the right to judge or punish, nor because one ought rather to appeal to some greater court of justice, and emphatically not because one is afraid of the consequences of one's actions. It is rather that one has much more important things to do with one's life than worry about the past and about those whom Nietzsche refers to with his usual flattering vocabulary as "parasites." As for the worry that each person should get his or her due, he insists that justice so considered is not intended as a defense of the weak, but rather has to do with the cultivation and expression of one's own best virtues. (He allows, however, that those who are so virtuous have a "duty" to help the weak. )
One might draw a very cautious parallel between Nietzsche's very elitist view of justice and the view that one finds today in some libertarian writings; for example, Robert Shaeffer's recent Resentment Against Achievement , where the author distinguishes between a "morality of achievement" and a morality of "resentment against achievement." Of course, Nietzsche would have little tolerance for the obsession with "rights" that preoccupies so much of libertarian thinking; and he would be the first to point out the bitter resentment of many such authors against those who supposedly "resent achievement." But his emphasis on personal excellence and his condemnation of reactive mediocrity would strike a sympathetic chord in this quarter. What Nietzsche presumes, along with a great many conservative thinkers, is the relative stability of character and abilities, as well as sharp differences between individuals. There are those who have the talent and energy to achieve, and those who do not. People don't change (although the rhetoric of bootstrap "self-improvement" often disguises this sense of fatalism under a mask of personal responsibility); and it is as absurd for a talented person to deny those talents as it is for an untalented person to claim the privileges of the talented. (The lambs and eagles analogy in the Genealogy makes this point as brutally as is imaginable.)
Nietzsche frequently lambasts those whom he sarcastically calls "the improvers of mankind," and often seems as annoyed with those who would try to improve the human condition as with those who would "level" it to the lowest common demoninator. (The Übermensch , remember, is meant to replace us mere humans, not merely serve as our new role model.) Thus we can understand (but hardly applaud) Nietzsche's nearly total lack of sympathy with what many modern writers would call "social justice." Justice requires taking resentment seriously. But resentment doesn't make sense unless we also acknowledge the warrant of its essential freedom and central negativism: the world could and should be other than it is, with those at the top no longer on top, and those on the bottom no longer at the bottom. And here, as Nietzsche often acknowledges, resentment is not impotent but dangerous.
What bothers many readers of the Genealogy , even those who are per-
suaded by its central characterization of and attack on "slave morality," is Nietzsche's apparent determinism—not in the now-established technical sense, to be sure, but in the more ordinary sense in which "people are the way they are, and there is little that they can do to change." His sarcasm regarding "the improvers of mankind" is one familiar reflection of this attitude (see TI VII, especially 2); and the analogy of eagles and lambs explicitly suggests that the difference between the strong and the weak is one of basic biology, not a matter of choice.
A far darker interpretation of the "improvers" that Nietzsche attacks, accordingly, is to be found not in the naive reformer of society but in its most cruel and uncompromising tyrants who might all too easily be considered "masters" in Nietzsche's simple-minded dualism. Such modern monsters as Stalin and Pol Pot come to mind as brutal examples of men who had a vision—an "ideology"—about what humanity might be as opposed to the miserable and deluded creatures that they are in present society; and so they set about systematically decimating entire populations, turning their values upside down (as George Orwell straightforwardly argued in Animal Farm , including "strength is weakness"). With such an interpretation in mind we should be thoroughly shocked when Nietzsche tells us, at the end of a discussion in which he is centrally concerned with resentment and the "revaluation of values," that one is not responsible for one's predatory ways, any more than one is responsible for one's weaknesses. That a person is responsible and capable of change, he argues, is purported to be an illusion fostered by centuries of Christianity, and more recently by Kant. That in turn undermines the validity of resentment and moral judgment:
No wonder if the submerged, darkly glowering emotions of vengefulness and hatred exploit this [Kantian] belief [in the changeling subject] for their own ends and in fact maintain no belief more ardently than the belief that the strong man is free to be weak and the bird of prey to be a lamb—for thus they gain the right to make the bird of prey accountable for being a bird of prey. (GM I:13)
I have always found Nietzsche's peculiar brand of fatalism (amor fati ) troublesome at best; but combined with his scornful dichotomy of weakness and strength, and his biological determinism, it becomes a hateful thesis indeed. Of course, his determinism is not as such the same as amor fati . There is no doubt that the latter is an important and attractive thesis for him, as well as one of the admirable traits of the so-called masters of the Genealogy . It represents a carefree, nonjudgmental attitude, even "a bold recklessness" that he clearly envied. And though it is not a thesis that survives extensive probing, it is an attitude that we, too, can readily appreciate. But Nietzsche's biological determinism is quite a different matter. It
emerges, most notoriously, in his overly abused enthusiasm for genetics and racial stereotyping. It emerges, more philosophically, in his denial and mockery of "free will" and "the changeling subject," and in his rather restricted insistence on the cultivation of one's inborn virtues. His famous instruction to "become who you are" has been read (and read well) as an "existential imperative"; and it has been read—equally well—as a mode of discovery and reinterpretation. But the dominant impression—at least in the Genealogy —is that one can do very little to change one's basic being, much less to "improve mankind." In particular, whether one is strong and noble or weak and pathetic is not a choice of existential options but a kind of "given," in terms of one's social origins and upbringing and at the core of one's character, perhaps even in one's genes. When Nietzsche insists in the Genealogy that an eagle can no more become a lamb than a lamb can become an eagle, we are forced to wonder—a la Kant—what all the fuss about morality could possibly be about.
It is this quasi-biological deterministic thesis that has always disturbed me more than any other in the Genealogy . This is not because I want to believe in the transmutation of avian and mammalian species, or in the easy possibility of thoroughly changing one's character by a mere act of "will." Rather, it is because this too readily suggests that weakness and strength as such are singular, concrete characteristics—as fixed and unambiguous as eye color, and as all-encompassing as the defining characteristics of a biological species. Kant was certainly right: there is no point in preaching if one cannot do otherwise, and there is no point to ethics if our behavior is predetermined. It makes no sense being resentful if we are not also free to change our situation.
Of course, there may be a great deal of latitude in the cultivation of our innate abilities; and this will depend not only on our genes but on our environment, nourishment, and even, to a modest extent, on our "will power." So, too, such virtues as generosity and courage can be cultivated, more or less; and the activities that manifest those virtues can be practiced to become something of an art form. But the very possibility of such virtues, according to Nietzsche, seems to be something already determined; and a person cruel or miserly by nature is not only condemned but permitted (having no other choice) to be cruel or miserly. "Become what you are," on the deterministic reading, is neither an existential imperative nor a plea for interpretation, but a kind of license . Birds of prey have no reason to worry about the legitimacy or justice of their activities, and should not be held accountable for them. Of course, the lambs too cannot but become who they are—vulnerable, frightened, and prone to idealize their own meekness. But then it is clear to whom Nietzsche is addressing his supposedly "neutral" descriptions: not to the lambs but to readers who identify with the "master" and want to be eagles. They may well suffer (or seem to
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