Postmodernism, Part 34: Tarantulas

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Friedrich Nietzsche’s Will to PowerBeyond Good and Evil, and Thus Spake Zarathustra.)


Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism (reason, individualism, liberal democracy, free markets).  Postmodernism is based on nihilism and radical left politics.

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Postmodern political philosophy is related to Rousseau, whose totalitarian collectivism inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to the rise of Napoleon and his conquest of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism gave Rousseau a German makeover, adding hero worship, state worship, German supremacy, and the dialectic.

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism fused German Counter-Enlightenment ideas with romanticism: passion, revolution, and disgust ().  Disgusted, Marx and Engels concocted “scientific socialism” and published the Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

The Revolutions of 1848 frustrated Marx and Engels.  The French Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped, triggering failed leftist uprisings.  German Communism and Italian unification failed.  Bismarck united northern Germany .

Red Star Rising

The Franco-Prussian War united victorious Germany, with defeated France dividing in civil war.  Marx exploited the crushed Paris Commune.  The First International split, with Bakunin railing against Marx’s authoritarianism, warning of dictatorship and slavery.

In his inimitable way, Friedrich Nietzsche also warned against the looming Communist catastrophe.

Nietzsche’s Warning

Post-Christian Nihilism

nietzsche-friedrich“The time is coming when we shall have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years,” Nietzsche warned in Will to Power, “We are hurling ourselves headlong into the opposite … There is a seeking after a sort of earthly solution of the problem of life, but in the same sense [as Heaven] … the final triumph of truth, love, justice (socialism: ‘equality of persons’) … an attempt to hold fast to the moral ideal … to hold fast to a ‘Beyond'” Socialism, he wrote, “is an attempt to read the phenomena of life in such a way as to arrive at the divine guidance of old, with its powers of rewarding, punishing, educating … the victory of the good and the annihilation of the evil … as a duty”.

Socialism is a reaction to modern nihilism, Nietzsche argued. “The [modern] world has not the value which we believed it to have,” he wrote,  where without faith, we can no longer “deceive ourselves and chant the old story”.  So, we must “seek for new values [and] … get behind the naïveté of our ideals“.  These new values make it “so that life has a curse upon it”, he observed, deifying “the community” and vilifying human differences that “cleave gulfs and build barriers “.

Socialist Utopians

Nietzsche scorned socialist utopians.  “It is disgraceful on the part of socialist-theorists to argue that circumstances and social combinations could be devised which would put an end to all vice, illness, crime, prostitution, and poverty,” he argued. “‘Utopia,’ the ‘ideal man,'”, he scoffed, are but “subordination to the propaganda of social ideas, charlatanism” – the ideas of Rousseau.

“Rousseau is a symptom of self-contempt and of inflamed vanity,” Nietzsche argued. Rousseau was “preposterous … [in] his shameless contempt for everything that was not himself”.  He “moralizes and seeks the cause of his own misery after the style of a revengeful man”.

Revolution, Tyranny, and War

Rousseau incited the “insurrectional desires” of “the oppressed” by tossing around words like “unjust” and “cruel”, Nietzsche claimed.  Rousseau elevated “the revengefulness of the masses … to the position of justice”.

Lo, this is the tarantula’s den! Wouldst thou see the tarantula itself? Here hangeth its web: touch this, so that it may tremble.

There cometh the tarantula willingly: Welcome, tarantula! Black on thy back is thy triangle and symbol; and I know also what is in thy soul.

Revenge is in thy soul: wherever thou bitest, there ariseth black scab; with revenge, thy poison maketh the soul giddy!

Thus do I speak unto you in parable, ye who make the soul giddy, ye preachers of EQUALITY! Tarantulas are ye unto me, and secretly revengeful ones!

But I will soon bring your hiding-places to the light: therefore do I laugh in your face my laughter of the height.

Therefore do I tear at your web, that your rage may lure you out of your den of lies, and that your revenge may leap forth from behind your word “justice.”

– Thus Spake Zarathustra, XXIX. The Tarantulas.

