“You could say I was red-pilled by Nietzsche.”
That’s how white nationalist leader Richard Spencer described his intellectual awakening to the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood last June. “Red-pilled” is a common alt-right term for that “eureka moment” one experiences upon confrontation with some dark and previously buried truth.
For Spencer and other alt-right enthusiasts of the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, that dark truth goes something like this: All the modern pieties about race, peace, equality, justice, civility, universal suffrage — that’s all bullshit. These are constructs cooked up by human beings and later enshrined as eternal truths.
Nietzsche says the world is in constant flux, that there is no capital-T truth. He hated moral and social conventions because he thought they stifled the individual. In one of his most famous essays, The Genealogy of Morality, which Spencer credits with inspiring his awakening, Nietzsche tears down the intellectual justifications for Christian morality. He calls it a “slave morality” developed by peasants to subdue the strong. The experience of reading this was “shattering,” Spencer told Wood. It upended his “moral universe.”
There is, of course, much more to Nietzsche than this. As someone silly enough to have written a dissertation on Nietzsche, I’ve encountered many Spencer-like reactions to his thought. And I’m not surprised that the old German philosopher has become a lodestar for the burgeoning alt-right movement. There is something punk rock about his philosophy. You read it for the first time and you think, “Holy shit, how was I so blind for so long?!”
But if you read Nietzsche like a college freshman cramming for a midterm, you’re bound to misinterpret him — or at least to project your own prejudices into his work. When that happens, we get “bad Nietzsche,” as the Week’s Scott Galupo recently put it.
And it would appear that “bad Nietzsche” is back, and he looks a lot like he did in the early 20th century when his ideas were unjustly appropriated by the (original) Nazis. So now’s a good time to reengage with Nietzsche’s ideas and explain what the alt-right gets right and wrong about their favorite philosopher.
The obsession with decline
In her recent book about the rise of the alt-right, Irish academic Angela Nagle discusses their obsession with civilizational decay. “They’re disgusted by what they consider a degenerate culture,” she told me in a recent interview.
Nietzsche made these same arguments more than 100 years ago. The story he tells in The Genealogy of Morality is that Christianity overturned classical Roman values like strength, will, and nobility of spirit. These were replaced with egalitarianism, community, humility, charity, and pity. Nietzsche saw this shift as the beginning of a grand democratic movement in Western civilization, one that championed the weak over the strong, the mass over the individual.
The alt-right — or at least parts of the alt-right — are enamored of this strain of Nietzsche’s thought. The influential alt-right blog Alternative Right refers to Nietzsche as a great “visionary” and published an essay affirming his warnings about cultural decay.
“Future historians will likely look back on the contemporary West as a madhouse,” the essay’s author writes, “where the classic virtues of heroism, high culture, nobility, self-respect, and reason had almost completely disappeared, along with the characteristics of adulthood generally.”
Christianity is wrong, Christendom is right
In his interview with the Atlantic, Spencer, an avowed atheist, surprised Wood with a peculiar defense of Christianity: that the religion is false but it “bound together the civilizations of Europe.”
Spencer’s view is common among the alt-right. They have no interest in the teachings of Christ, but they see the whole edifice of white European civilization as built on a framework of Christian beliefs. From their perspective, Christendom united the European continent and forged white identity.
It’s a paradox: They believe the West has grown degenerate and weak because it internalized Christian values, but they find themselves defending Christendom because they believe it’s the glue that binds European culture together.
Last August, Vox Day, a prominent alt-right thinker (who often cites Nietzsche in his posts), laid out the central tenets of the alt-right in a post titled “What the Alt-Right is.” There are a number of revealing points, one of which reads:
The Alt Right believes Western civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement and supports its three foundational pillars: Christianity, the European nations, and the Graeco-Roman legacy.
Nietzsche accepted that Christianity was central to the development of Western civilization, but his whole philosophy was focused on convincing people that the West had to move beyond Christianity.
When Nietzsche famously declared that “God is dead,” he meant that science and reason had progressed to the point where we could no longer justify belief in God, and that meant that we could no longer justify the values rooted in that belief. So his point was that we had to reckon with a world in which there is no foundation for our highest values.
The alt-right skipped this part of Nietzsche’s philosophy. They’re tickled by the “death of God” thesis but ignore the implications.
“Nietzsche’s argument was that you had to move forward, not fall back onto ethnocentrism,” Hugo Drochon, author of Nietzsche’s Great Politics, told me. “So in many ways Spencer is stuck in the ‘Shadows of God’ — claiming Christianity is over but trying to find something that will replace it so that we can go on living as if it still existed, rather than trying something new.”
The irony of racist Nietzscheans
The alt-right renounces Christianity but insists on defending Christendom against nonwhites. But that’s not Nietzsche; that’s just racism. And the half-baked defense of “Christendom” is an attempt to paper over that fact.
Nietzsche was interested in ideas, in freedom of thought. To the extent that he knocked down the taboos of his day, it was to free up the creative powers of the individual. He feared the death of God would result in an era of mass politics in which people sought new “isms” that would give them a group identity.
