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WHAT ROLE DOES CRUELTY PLAY IN NIETZSCHE’S ACCOUNT OF HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY? As part of his philosophical project, Nietzsche seeks to institute his thesis of a ‘will to power’ as a universal and psychological principle underlying all human motivation and behaviour. Scholars vary widely in their interpretations of the will to power in Nietzsche’s work, but for the purposes of my arguments, it is expedient to recognize the centrality of power within Nietzsche’s psychology. 1 The notion of cruelty is critical in Nietzsche’s attempts to offer a more potent explanatory theory of the strivings of the human psyche than that given by the popular theory of ‘psychological hedonism’. The debate between the hedonists and Nietzsche revolved around the inadequacy of a hedonic theory positing the enjoyment of pleasure and avoidance of pain as the principal strivings of human beings. Connected to this point, the enjoyment in seeing or making others suffer is put forward as proof of the hedonist’s position: as long as we avoid pain ourselves, outward manifestations of cruelty may be pleasurable. Yet, there is much more to be accounted for regarding the role of cruelty in human interactions. Nietzsche goes to great lengths to expose the examples of human interrelations that first and foremost promote his notion of a will to power, and crucially, highlight the shortfalls of applying a purely hedonistic microscope to an analysis of human psychology and cultural activity. We can trace the development of these ground-breaking psychological observations all the way back to Nietzsche’s early philological-philosophical writings 2, and observe the evolution of his thought through his middle works3, and into his later contributions, of which ‘On The Genealogy of Morality’4 features prominently therein. I will first consider 1

It is generally agreed that the will to power is one of Nietzsche’s major philosophical contributions. ‘The Birth of the Tragedy’, herein referred to as BT 3 ‘Human All-Too-Human’, herein referred to as H; ‘Daybreak’, herein referred to as D, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, as BGE. 4 Nietzsche, F. (1887), ‘On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic.’ Translated, with Notes, by Clark, M. & Swensen, A. J. (1998). Cambridge: Hackett, herein referred to a GM. 2


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the dispute between Nietzsche and the hedonists; the battle-line will be drawn around the notion of sadomasochistic subjectivity, which will leave the hedonists owing us something more than their theory will allow. The actors on Nietzsche’s stage will be examined, in relation to the phenomenon of cruelty and a psychology of man that is strongly reinforced by classical Freudianism will be discussed. Where it is useful, secondary sources are integrated into this thesis. Finally it is hoped that an overview of the role that cruelty plays in the psychology of Nietzsche’s ‘man’ is achieved, in a way that stay’s true to the complexity of Nietzsche’s thought. Essentially, Nietzsche is questioning an Epicurean claim, made by the proponents of psychological hedonism5, that the avoidance of pain is the highest motive of human striving. The hedonist’s second claim, that human beings concurrently seek pleasure as they avoid pain, would seem to be intuitively coherent: pain is not pleasurable, unless it is someone else’s pain and not my own; pleasure is sought after and may well result from my infliction of pain on someone else. For the hedonists, the primacy of the ‘pleasure-principle’, does not rule out the possibility that someone may enjoy seeing, or making someone else suffer: as long as pain is avoided, pleasure may prevail, but this account fails to explain the principle that people may also derive pleasure from inflicting pain of themselves. Self-inflicted cruelty is the definition of the ‘ascetic ideal’ for Nietzsche. Initially, we are faced with a paradox: how can something be both painful and pleasurable? It is precisely here, that Nietzsche casts a shadow on the completeness of the hedonistic theory. With an analysis of sadomasochistic subjectivity 6, Nietzsche manages to do something that the hedonists cannot. The avoidance of pain is not primary within the psychology of sadomasochism; pain is sought as a source of pleasure and although this could seemingly be accounted for by the hedonists— 5

Nietzsche does not mention names, but we can assume John Stuart Mill and Paul Rée to be among them. Mill, being a prominent British philosopher and keen advocate of the ‘hedonistic’ perspective, and Rée being another English ‘moral genealogist’ to whom Nietzsche was personally acquainted. 6 Sadomasochistic subjectivity being the subjective phenomenology of those characters who sadistically derive pleasure from causing suffering in others; who masochistically derive pleasure from causing suffering in themselves; or who sadomasochistically derive pleasure from causing others to suffer in order to suffer themselves.