Socialism is “the tyranny of the meanest and most brainless … the envious” scoffed Nietzsche.  This is “the zenith … the logical conclusion of ‘modern ideas’ and their latent anarchy”.  Socialism “is on the whole a hopelessly bitter affair,” he wrote, where “the poisonous and desperate faces of present-day socialists [betray] … the childish lamb-like happiness of their hopes and desires”.

“Nevertheless, in many places in Europe, there may be violent hand-to-hand struggles and [eruptions] on their account”  Nietzsche continued, “the coming century is likely to be convulsed in more than one spot, and the Paris Commune … will seem to have been but a slight indigestion compared with what is to come.”  The twentieth century, he warned, would be plagued with wars.

Life and Death

Socialism is but a poorly concealed “will to the denial of life”,  Nietzsche cautioned.  “One must desire more [property] than one has in order to become more,” he said, “this is the teaching which life itself preaches to all living things”, the morality of Growth and Development – “to have and to wish to have more”.

Socialism is hostile to all individual rights, Nietzsche reasoned in Beyond Good and Evil.  Socialist “fraternity-visionaries” claim to want a “free society” but have an “instinctive hostility to every form of society other than that of the … herd.”  Their “tenacious opposition to every special claim, every special right and privilege … [is] ultimately opposition to EVERY right, for when all are equal, no one needs ‘rights’ any longer.”

“I even wish a few experiments might be made to show that in a socialistic society, life denies itself,”  Nietzsche mused in Will to Power, “The earth is big enough and man is still unexhausted enough for a practical lesson of this sort … even if it were accomplished only by a vast expenditure of lives—to seem worth while to me.”


Nietzsche would not live to see the vast expenditure of lives under socialist experiments.  Many then and now would turn a blind eye to the horrors.  Why?

“Vengeance will we use, and insult, against all who are not like us”—thus do the tarantula-hearts pledge themselves.

“And ‘Will to Equality’—that itself shall henceforth be the name of virtue; and against all that hath power will we raise an outcry!”

Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for “equality”: your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtue-words!

Fretted conceit and suppressed envy—perhaps your fathers’ conceit and envy: in you break they forth as flame and frenzy of vengeance.

What the father hath hid cometh out in the son; and oft have I found in the son the father’s revealed secret.

Inspired ones they resemble: but it is not the heart that inspireth them—but vengeance. And when they become subtle and cold, it is not spirit, but envy, that maketh them so.

Their jealousy leadeth them also into thinkers’ paths; and this is the sign of their jealousy—they always go too far: so that their fatigue hath at last to go to sleep on the snow.

In all their lamentations soundeth vengeance, in all their eulogies is maleficence; and being judge seemeth to them bliss.

But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!

Distrust all those who talk much of their justice! Verily, in their souls not only honey is lacking.

And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but—power!

My friends, I will not be mixed up and confounded with others. There are those who preach my doctrine of life, and are at the same time preachers of equality, and tarantulas.

That they speak in favour of life, though they sit in their den, these poison-spiders, and withdrawn from life—is because they would thereby do injury.

To those would they thereby do injury who have power at present: for with those the preaching of death is still most at home.

– Thus Spake Zarathustra, XXIX. The Tarantulas



The nationalist tail wags the Communist international dog.  Next: Part 35, Nationalism and Internationalism.

Postmodernism, Part 27: Bastiat, Rousseau, and Revolution

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes “The Law, “The State”, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, by Frederic Bastiat.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Revolutionary Disappointment


Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).  The postmodernists took refuge in the earlier collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, and culminated in Napoleon’s conquests.

Right Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment, romanticism, and early industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (morality, not so much).  Deplorable (“third world”) industrial working conditions were (truly) breeding revolution.  The Communists, Marx and Engels, thought this the new normal.  Their “scientific socialism” prophesied a Communist destiny.  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.  Revolution was imminent.

The Revolutions of 1848 would be a big letdown.  They were driven by hunger (crop failures), nationalism (growing cultural and ethnic identities), and economics (growing industrialization).

blanc-louisLouis Blanc

The French Revolution of 1848 followed the French Revolution of 1830 (resulting in a constitutional monarchy, then a republic).  Louis Blanc’s socialist programs worsened budget problems and taxes (causing rural taxpayers to resent urban radicals).  Paris radicals grew restive (as usual).  Worried that Blanc’s programs were destabilizing Paris, the programs were shut down.  In June, Paris radicals rose in insurrection (as usual).  To prevent another Reign of Terror, the Republic crushed the Leftist insurgency.

