Marxist Irigaray and Nietszche

Published 09 Dec 2016

On Marx and Nietzsche’s philosophic Respective Stances on Terrorism

Although the academic literature on terrorism has been largely a theoretical, explanations of the causes and consequences of this phenomenon can be derived from sociological theories. Within sociology, the major frameworks used to examine societal change have been ‘consensus” and ‘conflict’ models. Developed by Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx, respectively, these perspectives have served as the major impetus for sociological theorizing for over a century. Although criminological theorists have shifted away from these polar models, contemporary perspectives on terrorism, as well as on virtually every other form of socially questionable behavior, reflect the influence of Nietzsche or Marx. The two models represent opposite extremes regarding beliefs about human nature, the utility of social institutions, and the rate and type of social change beneficial to society.

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Although, as Austin Turk notes, “a growing number of sociologists eschew both extremes and are working from and toward a model of social reality as variable and dialectical”, a basic understanding of the polar models is essential as a starting point for theoretical exploration. At the risk of oversimplification, the dominant themes of the two perspectives are presented below to demonstrate their polarity. An examination of contemporary legal and social responses to terrorism utilizing conflict/consensus as a variable rather than an assumption may create a model capable of predicting governmental response under varying conditions.

Karl Marx was optimistic about human nature, believing that people could create a utopian existence on earth. Unfortunately, a shortage of goods and services forced humanity into competition and conflict. As societies progressed through a series of economic-driven political systems (primarily feudalism and capitalism), the working class increasingly became separated from ‘ownership of the means of production’. The advent of capitalism found the small businesses of independent craftsperson replaced by factories owned by entrepreneurs who invested nothing more than capital in the production of goods and services. These middlemen later came to be known as the middle class, or bourgeoisie, not because of their income level but as a result of their intercessory role as the buyers of labor from the working class and the sellers of goods to the upper class.

Lacking only political power to protect their economic interests, early capitalists in Europe incited social revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Europe that produced the political power desired by the nouveaux riches (Marx 55). Solidifying their hold over society, capitalists further corrupted social institutions, such as the political and legal systems, to control the economic have-nots. Workers increasingly experienced what Marx referred to as “alienation”—a social position as well as an effect that describes the helplessness of the worker when separated from the means of production. Consequently, Marx advocated the rapid dissolution of these social institutions so that a restructured and the more equitable economic system could arise. Revolutionary change, violent if necessary, was seen as necessary to accomplish this dialectic. Terrorism, while not advocated by Marx, was viewed by some of his followers as one way to develop class consciousness, thereby inciting the proletariat to revolution (Ibid, 58).

In contrast, Friedrich Nietzsche believed that people possessed insatiable desires and viewed social institutions (which Marx disdained) as necessary to control the evil impulses of humans. Furthermore, Nietzsche focused on the way in which these social institutions adapted the master-slave morality. The adverse effects of the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century led him to conclude, in contrast to Marx, that social change should progress slowly and naturally, thereby giving society time to adapt to dysfunctional relations between institutions that might produce pathological manifestations of social deviance. Not surprisingly, perspectives derived from the conflict model tend to be suspicious of governmental actions, while adherents of the consensus frame-work generally assume that the polity acts in the best interests of its constituents.

Nietzsche dichotomizes that the genesis of punishment is one thing and its definitive functions are another thing: “[A]ll purposes, all utilities, are only signs that a will to power has become lord over something less powerful and has stamped its own functional meaning onto it” (Nietzsche 51). He outlines a variety of functional meanings that punishment has had and continues to have, in support of his hypothesis that “the concept of punishment in fact no longer represents a single meaning at all but rather an entire synthesis of meanings”, that its history “finally crystallizes into a kind of unity that is difficult to dissolve, difficult to analyze and—one must emphasize—is completely and utterly indefinable,” to which he adds in a parenthesis, “only that which has no history is definable” (Ibid, 53).

