Helping Israel Help Itself


The Jews of European descent and the Arabs of Palestine have much in common.  Both groups of people have forged their own unique nationalisms in response to oppression and injustice at the hands of more powerful groups of people.  For this reason, it is hard not to have sympathy for the national projects and aspirations of both people.  They are both pursuing the state they believe will give them independence from persecution.  Ultimately, my primary focus is on the injustices that are happening now.  With this orientation, it is clear that the Israelis have allowed their own tragic history to blind themselves to the cruelty they have inflicted on the Palestinians.  It gives me hope to know that segments of the Israeli population do realize that peace is in their interest as citizens of the Jewish state and as human beings with a humanity which transcends borders and nations.  This segment of the Israeli population can be helped in its desire for a two-state solution by meaningful American intervention in the process.  The question is what strategy the United States should employ to bring to bear the appropriate incentives and pressure to the Israeli government and public as a whole.  

Understanding the factors that led to Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian Authority is essential in assessing how the United States might foster the environment necessary to persuade Israel to begin negotiating with the Palestinians in earnest.  These factors must include positive steps by the Palestinians, pressure and incentive from the American government, and an ability of American supporters of the two-state solution to overcome the domestic political influence of groups such as AIPAC.  Failure to pressure Israel successfully will jeopardize the goal of both a Palestinian and a Jewish state by making the one-state “solution” inevitable.

Though Israel dwarfs the Palestinians in economic and military might and is allied with the world’s last superpower, the Palestinians at times have been able to advance their interests against Israel.  It is important to take a look at some of these successes to understand how Palestinians acting alone or in concert with the United States may use them as a model for future progress.  Starting in the 1960’s the Palestinians began to be pragmatic about the existence and rights of Israelis in what the Palestinians considered to be Palestine.  Initially Fateh began this course by calling for a secular democracy which would not discriminate against its citizens on the basis of religion (Khalidi 191-192).  By the 1970’s the PLO went further than this and endorsed the notion of a two-state solution (Khalidi 192).  This position was cemented in the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988 (Shlaim 481).

Eventual recognition of the reality of Israel helped the Palestinian cause in the West (Khalidi 154).  The notion of two separate states has the benefit of allowing people to be sympathetic to the cause of Palestinian statehood without having to take the often uncomfortable stance of denying the right of zionists to the state of Israel (Khalidi 154).  This is very important because in the West there is a justified recognition that the Jewish people have endured a tremendous amount of discrimination and persecution (Khalidi 169).  Despite this, with the endorsement of the two-state plan and renunciation of armed conflict the PLO was able to garner much international recognition, including from the United States (Khalidi 169).

The Palestinians are primarily the victims of the much stronger state of Israel.  It makes no sense to believe that the Palestinians on their own can achieve peace, yet, building on their acceptance of a two-state solution, there are certain steps they can take to invite more American support and to make it more difficult for the Israeli government to insist it does not have a real partner for peace.  

One of the most obvious steps the Palestinians can take is instilling in its youth the example of nonviolent movements.  Khalidi puts it nicely by saying the Palestinians must realize “that what is necessary [is] the reeducation of the Palestinians away from armed struggle and toward a whole new approach of unarmed mass popular struggle” (Khalidi 178).  Whereas I believe strongly that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, and am not in principle against violence in the context of an uprising against oppression, I think it needs to be admitted that in the end the Palestinians will not win their state in a military contest with Israel.  Given that Israel uses oppression and violence against the Palestinians, it makes sense that there will be a violent element to the resistance.  Yet, there has to be more to the resistance than just that.  Palestinian youth would be well-served to have a knowledge of movements that were entirely peaceful, or at least had strong peaceful aspects as necessary elements of their success, such as the Indian struggle for independence from the United Kingdom, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and the end of Apartheid in South Africa. While the Palestinians are living under very poor economic conditions, I imagine it would be possible to get funding from the United States to help in such a venture.  Not only would this be a way for the United States to be humanitarian, it would be easy to define every dollar towards such education as a dollar towards a peaceful and secure future for Israel to the very pro-Israeli American public. Such education will help the Palestinians forge a more coherent resistance movement and fundamentally change the narrative that Israel likes to propagate of being in a sea of violent extremists.

In better absorbing the examples of other resistance movements, the Palestinians will be able to consider other best practices.  For instance, Edward Said argues that in the agreements between Israel and Palestine, the Palestinians have unwittingly “become Israel’s enforcer…   Interestingly, the ANC [African National Congress] has consistently refused to supply the South African government with police officials until after power is shared, precisely in order to avoid appearing as the white government’s enforcer” (Said).  I do not believe that the Palestinians in principle should refuse to provide any security, however Said brings into question what the Palestinians are getting when they help to ensure Israeli security.  Israel providing security directly in the territories would not be easy, and presumably the Palestinians can get concessions from Israel in return for their cooperation in security.

Said also rightfully insists that the Palestinians must retain the right to civil disobedience (Said).  This right will be all the more powerful when the population becomes more educated on methods that have worked in other instances of oppression, and when the Palestinian Authority acts in a nuanced manner to combat the Israeli narrative of Palestinian militancy, while also fostering effective means of resistance.

Another way of empowering the Palestinian voice so that it might better be heard over the Israeli attempts to silence it is to conduct a Palestinian census.  Though a census does not seem like a difficult feat, Israel, the United States, and Arab nations all oppose such a census (Said).  I do not imagine that the Palestinians can conduct a meaningful census in the face of such opposition.  I do however maintain optimism that this will change with the right American president.  It is important to keep in mind that the power of the American president in pursuing Middle Eastern policy is constrained by the pro-Israeli congress and public.  However, the president does have some room for maneuvering, and I believe that when we elect a president serious about peace, she or he will be able to argue that such a census is in the interest of peace and not a threat to Israel.  Hence I support strongly Said’s call to keep the census as a “leading item on the agenda for Palestinians everywhere.”

In order to achieve peace, the Palestinians need a partner.  Unfortunately Israel has often failed to be that partner.  I maintain that the United States is in a position to move Israel towards a more constructive and engaged role in the peace process.

The Administration of President George HW Bush deserves credit for being quite even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians compared to the Reagan and Clinton Administrations.  On May 22, 1989 Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker explicitly called for the end the “unrealistic vision of greater Israel” and instead insisted that Israel recognize the political rights of the Palestinians in a speech to AIPAC (Shlaim 483-484).  To back this courageous stance the Bush Administration was willing to withhold loan guarantees of ten billion dollars to Israel, which forced the sitting Prime Minister, Shamir, to negotiations (Shlaim 503).  Bush was able to present Shamir with a choice, “keep the occupied territories or keep U.S. support” (Shlaim 503).  There is no reason why the American Administration today cannot exert similar pressure on Israel, and we have every reason to believe that doing so will lead to positive results.

Aside from withholding much needed loans to Israel, the United States can also pressure Israel by joining the international community in expecting Israel to live up to its humanitarian and legal obligations.  In 1997 when Netanyahu declared the “battle for Jerusalem has began” (Shlaim 603) the United Kingdom led the international outcry and sought to pass two United Nations resolutions against Israel, with the United States vetoing both of them (Shlaim 604).  There is no justification for Netanyahu’s behavior, nor for America’s enabling of such behavior.  A courageous and pragmatic American president will be able to abstain at the very least and allow Israel to be condemned.  I have no doubt that even if such an American posture does not immediately change the calculations of the government, it will send a very strong signal to the Israeli public that its government’s actions are not working in their interest.

Even with our position as a permanent member of the United Nation’s Security Council and as a major supporter of Israel, our ability to control the actions of the Israeli government is of course limited.  This should not keep us from exerting whatever pressure we can.  When the Bush Administration realized they would not be able to convince Shamir to change course, they did not give up.  Instead they were pragmatic and focused on impressing upon the Israeli public that their leadership was causing a rift with their most important ally (Shlaim 514).  The American government must be willing to pursue such avenues of pressure consistently on successive Israeli governments.

Unfortunately the four years of George HW Bush’s leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict was not continued by his successor, President Clinton (Shlaim 529).  I do not understand Clinton’s blind support for Israel, I do know that his administration’s policies — especially in the beginning — were a great example of what not to do in terms of getting Israel to become a constructive partner for peace.  Not only did the Clinton Administration veto UN Resolutions against flagrantly illegal Israeli settlement building (Shlaim 604), it also apparently ignored suggestions from Israel’s own president to put more pressure on the government (Shlaim 604)!

This brings us to Netanyahu who served as Prime Minister during part of the Clinton Administration, and is currently in his second stint as Prime Minister of Israel.  Netanyahu certainly tests the diplomatic abilities of anyone, Palestinian or American as he is definitely not interested in finding common ground or making substantive sacrifices for peace.  In 2001 Netanyahu disclosed to a family living in a settlement who had lost a loved one to violence that it is necessary to “beat [the Palestinians] up, not once but repeatedly; beat them up so it hurts badly, until it is unbearable” (Shlaim 627).  In the same discussion Netanyahu went on to boast that he can manipulate American public opinion, and that his goal is to stop movement towards peace (Shlaim 627).  These words were all being recorded while Netanyahu was unaware (Shlaim 627).  Using the words of Netanyahu against him is a smart strategy to give the American president more approval by the public to apply pressure, and can also be used to persuade the Israeli public that their government needs a course correction.  

It is hard to doubt that such pressure will have a positive impact especially when we have seen Netanyahu — in my view, the single biggest obstacle to peace today — respond to the minimal pressure that has been applied to him by the Clinton and Obama Administrations.  After Netanyahu provoked a widespread uprising and acts of violence by blasting a tunnel under a Palestinian holy site in Jerusalem, President Clinton to his credit intervened more forcefully than had been his pattern earlier in the Administration (Shlaim 598, 601).  This intervention headed by Dennis Ross led to the first agreement signed by a Likud Prime Minister and the Palestinians and actually produced a reluctant — and admittedly limited — compromise by Netanyahu (Shlaim 601).  