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under the programme of the pleasure-principle—they do not, themselves, attend to this weakness in their theory. It is easy to say that someone beating another person in the head may be deriving pleasure from his cruel sadism, just as it is easy to say that, a person who abuses himself may be said to derive pleasure from his ascetic masochism. In order for these statements to have any psychological use, however, we need an explanation as to why this is so—as to why it is pleasurable to be cruel. This is where Nietzsche’s thesis of a will to power surpasses the theory of psychological hedonism: it tells us why people enjoy being cruel; which is that the deepest motive of all human behaviour is the primary pleasure resulting from the acquisition, increase and exertion of one’s power over and above the power of the ‘other’—the will to power. The issue is not that the phenomenon of cruelty represents a challenge to psychological hedonism per se, though they appear to need the help of a power analysis in order to account for the full spectrum of instances in which pleasure is sought and found in the experience of pain. The key question is why people take pleasure in cruelty. No one will refute the existence of cruelty, but from a hedonistic viewpoint, cruelty is seen as an aberration or perversion; a deviation from the norm in which, due to one cause or another, one’s desire for one’s own happiness comes at the expense of causing pain to others. As long as we can avoid these disruptions, we may return to our rosy existence where cruelty can be banished. Nietzsche takes an opposing viewpoint and tries to convey that cruelty is not an aberration, but a derivative of a central human drive. He does not view cruelty as a perversion of the norm; indeed, he tries to instate cruelty as a fundamental phenomenon of human existence, rooted in the most primary impulses of human nature. The vicissitudes of the instincts and their expression in human nature is not a homogenous state of affairs for Nietzsche and there are at least six variations of character that can be discerned on the stage of his thought. Ridley offers a valuable study of these characters in the ‘Genealogy’ 7. Salient to the current 7

Ridley has identified the slave, the priest, the philosopher, the artist, the scientist and the noble as the six characters in the ‘Genealogy’. Ridley, A. ‘Nietzsche’s Conscience: Six Character Studies from


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examination of cruelty in Nietzsche’s psychology, are the ‘Noble’, the ‘Slave’, the ‘Philosopher’ and the ‘Priest’. The interrelations between these types are complex and sometimes contradictory, but one reading of such dynamics goes along these lines: the noble types are stronger than the slaves; they are strong, powerful, dominant and good. The slaves on the other hand are traumatized as their instincts and freedom are denied: what is repressed, i.e., their resentment towards their captors turns inward and becomes a source of “unassailable suffering” 8. This burgeoning ‘ressentiment’ in the psychology of the ignoble types culminates in the ‘slave-insurrection’, which sets an important precedent in Nietzsche’s thematization of morality and the will to power, and could be viewed a prototype of the sort of revaluational project he is attempting with the ‘Genealogy’. Ridley has called the slave-revolt in morality the ‘verbal revenge against the powerful’ 9, which he says does not resolve the core problematic of the slave’s suffering. The priest seizes the opportunity to exploit the slaves’ ressentiment by convincing him of his sinfulness and reminding him of the possibility for his redemption—in the eyes of God—by virtue of his humility, thus alluding to a prospective ‘divineretribution’ against the proud and noble types who are responsible for his suffering. The question of what we are to do about this inescapable suffering allows for many different reactions than the asceticism of the priest10, but the prescription of the philosopher and arguably of Nietzsche himself is that we must attempt to turn our suffering to account and value ourselves and our lives because of it 11. With this the “Genealogy”. (1998). Ithaca: Cornell UP. 8 “So the slave develops in two ways that the noble does not: he suffers more, and thus resents the conditions of his existence and feels rancor against those who have thrust them upon him; and yet, because he is forced to invent and cultivate inner resources for coping with existence, he also becomes more cunning than his oppressors. These twin developments come together and culminate in the “slave revolt in morals”—an inversion of the values of the nobles. The slave confers the label “evil” on the noble, his oppressor, and grants himself the contrasting label “good.” Ibid, p. 8 9 Ibid, p. 9 10 “We might simply throw up our hands in horror: existence is full of suffering; we are quite incapable now of making transcendental sense of that suffering; therefore life, existence, the world —everything—is intolerable. Sooner destruction than existence on these terms. Less apocalyptic— although not necessarily, in Nietzsche’s view, more desirable—is to do what in fact we have done: to try to abolish suffering…But this recourse…is insufficiently truthful: suffering cannot be abolished, and the pretense that it can be is a comforting fantasy that we should be honest enough to do without…it threatens to instate certain values—comfort, security, longevity—as unquestionably authoritative: that is, it threatens, in effect, to transcendentalize the contingent benefits brought about by an efficient dislike of pain, or, to put it another way, it threatens to transcendentalize complacency.” Ibid, pp. 10-11 11 “We can try—somehow—to harness our pain so that it turns us toward life and the world rather than away from it…Nietzsche’s hope—his ideal for human living—is that we should succeed in