Nietzsche’s observation about the distinction between origins and purposes (or functional meanings) is made in the context of his essay on guilt. Guilt, he speculates, was originally simply an economic debt, but its meaning has evolved and undergone profound changes (Ibid, 35-66). The distinction between origins and meanings is less clear in his discussion of values belonging to the noble and slave modes of valuation taken up in the first essay of the Genealogy. These values became detached, he notes, from their original political contexts and is held now by people who are neither nobles nor slaves. Nobility, for example, became a set of spiritual qualities that were originally associated with the political elite but might, in fact, be possessed by individuals regardless of their social origins and might be lacking in some of the privileged. Other than that, it is not clear what changes, if any, noble and slave values have undergone. The meanings of these values appear, in Nietzsche’s account, more highly colored by their origins than the meanings of guilt and punishment as discussed in Genealogy 2.

Nietzsche presents the judgment “bad” as coming, originally, from the perspectives of noble elites, aristocrats, who first of all joyously affirmed themselves as good (exceptional, fortunate, happy, beautiful, powerful, and so on) and then, and only by comparison, looked down on common folk as “bad,” that is, inferior (ordinary, common, miserable, unfortunate, ugly, and so on). He presents judgments of evil (dangerous, destructive, harmful, hurtful) as coming, originally, from the perspectives of the impotent masses, slaves, common people, who regarded as evil those who conquered and enslaved them, and then, and only by comparison, found themselves to be “good” (not dangerous or harmful but helpful, “nice,” accommodating, pleasant, and so on).

Thus, he represents the noble mode of valuation (“good” vs. “bad”) as originating in a powerful victor’s perspective and the slave mode (“good” vs. “evil”) in that of a relatively impotent victim.

perspectivism may be understood as the idea that perspectives furnish all the material we have for comprehending the world and for the concepts we use to do so. In its unraveling of the ancestral lines of a concept, genealogical investigation yields a variety of perspectives. We may understand his perspectivism simply as the idea that all thinking, like all perception, is from some angle or other and that the only way to correct errors is also from some angle or other. Thinking from a perspective does not imply distortion but only a bias, a slant, which has limitations but also may offer special vantage points. The thinking within the limits of a particular bias (slant) may be good or bad, distorted or true, or exhibit some combination of truth and distortion. Whether Nietzsche would have agreed with it or not, this interpretation of his perspectivism makes good sense of his own evaluations and evaluations.

Generally, examinations of terrorism from these two perspectives have focused on two issues: 1) the causes of terrorism and 2) a government’s response to terrorism. Regarding the first issue, authoritative examinations of the causes of terrorism from either a consensus or conflict perspective have been rare. While consensus theorists have hinted that terrorism reflects the revolutionary’s inability to adapt to the strains of a society experiencing disjunction between cultural goals and means to achieve, conflict theorists have suggested that terrorism indicates excessive frustration over the speed with which social change is progressing. Although a discussion of the causes of terrorism from both of these approaches is warranted (in fact, badly needed), our purpose is an examination of the second issue—the polity’s response to terrorism. Consequently, while passing reference may be made to causative factors (indeed, governmental response and the labeling of terrorism may be viewed as causative), this work is most concerned with the manner in which conflict and consensus theories might interpret and predict governmental reactions to terroristic violence.

In toto, terroristic activities are deeply rooted in the capitalistic nature of the society, that because competition and valuation exist, the society is led astray from the possibility of obtaining a utopic society. Social institutions paved the way to the alienation of the workers, and thus resulted to their dismal existence. This is exactly how terrorism originated for Marx, and the only solution is to dissolve all social institutions. Nietzsche also argues that social institutions must be dissolved (he term this as anti-establishment) because according to him for as long as there is a schematization in society, then the morality that will thrive within that society is perverse. And since it perverse, the master-slave morality will be prevalent, thus members of society will adopt terrorism just to advantage their own causes. Thus, terrorism is a by-product of institutionalization of the society and posting of schemas that will establish a society for capitalistic gains and misappropriation of the slaves.


  • Marx, Karl. “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof ” Das Kapital. Reprint ed: Gateway Editions, 1999. 50-63.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals: A polemic. By Way of Clarification and Supplement to My Last Book Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Douglas Smith. Revised ed: Oxford University press, USA, 1998.
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