A Letter to The Wall Street Journal,
"Thus Fakes Zarathustra"

about a column by Robert P. Crease,
October 26, 2018, page A13

"Letters to the Editor"
The Wall Street Journal

Dear Sirs:

Robert P. Crease rebukes Steven Pinker for quoting what seems to be a misogynistic statement, about approaching women with a whip, from Frederick Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He says that this was taken out of context, in a work that is a “novel.” As such it is not to be taken literally, and the viewpoint of the book changes in the course of its story. Thus, no such quote reflects the considered and final thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, which is for the equality of women with men. Crease tells Pinker, “To understand what Nietzsche means, one must read his books.”

However, Crease might take his own advice. In Beyond Good and Evil, which is no novel, Nietzsche says that women are best thought about in an “Oriental” (orientalisch) fashion, that woman (das Weib) is “a possession, a property that can be closed off, as something predestined for service and thereby fulfilling its nature.” Nietzsche also says, “Woman should be maintained, cared for, protected, and treated with consideration, like a more delicate, wondrously (wunderlich) wild and often pleasant domestic pet (Hausthiere).” A woman should be ready for, “her first and last professional activity, the bearing of healthy children” [translation by Marianne Cowan, 1955]. It also helps if she fears men. Not exactly a feminist.

Mr. Cease does no service to philosophy purveying tendentious apologetics for Friedrich Nietzsche. Steven Pinker seems to have had the right idea about Nietzsche and women after all.

Yours truly,

Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.

Editorial Note:

This letter was also sent to professor Crease himself, who replied:

The point, of course, is what the words mean in Zarathustra, the mention in Pinker's book, not elsewhere. [robert.crease@stonybrook.edu, October 26, 2018 10:06 PM].

No. Crease did tell Pinker to read Nietzsche's "books" -- not just this book. Pinker's point was that the quote was representative of Nietzsche's thought about women. It is. He was not engaged in a specific analysis of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Cease's own interpretation of Zarathustra is open to dispute precisely because he comes up with something, the (suspiciously politically correct) equality of women, that is at odds with the rest of Nietzsche's philosophy.

The letter was also sent to Steven Pinker, who replied:

Many thanks, Kelley. I’m continually surprised by how many intellectuals admire Nietzsche, despite his anti-humanist philosophy and his amply documented inspiration of the Nazis, Fascists, Bolsheviks, Ayn Rand, and the Alt-Right (including Milo Y[iannopoulos] and Richard Spencer). Many other philosophers and intellectual historians (such as Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Glover, Richard Wolin, James Flynn, and Brian Leiter) have called out his anti-egalitarian and anti-humanistic ideas, though Enlightenment Now has become a salient lightning rod.

Thanks again for the erudite and lucid letter.

Steve [pinker@wjh.harvard.edu, 10/29, 2018 12:35 PM]

This was in another reply from Pinker

Thanks, Kelley. Yes, I’m continually astonished that the man whose writings inspired the Fascists, Nazis, Bolsheviks, An Rand, and Alt-Right should have so many fans among the intelligentsia. True, he wasn’t an anti-Semite or a German nationalist, but his anti-humanist, anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic sentiments are there for all to see.

Steve [November 05, 2018 6:21 AM]

While I am familiar with Steven Pinker from some of his books and from his participation in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), I was less familiar with some of the particulars of his political ideas. For most of this, I will consider the issues below. First, while his second reply is a little repetitive, it also adds something interesting, that Nietzsche "wasn't an anti-Semite." Thus, Pinker has surprisingly adopted an element of the Nietzsche apologetic.

As I have considered in the main Nietzsche page, you cannot say that the "slave revolt in morals" was due to the hatred, malice, and vengeance that consumed the Jews without it being, from this alone itself, anti-Semitic. The Jews have never been, as a people, and certainly no more than anyone else, consumed with hatred, malice, and vengeance. Add to this that Nietzsche is not only ahistorical, that Jewish morals were formulated before any conceivable examples of their "enslavement" -- and the Jews were still fighting fiercely in the Bar Kochba revolt -- while the Egyptians already believed in the protections of justice for the wronged, but incoherent, that he countenances the similar terms of Buddhist ethics without any similar animus of "hatred, malice, and vengeance" involved. He even celebrates the dismay of the Buddha at being a father, despite otherwise promoting his philosophy as an "affirmation of life." This is part of his explanation of how philosophers cannot marry, despite his otherwise saying that philosophers must be "bred," something celibacy would preclude (as in his own case).

In turn, Nietzsche may not have been a German Nationalist, but this was only because he saw the problem of hereditary aristocracy, and the need to produce (genetically) a new one, as a general, European issue. More generous in that respect than the Nazis, his perspective could encompass the French, the Poles, the Russians, even the Jews in his breeding program. As it happened, however, the Nazis were also willing to recruit some Untermenschen, like Poles, into their own breeding program, as long as they were blond and looked "Aryan." In Sophie's Choice, we find Sophie trying to get her son into that program. However, while Nietzsche did think of the Aryans as blond, his inclusion of the Arabs and Japanese as "noble races" meant that a new European aristocracy itself did not need to be blond.

Otherwise, Pinker's list of people adversely influenced by Nietzsche looks a little too much like a Leftist demonology. Someone like Richard Spencer does not belong grouped with Ayn Rand or Milo Yiannpolous; and I am still not sure who uses the term "Alt-Right," where it comes from, and whether anyone supposedly in it uses it to self-identify. In this, Pinker wanders a bit to close to the sort of (racist) smears practiced by the Left.

Ayn Rand does seem to have been influenced by Nietzsche, and a particular Nietzsche quote sounds a lot like her "virtue of selfishness." However, she thought better of this and in her mature works does not pay any kind of tribute to Nietzsche, or mention him. We might say that there are lingering effects, but we are also obliged, as is Pinker, to understand where her considered opinion breaks with Nietzsche. Rand's ideal of the "trader," honestly exchanging value, is something about which Nietzsche would only have contempt. The Nietzschean aristocrat, where he is able to do so, takes. This would make him one of Rand's "looters." He can't do that with fellow aristocrats (where honor is the principal stock in trade); but together they happlily exploit the "herd," die Heerde.

I am not that familiar with Milo Yiannopoulos (Γιαννόπουλος), but he seems to be, in general, a libertarian; and he certainly enjoys flaunting a kind of gay flamboyance, which just infuriates the Left, which requires absolute Leftist obedience from all homosexuals and "trans-genders." A speech by Yiannopoulos occasioned a riot in Berkeley by anarchists, who were allowed by the University administration to vandalize University property -- as the speech was cancelled. Later, he was harrassed in a Manhattan restaurant by "democratic socialists" (i.e. communists), who chanted, "out Fascist scum" (or maybe it was "out Nazi scum"). My recommendation in such cases would be to stand up, face the assholes, and return their chant. They are the Fascists. Yiannopoulos got in some trouble with conservatives when he voiced some fond recollection of the pedophile who had once seduced him. He lost his job and his book was cancelled. However, the book was later picked up and published anyway, and he seems to have survived. I have no idea what any of that has to do with the "Alt-Right," and I am sorry that Steven Pinker resorts to such demonology.

Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Words and Rules, The Ingredients of Language, Steven Pinker, Basic Books, 1999

History of Philosophy, Modern Philosophy


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