Allan Bloom in his famous 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind describes how “higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students”. The book has been divided into three parts, namely: 1.) Students, 2). Nihilism, and, 3). The University. The present essay “The Nietzscheanization of the Left or Vice Versa” has been taken from the second part of the book titled, ‘Nihilism.’
Marx – No more Resonates in the Souls of Young Americans of Today:
In this essay, Allan says that the whole world is divided into two parts, one of which traces its intellectual lineage back to Locke and the other to Marx. But, the present day young Americans find Karl Marx boring. In addition, even in the power centres, where decisions and ideologies are made and implemented, Marx has been dead for a long time. Today, Marx’s famous “Manifesto” seems naïve, and out of place, and his “Das Kapital” does not persuade its readers anymore as it used to, in the past. Although the Left still continue to call themselves Marxist, they no more find their nourishment in Marx. It comes from elsewhere. Marx does not resonate in souls of young Americans today, as do Sartre, Camus, Kafka, Dostoyevski, Nietzsche, Heidegger or Rousseau.
The Term Ideology Passes from Contempt to Honour - from Marx to Nietzche:
To Marx, the term ideology was a mask and a false system of thought elaborated by the ruling class to justify its rule in the eyes of the ruled, while hiding its real selfish motives. Hence, in Communist society there will be no ideology. Because, only the pure mind, to use Nietzsche's formulation, has the possibility of knowing the ways things are. Hence, ideology is a term of contempt; it must be seen through in order to be seen for what it is.
However, by 1905, Lenin was speaking of Marxism as an ideology, which means that it too can make no claim to truth. Hence, in less than half a century Marx's absolute had been relativized. This was the beginning of the inner rot that has finally made Marxism unbelievable to anyone who thinks. Marxism itself became ideology.
Today, ideology, in popular speech, is, in the first place, generally understood to be a good and necessary thing—unless it is bourgeois ideology. Men and societies need myths, not science, by which to live. In short, ideology became identical to values, and that is why it belongs on the honor roll of terms by which we live.
Real Marxism becomes Vulgar Marxism:
Hence, when one talks to Marxists these days and asks them to explain philosophers or artists in terms of objective economic conditions, they smile contemptuously and respond, "That is vulgar Marxism," as if to ask, "Where have you been for the last seventy-five years?" No one likes to be considered vulgar, so people tend to fall back into embarrassed silence. So, real Marxism of the past has now become Vulgar Marxism. Nonvulgar Marxism is Nietzsche, Weber, Freud, Heidegger, as well as the host of later Leftists who drank at their trough— such as Lukacs, Kojeve, Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre—and hoped to enroll them in the class struggle.
The Effect of Nietzsche on Marxism:
From this century onwards, the effect of Nietzsche slowly began to be felt within Marxism. An example is the significance of revolution. Revolution and the violence that accompanies are justified today, and it has taken the place of rebellion, faction, or civil war, all of which are obviously bad things, while revolution is the best and greatest event—in the popular imagination of Englishmen, Americans, Frenchmen and Russians, with the exception of Germans.
Importance on Nietzschean Term ‘Will’ in Marxism of Today:
In the new order, Will has become the key word, to both the Right and Left. In the past it was thought that will is necessary but secondary—that the cause came first. But it was Nietzsche who formulated the new way most provocatively when he said, "A good war makes sacred every cause." The causes have no status; they are values. While the older revolutionaries were ‘will’ing peace, prosperity, harmony and reason, i.e., the last man. The newer breed ‘wills’ chaos. Self-assertion or will, and not justice, was the crucial element.
Sympathy for Terrorists in the Nietzschean takeover of Marxism:
In the new revolutionary charm of today, determination, ‘will’, commitment, caring, concern have become the new virtues. Hence, there is great sympathy even for terrorists, because "they care." Therefore, it is shocking to observe that, young people, and older people too, who are good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, have become ‘dumb with admiration’ for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest reasons. They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack. And commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.
The ‘Mutant Breed of Marxists’ of Today:
Allan Bloom calls the present breed of Marxists as the mutant breed of Marxists, who have sought to derationalise Marx and turn Nietzsche into a leftist. It was Georg Lukacs, the most prominent Marxist intellectual of this century, who set the ball rolling.
Marx adapted ‘forcefully’ in other Domains:
Bourgeois is associated in the popular consciousness, especially in America, with Marx. The mature Marx had almost nothing to say about art, music, literature or education, but since the Nietzscheans spoke so marvelously well about all these things, these terms were quietly appropriated into Marxism.
To take another example: Freud talked about interesting things not found anywhere in Marx, and the whole psychology of the unconscious was completely alien to Marx. But, Marx moved into the Freudian scene, by interpreting the cause of neuroses and his treatment of the maladjusted as bourgeois errors that serve enslavement to the capitalist control of the means of production.
How the Bourgeois became a friend of the Left!!!
"The last man" interpretation of the bourgeois is reinforced by a certain ambiguity in the meaning of the word "bourgeois." Bourgeois is associated in the popular consciousness, especially in America, with Marx. Most of the great European novelists and poets of the last two hundred years were men of the Right; and Nietzsche is in that respect merely their complement. For them the problem was in one way or another equality, which has no place for genius. Thus they are the exact opposite of Marx. But somehow he who says he hates the bourgeoisie can be seen to be a friend of the Left. Therefore when the Left got the idea of embracing Nietzsche, it got, along with him, all the authority of the nineteenth- and twentieth century literary tradition.
From hating the Vulgar ‘Bourgeoisie’ to hating just Vulgarity:
The later Marxists in Germany were repelled by the vulgarity of the bourgeoisie. One can easily see this in Theodore Adorno. But, as prosperity increased, the poor began to become embourgeoise. Instead of an increase in class consciousness and strife, there was a decrease. One could foresee a time, at least in the developed countries, when everybody would be a bourgeois. So another prop was knocked out from under Marxism. So, now, the issue is not really rich and poor but vulgarity. Thus, ironically, Marxists were coming perilously close to the notion that egalitarian man as such is bourgeois, and that they must join him or become culture snobs.
Nietzschean Marxim as Sophisticated Marxism:
Thus, in other words, sophisticated Marxism became cultural criticism of life in the Western democracies, but none of it came from Marx or a Marxist perspective. It was, and is, Nietzschean, variations on our way of life as that of "the last man."
So, Nietzsche came to America. His conversion to the Left was easily accepted here as genuine. Nietzsche's naturalization was accomplished in many waves: some of us went to Europe to find him; Heidegger and Neitzsche now come under their own names, treading on the red carpet rolled out for them by their earlier envoys. Academic psychology, sociology, comparative literature and anthropology have been dominated by them for a long time. But their passage from the academy to the marketplace is the real story. A language developed to explain to knowers how bad we are has been adopted by us to declare to the world how interesting we are. Somehow the goods got damaged in transit.