Marx (hopeful) thought this a class revolution, but Frederic Bastiat (foe of pickpockets on the Left and Right) had a different take.

bastiatFrederic Bastiat

The cause of French Revolutions, said Bastiat, is government’s empty (impossible, contradictory) promises: “a host of benefits and no taxes.”  The “state … is hugely generous with impossible promises, and the general public … has conceived unattainable hopes”.

The revolutionaries (“men … with ambition and … utopian dreams”), Bastiat said, “shout into the people’s ears: ‘The authorities are misleading you … we would shower you with benefits and relieve you of taxes’. And the [deluded] people believe this, and the people hope, and the people stage a revolution.”

Then, the (deluded) people cry, “Give me bread, work, assistance, credit, education,” Bastiat wrote, “and notwithstanding this, deliver me from the clutches of the tax authorities as you promised.”

The new state can’t keep its promises any more than the former state, Bastiat said.  So, he said, “it tries to play for time … it tries a few things timidly … But, the contradiction still stands squarely before it; if it wants to be philanthropic it is obliged to maintain taxes, and if it renounces taxation it is obliged to renounce philanthropy.”

Borrowing does no good, Bastiat said, because it is only “consuming the future.” Efforts “are made to do a little good in the present,” he said, “at the expense of a great deal of evil in the future.”

Then, the new state becomes as repressive as the former state.  “It calls together forces to keep itself in power,” Bastiat said, “it stifles public opinion, it [resorts] to arbitrary decisions … at the cost of being unpopular.”

Then, more revolutionaries hatch revolution, Bastiat said, “They exploit the same [delusion], go down the same road, obtain the same [failure], and within a short time are engulfed in the same abyss.”

The State

This is what happened in 1848, said Bastiat.  Then, he said, the delusion “had penetrated even farther into the minds of the people, together with socialist doctrines.  More than ever, the people expected the state … to open wide the tap of bounty and close that of taxation.”

It is “dangerous childishness,” Bastiat said, to think that you can “give nothing to the state and receive a great deal from it.”  Those who promise it, he said, “are flattering and deceiving you, or at the very least they are deceiving themselves.”

“The state! What is this? Where is it?  What does it do?  What ought it to be doing?” asked Bastiat.  People think it “has bread for every mouth, work for every arm, capital for all businesses, credit for all projects, … balm for all suffering, … a being that meets all our needs, anticipates all our desires, … and relieves us all … [of] the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, wisdom, experience.”  The state is “this inexhaustible source of wealth and enlightenment, this universal doctor, and infallible counselor.”

“I fear that we are the dupes of one of the strangest [delusions] ever to have taken hold of the human mind,” wrote Bastiat.  Nature, he said, condemns us to suffering and work.  The best solution we’ve found, he said, is “to enjoy the work of others … From this, we get slavery or even plunder, in whatever form it takes: wars, … violence, restrictions, fraud … all monstrous forms of abuse.”

The state “is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else,” said Bastiat. In the past, he said, plunderers had to “act directly on the oppressed using their own forces.”  Now, we use the state, “We all make calls upon the state on one ground or pretext or another. … [We] achieve all the advantages of plunder without ever having incurred … its risks.”

The state is an abstraction (not a person), Bastiat said.  The “personification of the state has been in the past and will be in the future a rich source of calamities and revolutions,” he said.  The state “is not and cannot be one-handed,” he wrote, “It has two hands, one to receive and the other to give … the rough hand and the gentle hand.”  It is impossible for the state to benefit some without harming others.

The Law

“The purpose of the law is to ensure respect for property,” Bastiat said, “All of our past constitutions proclaimed that property is sacred. … This implies that property is a right that predates the law.”  Lawmakers create laws, he said, but not property.

“Property was a fact and right that existed before law,” Bastiat argued, “Property, like the person, is a … necessary consequence of the [existence] of man”.  We are born property owners, he said, “since [we are] born with needs whose satisfaction is essential to life”.

