Nietzsche versus the Nanny State

neitzsche vs nanny state

Recently my wife Carol appeared on the radio program Equal Time for Freethought. The topic was the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, a “closely held” corporation (i.e., owned and run by a single family). The court agreed that the fundamentalist Green family did not have to violate their conscience by having to provide employees abortafacient methods of birth control (while happily providing 16 other methods that prevent conception rather than nipping it in the bud). I don’t want to get into that issue here, though I agree with the Court’s ruling. Instead, I want to focus on the reaction the other panelist had when Carol dared venture the opinion that advocates of the Nanny State are catering to a lack of moral fibre on the part of those dependant on it and thus reinforcing it. Instead, people ought to be taught to think critically, Carol said, to make good life decisions, and to learn self-reliance rather than being addicts co-dependant on a government only too happy to reattach them to the umbilical cord—rather like the human batteries in The Matrix, exploited by the Machines which keep them in a blissful coma.

Carol had uttered unspeakable blasphemy in the ears of today’s Liberals. It is impermissible to suggest that anyone is to blame for their disadvantages. Such a stance is understandable. Liberals rightly loathe the practice of “blaming the victim,” damning the poor for their poverty, as if they were simply lazy when in fact they are “lost and afraid in a world they never made.” An excellent dismantling of such cruel prejudice is available in the still-enlightening book Black Power by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton. For fear of allowing this aspersion ever to be cast again, Liberals jeer at any suggestion that the victim has ever brought it on himself. And I think their alternative is insidious. Carol was right.

I believe the Liberal approach closely reflects that of Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. This therapeutic ideology requires those who seek help to start by admitting their utter helplessness, their absolute powerlessness. Anything short of that would hold out false hope to the addict. One thus evades responsibility and the resultant guilt. Every Twelve Stepper takes refuge amid a plausibility structure of the like-minded. “If you won’t blame me for my failings, I won’t blame you for yours. Isn’t that great?” It would be dangerous for such a person and such a group to recognize any case of a person who simply (though not easily) broke with his addictions by sheer force of will. Such a case of moral heroism would tend to debunk their crucial tenet: an addict is helpless outside the womb of the group, and without dependence upon a “Higher Power,” which, a la Durkheim, is a mystification of the group. Its tangible avatar is your “sponsor.” In the case of the Nanny State, the Higher Power is of course the government itself, even the current President. But the government actually plays the role of the addicts’ enabler.

I cannot help seeing the whole business as a perfect manifestation of what Nietzsche called the Slave Morality. One seeks to escape responsibility by fleeing into the open arms of others who are happy to embrace an identity of mediocrity, victimhood, and mutual low expectation. Again, “If you don’t hold me accountable, I won’t hold you accountable.” We’re all “good” because no one is, or can be, good. And no one better expose the scheme! If anyone should recognize his own potential, presupposed in and presupposing his responsibility and guilt (Kant: “‘I ought’ implies I can.’”), and strike out on his own, recognizing himself as his Higher Power, the self-satisfied dwellers in the Platonic cavern will try to take him down, to persuade him that he is arrogant and that he is a doomed Icarus, sure to crash. Better to remain safe within the anthill of the happily mediocre. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra exhorted such potential Supermen not to suffer themselves to be stung to death by a cloud of biting gnats. Shoo them away and excel!

Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” was nothing sinister but only recognized the need for the Superman (why not you?) to cease acquiescing in the values of John Q. Public (what Heidegger called “das Mann”) and decide for himself. This marks a transition many people never make: the breaking with conventional moralism and the preachments of authority figures, the assuming of one’s own moral autonomy and responsibility.

To bring this back to the race issue, can there be a better example of the Slave Morality than the tendency of African-Americans to ostracize their members who manage to excel and to succeed in the larger society? Condoleezza Rice is an example, Colin Powell is another. Black school children are persuaded to think that to succeed represents a selling out to an oppressive White culture, and that anyone who does that is “acting White.” Race-baiters like Al Sharpton encourage such belief, implying that black failure is a badge of fidelity and authenticity. But it is instead the sickening spectacle of blacks internalizing the worst propaganda of the Ku Klux Klan: “Blacks must fail; just watch them fail. See?” But this is the Slave Morality, the huddling together of a frightened crowd under the umbrella of a creed of self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. “Don’t tell me I can succeed, because then I will have to feel guilty if I don’t try.”

African-Americans of this pathetic persuasion like to condemn successful black individuals as “Uncle Toms” or “house niggers.” But this is to transvalue values in the wrong direction, calling success failure so that if an African American acquiesces in failure and poverty he has “succeeded” and can praise himself to the strains of Gangsta Rap (though those rappers seem to have succeeded in Whitey’s world pretty well). If someone breaks out of this socio-mental ghetto and makes some money, he has failed! That’s just where the KKK wants them! I view someone like TV business guru Charles Payne as one who flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Payne was harassed and rebuked by neighborhood children for trying to do well in school. But he pressed on and succeeded. He is the Superman who shooed away the stinging gnats.