In 2009, shortly after both Obama and Netanyahu had assumed power the “Mitchell Report and the Roadmap stipulated that an end to the Palestinian violence had to accompany a settlement freeze.  The government of Benjamin Netanyahu… seized on this, charging that the Obama Administration was unfairly pressuring Israel to make concessions without doing the same to the Palestinians” (Gelvin 259-260).  Gelvin suggests that Obama’s policy here was flawed because Netanyahu is not interested in a peace process to begin with (Gelvin 260).  He is clearly correct to state that Netanyahu is not a partner for peace, however I think it is wrongheaded on Gelvin’s part to take from this that Obama’s approach is somehow flawed for that.  The real flaw I see in Obama’s approach is that he has not maintained this pressure consistently.  I would like him to take a lesson for President Bush and Secretary Baker, and apply pressure to the Israeli public and parliament to persuade them that having a Prime Minister as obstinate as Netanyahu is not in their interest.

Netanyahu is by no means immune to criticism from the Israeli public.  After the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, his widow, Leah Rabin refused to shake Netanyahu’s hand (Shlaim 568). She did however agree to meet with Arafat (Shlaim 568).  Arafat said to her “Yitzhak Rabin was the hero of peace, I have lost a friend.  This is a great loss to the cause of peace and to me personally.  I am shocked and horrified by this tragic event” (Shlaim 568).  The reason she would not meet with Netanyahu — then the Likud leader in the Knesset — was because she believed he had been a part of the violent incitement to her husband’s death (Shlaim 568).  On the other hand, she saw Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Arabs as a better partner for peace (Shlaim 568).  Ehud Barak pointedly warned that with Netanyahu’s unwillingness to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Israel might end up in the position of “apartheid, or a Bosnia… [or] we might reach both” (Shlaim 605).  As Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s own General Security Service and the director of military intelligence concluded that the Palestinian leader could not be expected to meet Israeli demands so long as Israel was not in compliance with the Oslo accords (Shlaim 606).  It is incumbent upon us to build on these domestic foundations inside of Israel until Netanyahu’s government feels so much pressure is changes course or falls entirely.

Though the Obama Administration has not prevailed upon Netanyahu to fully engage in the peace process, this does not suggest that doing such would be impossible.  Rather, it illustrates the fact that Obama has put only minimal pressure on Netanyahu.  Yet, when it has put at least minimal pressure on Netanyahu, we have seen at least minimal steps in the right direction.  In March, 2015 Netanyahu stated that he is opposed to a Palestinian state (Dyer 2).  President Obama angrily responded that the United States would seek more United Nations involvement in the peace process (Dyer 2).  In November, 2015 Netanyahu met with President Obama and insisted that he actually does believe in a two-state solution, seeking to mollify the angry Obama saying “I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace” (Dyer 1).

With sustained United States pressure I have no doubt that the peace process can move forward.  It is not simply a matter of successive American presidents having the will to act, they must also have the ability to apply the sorts of pressure I have discussed.  In order for the American president to have such an ability, they will have to be able to control the narrative so that pressure on Israel is framed as encouraging Israel to seek peace out of consideration for its own interests.  An undoubted stumbling block to this is AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee).  Though AIPAC espouses an interest in a two-state solution, calling for a Jewish Israel to live next to a demilitarized Palestine ( — I have no idea why we would expect one party to be demilitarized and not the other — it is blindly pro-Israel and very adept at influencing congress.  

I am confident that as negative as AIPAC’s influence on American foreign policy may be, it is not an unmovable obstacle to our having a constructive role in the peace process.  AIPAC was around during the George HW Bush Administration, Secretary Baker even spoke to them.  This did not keep the first Bush Administration from being relatively fair to the two parties.  Max Fisher points out that in 2013 AIPAC was a vehement ally of President Obama’s in building support for American airstrikes against Syria (Fisher).  At the same time, the relatively cash-strapped and unorganized Invisible Children NGO was attempting to rally support for action against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda (Fisher).  Given the pull of AIPAC, and the relative obscurity of Invisible Children, you would expect the former project to succeed and the latter to have a very poor chance, if any, of succeeding (Fisher).  Yet, AIPAC was unable to deliver congressional approval to President Obama and Obama ended up calling off the airstrikes against Syria (Fisher).  On the other hand, Obama ended up sending troops to Uganda to assist in the hunt for the warlord Kony (Fisher).

This failure on the part of AIPAC does not mean it is impotent.  Fisher attributes some of the failure of the Administration and AIPAC to sway congress to Iraq-war fatigue and the fact that engagement with Syria would be a much more serious undertaking than our involvement in Uganda (Fisher).  Also, Invisible Children was able to push a much clearer narrative as to why we should act in Uganda.  Given the complexities of the civil war in Syria, such a case is not so unambiguous (Fisher).  This anecdote does however suggest that AIPAC is not invincible either.  To thwart the influence of AIPAC a president who is serious about the peace process must help the Palestinians to better master civil disobedience and good governance, along with supporting the census, while at the same time applying consistent pressure to the Israeli government.  This will be tough given the natural inclination of the American public to be sympathetic towards Israel and the power of AIPAC.  The president must strive to create a narrative in which the United States is helping Israel help itself by making the difficult but necessary decisions for peace.

Ultimately those who support the idea of Israel as a Jewish state must be convinced that the notion of helping Israel help itself is more than just rhetoric.  As Israel gobbles up more and more Palestinian territory in contravention of international law, the dream of a Palestinian state is certainly becoming uncertain.  So is the project of a Jewish state.  As Uri Savir puts it “those who claim Netanyahu has no foreign policy or does not achieve his strategic goals are wrong.  The strategies, the diplomacy and the rhetoric all serve one central purpose: to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.  Israel is shaping a new reality, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River — a binational apartheid state in the making” (Savir 2).  In such a circumstance, Israel will either have to give up its democratic label, or grant Palestinian Arabs the right to vote in Israel, jeopardizing the Jewish character of Israel.  Edward Said points out that it is wrong and unrealistic to expect the millions of Palestinian refugees living outside of the disputed territories to want to return (Said).  At the same time, you cannot expect them all to assimilate into other nations and forget about repatriation, especially when they have not been compensated (Said).  Israel currently is in a position of simply refusing those Palestinians repatriation.  However, once the millions of Palestinians living in the occupied territories get the right to vote in the context of a one-state solution, it is quite easy to imagine that such a government representing all inhabitants of Israel/Palestine will be much more amenable to the notion of taking back large numbers of refugees, further blotting out the Jewish character of the state of Israel.  The Israeli Labor leader Herzog warns that without the two-state solution Jerusalem will be run by “an Arab mayor” (Sterman Newman).

Israel’s recognition of the PLO came after many decades of the Palestinian Arabs refusing to work with Israel.  It also came at a very steep price for Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians.  Whatever progress it has led to has been tentative and mixed, as Edward Said so eloquently points out.  It is in my mind proof of principle however, along with the relatively even handed approach of the George HW Bush Administration.  We must thoroughly understand what led to this recognition and what has been most effective in winning sympathy for the Palestinian cause in Washington if we are to have any hope of a meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians while a two-state solution is still possible.  Given the nature of the settlements and the pace at which new ones are being built, the dream of a Palestinian state may be taking its last breaths.  I hope to see this subjugated people overcome all the odds and find the oxygen it so desperately needs before those final breaths expire.  I wish it for the Palestinian people and also for the Israeli people.  If the Israelis forego their own immediate interests — or recognize their broader long-term interests — and obvious military superiority to give the Palestinians the dignity of a viable state, then I think they will be going a long way towards being a light unto nations.


Works Cited  Talking Points.  Online.

Dyer, Geoff.  “Netanyahu commits to a two-state solution in Middle East.”  November

9, 2015.  Online.

Gelvin, James L. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. Third ed. New

York: Cambridge, 2006. Print.

Fisher, Max.  Washington Post.  “Who’s afraid of AIPAC: Is everything we think about lobbying

and foreign policy wrong?”.  October 3, 2013.  Online.

Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston:

Beacon, 2006. Print.

Newman, Marissa.  Sterman, Adiv.  The Times of Israel.  “Netanyahu: Situation not ripe for

two-state solution”.  February 10, 2016.  Online.

Said, Edward.  London Review of Books.  “The Morning After”.  October 21, 1993.  Online.

Savir, Uri.  “Netanyahu’s five-pronged strategy to delay a two-state solution”.

December 27, 2015.  Online.

Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Updated and Expanded). New York:

W.W. Norton, 2000. Print.

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A Defense of Maximin


The philosopher John Rawls has created an impressive political theory detailing how a society can create a just state by beginning with just principles.  Rawls sees justice as only being possible “ in an initial situation that is fair” (Rawls 11).  A state is only fair if all

“rational persons” would freely consent to the state (Rawls 14-15).  In order to judge if a state could meet this requirement, we must put ourselves behind a theoretical veil of ignorance and give no regard to our actual position in society or particular interests (Rawls 17).  Instead we must assume that we can be any member in society, including the worst off (Rawls 17).  From this vantage point we must ask “would every citizen, assuming she was rational and self-interested consent to this arrangement?”  Rawls believes that we would arrive at certain broad principles “duly pruned and adjusted” after conducting this exercise which he refers to as “reflective equilibrium” (Rawls 18).

The decision principle for finding these broad principles behind the veil of ignorance is Maximin.  Maximin is a particular criteria for assessing the structure of a state by which a state is assessed as acceptable only if it guarantees the very highest minimum possible in terms of primary goods to those who are the very worst off in society (Rawls 65).  Primary goods are anything which would be considered essential for any rational life plan (Rawls 54).  I believe there is some ambiguity as to what constitutes primary goods.

This ambiguity will become important later.  For instance, a vacation in London, while perhaps a nice luxury, is not a primary good.  This is because the desire for a vacation in London would represent a particular desire, not an element necessary to my living a rational life plan.  Food, water, and shelter are certainly primary goods.  Several centuries ago, I do not think we could have argued that higher education or universal health insurance were primary goods.  This is because these things were either not readily available, or society was structured so that one did not really need them to be successful.  In such societies I might just need to learn how to make shoes to live a decent rational life plan.  This is not the case in the contemporary West for the most part (there are exceptions of course, but I do not think many people would argue that some sort of formal education is necessary to live out a rational life plan today).

