Faith in working-class revolution and the inevitability of socialism all but evaporated in the wake of the First World War when nationalism and patriotism triumphed over…
Faith in working-class revolution and the inevitability of socialism all but evaporated in the wake of the First World War when nationalism and patriotism triumphed over the principles of international solidarity and, as Perry Anderson put it, “The unity and reality of the Second International, cherished by Engels, was destroyed in a week” (1979, p. 14).1 The notion of revolutionary inevitability seems embarrassingly naïve today (to the point that, now, discussions of radicalism are much more likely to focus on intellectuals rather than labor movements)2 but prewar optimism was, in many ways, justified and, in fact, the idea of inevitability was shared across the political spectrum and not merely a symptom of the left. Dreading the rise of “plebian radicalism” Rudolf Sohm, for example, wrote that “The people is [sic] already aware of its powers. Already it has recognized itself as the real nation. The battalions of the workers are about to form, that they may thrust from its throne the bourgeoisie, the monarch of the present. More and more clearly are shown the signs of a movement, the aim of which is to destroy the entire social order, the State, the Church, the family….” (Smith, 1998, p. 38).
Nietzsche’s texts contain diverse and sometimes contradictory themes that defy singular summations and are open to divergent interpretations. He also often deployed puzzling and contradictory statements to provoke readers’ thoughts. Although not claiming to illuminate the one true Nietzsche, I contend that his sociocultural and social psychological arguments about German antisemitism and nationalism not only contradict alt right views but also theorize conditions that give rise to this distinctive type of demagoguery. Conflictive appropriations of Nietzsche have been part of the battle over capitalist crises and reactionary populist revivals for over a century, and unregulated growth and massive expansion of the global economy relative to the biosphere greatly increased material throughput and production of waste and generated a host of severe global environmental problems, including especially climate change. In this situation, the alt right contends that cosmopolitan people are deracinated, emptied of their cultural particularity, and spiritually lost. Progressives contend that cosmopolitans potentially benefit from more diverse people and perspectives, enhanced ability to empathetically play the role of the other, and consequent wider communicative capacities and refined powers of cooperation. Nietzsche too exhorted humans to “remain true to the earth” and its “garden joy,” and implied a naturalist esthetics and pacification of nature, and he should be rescued from alt right by reaching beyond his legacy to envision and forge new political-economic alternatives and collective actions capable of sustaining life on the planet and creating and perpetuating a more just democracy that favors cosmopolitan human flourishing.