In nature, we must satisfy our needs by working, Bastiat wrote, but cannot work unless we are certain of the fruits of our work.  Property is a natural institution, he argued, that is observed in primitive cultures and animals alike (from primitive huts to birds’ nests).

Rousseau and the Left

Those who claim that law creates property suppose an absolute power over people and property, Bastiat wrote.  “Where does this idea come from?” he asked.  Roman law, he answered, regarded property as “a product and an artificial creation of the written law”.  This Roman idea justified pillage, plunder, and slavery.

Rousseau transmitted the “Roman notion of property” to Robespierre and the socialists (including Louis Blanc), Bastiat said.  Robespierre called liberty “the most sacred of rights [man] holds from nature” (but sent thousands to the guillotine in the Reign of Terror).  Robespierre called property “a social institution” (created by lawmakers).  He limited our property rights to that “which is guaranteed to him by law” (at the whim of the state).

This idea, opens “a limitless field to the imagination of utopian thinkers,” wrote Bastiat.  Then, he said, “the legislator is responsible for … molding both people and property at will … [and] is the absolute master in disposing of workers and the fruits of their work”.

Rousseau claimed “not only property but also society as a whole was … an invention originating in the mind of the legislator”, Bastiat said.  Rousseau claimed that the legislator “must feel that he is capable … of changing human nature”.  It follows, that Rousseau argued that lawmakers “ought to transform people.”

The consequence “is to arouse the thirst for power in all dreamers,” Bastiat said.  “The legislator,” Rousseau said, “must feel that he has the strength to transform human nature”.  This, Bastiat said, leads “either to the most highly concentrated privilege or the most fundamental communism, depending on the good or bad intentions of the inventor.”

(The socialist) Blanc’s associates, he said, have “suggested nothing less than changing the nature of man … abolishing personal interest by decree and replacing it by point of honor.”  Men will no longer work to live, Bastiat said, “but to obey a point of honor, to avoid the hangman’s noose.”

The Right

The Right (protectionist business interests), said Bastiat, have invited communism on themselves.  Free trade, he said, is a “question of right, justice, public order, and property.”  Protectionism “implies a negation or scorn for property”.  State intervention to level out fortunes (in any form), he said, is communism.

“Once the principle of property has been undermined in one form,” Bastiat wrote, “it would soon be attacked by a thousand forms.”  The landowners and capitalists with their tariffs, he said, “had sown the seed of the communism that terrifies them now, since they were demanding additional profits from the law at the expense of the working classes.”

Protectionism, Bastiat wrote, “was the forerunner of communism.”  It is the landowners, he said, “who have undermined the principle of property, because they have called upon the law to give their lands and products an artificial value.  It is the capitalists who have suggested the idea of leveling out wealth by law.”

The principle is the same, Bastiat said, “to take from some people on the basis of legislation to give the proceeds to others. … Yes, protectionists, you have been the promoters of communism.  Yes, landowners, you have destroyed in people’s minds the true concept of property.”

“If you wish to stave off the storm that threatens to engulf you,” Bastiat wrote,  “you have just one means left.  Acknowledge your mistake, renounce your privileges; restrict the law to its own powers and limit the legislator to his role” (protecting people and property).


Frederic Bastiat’s ideas would have a lasting impact (in libertarianism and Austrian economics). (In 1850, he died of tuberculosis, at the age of 49. His last words were, “the truth, the truth”.)

To Bastiat’s view, both the Left (socialists, communists) and the Right (protectionist business interests) were both pigs feeding at the same trough (at the expense of their fellows).  When the Right used the State for plunder, it invited the Left to do the same.  (The two remain locked in a mutual death grip.)

Bastiat’s (free market) critique of the State has much in common with Marx’s rival, (anarchist communist) Mikhail Bakunin (as we’ll see).  Bakunin and Nietzsche both foretold the calamity of communism (as we’ll also see).

Bastiat’s arguments are based on ideas of “universal truths” and “natural law”.  (These are metaphysics, presupposed ideas, that can’t be proved or disproved).  All philosophies are based on metaphysics.  (This is the “metaphysical trap”.)

Some philosophies try to escape the trap by denying they’re philosophies (like postmodernism does).  Some try to escape by changing the subject (such as attacking “natural law” as superstition).  However, all philosophies rest on metaphysics.