The next principle we need to take note of is the Difference Principle.  The Difference Principle stipulates that inequalities are permissible in society if and only if these inequalities benefit the worst off (Rawls 68).  Presumably we might want to incentivize innovation.  An economy with a lot of innovation may be expected to create high paying jobs, and valuable services which would benefit those in society who are worst off.  So offering a higher income for innovators will help society by encouraging those who possess the capacity to innovate to do so.  This does not mean that innovators can make as much money as possible.  They could only make more money insofar as that increased income above and beyond what those at the very bottom earn could be directly linked to improvements for the worst off.

Rawls’ system is a very cautious one since it focuses so much on maximizing the position of the worst off, versus seeking to improve the welfare of the majority or the highest off (Rawls 65).  Rawls assumes that an inability to meet your basic needs is a great evil, whereas the ability to live in excess of your basic needs is a comparatively small good.  Thus, when we are behind the veil of ignorance, our first concern will be in ensuring that our basic needs are met.  Even if they are met, we will not then begin to focus on maximizing the benefits for others, because those at the bottom, assuming they are rational and self-interested, would not consent to a society in which they are worse off than they otherwise would be, for the sake of those who are better off in an unequal distribution (Rawls 131).  Behind the veil of ignorance however, people would consent to having a higher minimum floor even if this takes away their chance of having an excessively high standard of living in actual society once they come out of the veil of ignorance.

Unlike Rawls, I do see higher standards of living beyond our basic needs as a substantial good.  I agree that deprivation of basic needs is a greater evil, but this does not mean we should ignore the benefits of living above and beyond our basic needs or primary goods.  In any case, this personal difference I have with Rawls would not lead me to change his system.  I firmly endorse the principle of maximin because it would be the best in ensuring everyone’s basic needs are met within the context of a fair state.  Also, maximin allows enough flexibility to keep up with societies as their notion of what primary goods are changes.  Finally, maximin gives us an objective criteria in which to decide what a reasonable floor is.

Langtry argues that the Difference Principle does not guarantee that we actually maximize our minimums for everyone (Langtry 72-73).  In support of this, he gives an example of someone who is handicapped (Langtry 73).  A handicapped person might not even be at the bottom of our society in terms of economic structure.  We could imagine she makes a bit more than the minimum.  However, her excess expenses which are the result of needed compensation for her disabilities means that in real terms, she is living a standard of living below those who are putatively at the bottom (Langtry 73).  This seems like a good attack on the Difference Principle because it shows that it can err in terms of making sure everyone lives above a certain minimum.  Presumably this society would not focus on raising the wages of this disabled woman since she is not at the bottom in terms of goods allocated, but she is at the bottom in terms of welfare, and hence she would be treated unfairly by the system.  I consider this a strong cautionary anecdote.  If we are to implement a Rawlsian system, we must make sure that people like this disabled woman are not overlooked.  However, Langtry does not successfully point out a fatal flaw in the system.  This is because while he seems to be assuming that we would determine who is at the bottom in terms of monetary income, Rawls is quite clear that his system must focus on primary goods.  So a person who is making more in terms of dollars could be recognized as being at the bottom of the Rawlsian system so long as she had the least in society in terms of primary goods.

Hubin offers several critiques of maximin.  The first of his arguments which I will consider is the notion that “maximax” would be just as logical a choice for people to consider as “maximin” when they are behind the veil of ignorance (Hubin 364).  Under maximax, we could potentially have very high payoffs.  It of course risks that we will end up suffering in the very low lows that Rawls’ system seeks to guard against.  Rawls’ system is only guarding against these lows out of a sense of pessimism about what the state of nature will end up being once we leave the veil of ignorance.  This pessimism is not founded on anything concrete, and thus, a sense of optimism about what the state of nature will be is just as rational (Hubin 364).  This critique is widely off mark for several reasons.  Though Rawls assumes we should be cautious about what position we will occupy in society, his justification of maximin has nothing to do with if or if not our society as a whole will find itself in a positive state of nature or not.  Even if we were guaranteed to find ourselves in very bountiful conditions as a society, the argument for maximin would still be there, because within that society, a rational, self-interested person would not consent to sacrificing what could have been a larger share of good for herself, so that someone else might have even more than her.  Thus Rawls’ caution has much more to do with fairness within society, than pessimism about the availability of goods in any particular society.

Crocker asserts that despite a widespread assumption to the contrary, maximin can be argued from a liberal left position because of a need for solidarity among persons in society (262).  Though Rawls rules out envy as a factor among rational, self-interested persons behind the veil of ignorance, because envy is not rational, there might be other motivations that would also go against the maximin and the Difference Principle.  His specific example is the solidarity disposition.  We cannot dismiss a desire for solidarity among citizens as being irrational.  In fact, a rational person may argue that this sort of societal solidarity makes up a primary good for people within society (Crocker 264).  Crocker strengthens his argument when he discusses a scenario in which society is already very egalitarian.  Any differences in income are very minor.  However, people come up with a scenario in which to benefit those who are worse off by one percent.  Though this is a relatively modest gain, it is still a gain for those who are worse off.  However, the only way to achieve this is to increase the incomes of those who are already in the top five percent of society by a factor of ten.  This would be permissible by Rawls since it is consistent with maximin, though it would sharply increase stratification in society and attack the rational solidarity disposition felt by the people.  Since Crocker argues that this solidarity position could be a primary good, in that it is necessary for a rational life plan within society, he believes that this instantiation of maximin would actually be bad for society.  Hence, we sometimes need to favor egalitarianism above and beyond what maximin prescribes if we want to have a truly just society (Crocker 265-266).

Crocker does not make a convincing argument that a solidarity disposition must be considered a primary good because it is not necessary for all rational life plans.  However, if we assume that it is, he is still unable to prove that maximin does not work.  As I said earlier, Rawls is concerned with the distribution of primary goods, not of money.  If a solidarity disposition is reckoned as a primary good, then it must be included in the equation when we are determining what society would maximize our minimum.  So if an increase in primary goods to those already best off in society would increase the primary goods of those who are worst off, including the primary good of societal solidarity, then the increased goods to those at the top would be justified.  If instead this increase for those at the top increases some primary goods for those at the bottom, but decreases the primary good of the solidarity disposition so much that those at the bottom would actually be at a net loss in terms of primary goods, then this increase to those at the top would not be justified under Rawls’ system.

Now that I have dealt with Crocker, I will return to additional objections to maximin raised by Hubin.  According to Hubin, if we have two societies to choose from and both have minimums that exceed minimum threshold of primary goods for those who are worst off, we should choose the society which maximizes utility overall.  Since this seems rational to Hubin, he sees no reason why it would not be chosen behind the veil of ignorance (Hubin 370).  The problem I see in Hubin’s thinking here is it assumes a fixed floor regarding primary goods which is not present in Rawls’ theory.  This is crucial to understanding why I like Rawls’ theory so much.  As a society progresses and is thus able to increase the standard of living for the worst off, its conception of primary goods may change.  Though this might sound odd, since we always need things like water and food, other primary goods can depend on context.  I earlier used the example of college education.  During a time of medical ignorance, there also might not have been much value in having access to formal healthcare. However, in a state in which medicine is practiced as a science, and in which it is possible to allocate goods so as to make healthcare available to everyone, then it is easy to see healthcare as necessary to the primary good of health.  Without universal healthcare, a person would be less able to fulfill her rational life plan within society.  This does not necessarily mean that what we consider primary goods will necessarily increase at a fixed rate in relation to the potential maximin a society is capable of.  Yet, I cannot think of how we would decide any other floor behind the veil of ignorance.  This is because I imagine that the person who is worst off, is always going to want the highest minimum possible if she is rational and self interested.  Those in other positions in society might be motivated to conceive of the primary goods necessary to a rational life plan as being unfairly low because of their own biases given that they would stand to gain from this.  Hence the only rational and fair means of determining a floor is the principle of maximin.

An additional argument against Hubin here is that according to Rawls we are not entitled to the fruits of our natural and social endowments.  This is because we have not earned either of them and thus they are morally arbitrary (Rawls 63).  We are born with our natural endowments, and the family and context in which we are born determines our social endowments (Rawls 14).  If I am very talented and able to make a lot of money, or if I am born into a family that can afford the best tutors, and thus I am able to get a high paying job in adulthood, I am in neither case better off than someone who lacks these endowments because I intrinsically deserve to be better off.  So why would it be rational for society to allow  these fortunate individuals to enjoy the fruits of these endowments to an excessive degree just because those at the bottom who lack these endowments have met some arbitrary minimum threshold?

The last argument of Hubin’s I will consider is one that I am actually quite sympathetic to.  Rawls believes that gains above the minimum threshold are always negligible compared to deficiencies below the minimum threshold.  Thus far I am with Rawls, as I think this is true.  Hubin and I both part company with Rawls when Rawls assumes this means that gains above the minimum threshold must be of very little value, and that any gain above the threshold must be worth less than any deficiency beneath the minimum threshold.  Also, according to this logic, the higher the gain, the less value it will have than lower gains, regardless of how far apart they are (Hubin 367).  Hubin illustrates this with a great example.  If we live in a society where everyone is living above the minimum threshold, this does not mean we will consider a five thousand dollar raise as only negligibly higher than a five hundred dollar raise (Hubin 368).  Hubin is right here.  Rawls goes too far in insisting that goods in excess of our basic needs will be of very modest value.  In fact, a very slight deprivation of primary goods might be experienced as a smaller evil compared to the good of a tremendous excess experienced by someone in the same society who is above the minimum threshold.  