But it’s not just the KKK who wants American blacks to fester in defeat and failure. It’s the government, too. Obviously. They pretend to meet the needs of the helpless while enabling their dependence and, in classic Twelve-Step fashion, assuring their target group (ideally, everyone) that they are all helpless. It is like Bonhoeffer’s scathing remark that Christian evangelists in a post-religious age must circle like vultures, seizing on the feeble—and trying to convince everyone else that they, too, are feeble. Such Christians are like the peddlers of a medicine show elixir, trying to sell the audience the notion that they are sick with an ailment only their elixir can cure. And so is the government, as they actively seek to recruit more and more to the welfare rolls and to flood the country with the wretched of Central America. “We’re your friends! And you’re going to vote like your friends vote!” Why kill the governmental goose that lays the golden egg?

Who is the Superman? Are there only a few exceptional individuals? If they can be so characterized, then people like Charles Payne become exceptions that prove the rule. But that was the opposite of Nietzsche’s point. The Superman is anyone who resolves no longer to dwell among the indistinguishable, passive, unmotivated, and self-despising mass. Don’t get me wrong: certainly there are genuine cases, loads of them, of inescapable oppression and insurmountable odds. But I’d prefer to make that conclusion after I try to transcend my limitations, not before. And that’s when I take Camus’s Sisyphus as my model.

So says Zarathustra.


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7 Responses to Nietzsche versus the Nanny State

  1. johnor says:

    Yes, so just throw away your bonds of slavery , snap your fingers , burn those government checks and get one of the many jobs that are out there for you and your scrawny offspring.

  2. randy says:

    “…tendency of African-Americans to ostracize their members who manage to excel and to succeed in the larger society?”

    “Black school children are persuaded to think that to succeed represents a selling out to an oppressive White culture, and that anyone who does that is “acting White.” ”

    Probably are some in the African-American population who do these things. But what is you reason as well as the evidence you are using for assuming, as you seem to be doing, that the first is a “tendency” and that all or large numbers of black children are being taught that succeeeding “represents a selling out to an oppressive White culture”?

    I am not familiar enough with nor do I read nearly enough about the African-American community to know if what you are saying is true or false. What are the sources you are using for drawing these conclusions and making these assertions.

  3. mdsamuels says:

    C’mon, Dr. Price. It’s “the government”…? Clearly you mean the liberals/Democrats. Would you call out the “government” when the Republicans have the presidency? Equivocating “the governent” with the KKK is beneath you. Your lack of compassion for the underprivileged is your own business. Sadly, though, your personal views in this area contrast negatively with the efforts within the atheist community to promote a secular humanist moral agenda.

    Forgive me while I print the lyrics of a wonderful song by Randy Newman. The difference between his song and your view lies in the use of sarcasm. Without it the song, instead of being a humorous social commentary would be a racist rant. He has used this routine many times. Examples would be Short People, Political Science, etc. If, as it would seem you are arguing, the narrator’s expressions reflect correct beliefs rather than ironic commentary, that would be a shame.

    “Roll With The Punches”

    They say that people are livin’ in the street
    No food in their belly, no shoes on their feet
    Six black children livin’ in a burned-up room
    One bare light bulb swinging
    Little black kid come home from school
    Put his key in the door
    Mr. Rat’s on the stairway, Mr. Junkie’s lyin’ in his
    Own vomit on the floor
    You gotta roll with the punches, little black boy
    That’s what you got to do
    You got to roll with the punches
    Tap it baby

    There’s all these boring people, you see ’em on the TV
    And they’re making up all these boring stories
    About how bad things have come to be
    They say “You got to, got to, got to feed the hungry”
    “You got to, got to, got to heal the sick”
    I say we ain’t gotta do nothin’ for nobody
    ‘Cause they won’t work a lick, you know
    They just gonna have to roll with the punches, yes they will
    Gonna have to roll with them
    They gonna have to roll with the punches, yes they will
    It don’t matter whether you’re white, black or brown
    You won’t get nowhere putting down
    The old Red, White and Blue
    Tap it baby. Alright.
    Look at those little shorts he’s got on, ladies and
    Gentlemen
    You can see all the way to Argentina
    Get it
    So pretty

    Let ’em go to Belgium, let ’em go to France
    Let ’em go to Russia
    Well at least they ought to have the chance to go there
    We have talked about the red, we have talked about the blue
    Now we gonna talk about the white
    That’s what we’re gonna have to do
    Now we had to roll with the punches, yes we did
    We had to roll with ’em
    We had to roll with the punches
    Yes we did
    We had to roll with ’em
    I don’t care what you say
    You’re livin’ in the greatest country in the world
    When you’re livin’ in the USA
    Tap it out baby, all right

    On a different subject, I read your and Frank Zindler’s book and found it spot on. Love ya.