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move, we can say that Nietzsche performs an ascendant revaluation of cruelty within the libidinal economy of man’s psychology. By setting his stage in such a way—exposing the tensions in the libidinal economies of a diverse ensemble of actors—Nietzsche offers a richer theory of human motivations and behaviour than Freud, who adopted more of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the libidinal life of human beings.12 Nietzsche recognized that there is no one configuration of the human character, and showed how different people, in different historical circumstances, have different ways of managing their drives. He nonetheless implies that cruelty is something of a universal phenomenon, common to all types, only exacted or experienced in different ways according to the limitations of each agent’s position in the rank order of society. We can conceive of the cruelty of the noble types in enslaving the weak; the thwarted cruelty of the resentful slaves that the ascetic priest cruelly subverts to his cause; or the cruel realization of the philosopher’s prescription to accept and value suffering. Amongst this array, it is the self-directed cruelty, resorted to by the ignoble types and preached by the ascetic priest that stands out as the most interesting example that Nietzsche gives of a manifestation of cruelty within human psychology, setting his analysis in contradistinction to that of the psychological hedonists. In order to elucidate this notion of inwardly directed cruelty, we must pay close attention to the second and third treatises in the ‘Genealogy’; dealing with guilt discovering a new nobility, a way of living that recaptures the original nobles’ sense of themselves as immanently valuable.” Ibid, pp. 10-11 12 Freud can be seen as offering a libido-theory that is general to human beings, despite their sociohistorical position. He believes that the avoidance of suffering: “makes use of the displacements of the libido that are permitted by our psychical apparatus…to displace the aims of the drives in such a way that they cannot be frustrated by the external world. Sublimation of the drives plays a part in this. We achieve most if we can sufficiently heighten the pleasure derived from mental and intellectual work. Fate can then do little to harm us.” Civilization and its Discontents’ (1930) pp. 56. Further elaboration of the Freudian libido is that: “The name ‘libido’ can once more be applied to manifestations of the power of Eros, in order to distinguish them from the energy of the death drive…It is in sadism, where it perverts the erotic aim for its own purposes while fully satisfying the sexual striving, that we have the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros. Yet, even where it appears without any sexual purpose, in the blindest destructive fury, there is no mistaking the fact that its satisfaction is linked with an extraordinarily high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, in that this satisfaction shows the ego how its old wish for omnipotence can be fulfilled. Moderated and tamed – aim-inhibited, as it were – the destructive drive, when directed towards objects, must provide the ego with the satisfaction of its vital needs and with control over nature.” Freud, S. (1930) p. 57