Hubin’s masterful argument could lead me to question my adherence to Rawls if I thought Rawls’ system depended on utilitarianism or if I thought that utilitarianism is superior to Rawls’ system.  Hubin does not seek to justify either notion, though.  Rawls explicitly seeks to build his system because he feels that utilitarianism is limited in its ability to bring about a fair society.  The maximum overall good, along with the minimum overall suffering in a society says nothing about just distribution within that society which is so important to Rawls.  Just distribution is essential if we could expect all rational, self-interested representative citizens to freely consent to living under the state.  So while it is clear that utilitarianism is not the basis of Rawls’ system, it is also not superior to Rawls’ system, if we hold justice to be important.

In the end, all Hubin has proved is that Rawls undervalued the joy someone might get from living in excess of the minimum.  This error on the part of Rawls does not necessitate a change in the system since maximizing overall happiness is the intent of the system, or crucial to fairness in society.

Maximin is able to survive objections and remain the best principle in guaranteeing fairness and the basic needs of all, while retaining the needed flexibility to redefine what primary goods are in the context of evolving societies which will undoubtedly lead us to reinvent our conceptions of possible rational life plans.  The principle also allows us as a society to determine a fair floor, as opposed to a floor determined arbitrarily by people in positions of power.  While there are numerous objections made against Rawls, they can all be adequately responded to within Rawls’ system, or if irrefutable, they only manage superficial damage against Rawls’s thinking which does not require any fundamental revision to his system.


Works Cited

Crocker, Lawrence.  “Equality, Solidarity, and Rawls’ Maximin”.  Philosophy of & Public

Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 3.  Spring, 1977.  Pages 262-266.  Wiley.

Hubin, Clayton.  “Minimizing Maximin”.  Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for

Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 37, No. 4.  May, 1980.  Pages 363-372.


Langtry, Bruce.  “The Maximin Rule Argument for Rawls’s Principles of Justice”.  Australasian

Journal of Philosophy, 63:1.  1985.  Pages 64-77.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1999. Print.

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My Herniated Life: A Big Blobby Secret

“So get out.  You must have enough money. Steve and I think it is what you should do.”


I stopped talking to my mom when I was fifteen.  The reasons are complex.  I was defending myself, and more so, I was defending my aunt Sue.  Growing up, my brother and I had been raised pretty communally.  In addition to my mom, we had our aunts, grandma, and cousin.  They all pitched in, especially Sue.  In some ways, this arrangement worked well, especially since my mom did not make enough money to support herself or us.

When I was young, I knew people lied.  That was never a big secret.  I understood manipulation, aggression.  I just thought that I could trust certain people.  Other people lied.  So when my mom told me she loved Sue, I believed her.

After we moved in with Sue and Steve, into a giant new house, out of our apartment with no furniture, I was elated.  I saw my mom, Sue, and Steve as a partnership.  Two sisters and a husband.  It seemed to make sense economically, and I loved being with my family.  Sure, it was only Sue, Steve, my mom, and brother living in the house, but Sue was the epicenter of our entire extended family.  Living with her meant we were at the center of everything.

So I was not ready for all of the fights.  I did not understand where my mom’s aggression came from.  Especially when she was so meek when my uncle and her friends would make fun of how fat she was.  The part of the new house I was most excited about, was our swimming pool.  So, I took any opportunity to go into the backyard and be near it, even during the winter.  So I stood there quietly, beside my mom, who in turn was standing next to my uncle and his friend Tom.  They were smart, always figuring out mathematical formulas.  Tom taught me that some shapes for aquariums held more water than others.  This fascinated me as an animal lover.  I liked that he knew these things.  Today he was discussing how much water my mom would displace if she got into the pool in front of us.  Tom had some trouble getting the calculations exact in his head, especially with all of the wind outside.  With my uncle’s help they figured out with a good degree of confidence that my mom could displace every single drop of water in the pool.  Though this would be quite the sight, it would cause flooding.  So, because of this — not the cold weather — there would be no swimming today.

I remember looking at the ground on the way inside.  I got away from all three of them.  I went to be by myself.  Maybe I was upset that there would be no swimming, not that I had expected that.  I just wanted to be alone.

I was not thinking about that day when my mom said she wanted to move out.  My mom moving out was her expression of independence — rather timely in her mid-forties.  The quarrel was centered around how much my mom was going to pay for rent.  My aunt thought the price they agreed upon was fair, my mom thought something closer to nothing would be better.  In my mom’s demand for rent-free living she was of the understanding that my aunt and uncle were both getting something rather valuable out of the deal.  Their one daughter had died.  My brother and I were surrogate children for them both.  If she left, so would the surrogate children.

I did not like the notion of being part of someone’s blackmail scheme.  At ten years old, I stood up against my mother, I told her she could not do this.  The ordeal went on for months, but finally, one day, my aunt and mom came to an understanding.

This happened again, five years later.  In the interregnum I thought everything had pretty much resolved itself.  This time around, I was older and more assertive.  I told my mom she could do whatever she wanted, but I was staying with Sue.  

“My children will live where I live.”  She said this, really trying to sound strong.  I remember noting the effort.  If nothing else, I knew my mom was not strong though.

“You can do whatever you want.  This is where I live.  If you send police to come get me, I will walk straight back here, and I will make sure everyone knows that your child hates you, and you will not even have that pretence to be proud of anymore.”

I won.  I knew what facades were important to my mom.

I would never have a relationship with my mom again.  She is dead now.  At the time, I thought it was possible, if she was willing to resolve her issues in a grownup manner, which in my mind, meant taking my views seriously.  The notion of dealing with her son as an equal was one last blow to her pride I do not think she could contemplate.  I stood up to her and won, but that had to be a silent victory.  She was not going to countenance any recognition of that.  So, she ended up dying alone.

I was happy.  The discharge of my power was elating.  I had stood up for what I believed in, I had taken control of my own destiny, and I had done so with the intent to help others.  I did not like the idea of my aunt being blackmailed.  I would not allow it anymore.  I would be her advocate.

I really thought my aunt would be nice to me.


“I am no longer obese.”  It is something I say to myself.

Immediately after my mom left, I started losing weight and became vegetarian.  I was scared of repeating the patterns of my family.  At fifteen, my belief was that my family descended into negativity because they ran out of positive goals to fight for.  When you grow up fighting, and then have nothing else to fight for, you just keep fighting whatever presents itself.

I decided my positive goals would be losing weight, as a way of advocating for myself, and being vegetarian, a way of advocating for others — animals.  The goals of course were rather complementary as a vegetarian diet tends to be lower in fat and calories.

I read book after book about nutrition and exercise.  When my aunt said “absolutely not” to gym membership, I figured out other ways to exercise and got into tennis.  I bought a workout DVD — she used this as evidence that I do indeed watch gay porn when she found it — and began seeing results.

The definition in my chest and legs, the endurance, my more angular face, all gave me hope.  Three years later, I am at a healthy weight, I am strong.  I am still fat and saggy though.  My research about this is telling me that sometimes when you have lost a lot of weight, your excess skin does not go away.  In the beginning, I immediately close these sorts of articles on my browser.  They scare me.  I look at more optimistic articles instead.

I need to talk to a doctor.  I need to figure out exactly what I need to do to get into shape.  I am not going to have my flabby skin as a “trophy, a physical reminder of how much weight you have lost”.  Sure, I want to be healthy, but I also am tired of being ashamed of myself.  I want to have a body that I am comfortable with, and this is still not it.  

Telling my aunt about this is not easy.  I do not like admitting that I ever had a weight problem.  Overweight and humiliation are synonymous for me.  It has been months now, I am starting to think those articles might be accurate.  I might need surgery.  My best way to contradict this information, is to stop reading what I come across online — obviously, the internet is not always accurate — and talk to an actual doctor.  My aunt can schedule an appointment for with our primary care physician.  I will come out of my shell, and talk to her and him about my concerns.  I will see what I can do to get rid of this mass of skin.  My aunt will probably be worried when I mention surgery, but I will make it clear that surgery is specifically what I want to avoid.


Her face becomes redder and redder as I tell her the story.  I had asked to speak with her alone, because I am embarrassed.  So we waited until my visiting grandma had left the room to begin.  Once it was her turn to respond, she made sure to speak loud enough for my grandma to hear.

“You are so obsessive.  You fixate on something and you need it, because you are spoiled.  The bullshit you worry about is beyond me.  You want to talk to me in private, because you know fucking well that when other people hear your crap they think you are crazy.  You are crazy.  You know, you are going to die alone.  As much as I have done for you, you are going to be like your mother.  All her life, all she ever wanted to do is lose weight.  You know, that is sick, right?  If you want to be in good shape, stop being so lazy.  Do more around the house, get a second job.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself.  All your mom, Patricia ever wanted was a man to love her.  She wanted to be beautiful for some man.  You are the same.  Pathetic.  And now you have gone so far that you are talking about surgery?  Really?  You have nothing better to do?”

I never got to talk to my doctor about alternatives to surgery.  So instead, I just researched more, hoping what I was reading might be accurate.

A couple weeks later, my aunt wants to talk to me.  So I walk into the room.  “You are working Patrick.  I know you are stubborn and have not stopped thinking about this surgery.  You are going to have your way no matter what, so get out.  You must have enough money. Steve and I think it is what you should do.  We have spoiled you too much anyways.  You need to support yourself, then figure out what other bullcrap you can afford.”


So I did.  I moved out.  I found a surgeon, and I had the operation.  It all went great.


Then I noticed something protruding from my stomach.  I had no idea what it was.  I just knew I did not have surgery and could not go to my aunt or her doctor.  I thought the surgeon would blame me.  So I said nothing, scared that was I was going to die.

I never did die, but it grew.  In time I realized it was a hernia.  It is something fixable.  I have been too ashamed and scared.  I do not want to go to a doctor.  I do not want to have to tell him or her what I would rather not tell anyone.  I do not want to have a hernia, I do not want to have a hernia surgery.

In the weeks after, some people would comment on the bulge in my stomach, and how sweat gathered there when I played tennis.

I was not sure what the point of my losing weight and getting into shape was if I am disfigured anyways.  So with the sadness surrounding my failure, the confirmation that maybe my aunt was right, I began gaining weight again.