“The time is coming when the struggle for dominion over the earth will be carried on in the name of fundamental philosophical doctrines,” he wrote. By doctrines, he meant political ideologies like communism or socialism. But he was equally contemptuous of nationalism, which he considered petty and provincial.
Listening to Spencer talk about Nietzsche (and, regrettably, I listened to his Nietzsche podcast) is like hearing someone who never got past the introduction of any of his favorite books. It’s the kind of dilettantism you hear in first-year critical theory seminars. He uses words like “radical traditionalist” and “archeofuturist,” neither of which means anything to anyone.
Like so many superficial readers of Nietzsche, Spencer is excited by the radicalism but doesn’t take it seriously. Spencer’s rejection of conventional conservatism clearly has roots in Nietzsche’s ideas, but Spencer’s fantasy of a white ethnostate is exactly what Nietzsche was condemning in the Germany of his time.
“Nietzsche’s way forward was not more [racial] purity but instead more mixing,” Drochon told me. “His ideal was to bring together the European Jew and the Prussian military officer. Spencer, I take it, only wants the latter.” Nietzsche, for better or worse, longed for a new kind of European citizen, one free of group attachments, be they racial or ideological or nationalistic.
Racists find affirmation in Nietzsche’s preference for “Aryan humanity,” a phrase he uses in several books, but that term doesn’t mean what racists think it means. “Aryan humanity” is always contrasted with Christian morality in Nietzsche’s works; it’s a reference to pre-Christian Paganism. Second, in Nietzsche’s time, “Aryan” was not a racially pure concept; it also included Indo-Iranian peoples.
People often say that the Nazis loved Nietzsche, which is true. What’s less known is that Nietzsche’s sister, who was in charge of his estate after he died, was a Nazi sympathizer who shamefully rearranged his remaining notes to produce a final book, The Will to Power, that embraced Nazi ideology. It won her the favor of Hitler, but it was a terrible disservice to her brother’s legacy.
Nietzsche regularly denounced anti-Semitism and even had a falling-out with his friend Richard Wagner, the proto-fascist composer, on account of Wagner’s rabid anti-Semitism. Nietzsche also condemned the “blood and soil” politics of Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman who unified Germany in 1871, for cementing his power by stoking nationalist resentments and appealing to racial purity.
So there’s no way to square Nietzsche’s philosophy with the racial politics of the alt-right, just as it wasn’t fair to charge Nietzsche with inspiring Nazism. But both of these movements found just enough ambiguity in his thought to justify their hate.
Nietzsche as a mirror
Nietzsche liked to say that he “philosophized with a hammer.” For someone on the margins, stewing in their own hate or alienation or boredom, his books are a blast of dynamite. All that disillusionment suddenly seems profound, like you just stumbled upon a secret that justifies your condition.
He tells you that the world is wrong, that society is upside down, that all our sacred cows are waiting to be slaughtered. So if you’re living in a multiethnic society, you trash pluralism. If you’re embedded in a liberal democracy, you trumpet fascism. In short, you become politically incorrect — and fancy yourself a rebel for it.
Nietzsche was a lot of things — iconoclast, recluse, misanthrope — but he wasn’t a racist or a fascist. He would have shunned the white identity politics of the Nazis and the alt-right. That he’s been hijacked by racists and fascists is partly his fault, though. His writings are riddled with contradictions and puzzles. And his fixation on the future of humankind is easily confused with a kind of social Darwinism.
But in the end, people find in Nietzsche’s work what they went into it already believing. Which is why the alt-right, animated as they are by rage and discontent, find in Nietzsche a mirror of their own resentments. If you’re seeking a reason to reject a world you don’t like, you can find it anywhere, especially in Nietzsche.
This story was originally published on August 17, 2017.
20 Texts That Prove a Relationship Is Not an Easy Game
Chats make our relationships more exciting and unpredictable! 25% of couples sometimes even text their partner when they are both home together. It’s very difficult to say goodbye to text messaging because so many funny and amusing things go on there!
We at Bright Side also love to laugh at digital chatting situations between couples and want to share with you a new genre of humor.
Do you also have chats like this with your partner? Please, share your stories below!
Marvel Phase 4: Black Widow, Doctor Strange 2, Thor 4 schedule revealed
For the first time in years we finally have an idea of what Marvel Studios has planned for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The studio revealed its upcoming schedule during its Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday night, announcing at least 10 projects to expect over the next two years. The biggest revelations include the news that Natalie Portman will wield Thor’s hammer; Mahershala Ali will star in a new Blade project; and a confirmation from Marvel that it’s working on movies featuring some of the studio’s recently acquired characters.
Marvel’s business plan and marketing strategy has long been to hype what’s next, with much of that hype being driven by its signature post-credits scenes and panels at fan conventions like Comic-Con or Disney’s D23. And for awhile, it was customary for the studio to announce its release schedule several years early — in 2015 Marvel announced movies like 2018’s Black Panther and 2019’s Captain Marvel.