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and bad conscience and the meaning of the ascetic ideal, respectively. In order for Nietzsche to explain how and for what purpose, a physiological quantum of affect, such as cruelty, can be turned against oneself, as per the guilty medicine of the ascetic priest, he first needs to establish a sense of guilt and a bad conscience which can later function as the agent of one’s suffering. Owen points out in his book on the ‘Genealogy’, that the second treatise constitutes a psychology whereby cruelty is found as an archaic substratum indelible to human culture and where conscience is expressed as the instinct for cruelty turned back on itself, once it can no longer discharge itself externally13. Within the contractual relationship of the creditor and the debtor, Nietzsche ventures to offer a genealogy of the sense of guilt and the need for punishment: “these relationships…will be a place where one finds things that are…cruel. In order to instill trust in his promise of repayment…the debtor…pledges to the creditor in the case of non-payment something else…for example his body…his wife…his freedom or even his life…the creditor could subject the body of the debtor to all manner of ignominy and torture, for example cutting as much from it as appeared commensurate to the magnitude of the debt…“si plus minusυe secuerunt, ne fraude esto.”14 One is reminded of that famous phrase of Duke’s in ‘The Merchant of Venice’: “a pound of…flesh”15. Nietzsche uses the example of the creditor’s participation in the ‘right of the lords’—to literally carve away at the debtors flesh, as evidence for there being a ‘warrant to cruelty’, as seen as in the carnal delight of another’s suffering16. The suffering of the debtor somehow satisfies the creditor—as 13

Owen, D. ‘Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality’ (2007) Stocksfield: Acumen. p. 68 [“si plus minusυe secuerunt, ne fraude esto.” – If they secured more or less, let that be no crime.] GM (II§5, p. 40) 15 Duke: “Thou’lt show thy mercy and remorse more strange Than is thy cruelty; And where thou now exact’st the penality, Which is a pound of this poor merchant’s flesh, Thou wilt not only loose the forfeiture, But, touch’d with human gentleness and love” Shakespeare, W. ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Act IV, Sc I. 16 [“de faire le mal pour le plaisir de le faire.” – To do evil for the pleasure of doing it.] Ibid, (II§5, p. 41) 14


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compensation—and the will to power is expressed in the creditor’s power to punish and bask in the punishment of his indebted subjects. Critically, society accepts that the creditor has every right to hold the debtor in contempt and forcibly retrieve compensation through cruelty, and it is the internalization of this social value judgment that creates a feeling of guilt and bad conscience in man, according to Nietzsche. Owen interprets Nietzsche’s notification of ‘the spectacular economy of punishment’ as a suggestion that punishment in ancient societies was based on: “a logic of equivalence between damage and pain that (i) emerges in the basic creditor-debtor relationships…and (ii) expresses the basic human instinct for cruelty.”17 It is important to clarify that it is only the noble types who may enjoy compensation through cruelty; the priests, slaves and philosophers may resort only to asceticism, i.e., venting their cruelty on themselves. Staten draws a sharp distinction between Dionysian-, and ‘tyrannophilic’metaphysics in the economy of will that Nietzsche transitions between during the maturation of his career: “yet there is also a profound continuity…of the transcendent will…that suggests…Nietzsche’s concern is ultimately with something beyond either power or suffering.”18 Self-enjoyment, Staten proposes, is a central problematic in Nietzsche’s thought19, and he astutely recognizes that for Nietzsche “pleasure in the deepest sense includes displeasure [and that]…power [is]…the essence of pleasure”20. A further exemplification of the evolution of Nietzsche’s thought around the notions of self-enjoyment and sadomasochistic subjectivity is mapped out helpfully in Staten’s text. He identifies Nietzsche’s ‘protomasochism’ in ‘BT’21 where “pain begets joy” and “ecstasy may wring sounds of agony from us” as a representative of the Dionysian metaphysics of tragedy to which Nietzsche—in 17

“What grounds this logic of equivalence, Nietzsche argues, is that pleasure that the creditor derives from “the opportunity to inflict suffering” (GM II §6) on the debtor, where this pleasure is the feeling of power that attends giving expression to the instinct for cruelty: “the pleasure of being able to vent his power without a second thought on one who is powerless” (GM II §5)…Thus “the compensation consists in an entitlement and right to cruelty” (GM II §5).” Owen, D. ‘Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality’ (2007) Stocksfield: Acumen pp. 93-96 18 Staten H. (1990). ‘Nietzsche’s Voice’ Ithaca: Cornell UP. ‘Power and Pleasure’ (pp. 86-107, cf. p. 88) 19 “how to think of a pleasure that transcends…pleasure and pain, that…reache[s] the limit of its pleasurableness with the most painful experience possible. Ibid, p. 89 20 Ibid 21 BT, (1872), London: Penguin (1993, ed.) (III; §40)