I have fought against this intermittently.  I have lost weight here and there, I have gone to yoga, and hiked.  My goal has been to lose all of the weight again, and get into shape before having the hernia corrected.  Being in shape with a hernia seems a lot less embarrassing to me than being out of shape with a hernia.  Yet, whenever I am at yoga, or doing crunches, I imagine a medical catastrophe.  So then I stop, worried I will only make the hernia worse, and I go back to eating.

I am tired of that.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act I have surgery now.  I have an appointment to see a doctor on February third.  I am going to tell him about by hernia and see about having it fixed.  It is going to be embarrassed.  I am going to think about my aunt kicking me out.  I am going to think about how similar my struggles are to my own mother’s.  I am going to be embarrassed, and I am going to survive.  It is what I think I should do.


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The Ontological Precedence of Nietzsche’s Will to Power

Friedrich Nietzsche asserts that the Will to Power is the organizing principle and motivating force behind all existence.  The Will to Power should apply even to fungi or water.  In the most expansive reading of the Will to Power, it takes on the contours of a metaphysical thesis which risks becoming transcendent, similar to Schopenhauer’s own Will.  Schopenhauer’s Will is transcendent because he locates it in the noumenal world as the equivalent to Kant’s thing-in-itself.  Nietzsche, though highly influenced by Schopenhauer’s philosophy, avoids the mistake of making his concept transcendent because to the extent that Will to Power is a metaphysical thesis, it is more precisely an immanent ontological thesis which is critical of teleological claims.  As in Schopenhauer’s use of the Will, Nietzsche also finds psychological extensions for the Will to Power, in explaining human motivation, though Nietzsche will end with a conclusion much more affirming of human existence and willing than Schopenhauer did.

Donovan Miyasaki convincingly argues that Nietzsche’s Will to Power can be correctly described as “tending toward the activity of resistance” (264).  When he states this, Miyasaki is building off of Bernard Reginster’s characterization that “will to power is not simply a desire for growth or creation but a tendency toward the specific activity of overcoming a resistance” (263).  Reginster is mistaken, because in his characterization he seems to view Will to Power as goal oriented.  If the Will to Power is goal oriented, then Nietzsche has fallen into a contradiction, by rejecting teleology, while using a teleological principle as the alternative.  Overcoming then cannot be the goal.  Will to Power has no goal, but is simply naked resistance.

This resistance is very similar to how Schopenhauer described his own concept of the Will, when he called it “an endless striving” (163).  Whether we view Will to Power as resistance or striving, it is a basic process which lacks any motivation or explanation.  Miyasaki believes this is consistent with claims throughout Nietzsche’s work that the Will to Power is both goalless and a discharge of strength (263).  In order for an individual Will to Power — or individual organizing force — to be independent, versus part of another Will to Power, it must be capable of resistance.  Hence, resistance can easily be seen as requisite of anything existing as an individual entity.  When something, even something inanimate is acted upon, it resists, or it ceases to exist.  For instance, if I step on a sand castle, it will cease to exist, because it cannot resist the force of my own power.  On the other hand, if I jump onto a large boulder, it will not cease to exist, because it can withstand or resist the force of my own power.  The boulder is not resisting my force because it wants to continue to exist; rather, it is resisting my force because it exists.  This reminds one of Nietzsche’s assertion that “the popular mind separates the lightning from its flash and takes the latter for an action, for the operation of a subject called lightning, so popular morality also separates strength from expressions of strength” (45).  The resistance of the boulder then can only be seen as the boulder somehow having a goal or deliberate action if we separate resistance from its very existence.

Viewed from another perspective, it can easily be argued that Will to Power as overcoming is just a special case of resistance.  It is resistance that is so successful, it not only withstands, but destroys or assimilates that which was previously an independent manifestation of the Will to Power.  This reading consistently avoids any teleological claims, “to discharge strength is to make a goal of goallesness” (Miyasaki 263).  Another writer speaking along the same lines as Miyasaki says “In Nietzsche’s words: ‘All unity is only as an organization and interplay unity’.  A variable and relational multiplicity that is kept together is an organization–that which keeps it together is, according to Nietzsche, will to power” (Aydin 30).  Saying that what is kept together is Will to Power strikes me as saying that it is an entity insofar as it resists against everything external to it, it resists those forces external to itself.

Writers such as Ivan Soll argue that Nietzsche’s Will to Power as a metaphysical thesis is not properly supported and seems tenuous (425).  Soll identifies a stronger foundation for the Will to Power as a psychological thesis, and believes that this can be considered independently of the Will to Power as a metaphysical thesis (428).  I was originally convinced by Soll, as I have long seen the Will to Power as being strongest in its psychological incarnation.  Miyasaki has changed my perspective on the relative merits of the psychological and metaphysical interpretations of Will to Power.  This is primarily because Will to Power as resistance inherent in the entity overcomes my earlier concerns that Will to Power as a metaphysical thesis was indeed subject to objections that it assumed teleology even while Nietzsche denied the existence of any teleological principles.  Now that we have Will to Power as in a sense the object itself — just as the flash and the lightning are not independent — we can see how it is possible for this concept to be absent of any directional quality.  

Another issue I had with the Will to Power as a metaphysical thesis is I felt it would violate Kant’s limits.   I never took the position that a position must be wrong if it goes against Kant — as Kant could of course be wrong himself — but that if his philosophical heirs are going to directly contradict him they should provide an argument as to why Kant’s boundaries are misguided.  Schopenhauer does transgress some of these boundaries, and this is because he identifies the Will with the thing-in-itself.  Nietzsche does not fall prey to this, because rather than making the Will to Power transcendent, he makes it immanent.  Will to Power is universal in the physical world on this reading, but Nietzsche never makes any claim that I am aware of which ties the Will to Power to the noumena or to any plane outside of possible experience.  To the extent that the Will to Power is metaphysical, it is only in this constitutive, ontological sense.

With my previous objections to the Will to Power as a metaphysical thesis removed, I am driven to positively embrace it when I see how durable it is when defined as resistance.  I cannot think of any example in which something existing cannot be described as being in a relationship of resistance with whatever is external or apart from it.  I am also confident that Nietzsche himself would endorse this interpretation; in On the Genealogy of Morals, he among other things specifically describes Will to Power as “thirst for resistances” (45).  Whereas on Soll’s reading, he is forced to admit that as a purely psychological thesis, Will to Power cannot even explain all human actions.  Soll uses the example of a man desiring the pleasure of a warm bath as such an instance in which there is no drive for power, but rather, simple pleasure (Soll 444).  However, if we look at Will to Power as ontological resistance, our body and the warm water are both mutually resisting each other during the bath.  Our pleasure could be seen as pleasure in resistance.  Assuming one likes a hot bath, she probably likes it as hot as it can be without causing actual pain.  At a certain threshold, the heat would be too much and she would risk injury, or in other words, she would not be able to resist the damaging effects of the hot water.  On a more purely psychological level, we can say that she wills to get into the hot bath to resist coldness.  In this sense, the warmth of the water is a means by which she resists a current state.  Once she is warmed by the water, she will eventually exit.  She is done bathing because there is no longer any resistance to overcome in that regard.  Staying in the bath indefinitely — though maybe for a long time — would not be satisfying because it would mean she has become static.

Ciano Aydin also views the Will to Power as being ontological in nature (25).  He is more explicit than Miyasaki in making connections between this ontological Will to Power and actual human actions and moral systems.  Using language similar to Miyasaki’s he describes the person’s Will to Power as “the force that is released through the discharge of the tension by which a stronger ‘will to power’ organization overpowers a weaker ‘will to power’ organization.  This overpowering is only possible if a ‘will to power’ organization possesses more force than it needs to organize itself, that is, to persist” (Aydin 32).

In testing his own view of the Will to Power as ontological and a “organizational-struggle” to see if it can encompass Nietzsche’s moral claims, Aydin looks at decadence (25, 40).  Will to Power is organization because the resistance as Miyasaki calls it is resisting disintegration by trying to preserve itself (Aydin 41).  Because of this, master morality expresses its Will to Power as a continual striving to gain more power over oneself and others.  If this person is too successful in organizing her Will to Power, she ironically risks decadence however (Aydin 41).  This decadence is brought about by an inability to grow once there is no more struggle, which is the other crucial half of the organization-struggle concept of Will to Power.  The master must always challenge herself, once she wipes out all of her enemies or dissenters, she is necessarily decadent.

This reminds me a lot of Hitler and the Nazi regime.  I have argued against many people who claim that Hitler actually embodied Nietzsche’s overman and was expressing his Will to Power in a way that Nietzsche must endorse.  Yet, Hitler’s primary goal was self-preservation of what he viewed as the ideal type of human.  A narrow focus on self-preservation is a characteristic of the slave.  The slave can only feel her Will to Power by making others weaker, not by making herself stronger.  Nietzsche regularly laments this. As Aydin says:

A certain ground form can be so successful in its submission of opposing “will to power” organizations that it destroys all internal and external struggle.  Because a “will to power” organization only exists and grows by virtue of struggle, excessive success has disintegrating consequences in the long run.  The structure of form contains both growth and decay.” (Aydin 41)

Conversely, decadence can also occur when not enough organization is attained and one descends into internal strife (Aydin 41).  This view of Will to Power being a drive in humans towards organization is further grounded by Nietzsche’s original German.  There are two German words that can be translated into “power”, Reicht and Macht.  Reicht refers to the sort of militaristic power that Hitler sought, while Macht refers to the something more similar to self-discipline (Sawyer 29 October 2015).  Will to Power is always active, insofar as it is not an end goal, but constantly seeks to organize itself into something more.   Anything which halts this growth, be it too little power or too much power leads to decadence and slave morality.

