Saturday 2:15pm

The proletariat versus the superman: Nietzsche for Marxists


Nietzsche’s ideas have inspired theorists associated with the hard right. As the alt-right gains ground and as its intellectuals (for example, Jordan Peterson) draw on apparently Nietzschean concepts, his legacy is far from uniformly progressive. This talk will examine Nietzsche’s philosophy, focusing specifically on his critique of the enlightenment and morality as well as his ideas of the superman and the eternal return. While this talk will avoid apologising for Nietzsche or glossing over the reactionary dimensions of his thought, it will also avoid shallow polemics and resist occluding his radicalism, complexity and significance. In this way, the question will be posed: what can Socialists learn from Friedrich Nietzsche?

Primary Readings:

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

If you are unable to read the whole book, focus on “Part One”. The section entitled “Of the Vision and the Riddle”, in “Part Two” is also strongly recommended as it contains Nietzsche’s most important meditation on the eternal return.

Beyond Good and Evil

This major work expands on Zarathustra in a more traditional (but still iconoclastic) philosophical style. It gives you a clearer sense of Nietzsche’s style of criticism, his politics and those aspects of his thought that have been most distasteful to the left.

Ecce Homo

This was the last work by Nietzsche published in his lifetime, as he approached mental collapse. It contains a self-evaluation of his life work.

Other works by Nietzsche worth looking at include his first major work, The Birth of Tragedy and the essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.”

Secondary Readings:

For a left-wing critique of Nietzsche, see:

For a more balanced article on why Nietzsche appeals to left and right, see:

For a Marxist defence of Nietzsche, see “Nietzsche’s Untimeliness” by Sunit Sing (.pdf attached)

For a Marxist appreciation of Nietzsche by an early Social Democratic theorist, see “Nietzsche: Iconoclast and Prophet” by Robert Rives La Monte (.pdf attached)

The best non-Marxist secondary work on Thus Spoke Zarathustra that I know of is The Mask of Enlightenment, by Stanley Rosen. It serves as a valuable guide to Nietzsche’s thought overall.

Attendees are strongly encouraged to direct their own further reading according to their interests and preferences. For example, those interested in pursuing left critiques of Nietzsche could read the relevant chapters of The Destruction of Reason by Georg Lukács. Those interested in furthering their knowledge of his place in the development of philosophy could look at Karl Löwith’s work.

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