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celebratory tone—subscribed in his earlier days of thought. The passage from a later work ‘D’22, is quoted at length and an “unspeakable happiness at the sight of torment” is seen as an ironic distanciation “from the type of self-enjoyment that transforms pain into pleasure”23, which could be construed as a psychological hedonistic conception, and we already know that Nietzsche opposes this view. Later still, when we get to the ‘Genealogy’: “this ironic distance has split into a condemnation of ascetic masochism and a celebration of barbarian cruelty” 24. Nietzsche’s formula thus becomes: self-enjoyment qua the feeling of power and power qua cruelty without masochism. This ascendant cruelty somewhat contradicts Nietzsche’s earlier “glorification of Dionysian martyrdom” 25. Staten understands the Nietzschean notion of ‘self-enjoyment’—which includes the ascetic-masochistic enjoyment of self-directed cruelty—as a description of a ‘primitive form of affect’ within the will to power. This is identical with the feeling of power itself: “thus whenever we see power, we know there must be selfenjoyment…[and] we learn something new about the nature of power, and…the nature of self-enjoyment, by the collocation of the two.” 26 Furthermore, Staten conceives of “the inward turn of the ascetic [as]…a type of will to power [even though]…it seems to be a perversion or pathology…self-overcoming…selfdomination”.27 Nietzsche thus constructs a pre-Freudian: “profound analysis of sadomasochistic subjectivity and transcendental ressentiment.” 28

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“The striving of distinction is the striving for domination over the next man…There is a long scale of degrees of this secretly desired domination, and a complete catalogue of them would be almost the same thing as a history of culture, from the earliest…barbarism up to the grotesqueries of overrefinement and morbid idealism…At the end of the ladder stands the ascetic…who feels the highest enjoyment by himself enduring, as a consequence of his drive for distinction, precisely that which, on the first step of the ladder, his counterpart the barbarian imposes on others on whom and before whom he wants to distinguish himself. The triumph of the ascetic over himself, his glance turned inward which beholds man split asunder into a sufferer and a spectator…this final tragedy of the drive for distinction in which there is only one character burning and consuming himself—this is a worthy conclusion…in both cases an unspeakable happiness at the sight of torment!” D, (1881) Translated by Clark, M. & Leiter, B. (1997) Cambridge UP. (§113, pp. 13-14) 23 Staten H. (1990). p. 101 24 Ibid 25 Ibid, p. 102 26 Ibid, p. 90 27 Ibid, p. 91 28 Ibid, p. 92


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Investigating sadomasochistic subjectivity is not only the point at which Nietzsche’s will to power supersedes the explanatory prowess of the hedonist’s perspective, but also sheds light on an intersection whereby the closest isomorphism between Nietzsche’s thought and the later thought of Freud can be found. What for Freud were sadism and masochism, are correspondingly synonymous with cruelty and asceticism in Nietzsche’s thought. It is through the notions of cruelty and asceticism, then, that Nietzsche achieves his goal of highlighting a critical failing of the psychological hedonist’s ‘avoidance-of-pain-at-all-costs’ account to explain acts of sadomasochism within the confines of the programme of the pleasure principle. If human beings are innately averse to any expression of cruelty, save for the hedonistic outbursts at other peoples’ misfortune, how can we explain the ubiquity of not only cruel acts in the world, but the pervasive enjoyment, by a sizeable portion of the species, in inflicting cruelty upon themselves? This is where the battle line is drawn between Nietzsche’s will to power and the hedonist’s appeal to the pleasure-principle. How can we conceive of such pleasure-in-cruelty, without engaging some exegesis, as Nietzsche does, of the power dynamics at play in all such perpetrated cruelty? For the hedonists, cruelty is merely sadistic ‘satisfaction in the suffering of others’29. Nietzsche on the other hand, manages to show that the will to power allows for a more complete account of the different forms of cruelty that can be observed as constitutive of human existence: in so doing, he appeals to an even more primary and fundamental drive. Adopting the Freudian mien, we can say then, that Nietzsche is discovering the fundamental mechanisms of the pleasure-principle (Eros), which has in its service what Freud will later institute as the counterpart of the erotic drive: the death instinct.30 Nietzsche’s will to power, has a close affinity with Freud’s death instinct 29