While all existence is Will to Power when looked at from an ontological perspective, this does not mean that all human actions are healthy expressions of Will to Power.  Insofar as we view Will to Power as something positive, it makes sense that we will favor instances in which one is actually able to enter into a process of achieving power.  To this extent Aydin says “A ‘will to power’ organization is strong or healthy insofar as it does justice to its nature or essence, which is the directedness at more power… So if the characterizations ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ can be understood as value judgments… Nietzsche seems to found ethics on ontology” (Aydin 44).  This view is corroborated by J. Keeping.  Keeping argues that this allows Nietzsche to critique moral systems on an extra-moral criteria, specifically the Will to Power (e74).  Will to Power allows Nietzsche to escape the charges of moral relativism that Nietzsche often faces since he does not recognize any objective morality as existing (Keeping e74).  As Nietzsche said, “there are no moral phenomena, there is only a moral interpretation of phenomena” (Nietzsche qtd. in Solomon 96).

If Will to Power as a psychological thesis was independent of Will to Power in its ontological incarnation, it would be much more difficult for Nietzsche to escape this claim. This is because a moral relativist sees morality as being dependent on the particular preferences of an individual or society.  Nietzsche obviously prefers some moralities over others, or at least aspects of some moralities over others.  If he bases his preferences on a preference humans have because of their psychology, he has not escaped relativism, because a psychological preference reduces to preference writ large.  I have often argued with people who claim that while denying the objective existence of reality, Nietzsche is without realizing it, advocating for the truth of his own morality which prefers the overman and not the slave.  Instead Nietzsche is making an argument based on good versus bad, not good versus evil.  Will to Power is expressed healthily when it is able to grow.  Though the slave also exhibits Will to Power, insofar as the slave seeks power, her expression of Will to Power is wanting since it collapses into decadence.  

Nietzsche’s embrace is contrary to the view of Will that Schopenhauer holds.  Schopenhauer actually praises asceticism which he expressly calls “denial of the will-to-live” (379).  This takes us back to Aydin who convincingly argues that Nietzsche identifies Will to Power with both “organization” and “struggle” and that decadence results when either half is missing (39).  Undoubtedly, Nietzsche would have considered Schopenhauer a decadent.  Since Schopenhauer feels you cannot stop the Will, the best defense he finds is the life of the ascetic who makes herself numb to the world.  In other words, she preserves herself by going inward.  This way she can escape defeat by not trying, and in that sense, convince herself she is powerful.  This is similar to Nietzsche’s story of the lambs who make themselves feel powerful by pretending to be morally superior to the bird of prey who eats them (45).

Nietzsche’s Will to Power is best understood as both a metaphysical or ontological and a psychological thesis.  His position though similar to Schopenhauer’s in many respects, is easier to defend because Nietzsche does not make the mistake of placing his Will to Power beyond possible experience; in fact, Will to Power is the totality of phenomenal existence.  Nietzsche’s philosophy is also more palatable, and in my view, useful from a practical perspective, because it offers us as positive path forward in life.  This path is not a moral one, yet, something need not be moral to be healthy and fulfilling.  Just as importantly, we must remember that this path is extra-moral, not immoral.  Those who try to use Nietzsche’s philosophy to justify tyranny or cruelty are pretending that Nietzsche’s philosophy is more capricious than it actually is.  I assert that a stronger understanding of the ontological grounding of the Will to Power will help alleviate this notion that in denying morality; Nietzsche thus denies any rational means by which to condemn or praise as healthy certain modes of living.

Works Cited

Aydin, Ciano. “Nietzsche on Reality as Will to Power: Toward an “Organization–Struggle”

Model.” The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 33 (2007): 25-48. Article.

Keeping, J. “The Thousand Goals and the One Goal: Morality and Will to Power in Nietzsche’s

Zarathustra.” European Journal of Philosophy 20 (2011): E73-85. Article.

Miyasaki, Donovan.  “Nietzsche’s Will to Power As Naturalist Critical Ontology.”  History of

Philosophy Quarterly Volume 22, Number 3 (2013): 251-269.  Article.

Nietzsche, Friedrich.  On The Genealogy of Morals.  Trans. Walter Arnold. Kaufmann and R. J.

Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Will to Power. Existentialism. Comp. Robert Solomon.  New York: Oxford

UP, 2005. 96. Print.

Sawyer, Dane.  “Continental Philosophy.”  Class lecture presented at Pitzer College.  Claremont,

California.  29 October 2015.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation: Volume I. Trans. E.F.J. Payne.

N.p.: Dover, 1969. Print.

Soll, Ivan.  “Nietzsche Disempowered: Reading the Will to power out of Nietzsche’s Philosophy.”  The Journal of Nietzsche Studies Volume 46, Issue 3 (2015): 425-450.  Article.

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Grandson, Nephew, Son

I know two women who have lost a daughter.  My Grandma and my Aunt Susan.  More than my own mother, these two women raised me and made me the person I am today.  They both need me, and I do not know how to be there for both of them.

Long before I was ever born, a story of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse was being told.  When my Grandma married my grandfather, she had no idea what a paranoid schizophrenic is.  So untreated mental illness added to the tapestry of dysfunction that would be passed down to her own children.  My Grandmother could not help my grandpa cope, she did not know how to cope herself.

They raised five daughters.  These daughters were taught that they had to fend for themselves.  Some of them like my mom would spend their entire lives looking for love, looking for someone to be the parents they never had.  My Aunt Sue took a different lesson from this.  She was just as quick as her mother, my Grandma, to fight and stand up for herself.  This was a wonderful skill when she needed it.  She never let people walk over her.  Unfortunately neither she nor my Grandma were able to feel secure when there was no one to fight.  They looked very hard for enemies.

As I child all I knew was faction.  Sometimes someone was our best friend, and then the next week we had to disown that person, or that person disowned us.  I was always confused as to how people who we had always loved were now enemies to be hated.  I went along with it though, assuming there was some logic to it that I had not discovered.

Several years ago my Grandma stopped talking to my Aunt.  There were a lot of family problems going on.  My Grandma and her other daughters decided my Aunt must be at fault.  Since I am close to my Aunt, they stopped talking to me as well.  It was never announced, I just was not invited to my Grandma’s birthday, when my other Aunt’s talked about their family, I was not included.

Earlier this year in January, I found out that my mom was unresponsive in the hospital.  It was the first time I heard about her in a few years.  Days later she was dead, and my Grandma needed me back in her life.

She needed me and not my Aunt.  My Aunt has been the only constant in my life.  She along with my Grandma were my rocks, until my Grandma stopped talking to me.  Then I had to look at how to live life with just my Aunt.  Now, I suddenly have my Grandma back, an old and sassy woman who goes back and forth between lucidity and seeming senility.  


My Aunt’s daughter died when she was only four years old.  After her death my aunt became pregnant several times.  Inexplicably, they all ended with miscarriage.  Sometimes my Aunt calls me her son, sometimes she calls me her nephew.  I am always proud when she calls me her son.  When she calls me her nephew, I know she is just not in a mood to be so bold.  Over the course of her life, she has lost the people she loves most.  Some of them have been lost to death, most of them have been lost to the dysfunction we were born into.


When my mother died, I got a phone call.  My Aunt never received a phone call letting her know that her sister had passed away.  When my Grandma told me that she needed me back in my life, she did not mention needing her daughter who is still alive.

If my Grandma was younger, if she seemed to better understand the few conversations we have had on the phone since my mom died, I would expect her to talk to my Aunt.  My Grandma is dying herself.  She is her most lucid when she tells me on the phone that she is hungry for death.  She has lived too long, hurt too much.  She does not fear death, she wants the peace that it guarantees her in her mind.  She wants me to visit her.  To hold her hand and let her know what I am doing with my life now.  She wants me to talk to her about the books I am reading like I used to years ago.  She wants me to go out and pick flowers I know she loves.  I knew her tastes better than any of her other grandchildren.

I can do this, I can be there for my beautiful, loving, aggressive, and dysfunctional Grandma.  When I start making that drive to my Grandma’s, I fear my Aunt will only be able to call me her nephew.

How do I tell my Grandma and my Aunt, that they are both my mom?  How do I tell them that I cannot dispense justice or fix anything.  All I can do is give them the love I have always had for them.

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A Letter to Walter

Dear Walter,

You were too good to realize that I was not.  You laughed at everything I said and in talking to you, I started thinking I had something to say.  When my cousins taunted me, I learned to be quiet.  I became someone in my head.  That inner dialogue kept me alive.  It kept me occupied at least.  You were unintimidating enough that at some point, I trusted you enough to talk.  I think you said, “he is quiet at first, but once you get him to talk, he won’t shut up.”  You were trying to convince your friends that I was worth talking to.  If they just gave me a chance, they would see how cool I was.  I tried.  I tried talking to them because you wanted me to.  I tried being as quick with my responses as I was when it was just you and I.  I simply could not talk in front of them though.  I saw your confidence leave your face, but you insisted on keeping a smile there.  You were not mad at me.  You did not understand why I clammed up, but once they were gone, you just went back to joking with me.  You saved me.

Before you realized you were the only one I could talk to, you idolized me.  Every day after school you would drone on about your friend Patrick.  I know because once your sister realized she was friends with my cousin, she told her.  My cousin said your sister was sick and tired of hearing about this Patrick.  When your sister finally met me a few years later, I wondered how horrified she was.  The hilarious and genius person you went on and on about was an awkward mute.

Our friendship survived all of that.  When you realized I could not throw a ball, and that I was just as likely to kick a soccer ball into my team’s goal as the opponent’s, you did not know how to verbalize your reaction, but I saw it.  Well intentioned bewilderment, on the face of a boy who was too young and good to know what to do with a freak.

I remember talking to you about my mom.  You knew what she was doing.  You did not pity me and you did not challenge me.  Instead, you were engrossed in the story of my life.  You gave what I was going through a narrative form.  The actions my family misinterpreted and ignored only became a unified whole when I explained them to you.  I understood myself and my goals with you.

You are the most homophobic asshole I have ever known.

I felt normal when I was with you.  When I was around anyone else, I had to hide myself.  With you, I forgot that I was gay.  I thought I could be more than that.  So fuck you for taking that from me.  Fuck you for not letting me be whole in the context of the one friendship I ever had.  I resent that you found out.  I am angry with you for not going along with the narrative you let me have for all those years of our friendship.

