Was Nietzsche a Republican, Democrat, or the Antichrist?

Nietzsche has had a large influence on political history, but what did he really think of all the ideologies he examined?

Friedrich Nietzsche on political movements
Friedrich Nietzsche (Image: Scotty Hendricks)

Nietzsche has had a remarkable effect on political history for being a stateless individual who was never very political. His writings have gone on to inspire several movements of radically different natures despite him being a rather non-political thinker. Even when he did comment on politics, it was mostly to say how little he cared for an ideology. Here are a few political movements that Nietzsche commented on, and what he thought of them.

On liberal democracy

Nietzsche's conception of the real winners in a democratic system. (Getty Images)

If there is a single thing we know about Nietzsche’s politics, it is that he was no fan of liberal democracy. He saw democracy as a tool of the masses to oppress the few. As Nietzsche despised the “herd”, he was not only opposed to the idea of the majority having all the power but outright afraid of it.

He was one of the several interesting philosophers who opposed democracy, but he was less concerned with the majority making poor choices and more with them using the state to impose their morality on the free-spirited loners who made up a small part of the population.

He was also far from an egalitarian and saw little reason to give everybody the same rights. To put not too fine of a point on it, he defines himself as opposed to democracy outright in Beyond Good and Evil:

"We, who regard the democratic movement, not only as a degenerating form of political organization, but as equivalent to a degenerating, a waning type of man, as involving his mediocrising and depreciation: where have WE to fix our hopes?"

On socialism

Pictured: Things Nietzsche hated. Socialism, democracy, mass movements, and common people. (Getty Images)

In the same way that he dislikes liberal democracy, Nietzsche disliked socialism. He is perhaps harshest to the socialists in this line from Beyond Good and Evil:

“The over-all degeneration of man down to what today appears to the socialist dolts and flatheads as their "man of the future"-as their ideal-this degeneration and diminution of man into the perfect herd animal, this animalization of man into the dwarf animal of equal rights and claims, is possible, there is no doubt of it.”

He sees this political movement as being both a secularized Christianity, offering all of the benefits of the herd morality and the chance to bring down those you don’t like, and as a sort of starting point for a dull phase in human existence and a starting point for the Last Man

As Nietzsche was opposed to egalitarianism, any ideology that has political and economic egalitarianism as key points was abhorrent to him. In the section the above quote is taken from, he explains how the political movements of socialism and liberalism are both slavish in nature.

On anarchism

A fellow who probably thinks Nietzsche is on his side. (Getty Images)

His views on anarchists are not uncertain either, he calls them “dogs” in Beyond Good and Evil. In The Antichrist he compares anarchism to his favorite punching bag, Christianity:

“The Christian and the anarchist: both are décadents; both are incapable of any act that is not disintegrating, poisonous, degenerating, blood-sucking; both have an instinct of mortal hatred of everything that stands up, and is great, and has durability, and promises life a future.”

Nietzsche also views anarchism as being a secularized form of Christianity. As with socialism, he says both of them wish to reduce everything to their level, encourage herd behavior, and lash out at their enemies rather than towards their own ideal. Left anarchists who infuse egalitarian rhetoric into their anarchism also incur the same wrath the socialists and liberals face when dealing with him.

Despite these critiques, several prominent anarchists thought highly of Nietzsche and Emma Goldman even declared him to be an anarchist. Several leaders of the anarchist movement in Spain cited Nietzschean ideas on morality during their revolution. Nietzsche’s stances against the state, church, herd morality, and desire for the Ubermensch who is neither master nor slave do lend themselves to anarchist thought rather easily. 

On fascism

People who definitely thought Nietzsche was on their side.

We’ve talked before about how Nietzsche wasn’t a Nazi. The key points of that article bear repeating now. He was opposed to mass movements in general and German nationalism in particular. He claimed the greatness of the German people came from their “Polish blood”, and he found anti-Semitism to be ridiculous. He even ended his bromance with Wagner over his increasing anti-Semitism.

As in the case of anarchism, these stances didn’t bother the fascists very much. Mussolini loved him, and once received the complete works of Nietzsche as a birthday gift from Hitler. While they didn’t have completely accurate images of Nietzschean thought due to the interference of Nietzche's sister, his inegalitarian, anti-feminist, and anti-democratic views would have appealed to the Nazis in any case.

On conservativism

Nietzsche’s list of things he opposed also includes using the state to enforce morality on those who would be most restrained by it. He found the Christian church repulsive, found no reason to follow its dictates, and was opposed to the status quo in Europe in general.

His philosophy harkens back to the past as offering moral examples, but that past is often Ancient Greece and its pre-Christian morality. The Moral Majority would have no friend in Nietzsche. 

It might be possible to view Nietzsche as a reactionary, but his agreement with reactionaries would be incidental. He would disagree with nearly all other reactionaries on why not everyone is equal, other people shouldn’t vote, or why modern culture wasn’t very good. There is no doubt that his arguments and claims of being an immoralist would profoundly shock them.

So, what is he? Left? Right? Nazi? The Antichrist?

At the end of the day, Nietzsche is not a political thinker. While his provocative stances on morality lend themselves to questions on government, he never really tried to answer them. His concern was chiefly with the individual who may be restrained by the popular morality, state-sanctioned or not.

While he did comment from time to time on ideologies, he endorsed nothing and remained the champion of the lone genius who feared encroachment on their ideas by the unwashed masses. While his stances against democracy and equality may shock us today, his critiques of mass movements remain insightful and even the most dedicated democratic socialist can benefit from considering them. Just remember what happens to he who fights monsters




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7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

Nero's Torches. A group of early Christian martyrs about to be burned alive during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.

1876. Painted by Henryk Siemiradzki.
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  • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
  • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
  • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

1. Caligula

Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

2. Nero

Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

He died by suicide.

Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

3. Commodus

Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

4. Elagabalus

Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

5. Vitellius

Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

6. Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

7. Tiberius

As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

"Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

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