Soll, I. ‘Nietzsche on Cruelty, Asceticism, and the Failure of Hedonism’, Chpt 10. In Schacht, R. (ed.) Nietzsche, Genealogy, History: Essays on Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. University of California Press, 1994. (p. 172) 30 “civilization was a special process undergone by humanity, and we are still under the spell of this idea. We now add that it is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to gather together individuals, then families and finally tribes, peoples and nations in one great unit – humanity. However, this program of civilization is opposed to man’s natural aggressive drive, the hostility of each against all and all against each. This aggressive drive is the descendent and principal representative of the death drive, which we have found beside Eros and which rules the world jointly with him. And now, I think, the meaning of the development of civilization is no longer obscure to us. This development must show us the struggle between Eros and death, between the life drive and


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(Thanatos)—that being the impulse to aggression and destruction that was originally felt towards the objects and parental authorities in the external world, and later becomes internalized and introjected. This inversion of the aggressive drive is a function of the super-ego and is relative (in severity towards the ego) to the intensity of the original level of aggression felt and prohibited towards the external objects (parents).31 Freud establishes a masochistic agent of human suffering qua the super-ego, which develops out of an original sadistic-egoism 32, and this ties in neatly with what Nietzsche is saying about the transcendence of will beyond power and suffering, toward the less objectionable pleasure of self-directed cruelty or ‘asceticism’. There are some compelling similarities between (i) Nietzsche’s anatomization of cruelty in his lesser known middle works such as ‘H’ 33 along with his crucial remark in ‘D’34, which both touch on the unfolding of sadism and form a “genetic sequence of self-reflections by which sadomasochistic subjectivity is elaborated” 35 and (ii) Freud’s investigation into the ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes’ 36. Freud can be seen as exploring sadomasochistic subjectivity, whereby an “original nonerotic heteroaggression [evolves into]…a phase of reflective- or auto-aggression [such as] …self-torment and self-punishment [which then seeks]…an external agent…as the inflicter of torment [and finally]…a reversal of this structure, in which the subject becomes the sadistic inflicter of pain, which he nevertheless enjoys masochistically.”37 Staten admits, however, that whereas Freud is concerned with the genesis of erotic sadomasochism in childhood whereas Nietzsche attempts a the drive for destruction, as it is played out in the human race. This struggle is the essential content of all life; hence this development of civilization may be described simply as humanity’s struggle for existence.” Freud, S. (1930). ‘Civilization and its Discontents’, London: Penguin, p. 58 31 Freud, S. (1930). ‘Civilization and its Discontents’, London: Penguin 32 The aggression is introjected, internalized, actually sent back to where it came from; in other words, it is directed against the individual’s own ego. There it is taken over by a portion of the ego that sets itself up as the super-ego, in opposition to the rest, and is now prepared, as ‘conscience’, to exercise the same severe aggression against the ego that the latter would have liked to direct towards other individuals. The tension between the stern super-ego and the ego that is subject to it is what we call a ‘sense of guilt’; this manifests itself as a need for punishment. Ibid, p. 60 33 ‘H’, (1878). London: Penguin (1984 ed.) §141, §50, §103 34 ‘D’, §113, (see footnote 21) 35 Staten (H. (1990). p. 97 36 Freud, S (1915) ‘Instincts and their Vicissitudes’, (SE 14, pp. 127-129). 37 Staten, H. (1990), pp. 95-96