You stopped talking to me.  You did not say anything, you just disappeared.  I saw your mom, and over the next few years, she would let me know how you were doing.  When I ran into you and the son you had, you were happy to see me.  You gave me your phone number.

And I am glad, because I want to tell you about my mom.  I want to get you caught up.  She is dead.  I was just as indifferent to her undignified death as thought I would be.  When I tell other people that, they think I am cruel or cold.  That or they think I must need help.  I want to tell you so you can giggle your innocent and naive response.

I want to tell you what it is like to not have a family.  I am revising this a little.  I had thought of telling you that I blame you.  I blamed you, because once you found out I was gay and stopped talking to me, I had no one to run to.  No one with which to be different than who I really am, that is to say, the same as everyone else.  I wanted to blame you, because even if you could not have kept me from losing every single person I loved, you could have shielded me from it by being the exception.  So I blamed you for everything wrong in my life.  I blame you for my failing school.  I blame you for being depressed and fat.  I blame you for being poor and disconnected.  I blame you for being dyslexic and awkward.  I blame you for any accident of my life, because I would have been immune from them if I was with you.

I wanted to feel my anger dissolve.  It might be better now that you know, now that you have had time to cool off.  You gave me a fake number.  

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The Genealogy of Morals: Understanding Good & Evil — PRESENTATION

Nietzsche heralded the death of God with his famous “God is dead.”

This pronouncement concerned our belief in God and the value of the concept of God.  Nietzsche’s intended audience — philosophers and scientists — were no longer in a position to maintain belief in God.  Just as importantly, the concept of God held no net positive value in the for the individual or society in the eyes of Nietzsche.

The concept of God — specifically the Abrahamic God as propounded by Christianity — was a cultural and societal sickness.  In the history of the West, Nietzsche felt we had a healthier example in the ancient Greeks and Romans.

“A person is thought to be great-souled if he claims much and deserves much.  He that claims less than he deserves is small-souled.  The great-souled man is justified in despising other people–his estimates are correct; but most proud men have no good ground for their pride.  He is fond of conferring benefits, but ashamed to receive them, because the former is a mark of superiority and the latter of inferiority.  It is also characteristic of the great-souled men never to ask help from others, or only with reluctance, but to render aid willingly; ad to be haughty towards men of position and fortune, but courteous towards those of moderate station.  He must be open both in love and in hate, since concealment shows timidity; and care more for the truth than for what people will think; he is outspoken and frank, except when speaking with ironical self-depreciation, as he does to common people.  He does not bear a grudge, for it is not a mark of greatness of soul to recall things against people, especially the wrongs they have done himself, even of his enemies, except when he deliberately intends to give offence.  Such then being the great-souled man, the corresponding character on the side of deficiency is the small-souled man, and on that of excess the vain man.” (Aristotle, The Nichomachaen Ethics)

The Jewish religion propounded weakness and a hatred for this world.  It was a spiritual contempt.  Through the person of Jesus Christ, these values ended up overtaking the Western world.  Nietzsche saw irony in the Church leadership being based in Rome.  It was in his view an inversion of values by which slave morality triumphed over the master morality of the classical world.  The notion of an all powerful God dying on a cross was antithetical to the nobles of Rome and Greece.

If we are to speak culturally as opposed to theologically, many of us would locate the positive power of Christianity in its concern for the lesser and its encouragement that we help them.  We tend to see a spirit of charity and perhaps even tolerance in the Christian ethos.  Thus, many people, even those who do not have a literal belief in the bible or Christian God see it as benign.

Nietzsche did not see Christianity as a religion of compassion.  He saw it as one which seeks to glorify weakness and ressentiment against those who are stronger.  Christianity is a religion which seeks to ameliorate the individual in favor of what Nietzsche calls the “herd.”  This is all rooted in what Nietzsche calls slave morality, as opposed to the moralities we saw before, which he would calls master morality.

What exactly is master morality?  Master morality springs naturally from those who are positively inclined towards life and themselves.  Master morality affirms the world we live in, and the natures we have.

Masters may be physically or economically strong.  The notion that “master” is synonymous with “dictator” or “brute” is erroneous though.  A master is not necessarily in charge of anything.  Nietzsche uses the term in a psychological, not political sense.

The defining mark of master morality is gratitude.  Specifically, gratitude for life and this world.

If masters have a fundamentally positive view of themselves and their world, they will tend to have a set of ethics which encourages their human nature.  Things like strength and success will be seen as good.

Masters will seek power in a very open and honest manner.  Their enemies will not be objects of hatred but of competition.  Their enemies will not be imagined to be evil or weak.   Rather, their enemies will be fellow nobles.  In defeating their enemies, they will be doing themselves honor, because they have accomplished something great.

The weak, the contemptible, these sort, are simply beneath the masters, they are not worthy opponents.

The masters are capable of great love and great cruelty.  They are willing to destroy and take down.

Does this make them evil?  According to Nietzsche, not at all.  In fact, progress is necessitated by the willingness to destroy.

All of existence for Nietzsche is will to power.  This means that all life strives and must strive for power.  This includes humans, other animals, and plants.  Both masters and slaves seek power.  They just do it differently.  Masters seek power more openly, which is in Nietzsche’s view, more healthy.

Destruction has a negative connotation though.  Is Nietzsche just fundamentally segregated from reasonable individuals when he makes these sorts of claims?

I would argue he is not at all.  Nietzsche had good reason to argue for a willingness to destroy.

Democracy in the Western world has destroyed tyranny and the former grip of absolute monarchs.

Technology and enterprise has destroyed many industries, fortunes, ways of life.

Science ruthlessly attacks and questions its own theories.

This is all destruction.

This does not mean that all destruction is good.  Certainly, when Nietzsche called for a willingness to destroy, he was not asking for us to be needlessly cruel.  Rather, he was reminding us that cowardice is not in and of itself a virtue.  We must be willing to overcome ourselves, to destroy what must be destroyed to allow for innovation and renewal.

Yet, culturally, we are quite hesitant.  This explains in Nietzsche’s view the durability of Christianity.  Christianity, something which at this point offers nothing positive in his view, is still alive and strong.

Nietzsche stated that it is not about having the strength of one’s convictions, but the strength to overcome one’s convictions that is important.  Tearing down the edifice which has sustained Western civilization for centuries with no clear alternative could indeed be scary, and uncomfortable.  That is not an excuse for intellectuals, and overmen to ignore the challenge.

Only in tearing down these edifices, can new possibilities become clear.  Our first commitment must be to the truth, even if that means admitting we are not in full possession of the truth, or that our most basic values may not indeed be supported by the truth that we do find.

Can we overcome it?

Slave Morality

As opposed to master morality, is slave morality.  This is the morality which springs from the weak.  Again though, we must remember that through this sort of morality may exist among those who are politically or economically disenfranchised, it does not necessarily.  Nietzsche is using the term in a psychological sense.  The best way I can phrase it is by saying that those who inherently have a slave perspective are slaves to their own ressentiment.  Their view of the world is fundamentally defensive.

Being defensive, they seek and desire the collective protection of the herd.  Going even further, they are quick to ostracize any member of the herd they feel  might be too strong.

Hence the notion that the weak will inherit the earth and such.  Nietzsche feels that as the most notorious incarnation of slave morality, Christianity is teaching people to hate and fear this world — including even our bodies and minds as being inherently sinful.  We are all sinners as compared to a perfect God outside of this world.

Nietzsche pointed out that the Greeks often saw their gods as obnoxious and devious.  If someone did something horrible, they would assume that a god must have been manipulating her.  They did not ascribe her misdeeds to her character.  Christianity does the opposite.  Our goodness comes from a God outside of this world, and all of our sin is of this world.  It is a very pessimistic view of our natures and our world.

We tend to view — by “we” I am just talking about general contemporary society — the promise of heaven or an afterlife as an essential comfort to believe in, regardless of if it literally exists or not.  Nietzsche did not have this positive view of heaven.  Nietzsche felt Christianity served two primary purposes: the first being to a method of rewarding the faithful outside of this world, since their God could not make their lives better in this world and more importantly, the afterlife was about punishment.  Today, I get the sense that the afterlife is primarily perceived as being about Heaven.  Nietzsche’s views based on his readings were that the primary purpose of the concept of the afterlife is placing in hell those people which Christians felt deserved it.

A great comfort for many early Christians was that their enemies, those who often had much more power than they did, would suffer in another life.  This is ressentiment.

The blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned, in order that their bliss be more delightful for them.—To be precise, what we find in Summa Theologiae, III, Supplementum, Q 94, Art. 1, is this: ‘In order that the bliss of the saints may be more delightful for them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, it is given to them to see perfectly the punishment of the damned’”

Since slave morality is about weakness, the first and foremost consideration is protection.  The value of society is collective protection.  We will do for others, so that others will do for us.


So is Nietzsche calling for us to return to ancient Rome and Greece?  No.  Nietzsche detested faith in “opposite values”.  This is important to discuss here.  Certainly Nietzsche sees master morality as the type of morality exuded by the strong and slave morality as a sickness.  However, sickness is not always bad. When speaking about the bad conscience, Nietzsche said it was an illness, but an illness in the sense that pregnancy is an illness.  This can easily be extended to his views on slave morality in general.

Slave morality is not necessarily all bad.  It is certainly all unhealthy.  That does not mean we cannot grow from or learn from some of it.

Nietzsche is not calling for us to choose between master and slave morality, though in fairness, he certainly wants us to err on the side of master morality.

To be more specific, I would say that Nietzsche wants us to embrace the mentality of master morality, while reflecting and learning from what we can of the tenets of slave morality.

A good example of this was the Renaissance.  He felt the Renaissance was just this, a return to master morality, albeit, a more complex and reflective than the classical version

Sadly in his view, this spirit was crushed by the Reformation.

Human Nature

“Jesus said to his Jews:  ‘The law was for servants–love God as I love him, as his son!  What are morals to us sons of God!’”  (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, page 91)

Slave morality assumes a sinful nature for human beings.  If we continue with this assumption, then moral obligations are very important.  We need a method by which to obligate people to act contrary to their sinful will.

