Objectivists have usually contrasted Rand’s benign, non-predatory version of egoism with Nietzsche’s egoism. Here is what Mr. Schwartz has to say about Nietzsche:


…the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche… held that self-interest calls for some people to rule others. Selfishness, he said, consists of a “will to power,” which is exercised by those — the “ubermen” — who are entitled to enslave others as a means to their “superior” ends. “What is good?” Nietzsche asked rhetorically. “All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.” His heroes are authoritarian rulers like Caesar and Napoleon, who are “beyond good and evil.” They are guided by their desires, unimpeded by considerations of right and wrong.

Now, personally, I’m not a huge fan if Nietzsche. He strikes me as a colorful version of David Hume — same awful reductive tendencies, but with a livelier written style and a thick strain of clear-eyed cynicism. And as a literary stylist, he begs to be over- and mis-interpreted. (Here is film of him, sitting, enthrallingly.) But what Rand and other Objectivists say about him just isn’t true.

The will to power is the will to have an influence on objects in the world. Those objects don’t need to be people; power, in Nietzsche’s discussions, isn’t necessarily interpersonal. Moreover, the most difficult object to exercise power over is oneself; Nietzsche urges self-discipline as the necessary precondition of any genuine accomplishment. Moreover, everyone exercises the will to power at every moment, so evaluative terms like ‘selfish’ can’t apply to it. The concept of the will to power is not itself an evaluative or normative concept, but part of a theory of human nature. He doesn’t say that we ought to exercise the will to power (since we always do anyway), but that we do, and that in understanding ourselves we need to understand how our actions flow from the will to power and whether our actions really fulfill our highest potentials.

The uberman is above man, not above men. In his individuality and aloneness, he is in no way a generic human being and there is an air of the asocial about him. Trying to rule or enslave others is, for Nietzsche, beyond pathetic. There is no perspective from which anyone’s ends can be held to be superior or inferior to anyone else’s — a claim that Rand accepts when she makes values depend on being valued.

Nietzsche’s admiration of Caesar and Napoleon is limited to their military accomplishments, not their tyrannical rulerships. His usual paradigms of those who fully express their will to power are artists like Goethe and Beethoven. Being beyond “good and evil” means being beyond Christian morality, not beyond considerations of principle.

Those who fully express their will to power are certainly guided by considerations of right and wrong: that which is conducive to my excellence is right. They are not guided in some simple way by momentary desire: momentary desire won’t conquer Gaul or Europe any more than it will write the Ode to Joy.

That said, in the comments discussions on these posts on Peter Schwartz, I think that I’ve learned what there is to learn on the subject, and I shall now move on. Thank you for reading and, for those who contributed comments, for your thoughts.