But even the studio’s two most-recent films — April’s colossal cinematic juggernaut known as Avengers: Endgame and this month’s Spider-Man: Far From Home — arrived in theaters, Marvel still hadn’t revealed what movies it’s launching in 2020, or if it plans to launch any at all. Meanwhile, the studio had kept relatively quiet save for a few casting and crew announcements (like we found out this week that Taika Waititi would be directing the fourth Thor movie).
Here’s what Marvel announced during its Comic-Con panel:
- Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz and directed by Cate Shortland, arriving in theaters on May 1, 2020
- The Eternals, starring Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek and directed by Chloe Zhao, arriving in theaters on November 6, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, starring Simu Liu and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, arriving in theaters on February 12, 2021. Shang Chi will be Marvel’s first film with a lead character of Asian descent.
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen (yes, Scarlet Witch) and directed by Scott Derrickson, arriving in theaters on May 7, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder, directed by Taika Waititi and starring Natalie Portman (who will wield the legendary hammer as the first female Thor), Tessa Thompson, and Chris Hemsworth, arriving in theaters on November 5, 2021
Marvel studios president Kevin Feige also confirmed upcoming movies involving the Fantastic Four and the X-Men’s mutants — characters who were previously owned by Fox, but which now fall under Marvel’s purview thanks to the recent Disney-Fox merger. He also confirmed that the sequels for Black Panther and Captain Marvel, are in development. Black Panther is Marvel’s biggest solo superhero movie to date, having made $1.3 billion worldwide, and Captain Marvel, its first solo superhero film to center on a female hero, also passed the $1 billion mark.
Vying for the biggest surprise of the evening was Feige bringing Mahershala Ali to the Comic-Con stage to announce a new Blade project. Ali previously appeared as the villain in Marvel’s Netflix series Luke Cage, so the new Blade film project possibly signals that Marvel’s television projects with Netflix and its cinematic universe are completely separate entities.
Marvel also revealed its television series lineup for Disney’s forthcoming streaming service Disney+, which is scheduled to launch in November:
- The Falcon & Winter Soldier in fall 2020
- WandaVision in spring 2021
- Loki in spring 2021
- WHAT IF …? — an animated series featuring characters from the MCU in summer 2021
- Hawkeye in fall 2021
For fans who can’t wait until 2020 for Marvel’s next best thing, rest assured. The studio will probably have more surprises to share next month — and perhaps even first-look footage or concept art from its upcoming projects— at Disney’s D23 convention, which will take place from August 23 to 25, 2019 in Anaheim.
23 Moving Photos That Prove Our Moms Deserve All the Love in the World
From creating cosplay costumes for us and making lunches for all of our friends to giving us everything they’ve got, mothers never fail to surprise us! Their imagination and wit have no limits, as they always know how to find a solution to any situation, even if their resources are limited and time is short. No matter how old we get, we’ll always stay kids in our mothers’ eyes and they’ll always rush to help us, even if we’re 30 years old.
Bright Side wants to admire our moms, which why we’re so happy to give you 23 photos where people captured moments of being emotional, clever, brave and strong.
1. After giving birth, a mother laughs hysterically at her husband who just fainted at the sight of their newborn son.
2. “Little me knew exactly how to show appreciation for my mother.”
3. Proud mom with her graduated son
4. “My mom gave me a kidney 2 years ago. All I can give her are flowers.”
5. This clever single mother dressed up as a dad to take her kid to “Donuts With Dad” day at school.
6. She has 3 daughters and she writes 5 lines a day to each of them. These will be gifts when they get married one day.
7. This mom poses as a power ranger with her son. You don’t need to be a child to know how to have fun!
8. A homeless mother is dressing her daughter for school.
9. “My friend’s mom made my turtles sweaters.”
10. “A coworker said her mom made lunch for the office. We accepted.”
11. The best cosplay is when your mom decides to participate in it too.
12. “I told my mom I was really sick today. An hour later she showed up at my house with this. I’m 30.”
13. “I’m a teacher in Canada and my mom made me this scarf to keep me warm.”
14. A daughter surprised her mother with an early return from deployment. Her mother’s emotions are priceless.
15. “Yesterday my mom ran for the first time in 9 months since the Boston Marathon bombings. She’s my inspiration!”
16. “Jokingly, I sent my mom a cutout of myself while I was studying abroad. She seems to be entertaining herself with it.”
17. “This is one of my favorite pics of my mom even though she isn’t in focus. Hope you guys enjoy it.”
18. “My mom smiling after saving 40 kids from a burning school bus today”
19. “Look at this giant blanket my mom crocheted!”
20. “This is how my mom greeted me at the airport after having not seen me for a few years. She made me walk through the entire airport under her left arm.”
21. “My mom and I have always bonded over GoT. This year she made me these cakes for my 30th ’name day’.”
22. “My father passed away from lung cancer in July. Mom had these gifts made for me and my brother. The best gift I’ve ever received.”
“This is a shirt I used to wear, and when you hold it I’ll be there. Love, Dad.”
23. “My mom graduating with her Ph.D. in social work from Tulane. Her goal was to graduate by 60 and she did it with a year to spare.”
BONUS: Moms are always the same, loving and caring for everyone.
Which photo did you like the most? Do you have an adorable photo of you with your mom? Let’s share them in the comment section!
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