  4. Dr. Stormbringer says:

    As a fan of both Nietzeche and Stokley Carmichael, I can half agree with you. I can only imagine the kind of harsh critique Carmichael would have launched against Obama, but it would have been mild compared to how he would blast the black corporate apologists (aka “conservatives”) you picture above. He was a powerful critic of liberalism, but that made him a leftist, not a conservative.

  5. bahumuth says:

    An 18-month ethnographic study coordinated at 11 schools in North Carolina found that black students have the same attitudes about achievement as their white counterparts do. According to the study, when scholastic achievement is criticized by white underachievers, it is dismissed as normal, while the same phenomenon among black students is categorized as a racial neurosis.

    Let us not forget how beloved Colin Powell was among liberals before he waved around a vial of anthrax to scare the U.N. into backing the Iraq War. Both Powell and Rice spent the majority of their time and effort in office trying to increase Democracy in the Middle East and defending the Iraq War. Considering that that policy ultimately failed on every possible level, one wonders whether you could describe them as successful apart from the fact that they made a larger paycheck than the average African American. And before you try to defend them with talk about good intentions, let us not forget that substituting intentions for effectiveness was one of the things Nietzsche hated about slave morality.

    The talk about the government “enabling their dependence” sounds to me like recycled Republican racism, depicting blacks as taking the white man’s hard-earned money, causing them to be lazy. Why are blacks being “enabled” more than whites?

    Describing the very worldly Gangsta Rap as a modern form of other-worldly Christianity, Nietzsche’s preeminent form of slave morality, is about as ridiculous as it gets. You are basically saying gangsters wearing gold dollar signs boasting about their firearm strength and making large sums of cash by pimping women and selling drugs (which ironically is only profitable due to racist drug laws) are meant to glorify poverty and attack pride, individuality and success? Considering that is the most realistic way an ebonics-speaking African American who has gone through a cash-strapped and ineffective education system that most black neighborhoods have can become rich and powerful, I would say the attitude behind rap music is much closer to Nietzsche’s idea of the Uberman creating his own morality against that of the herd.

  6. Gene says:

    Greetings and salutations. My first post.

    I do enjoy your writings, Dr. Price.

    In the last century, July of 1991 to be exact, I took off work to watch the confirmation hearings for one Clarence Thomas, a new appointee to the United States Supreme Court. I wanted to see a modern day lynching. And I truly felt sad when Mr. Thomas used that exact phrase to describe those proceedings.

    Yes, every liberal Democrat, white and black, along with the NAACP and every other black “leader” who could get their tirades on the news, called Mr. Thomas an Oreo, an Uncle Tom, and worse. (Today, with over 30 flavors, calling anyone an Oreo would be rather benign. Can we count this as progress?)

    Clarence Thomas grew up in the South. Gullah was the primary language in his home, for Christ’s sake. And he could trace his lineage back to two specific American slaves – even knowing the name of the slave owner. I don’t think you can get more ‘black’ than that.

    I wonder how many tens of thousands of inner city black kids would have grown up to have college degrees today, or at least a High School Diploma, if Clarence Thomas had been set up on a pedestal as an excellent example of what hard work and perseverance can do for anyone. “Hey, we liberal Democrats hate his politics and despise his religious BS, but damn, that boy is an awesome example of the American Dream!”

    Nope. It was not to be. And just a few months earlier, March of 1991, I remember vividly seeing a black woman standing in the street and screaming at one of the network cameras, “I want my son to grow up to be just like Rodney King!” Unfortunately, if her son survived the violence and drugs, he probably did – and without a 3 million dollar settlement from LA.

    I like a good deal of his politics and I could do without his religious BS. Even still, it is without reservation that I nominate Clarence Thomas as a Superman.
    ———————-
    One other social factor that I would add to your list, Dr. Price, is the wonderful liberal need for “equality”. Whether man or woman, smart kid or mentally challenged kid, tall or short, fat or thin, we all have a RIGHT to be equal – whatever ‘equal’ means. (Let’s not get to fanatical and start actually defining words.) Equality got it’s start in the 1960’s when our federal government mandated that racism would be a part of our daily lives. They called it “Affirmative Action”. Let’s all be equal by declaring that some folks need extra help!

    By the way, Martin Luther King called it “Reverse Discrimination”. (Affirmative Action was coined after his death.) And Martin Luther King, another Superman nominee by the way, thought that this type of government dictate would result in our inner cities being filled with blacks who were illiterate and dependent on that very same government. Ha! What did he know?!?
    ——————-
    Could another option for Sisyphus be that he might truly come to enjoy pushing that rock up the hill?
    ——————-
    question: What’s the difference between the Unitarian Universalist Church and the mainstream Atheist movement in the USA?
    answer: The word “not”.
    The UU Church says you can believe in any God/god you want to as long as you are a liberal Democrat. The Atheist movement says you can NOT believe in any God/god you want to as long as you are a liberal Democrat.

    Gene the Upholsterer.

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