Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Sarah Palin and Nietzsche

with 4 comments

Mathew Yglesias says that Sarah Palin traffics in the politics of “what Nietzsche would have called ressentiment.” And it certainly is true that resentment against cultural, educational, and urban elites comprises the heart and soul of Palin’s discourse.

At the same time, I’m no Nietzsche scholar but my understanding was always that ressentiment was a tool of the weak. What made Nietzsche so angry was that through shallow Christian piety the piddling weak masses held back the noble blond supermen from achieving his true potential.

What’s so strange about Palinism is that it ultimately is the attitude of the powerful. Tea baggers are, demographically speaking, white rich men. And, let’s not forget, that their stated moral and economic hero is Ayn Rand. When it comes to business, their heroes are all of a sudden the other side of the coin- they are the rapacious superman whose individual yearnings should be free of all restrictions.

So this is what modern conservatism has come to: the ethical philosophy of Ayn Rand combined with the cultural attitudes of the resentful herd. A crowd of self-styled supermen (with an emphasis on the men), convinced they should be free of all constraints on their heroic behavior, yet intensely resentful of anyone who is urban, educated, or has better taste in literature.

It’s like the worst aspects of elitism combined with the worst aspects of democracy.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

March 12, 2010 at 14:38

4 Responses

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  1. isn’t that like pretty much Germany pre-1945? Like basically like late 19th century Germany until…well, where’d all those scientists go and get paid again and live nicely?


    March 12, 2010 at 15:36

  2. you know, you’re on to something very interesting here but a couple of points:

    I agree, in the main, about this contradiction at the heart of the tea bag, but the “movement” is also perhaps already more diverse and riven than you’re suggesting. This “eyewitness” account from Jonathan Raban is very much worth the read:

    Also, in defense of Nietzsche, he never said anything about anyone having to be blond! Don’t make the mistake of making him a Nazi avant la lettre. I mean, who’s better proof of the nihilism of ressentiment than Hitler? For N, you just had to be a free spirit – hair-tint immaterial.


    March 12, 2010 at 16:48

  3. There’s a difference between sensible libertarian thought and Palinism. Libertarians are against elites telling them what they can and can’t do, though they’d be fine with division of labor leading to specialization that provides information that allows free individuals to make informed choices. Sarah Palin is simply against any form of education and thought, and I wish we could just ignore her and she would go away.

    Also, there’s no such thing as a human being free of constraints.


    March 12, 2010 at 19:57

  4. You’re right that Nietzsche wasn’t really a racist. But he does refer to the “blond beast” a couple too many times in the Genealogy of Morals. Re-reading it, I think I remembered the racial stuff being more prevalent than it seems now.
    By the way… I was googling Genealogy of Morals, because I don’t have my copy with me. If you put “genealogy of” into Google, the first suggestion is “Genealogy of Jesus” and the second is “Genealogy of Morals”. So, at least according to google, Christ beats Nietzsche. Score one for slave morality!


    March 14, 2010 at 19:38

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