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more Hegelian “quasi-historical phenomenology of sadomasochistic spirit.” 38 There is also reason to believe that both thinkers were attempting “a redefinition of the roots of subjectivity…that replaces the moral problematic of selfishness with the economic problematic of what Freud would call narcissism.” 39 A crucial difference being that Nietzsche’s will to power omits an analysis of the erotic nature of the libido, whereas Freud focuses on this ‘psychosexual’ component. In his introduction to Freud’s ‘Civilization and its Discontents’, Leo Bersani40 argues that Freud’s thesis is that man suffers because of the libidinal prohibitions of civilization which suppress man’s natural tendency to satisfy his aggressive drive. It surely adds support to the efficacy of Nietzsche’s will to power account, when the father of modern day psycho-analysis – arguably the only strand of psychology that seeks to know as its ultimate goal, the truth of the human psyche – develops a robust and widely accepted theory of human psychology based inextricably around one of his major theoretical contributions. Freud, too, believes that the ‘conscience’ is internalized, in order to be attacked; whereas this is the doctrine of the ascetic priest and the lot of the ignoble types for Nietzsche, Freud thinks that the sense of guilt is the price we all pay for cultural progress. We can even decipher a putative psycho-analysis of the ascetic priest in Freud’s genealogy of discontent, when he discusses the economic task of human existence as the sublimation and satisfaction of our drives. What for Freud is the anal character, whose pre-Oedipal interest in excretory processes has evolved into excessive thriftiness and obsessive fixation with order and cleanliness, appears closely applicable to Nietzsche’s characterology of the ascetic priest. There are uncanny resemblances in so many of the metaphors used by Nietzsche in the ‘Genealogy’ and later by Freud in his 1930 text. Aside from instigating a debate about the originality of Freud’s ideas, this suggests that with the Nietzsche-Freud hybrid, we are compelled to entertain some 38

Ibid, pp. 98-99 “If Freudian narcissism is not precisely identical with Nietzschean self-enjoyment, it nevertheless demarcates a field of phenomena the analysis of which by Freud has the closest affinity with that performed by Nietzsche. For narcissism in its fullest Freudian sense encompasses the whole field of libidinal economy: the transit of libido through other selves, aggression, infliction and reception of pain, and something very much like death (the total evacuation of the entire quantum of excitation with which the organism is charged)” Ibid 40 Freud, S. (1930). ‘Civilization and its Discontents’, London: Penguin (p. xvii) 39


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complex ideas about human nature that neither author would achieve so illuminatingly on their own.41 Both thinkers resort to an appeal to the aggressive nature of primitive man as evidence of his ineluctably cruel nature, and both see religion as one of the most successful methods by which man can renounce his drives for a ‘higher goal’. One final difference between these two enlightenment thinkers, who similarly posited the necessary blight of man, is that Freud’s sadomasochistic inquiry reveals a lot less about the role of cruelty in the psychology of man than Nietzsche’s. Beyond its function as a representative of the death instinct, Freud delineates little variation in the role of cruelty in man’s psychology whereas with Nietzsche, it is possible to read much more detail into the operations of cruelty within the psychology of not just ‘man’ per se, but at least several different types of ‘historical man’. In ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, Nietzsche refers to the festive joys in the cruelty of Greek agon42; the glorification of violence in the Roman arena; and the bloody tragedies of the Parisian revolutions, further pursuing his mission to naturalise cruelty within the psychology of man: “One ought to learn anew about cruelty, and open one’s eyes…Almost everything we call higher culture is based upon the spiritualizing and intensifying of cruelty – this is my thesis…That which constitutes the painful delight of tragedy is cruelty; that which operates agreeably in so-called tragic sympathy, and at the basis even of everything sublime, up to the highest and most delicate thrills of metaphysics, obtains its sweetness solely from the intermingling ingredient of cruelty” 43 41

“The reality behind all this, which many would deny, is that human beings are not gentle creatures in need of love, at most able to defend themselves if attacked; on the contrary, they can count a powerful share of aggression among their instinctual endowments. Hence, their neighbour is not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to take out their aggression on him, to exploit his labour without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to take possession of his goods, to humiliate him and cause him pain, to torture and kill him. Homo homini lupus [Man is wolf to man]. Who, after all that he has learnt from life and history, would be so bold as to dispute this proposition? As a rule, this cruel aggression waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of a different aim, which could be attained by milder means” Freud, S. (1930) ‘Civilization and its Discontents’ (p. 48) 42 [“agon” – contest] 43 Nietzsche, F (1886). ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. Translated by Zimmern, H. (1997). New York: Dover (§229, pp. 97-98)


