How Nietzsche Conquered America

"How Nietzsche Conquered America," The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Summer 1987), pp. 80-93.


Modern democracy was, of course, the target of Nietzsche’s criticism.A s he saw it, rationalisma nd its egalitarianismw ere the contrary of creativity; daily life was for him the civilized reanimalization of man; nobody really believed in anything anymore, and everyone spent his life in frenzied work and frenzied play so as not to face the fact, not to look into the abyss.

Nietzsche’s call to revolt against liberal democracy was ultimately more powerful than Marx’s. And Nietzsche added that the Left, socialism, was not the opposite of the special kind of Right that was capitalism, but rather its fulfillment.  The Left meant equality, the true Right inequality.  Nietzsche’s call was from the Right, but a new Right transcending both capitalism and socialism.

But in spite of this, the latest champions of modern democratic or egalitarianm an find much that is attractive in Nietzsche’s understanding of things. It is the sign of the strength of the notion of equality and of the failure of Nietzsche’s war against it that he is now more influential on the Left than on the Right.

This may at first appear surprising. Nietzsche, after all, looks toward the extraordinary, not the ordinary, the unequal, not the equal. But the democratic man requires flattery, like any other ruler, and the earliest versions of democratic theory did not provide it. Political thinkers and politicians, notably Alexis de Tocqueville, justified democracy as the regime in which very ordinary people were protected in their attempt to achieve very ordinary and common goals. It was also the regime dominated by public opinion, where the common denominator set the rule for everyone. Democracy presented itself as decent mediocrity superior to the splendid corruption of older regimes.