, and their opinion of its deleterious effects. Marx focuses on the universal, on the class struggle, while Nietzsche is concerned with the individual. Marx finds Christianity to be an ensnaring illusion which propagates capitalism, while Nietzsche views Christianity as a vengeful reordering of values. When viewed side by side, Marx’s and Nietzsche’s views of Christianity illuminate certain similarities that stand out amongst their slight dissimilarities.

Marx primarily views Christianity as a trap that tricks people into willingly falling into it. The Christian bible encourages subservience through teachings such as “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”, and “turn the other cheek”. A core concept of the bible is that there is an afterlife in which the immortal souls of people will be rewarded or punished according to how they acted during their life. Teachings such as these discourage revolution, in part because of morally dubious acts that revolutions involve like killing and “stealing” of property, and partly because the importance of what one has during their life is significantly less if there is much greater rewards in an afterlife. The ultimate consequence of these teachings is that the lower classes are repressed by their own hand and refuse to rise up and free themselves.

Nietzsche views Christianity as the perfection, the final fruition, of the vengeful inversion of values instigated by the Jews. Nietzsche writes “from the trunk of that tree of vengefulness and hatred… capable of creating ideals and reversing values… grew something equally incomparable, a new love, the profoundest and sublimest kind of love.”(34) In the metaphor he uses the vengeful hate of the Jews as a trunk, and Christianity is a crown of the trunk that spreads out into the light seducing people like the trunk of hate could never do. Nietzsche claims that Jesus of Nazareth is the bypass through which the vengeful hate is fulfilled. He claims that Jesus is the incarnation of love, the redeemer, the savior of the weak and of the sinners; the irresistible seduction, the bate that lures people in.

In viewing these two perspectives of Christianity side by side the differences become apparent, but the similarities are also flushed out. Both Marx and Nietzsche have a strong dislike of Christianity, but I think that for Nietzsche the problem of Christianity is much more central, acute, and pernicious. Marx sees Christianity as one element that promotes capitalism, one issue among many. However, for Nietzsche Christianity is representative of the central problem, the inversion of values, the root of the problem, the perfection of the vengeful hate.

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