A Nietzschean Case for Illiberal Egalitarianism

In Barry Stocker & Manuel Knoll (eds.), Nietzsche as Political Philosopher. De Gruyter. pp. 155-170 (2014)
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This paper draws on Friedrich Nietzsche’s work to defend the (admittedly non-Nietzschean) conclusion that a non-liberal egalitarian society is superior in two ways: first, as a moral ideal, it does not rest on questionable claims about essential human equality and, second, such a society would provide the optimal psychological and political conditions for individual wellbeing, social stability, and cultural achievement. I first explain Nietzsche’s distinction between forms of egalitarianism: noble and slavish. The slavish form promotes equality, defined negatively as the elimination of privilege. It is non-liberal in its prioritization of equality over the interests of the advantaged. Nietzsche rejects both slavish egalitarianism and liberalism for the same reasons: they questionably assume the equal value of all persons, and they harm cultural achievement, sacrificing the potential of those who are most valuable to cultural development to the interests of the majority. Noble egalitarianism, in contrast, exemplifies Nietzsche’s conception of justice as ‘equality among equals’. It demands that individuals of equal worth or power (such as members of an artistic or political elite) treat each other as what they, in fact, are: equals. It avoids asserting essential equality, demanding instead—against both slavish and liberal forms—respect on the basis of shared superiority. And it escapes the charge of harm to cultural development, commanding respect only where equality already exists. Although Nietzsche quickly assumes that ‘noble egalitarianism’ requires the rejection of all forms of universal egalitarianism, concluding that we should ‘never make equal what is unequal’, in fact it only entails the rejection of slavish methods: equalization through harm to the advantaged. However, non-liberal forms of egalitarianism can be ‘noble’, promoting equality without harm to the advantaged—through, for example, unequal distribution of resources, the equalization of economic opportunities, and economic regulation to prevent the creation of substantial wealth disparities. If egalitarianism can ‘make equal’ without slavish methods, then Nietzsche’s demand for ‘equality for equals’ applies to the newly equal, too. More importantly, his moral psychology of power—the view that our source of happiness and incentive to self-development is the feeling of power in relation to equal resistance or ‘opponents who are our equals’ —supports the superiority of a nobly-achieved, non-liberal egalitarian society. For achieved, practical equality of wealth and opportunity would optimize conditions for the feeling of power: a balance of equal, oppositional powers serving as mutual limitation and resistance. Such a society is superior in three ways. First, it maximizes social happiness by promoting and maintaining the feeling of power in all. Liberal and aristocratic societies, in contrast, allow radical inequalities that not only diminish the power of the disadvantaged, but diminish the opportunities of the advantaged to encounter equal resistance, thus undermining the happiness of all. Second, it promotes social stability by preserving a balance of powers that prevents domination and exploitation, in contrast to the inevitable class conflicts of aristocratic and liberal societies. Finally, it promotes cultural achievement, since the feeling of power in relation to proportional resistance is the psychological incentive for self-development and cultural achievement.
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