This is not an assumption that Nietzsche was willing to accept.  Yes, we strive for power.  Striving for power need not be about injuring others.  In fact, such injury is much more likely to inflicted by the defensive type who fears her fellow human.

If instead we look at people as fundamentally good we can look to their natures as a guide for behavior.  For instance, as far as I know, no non-human animal has any system of morality.  None act out of moral obligation.

Animals kill and love absolutely innocently.

In many ways, our dogs are the overmen Nietzsche famously speaks of.

Should we all seek to become dogs then?  Is this Nietzsche’s great answer?  Not entirely.

The key difference between us and dogs is our intelligence and ability to reflect.  I am not suggesting we sacrifice our intelligence or reflective capabilities.

However, if we move beyond the intellectual realm, there is much we should imitate from our dogs.

Our dogs are not kind or loving because they have an obligation to be such.  They simply are such.  It would be superfluous to have a moral system which obligated dogs to love the people they are cared for by.

Yet, dogs can also be vicious and violent.  Dogs will attack, harm and perhaps even kill a stranger.  This might be an unknown other dog or a human intruder.  Dogs are predators and might also take joy in perhaps killing a cat, duck, and plenty of other small animals.

Nietzsche would say such violence is a healthy expression of the dog, or a healthy discharge of power.  As I said earlier, it kills innocently.  There is no shame or regret.  The dog forgets quickly.

Certainly, earlier in our prehistory — not that modern humans do not kill wantonly — tribal warfare and fear of the other was quite common.  If we were competing with other predators — say bears — or with another tribe of human beings, we would be quick to kill them if we could.

Even if we now recognize that goodness is innate to at least some extent in human beings, as it is in dogs, we still have this problem.  Our ancestors and our dogs are both quite willing to kill and inflict pain on the other.

Is this where morality and moral obligations are needed?  To perhaps enforce consistency?

In my view, this is where our intellectual awareness and ability to reflect is of decisive importance.  

Hume said that the intellect is a slave of the passions.  Nietzsche agreed with this.  Nietzsche would also agree when Hume went on to say that it is a very useful slave.

In my own words, our intellect is our most powerful tool at our disposal.  I do not believe it can create values though.  It can only help us to understand the values and inclinations we already have.  To the extent that we have conflicting values — say of empathy and lust for dominance — it can help us negotiate between them.  Its role as a mediator in these situations is still not tantamount with being the creator of values however.

Throughout human history, I believe we have shown we have the capacity to extend our natural empathy and compassion to wider and wider communities.  For instance, we have broken down barriers that have existed in our history of tribe, race, nationalism, gender, and in some cases, species.  (for clarification, I am not pretending that any of these problems have been solved or are close to being solved.  Rather, I am simply stating that we have numerous examples of progress on these fronts at least being possible, and in some cases, that progress seems to be resilient through time.)

Can these barriers only be solved by convincing ourselves that we are inherently evil or sinful?  For instance, that our desire for power is evil?

As stated earlier, Nietzsche was against faith in opposite values.  One of the reasons this is so alarming to Nietzsche, that we would call some things good and others evil, is that many “evil” actions are necessary throughout history.

Without the American Revolution, French Revolution, American Civil War, WWI, WWII, and many others, our world would be much different.  We might not all agree with these wars, but can we say the world would be fundamentally better if we refused to fight all wars?  All wars, regardless of how noble, require the taking of human lives, including civilians.

For Nietzsche, such discussion loses the subtle distinctions and nuances needed to in a sophisticated manner determine what will be the best path forward for our society.

Our drives, including our aggressive ones, are not so easily repressed.  A healthier alternative is to sublimate or direct our aggressions towards creation and inquiry.  For instance, philosophers have a warlike zeal for truth.  So is a warlike inclination always bad?

“There are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena.”  (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil page 85)


If we end up deciding that moral obligations are necessary to curb human evil, then a discussion of punishment is called for.

Nietzsche points out that punishment did not originate as a means of justice or rehabilitation.  Punishment often included gruesome torture.  The goal being to humiliate and weaken as opposed to rehabilitate.

Nietzsche saw the original relationship being a relationship between creditor and debtor.  If I kill a member of another family, I or my entire family is now in the debt of that family.  In order to make the debt even, they have the right to kill me or a member of my family.

Since the creditor tends to be more powerful, the revenge could sometimes be absolutely unchecked.  With the maturation of the state, different laws and such were put in place to codify just exactly what punishments could pay for which debts.

Eventually, we saw that the person owed a debt not just to the creditor but to the society.  Hence the notion that “he has paid his debt to society.”

Though of course, how does one pay a debt by suffering?  This certainly goes against the philosophy of Socrates and Plato.  The persona Socrates certainly makes this clear in the Republic when he says that punishment only makes weaker and to make someone weaker is to make them less good (this by the way, is master morality.  An association of power and goodness, versus slave morality, which equates the good with the weak).

Only later does punishment to at least some extent become about rehabilitation.  This only makes sense if one is posited to have free will.  So the notion that the criminal should be punished because he has free will is in Nietzsche’s view an afterthought or attempt at rationalization.  

We want to separate the offender from his action and say he could have chosen differently.  For Nietzsche this is like saying that the cougar could have chosen not to kill the deer and thus stands to be justly punished by a tribunal.

Though determinism is a whole debate unto itself, I will point out that Nietzsche saw determinism as being real and felt that there were no serious arguments for free will.  He felt the persistence of free will as a stance owed more to the value the concept has in society — for instance, in justifying punishment — versus any convincing reasoning for it.

Nietzsche also pointed out that the stronger a society becomes, the more confidant it becomes, the less severe its punishments become.  Nietzsche felt that this at least was a positive sign.  As we become more powerful, those who harm us impact us less and less.  It is like an animal deciding she can live with her fleas.

There might be an implied contradiction here.  Nietzsche wants us to be willing to destroy, to attack our enemies… but not to punish?

What is punishment other than trying to make someone repay a debt to society or trying to make someone suffer?  There does not seem to be much positive value in this.

Does this mean that we cannot seek to stop someone from committing murder?  Not at all.  Just as we relocate bears, sometimes shoot and kill cougars, et cetera, without calling any of this punishment.

Certainly, if someone is a danger to our society, and we are not strong enough to ignore it, it makes sense that we would stop it.

To pretend we are doing this for the offender, to rehabilitate him, is laughable though.


Nietzsche encouraged forgetfulness.  Nietzsche felt that the overman would not forgive.  Rather, he would simply forget.  Forgiveness is just one more aspect of slave morality.  It is the notion that others owe us a debt, and we can makes ourselves stronger by forgiving them.  To believe you can forgive someone is to believe that at least in that scenario, you are superior.  The other person may not be able to offer you anything else, but in accepting your forgiveness he can at least accept your superiority.  This is an example of how the weak pursue the will to power.

A more noble view would simply be that the other person owes you nothing.  Nietzsche once said that Jesus should not have died for our sins — he simply kept us in his debt by doing that — what would have been truly noble would have been if he died for our guilt, for our shame.  If he died and said we had nothing to be forgiven for.

So to be clear, I am not talking about intellectual forgetting.  Rather, about the willingness to let go of perceived wrongs and slights against us.

Nietzsche felt a society with the best sort of memory for these things would be most unpleasant and unhappy.  It would be focused on sacrifices and on reliving the pain and suffering.  The process he describes strikes me as societal trauma.

It reflects almost perfectly what some contemporary researchers have to say about trauma in the individual.  That trauma is a residual energy in our physiology that for whatever reason has not been discharged.  In seeking catharsis, we simply relive this trauma –and ritualize it as a society might — and make it worse.  We never overcome it and instead become engrossed in it more and more.

We should forget the wrongs done to us, to the extent possible.  We should care for others.  Not out of obligation or “selflessness”.  To do good out of obligation is very contractual in nature.  The point might be to get into heaven, to ensure that those we help will help us in return, or simply to makes us feel less “animal.”  The very best and most compassionate actions we perform should be the ones in which we are mindful of ourselves.

We should care for others because we recognize ourselves in others.  If we love ourselves, we will not want to harm what we see of ourselves in others.  For Nietzsche, the slave defined what was good as being whatever is not evil.  His first focus is on what is evil.  The master or overman however defines first what is good.  Good is anything like him and those he respects.  Bad is whatever is lowly, whatever is not good.  

Nietzsche said that in master morality one only has obligations to one’s equals.  Without context this might sound terrifying.  He qualifies this by going on to say that, without such obligations, one will treat all those who are weaker than him in accordance with his nature.  If he is a noble human being according to Nietzsche, this will she treats them with kindness.

Who are those who are weaker?  Nietzsche specifically includes animals, “A noble person has no duties to animals but treats them in accordance with his feelings which means, if he is noble, with pity.”  Like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche is a well-known animal lover.

Sadism, cruelty, et cetera springs from dysfunctional people, or sickly people, not from fully realized people.  Thus the overman, would lack any spirit of sadism, or cruelty.


I agree with Nietzsche on atheism and determinism.  It is hard for me to see how someone could be an atheist and determinist and still disagree with Nietzsche’s critique.

For those who do believe in God or free will, there is obviously much ground for disagreement with Nietzsche.  Neither of these topics are anything Nietzsche ever argued much about.  He took both atheism and determinism to be given.  It is my belief that this is because he felt Kant and Schopenhauer had been authoritative on the matter (for clarification Kant was not an atheist, but his philosophy was further developed in that direction by Schopenhauer who was both atheist and determinist).

Since they were givens for Nietzsche, I did not find it appropriate to try to prove God does not exist or that determinism is real.  These are both very important topics in and of themselves and deserve to be treated on their own, and not merely as an aside in a presentation on Nietzsche.

For me then, we should today focus on the societal implications of Nietzsche’s thought.

As opposed to asking if Christianity can be justified scientifically or theologically, I believe we should ask what has been the influence of Christianity on society?

Is punishment humane, especially within the context of determinism?

Is human nature fundamentally good or evil?
Thank you.

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