Is “natural law” any more superstitious than Marx’s revealed historical dialectic (or Hegel’s absurd dialectic)? 

Both Marx and Rousseau assume there is no human nature (and that all of society is created by law).  Is this any less metaphysical than Bastiat’s assumptions that there is human nature (and that there are natural human institutions)?


During the French Revolution of 1848, Marx was in Paris (fomenting German revolution).  It didn’t go so well.  Next: Part 28, Frankfurt Fumbles.

Postmodernism, Part 15: Herder’s Volksgeist

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks (with support from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism


Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  He was a totalitarian collectivist, who damned reason and civilization, sacrificed the individual to the state, called for intolerant state religion, despised political and economic liberalism, and embraced dictatorship.

Napoleon gave Germany an epic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  Napoleon gained power and trounced Germany.  He ended the Holy Roman Empire, occupied German territories, and imposed foreign values on them.  Germans blamed the Enlightenment for invading the dark forests of deeply rooted German traditions.

Kant gave Rousseau’s totalitarian collectivism a German spin: feudalistic militarism.  Life is suffering.  (We deserve it.  So, get over it.)  Morality is selfless duty unto death.  (So, unthinkingly obey your masters.)  Life is cheap.  (So, make death count.)  Human progress is warfare until judgment day.  (The dark forest of Kant’s German traditions had such deep roots they seemingly reached back to pagan Germanic warrior cults.)

Napoleon’s foreign invasions were setting the brooding German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers on fire.

Sturm and Drang

Enlightenment scientific rationalism sparked a passionate reaction against logic and reason.  This is why Rousseau’s passions so inflamed the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (hence, Kant).  In the arts, Rousseau inspired the passionate Romantic movement.  Philosophy and the arts entwined in fierce embrace.

The Romantic movement began with the German Sturm and Drang (“storm and drive”).  It included philosophy, music, and literature.  Its proponents included Wagner,  the composers Haydn and Mozart, and the legendary Goethe (who had been up close and personal with the French Revolution and Napoleon’s invading troops).  Sturm and Drang elevated, nature, youth (dying young), violent emotion, and the humble.

Rousseau and Sturm and Drang inspired many Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (who influenced the collectivist Right) and Romantic thinkers (who influenced the collectivist Left).

Herder’s Volksgeist

Johann Herder (the “German Rousseau”) discovered multiculturalism, moral relativism, and the German Volksgeist (the national spirit).  He was Kant’s student (but left Kant for being too reasonable).  Herder was a multiculturalist and moral relativist.  He warned against infecting German culture with diseased foreign ideas.

Herder studied under Kant but became a disciple of Johann Hamann (Kant’s friend and colleague).  Hamann and Kant both distrusted the Enlightenment and reason.  However, Hamann thought Kant’s subjectivism was still too cozy with reason.  Herder followed Hamann in abandoning reason.

herderJohann Herder

Herder discovered the German Volksgeist (national spirit).  Kant thought Nature’s grand plan used warfare for universal human progress.  Herder rejected the idea of universal human progress.  What mattered (to him) was German progress.

Herder was a multiculturalist and moral relativist.  Each Volk (people) has its own distinct culture, morality, and destiny.  So, there’s no such thing as universal progress because there’s no universal yardstick.  (Each culture has its own yardstick.)

Herder warned against infecting German culture with foreign ideas (in a nonjudgmental way).  When we “start dwelling on wishful dreams of foreign lands,” he taught us, we’re just asking for trouble: “symptoms of disease, of flatulence, of unhealthy opulence, of approaching death!”  Foreign ideas (the Enlightenment, etc.) were like a disease that threatened to sicken and kill the Germans.

Herder was a patriotic German nationalist.  He was not a racist.


Herder greatly influenced the German arts.  His writings helped inspire the Sturm and Drang movement.  His studies of German language and myths, in search of deeper meanings, would influence many others.

Just as romanticism would inspire totalitarian collectivism, Herder’s ideas would be borrowed and twisted to terrible ends (as Herder had feared).


Germans continue brewing the Collectivist Right.  Next: Part 16, Fichte’s School of Nationalism.