Nietzsche and Marx on Problem of Human Nature
Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche determined the essence of human nature and its influence on the development of society. Their ideas do not lose their relevance in this century as they question the foundations of society and disclose how human mind relates to the domination. Despite the great differences between their ideas, the philosophers elaborated original approaches to connote dominant behavior grounded in the history. Both Marx and Nietzsche presented a compelling analysis of domination revealing the relation between human nature and instincts to power.
Comparison of Nietzsche's and Marx’s Ideas
The commonality in the worldviews of Nietzsche and Marx is the radical criticism of the bourgeois system, the establishment of its destruction, and the creation of a new, free from the liberal sentimental, hypocritical philanthropy. Both opposed the gradualness, the explosive nature of the social process, and the anti-reformism. Both thinkers described certain anthropological attitudes in the philosophy: stiffness, the estrangement of the human nature from modern society and culture, and the need for human emancipation in all areas of modern socio-cultural dynamics. In fact, Nietzsche and Marx criticized the alienation of man. According to the philosophers, alienation means that a person is deprived of his/her connection with nature and with self which constitute the non-socialized biological foundation of his/her life. Marx and Nietzsche built their philosophical theories on a paradoxical basis – on the rejection of morality as a self-value.
Nietzsche’s Ideas on Human Nature
One of the most debated and well-known Nietzsche’s ideas is the will to power. Nietzsche rejects the principles of democracy and historical progress. He also denies the ideas of equality and justice as those which corrupt the integrity of human nature. Being a supporter of the principles of the social hierarchy, Nietzsche develops a concept of absolute domination of economic, political, and social elite. He highlights that only the chosen few can have the right to happiness, beauty, and wealth.
Nietzsche’s ideas of human nature are closely related to the instincts to dominate. “Every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force” (Nietzsche 334). In The Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche argues that in modern society, humans repress and internalize their instincts toward power and pleasure, which weaken and cause suffering (Owen 62). Nietzsche relates the concepts of good and evil to purely human inventions. He considers them to derive not from biological features but from historical and psychological backgrounds. He decrees that initially, unselfish deeds were praised and called good by those, to whom they were useful. Therefore, the ‘good’ people were noble, mighty, and high-ranking because they believed in it and promoted their actions as the protection of common good opposing the low, vulgar, and plebeian (Owen 76). According to their perception of the world, they had a right to create values and to establish relationships between different groups of society. Thus, the source of the contrast between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is the sense of ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ statuses. The thinker focuses on how nobility and distance embody the prevailing basic feeling of the supreme ruling kind in relation to the lower kind.
Recognizing the contractual theory of law, Nietzsche denies the contractual concept of the state, according to which, the latter arises from the free will of independent individuals in order to ensure the compliance with their rights and to protect their property. Nietzsche is a supporter of an aristocratic form of government. The perfect state system is found in the past where the aristocratic will to power was most pronounced and where the crowd created a culture on the basis of slave labor. Revaluation and distortion of the original concepts led to the fact that weakness turned into merit, fearful thirst for revenge transformed into humility, and submission became obedience.
The teachings of Nietzsche are valuable because they allow to understand modern forms of domination. By depicting human nature and explaining the concepts of ‘good,’ the philosopher revealed the relation of human values to the instincts to dominate. In fact, Nietzsche foresees the danger of the society which consists of small, gray, submissive people. He shows the rejection of a social system built either on the immeasurable subordination to any ideology or on the principles of utilitarianism and pragmatism. Nietzsche focuses on the idea of elevating a person by overcoming petty, ordinary, and insignificant life. The main positive value of Nietzsche's moral teaching is, undoubtedly, the idea of human exaltation.
Marx’s Ideas on Human Nature
Marx’s ideas on human nature are more relevant in the relation to the analysis of domination in the modern society than the ideas of Nietzsche. Man interconnects with other people through various social forms. The production is principal in the development of human relations. According to Marx, it defines how a person perceives himself/herself in the world. Moreover, the division of society directly corresponds to the hierarchy of production relations. Thus, the essence of human nature reflects social relations and denies the presence of abstract inherent quality. Consequently, the essence of man is social, not biological.
The ideas on the instincts to dominate presented by Marx and Nietzsche differ. Marx believed that the use of force resulted from the historical process: “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx & Engels 5). Marx stated that no political force could bring to life anything radically new unless it had emerged in the bowels of social and political development of a given society. According to the thinker, the consciousness of bourgeois society does not represent reality. The ideas, which guide this society, oppress the working class. He mentioned that aristocracy had “converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers” (Marx & Engels 7). Similarly, Marx believed that communism could place consciousness back into real life. Marx extolled an understanding of human nature based on the concept of species-being (Marcuse 96). He argued that in the capitalist society, individuals were alienated from their species-being, which resulted in social domination as well as the suppression of human creative capacities as laborers.
Moreover, the emancipation corresponds to the self-realization within the process of production and the union of man with nature. The goal of socialism for him was the development of each individual. Marx's concept of self-realization can be understood only in the connection with his concept of ‘labor.’ According Marx, labor and capital were not only economic categories. They were anthropological concepts determined by humanistic values (Marcuse 126). The accumulation of capital was the past. Labor became an expression of the present and the future. Marx believed that the past reigned over the present in the bourgeois society, while the present reigned over the past in the communist society. Marx stated that “the modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones” (Marx & Engels 5). Therefore, Marx's idea of domination portrays his conception of man. To prevent domination, the society should not consist of organized, automated individuals. This view categorically excludes the possibility of considering socialist community as a society in which a person is the object of bureaucratic manipulation, even if it comes from the power which rules the entire state. This means that each individual takes an active part in planning and implementing common goals. In fact, this form should become the embodiment of political and economic democracy. Marx expected that a person would not feel dependent in such a free society.
Marx provided a detailed analysis of modern domination. In his works, he studied the reasons why certain groups had more control and power. Marx also described that the low-status groups embodied the working class (proletariat) which generally had to serve the bourgeoisie. Marx also assumed that the social changes could only happen if working class decided to end the oppression and to overthrow the bourgeoisie through a revolution. The main difference between the ideas of Nietzsche and Marx is that Nietzsche believed that essence of human nature lied in the natural processes related to biological, physiological, and mental life while Marx argued that human nature derived not from inside but from outside a separate individual. Thus, Marx promoted that the essence of human nature was socio-historical and was modified according to every historical epoch.
The beginning of the 21st century is characterized by the fundamental changes in the economy, production, science, and technology. At a great speed, changes take place in the world political arena. The revision of ideologies, the moral sphere of life, the formation of social values, and self-awareness of man, which Nietzsche and Marx studied in their works, are relevant nowadays. The ideas of both philosophers on the human nature have a number of similarities. Marx’ and Nietzsche’s ideas of a free independent person as the goal of historic revolution coincide. At the same time, they had different views on the domination in the society. While Nietzsche believed that economic, social, and political elite should remain to guarantee the development of society, Marx accused the ruling class of oppressing the proletariat.
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