Nietzsche and Ortega Juxtaposed

Article by Michael Kleen.
Both Friedrich Nietzsche and José Ortega y Gasset were alarmed by the development of the modern State, which matured to ascendancy in the late 18th Century. In the 1860s and ‘70s, Nietzsche witnessed Otto von Bismarck forge his native Germany from a collection of dozens of independent political entities into a German Empire with a strong central government, mass conscription, national welfare programs, universal manhood suffrage, and an urban mass media. Nietzsche died before the First World War, but José Ortega y Gasset lived to see the nation-states of Europe engulfed in that conflagration along with the chaos that followed. He saw the revolutions of Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler, and that of his own country, Spain, which degenerated into civil war shortly after he published La rebelión de las masas.

The events of their lifetime undoubtedly had a profound impact on the philosophies of both men, and both departed from their philosophical analysis to point out contemporary events to illustrate their critiques. They knew these events could not be escaped, although both Nietzsche (who fled to Switzerland and northern Italy) and Ortega (who fled to Argentina) tried. While Nietzsche loathed politics, however, Ortega took an active role in attempting to guide the events of his day in his own country. Ortega believed that a liberal republic in Spain could moderate and control the violent excesses of the social transition from pre-modern to modern. History proved him wrong.

Both Nietzsche and Ortega understood the growth of the modern State as a force originating in the rise of mass political participation. Consequently, they were concerned with the State’s orientation toward the mass—the pedestrian and commonplace—and with its hostility toward exception, high culture, and the individual. “The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select,” is a maxim Ortega wrote in The Revolt of the Masses, but that is a maxim often echoed by Nietzsche throughout his own writings.

In a certain way, then, both of these philosophers characterized the State as an edifice designed to serve and glorify the masses, or the “herd,” as Nietzsche was fond of writing. The State was a temple in which the masses worshipped themselves. In exchange for catering to their needs and flattering their egos, the masses placed their collective will under the auspices of the State where they flourished like never before in history. For both Nietzsche and Ortega, that arrangement was Janus-faced, because although the masses grew in ever-increasing numbers—high art, music, education, and individualism in general suffered. European culture began to decay. Violence and militarism (especially of the uniform variety) became the order of the day.

Where José Ortega found the origin of this “rebellion of the masses” in the development of the bourgeoisie in the late Middle Ages, Friedrich Nietzsche saw its origin in an inversion of Noble virtues began by the Apostle Paul in the 1st Century. He argued that both Christianity and mass political movements, such as Socialism, were faiths of “little men” whose weakness paraded as moral principles. For Nietzsche, the Statism of the 19th Century was the fruit of a seed planted in the Roman Empire nearly two millennia before.

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  1. Does anyone knowledgeable of Nietzsche’s theory on slave morality believe it offers an explanation of what happened to the WASP Establishment?

    It strikes me as significant that one of the centers of the WASP Establishment, the ivy league universities, are the current center of what Keith calls totalitarian humanism.

    Here’s a nice passage on the way the Harvards of America were once used:

    “The Protestant Establishment came into being as the result of a titanic power struggle between the preCivil War aristocracy and the post-Civil War plutocracy. These groups despised each other, and the aristocrats perceived the Gilded Age as a gloomy period of national ruin-The Education of Henry Adams conveys the upper-class attitude toward the era perfectly. But, miraculously, in the period between 1880 and 1915, the aristocrats and the plutocrats arrived at an elaborate, informal entente, smoothed over by many intermarriages. As Baltzell points out, the founding in the late nineteenth century of institutions like country clubs, boarding schools, rich suburbs, cotillions, and downtown men’s clubs, along with the transformation of the Ivy League schools from institutions of ministerial training to molders of a national elite, enormously helped the process along. It also made things easier that both the aristocrats and the plutocrats were WASPS. By the end of World War I they had become substantially indistinguishable, and the new cross-bred plutocrat-aristocrat class is the Protestant Establishment that Baltzell made famous.”


    Wikipedia agrees:

    “A]s E. Digby Baltzell writes, ‘the three major upper-class institutions in America have been Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.’ Baltzell also goes on to write that ‘Throughout the thirties and well into the forties, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, were still staffed almost entirely by old-stock Protestants.'”


    Well, WASPs are still prevalent at the ivy league university. It’s not as if, when the WASP Establishment abdicated control of the nation’s levers of power in the 1960s, all the WASP professors quit their jobs at the top schools.

    While non-WASPs now head most of the institutions of power, could it be that in response to the realization in the 1960s that as the implicit mythology that had kept WASP control of the county acceptable became ever more unconvincing — the county was founded by WASPs and should therefore by run by WASPs — some clever WASPs adopted the strategy of the slaves in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals to maintain control through imposing a massive guilt trip on others? In other words, did the white Protestant straight men at the top universities adopt and promote the ideology that the degree to which a person is an oppressor is the degree to which they are white, Protestant, straight, and male, and did they do this to maintain power through indirect means since they were losing their direct power? Did WASP professors become the high priests of masochism?

  2. My theory as to how PC became the ideology of the Ivy Leaguers has long been that it was the result of a compromise similar to the one you describe as having taken place between the aristocracy and plutocracy in earlier times. The traditional plutocratic elites essentially bought the loyalty of the rising upper middle class of liberal professionals and elite members of the traditional outgroups by granting them pretty much what they wanted in the social realm in exchange for their support regarding what the ruling class really cares about, e.g. maintenance of the plutocracy and the empire. It’s no skin off the ass of the plutocrats to implement massive affirmative action programs, gay marriage, abortion on demand, environmental regulations, open borders, et.al. The system can survive just fine with all that.

    As the left-wing that came out of the 60s and 70s was ultimately controlled by its upper middle class and minority elite sectors, this was seen as an acceptable compromise. I think this explains why today the Left seems to care much more about implementing gay marriage, protecting abortion and affirmative action or expanding the welfare state than it does about antiwar issues or class politics. It all fits with the Dutton strategy:



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