The Equivocal Use of Power in Nietzsche’s Failed Anti-Egalitarianism

Journal of Moral Philosophy 12 (1):1-32 (2014)
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In this paper I argue that Nietzsche’s rejection of egalitarianism depends on equivocation between distinct conceptions of power and equality. When these distinct views are disentangled, Nietzsche’s arguments succeed only against a narrow sense of equality as qualitative similarity (die Gleichheit as die Ähnlichkeit), and not against quantitative forms that promote equality not as similarity but as multiple, proportional resistances (die Gleichheit as die Veilheit and der Widerstand). I begin by distinguishing the two conceptions of power at play in Nietzsche’s arguments, power as quantitative superiority of ability and as qualitative feeling of power (das Gefühl der Macht), an affective state that does not directly correlate with quantitative ability and, because based in resistance (der Widerstand), requires relative equality as its condition. Nietzsche presents four principal arguments against egalitarianism, each concluding that equality harms the flourishing of humanity’s highest individuals. First, equality directly promotes qualitative similarity (die Ähnlichkeit) at the expense of multiplicity (die Vielheit). Second, because material inequalities ground the ‘pathos of distance’ (the recognition of spiritual inequality), equality indirectly undermines the desire for self-development. Third, because it opposes aristocratic conditions, egalitarianism promotes a form of liberalism that removes conditions of constraint necessary to human development. Finally, equality is a less efficient means to human enhancement, which is best promoted through unequal distribution of resources to the most able individuals. I argue that in each case Nietzsche’s argument succeeds only if interpreted according to the quantitative conception of power as superiority, but fails when we also consider the qualitative conception of power as feeling. For the promotion of an individual’s qualitative power is compatible with quantitative power equality. Moreover, because power is felt only in resistance, the feeling of power requires relative equality as its precondition—an alternate sense of equality construed, not as qualitative similarity, but as quantitative resistance from proportional counter-powers. I conclude that Nietzsche’s commitment to the promotion of humanity’s highest individuals does not entail the rejection of moral egalitarianism in every form and even supports certain forms.

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Donovan Miyasaki
Wright State University


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