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    Consecration to culture: Nietzsche on slavery and human dignity

    Huddleston, Andrew (2014) Consecration to culture: Nietzsche on slavery and human dignity. Journal of the History of Philosophy 52 (1), pp. 135-160. ISSN 0022-5053.

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    In the Infamous Opening Sections from Part IX of Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche celebrates a strident kind of elitism and countenances, in however attenuated a form, the institution of slavery. “Every enhancement of the type ‘man,’” he writes, “has so far been the work of an aristocratic society—and it will be so again and again—a society that believes in the long ladder of an order of rank and difference in worth [Werthverschiedenheit] between man and man, and that needs slavery [Sklaverei] in some sense or other” (257). In the section that follows, Nietzsche describes a “good and healthy aristocracy” as “accept[ing] with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake [um ihretwillen], must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves [Sklaven], to instruments [Werkzeugen]” (258). From these passages taken in isolation, an unsavory picture can emerge of Nietzsche as a defender, indeed a champion, of exploitation of the worst sort: Nietzsche appears to praise a world in which a small elite enhances itself through the subjugation of the rest of mankind, who bear this yoke of servitude and get nothing in return. The assumption undergirding this reading is a natural one: namely, that whatever benefits it may bring to an elite, whatever cultural achievements it may make possible, slavery is not in the interest of the slaves themselves. But it is not, as I shall argue here, Nietzsche’s own way of looking at things. Far from thinking it is contrary to the interests of “the masses” that they be subjugated, Nietzsche argues that ironically it is in being “reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, [End Page 135] to slaves, to instruments” (BGE 258) that most people—those not part of the tiny aristocracy of Nietzschean great individuals—can come to live what Nietzsche regards as the most flourishing life for them. As I hope to make clear in what follows, the idea of “slavery in some sense or other” (BGE 257) that Nietzsche envisages is far more subtle than one might at first suppose from the connotations of this deliberately shocking word he chooses. In this paper I will spell out what conception of a person’s flourishing Nietzsche is working with, what sense of “slavery” he has in mind, and why he thinks this form of “slavery” is the best sort of life for all but a few exceptional great individuals. My aim here is primarily to explicate Nietzsche’s views, not to evaluate them. But I do hope to suggest that Nietzsche’s remarks about slavery are less odious than they can sometimes seem, even if they ultimately leave us unsettled.


    Item Type: Article
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Philosophy
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2014 11:02
    Last Modified: 11 Nov 2014 11:02


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