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Cross-examining Nietzsche and Marx

Review: How to Philosophise with a Hammer and Sickle, Jonas Čeika

Overcoming modernity requires not only understanding its economic conditions and how to overthrow them; it also requires will-to-power, a passion for change, the capacity for value-creation, and, finally, an awareness of oneself as a being whose potential has not yet been realised—no revolution has ever begun, let alone succeeded, without these factors in place, and it is such needs Nietzchean theory addresses itself to.

With How to Philosophise with a Hammer and Sickle, Jonas Čeika is not synthesizing or supplementing his two chosen philosopher-subjects, Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx, but attempting the subtler task of drawing ‘out, by means of a cross-examination, the immense critical power already present in each thinker’. The obstacle to this is that while both Nietzsche and Marx’s ideas are ‘transformative, always in motion[, …]capable of exceeding their own potential’, when they have been ‘utilized for the purposes of institutional legitimization this transformative potential has been stripped away.’ Čeika is restoring the radicalism to both of them, through his specialized juxtaposition.

Central to putting these two alongside each other is an under-explored foundational agreement between them, an antifoundational foundationalism that ‘one cannot separate philosophy from its practical context and effects, from its uses, its functions, and its goals.’ And because of this, they reject any ‘perspective beyond all perspectives’. Moreover, something else these philosophers relatedly share is that aforementioned privileging of change over positing a Platonic realm of unchanging absolutes, a changeability inherent to perspectivism. ‘Marx and Nietzsche are materialists, but of a particular kind: the Heraclitean kind.’ i.e. a materialism with the notion of the world as changeable, a set of processes in constant flux, at its heart.

What of Nietzsche’s anti-socialism? Čeika is not interested in converting a long dead Nietzsche to socialism. However, he rejects the view that Nietzsche’s anti-socialism is a dismissal of marxian socialism specifically. For Nietzsche, there was an ‘equation of socialism with asceticism’, but ‘Marx not only completely rejected the ascetic aspects of competing socialist movements; one of the very reasons he criticised capitalism for was its peculiar propagation of asceticism.’ I.e. Marx and Nietzsche, defenders of embodied philosophies, unsurprisingly both also rejected asceticism as a social ethos and worldview.

Similarly, and again relatedly, Marx shared Nietzsche’s rejection of egalitarianism, which he called a bourgeois ideal, and Nietzsche’s historical materialist critique of rights is wholly compatible with Marx’s marxism too. Given all of this, we should not be shocked to learn that for Nietzsche, socialism was represented not by the name of Marx, with whom there is little evidence of any deep engagement, but by one of Marx’s antisemitic socialist adversaries, Eugen Dühring:

an anti-Marxist anti-Semite. When we acknowledge Nietzsche’s view of Dühring as the representative of socialism, the particular form of his aversion to socialism begins to make a lot more sense. Nietzsche, for instance, more often than criticizing socialism as ascetic, criticised it as fundamentally driven by resentment, which he also associated with slave morality in general. It was because of Dühring that Nietzsche came to this conclusion, as Dühring had explicitly praised resentment as begin integral to the human sense of justice. It was Dühring that tarnished the name of socialism by characterizing it as reactive revenge.

What Čeika’s book offers, then, is a basis to re-inject two commonly misunderstood 19th century intellects with the simultaneously destructive and creative insights they gifted to the world. He covers conceptualizations of modernity, history, morality and ethics, objectivity and much more. Written more in the fragmentary style of Nietzsche than the long form expository one of Marx, the book is an invaluable provocation to reconsider not only both men, but the proper emancipatory scope of marxism too. In a time when life-denying reactionaries triumphantly show off the depths of their true nihilism, and when the left finds itself starved of the vital resources that could usher in a new human era, this book—to quote Nietzsche on Dostoevsky—“cries truth from the blood.”

It is not that you will necessarily walk away agreeing on every point. (Indeed, I have strong reservations about Nietzsche’s aristocratic affiliations, question his denial of free will and fondness of amor fati, his dismissal of Panpsychism, and even with the extent of Marx’s ontological materialism.) But where you might depart from Marx or Nietzsche, the project of reading them through one another is still invaluably clarifying, especially given Čeika’s own abundance of captivating clarity. Ultimately, I concur with my comrade Logan O’Hara’s essay on the book, teasing out especially the anti-moralist aspects, that if there are any complaints to be made, it is that this work could often go even further in making and extending its case for the relevance of these two hermeneuticists of suspicion.

Čeika offers a launching point for a great deal of future exploration. I hope that marxists show the courage to engage with it.


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