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We are thus presented with a further requisite for the positive appreciation of cruelty in the pre-sublimated history of mankind, and particularly, for Nietzsche’s purposes, the indivisible link between man’s cruel psychology and the development of his morality. Nietzsche wants us to recognize the essential nature of cruelty and appreciate it as a valuable outlet for the immanent will to power. But, he says, man is ashamed of his harsh nature, which is why the ascetic turn has become so painfully necessary44. In ‘The Gay Science’, Nietzsche says: “pain always raises the question about its origin while pleasure is inclined to stop without looking back”. 45 If we take the idea that a will to power is central to human psychology and consider the ways in which people may impress their power on others, it is reasonable to see that from an economical perspective, being cruel is a better investment than being kind, in terms of how violently one impresses oneself on the other. At the same time, one can almost hear the outraged response to this perspective, in that many would prefer to think of great rewards in terms of love and affection. Staten sees the ‘pathos of distance’ and the distinction of rank order in Nietzsche as “variants of this striving to impress one’s being violently on the substance of the other”. 46 Clearly, for Nietzsche, and for the benefit of his particular mission, cruelty is the preferred mode of satisfaction for the essentially human will to power. With this affirmation of cruelty, Nietzsche “slides insensibly into a nostalgic naturalism” 47; he tries to erect the drive to dominate and acquire power as a normative model, that perhaps existed in man’s psychology long ago, but is unconvincingly unique and singular to our modern existence. Soll, however, is at pains to say that Nietzsche’s psychological account is in no way a justification: “but rather an explanation of the attraction of cruelty, and consequently of its prevalence in human life.” 48 It is easy 44

“…man has grown ashamed of man…” Nietzsche, F. (1887), ‘On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic.’ Translated, with Notes, by Clark, M. & Swensen, A. J. (1998). Cambridge: Hackett. (II§7, pp. 43) 45 Nietzsche, F (1882), ‘Gay Science’, In Williams, B. (ed.) (2001). Cambridge UP, (§13) 46 Staten, H. (1990), p. 103 47 Ibid, p. 105 48 Soll, I. ‘Nietzsche on Cruelty, Asceticism, and the Failure of Hedonism’, Chapter 10. In Schacht, R. (ed.) Nietzsche, Genealogy, History: Essays on Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. University of California Press, 1994. (p. 108)


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to see how Nietzsche’s attempt to demonstrate the natural necessity of cruelty, could be construed as justification, excuse or promotion, but Nietzsche’s analysis of cruelty is far from approving. To say that Nietzsche endorsed cruelty, outright, would be to do a disservice to the complexity of his thought. His ideas surrounding the notions of pain, pleasure, cruelty, asceticism, sublimation or the will to power along with the place these notions take in his psychology can be read in any number of ways. It is hoped that by tracing some linear themes from his early, middle, and late works and using some classic secondary sources to substantiate the arguments that have hitherto been given, that some justice has been done for Nietzsche, in the debate between the thesis of psychological hedonism and the will to power. I conclude then: that Nietzsche succeeds in discrediting the completeness of the hedonistic account of human striving; that cruelty takes a central place in his psychology of man; and that the isomorphism between Nietzsche’s thought and Freudianism lends credence to Nietzsche’s complex and at times contradictory philosophical meditations. It is not that the hedonists are wrong, but Nietzsche convinces us that they do owe us an explanation, if they are to reclaim their precedence over the more complete Nietzschean thesis that a will to power better explains the basis of human strivings than the pleasure-principle. Particularly, the hedonists have a long way to go in order to supersede the Nietzsche-Freud hybrid investigation into sadomasochistic subjectivity. The pleasure-principle may well be at work within the psychology of man, but for Nietzsche an accurate examination of the various manifestations of cruelty in human existence requires an appeal to a more fundamental mechanism than the avoidance of pain. Man, in so many ways, looks for and creates his pain, and paradoxically, even enjoys his pain, thus, the will to exert power, even over oneself, becomes primary to Nietzsche’s psychology. Cruelty can therefore be conceived of as one of the major vehicles in Nietzsche’s thought, in which we can begin to understand the truth behind man’s deepest strivings.

What Role Does Cruelty Play in Nietzsche's Psychology  

Masters Thesis Philosophy Seminar Spring Term

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