Nia Frome

18 Theses on Aristocratic Marxism (2021)

7 minutes | English Español | Philosophy The Crew

1. Aristocratic Marxism defines itself in opposition to moralism. Feelings associated with powerlessness (for Spinoza, the sad affects; for Nietzsche, slave morality or ressentiment) are held to be an obstacle to the self-emancipation of the working class, which needs to kick its bad habit of making moral appeals. The cure is joy, or a stoical hardening, or an unapologetic affirmation of desire, which are the same thing.

2. It is impossible to write about Aristocratic Marxism from anywhere but in its shadow — just as the ruling ideas in every epoch are the ideas of the ruling class, so too in Marxism. Its disdain for the subject and for the weak individual’s need to conceive of things in terms of good and evil, friend and foe, is a standing fortification and threat. An effective diagnosis and criticism can skirt these emplacements only by following the routes of the enemy, i.e. sharing its mode of expression.

3. Aristocratic Marxism wraps itself in Capital, especially its limitations. That Marx did not go into any detail about socialism is taken as proof that socialism is ineffable (and permanently so — the ineffability is never given an expiration date) and that really existing socialism is unscientific. Whatever grips the masses is automatically suspect; Capital must be defended.

4. Moralism and the tyranny of the majority go hand in hand. The masses covet what belongs to their betters, then enact destructive policies on the basis of this toxic feeling of envy, which is inexhaustible and therefore given to excess. Cancel culture is the same way. There is, principally, a fear of mass hysteria, that things will spiral out of control.

5. Moralism and Christianity go hand in hand. Slut-shaming, antisemitism, and homophobia are all examples of moralism. That said, the New Atheists are moralists too — they imagine that people can and should simply choose not to believe. What do you call the people within Christianity (or any other religion) who are working to make it more feminist, more ecumenical, more tolerant? On the one hand they’re moralists insofar as they adhere to the church’s rules, but they’re also moralists in the left-wing sense that they’re trying to cajole people into having better politics through moral appeals. Which of these is un-Marxist, the compromise or the appealing?

6. Moralism intrudes on a private sphere that should be respected. But if we imagine this private sphere as typically heterosexual, a situation of ordinary sexism, then there can be nothing objectionable about a moralizing feminist intervention. Moralism is presumptively unjust only if we assume a private sphere occupied by unfairly-discriminated-against minorities whose relations are basically egalitarian. Thus the accusation of moralism is the analogy of a given attitude or behavior with homophobia.

7. Aristocratic Marxism cannot get behind the proletariat’s actual class struggle, which is too concerned with enemies, and thus envy-adjacent. It is squeamish about attributions of class character. Magnificent structures exist — agents, not so much. This depopulation gives Aristocratic Marxism a crystalline appearance, a desert coldness, which some people find beautiful.

8. Aristocratic Marxism emphasizes the impersonality of impersonal domination, and the republic of the social or democratic republic. The blamelessness of individual exploiters and the autonomy of artistic/intellectual activity are zealously defended. Aristocratic Marxism pretends to oppose misanthropy by opposing free will and blame. But seeing people as bundles of reflexes is not an antidote to misanthropy.

9. Aristocratic Marxism does not shy away from reading and citing fascists, murderers, and rapists. The rightness or wrongness of an argument has nothing to do with its author’s righteousness. Worrying too much about the latter is moralism. There is an aristocratic disdain for considerations of economy — the idea that, having limited time, we must prioritize and focus on that which is most likely to help.

10. Moralism is characterized as both weak and strong, effete and tyrannical. Aristocratic Marxism sees itself as hardheaded and serious on the one hand and as rightly liberal on the other (in the sense of tolerant, charitable, forbearing, cosmopolitan) — in other words, patrician. Aristocratic Marxists dispense wisdom, they don’t get into scraps. They won’t descend to your level.

11. Against the Aristocratic Marxists it is important to remember that moral appeals sometimes work. Nietzsche didn’t hate slave morality because it was losing, he hated it because it was winning. Every morality is a class weapon. What is possible is a function of what is acceptable.

12. “Shame is already revolution of a kind; shame is actually the victory of the French Revolution over the German patriotism that defeated it in 1813. Shame is a kind of anger which is turned inward. And if a whole nation really experienced a sense of shame, it would be like a lion, crouching ready to spring.” [1]

13. It is good to understand the causes of things (Spinoza’s Amor intellectualis Dei) but bringing these into evidence is itself a moral appeal. Foucault did not speak in terms of good and evil, but rather in terms of health and danger. He did not thereby move “beyond” morality — try spending five minutes talking to a Foucauldian. Moral discourse is a relatively honest way of socializing and submitting to scrutiny the effects we seek to cause in each other.

14. Spinoza and Nietzsche were elitists; whoever would dispense with moral appeals must also dispense with most real conversations people are having. Aristocratic Marxism allows only an austere ontology of force. The result is that obtained by logical positivism — the ruling out of large parts of what people say as basically meaningless.

15. Hegel’s “what is real is rational” is a rebuke to this kind of elitism — it rules out such ruling out. Aristocratic Marxism has a big problem with Hegel: fear of the masses is fear of dialectics, the tool by which “the rabble gets on top.” Hegel’s crime may be called humanism, historicism, idealism, teleology, the subject, holism, Whig history, or totalitarianism. In short: optimism.

16. Spinoza is Dr. Manhattan — the supreme naturalist who sees in 4D, affords no particular distinction to humanity, cannot be killed or surprised, does not experience novelty or free will, and struggles to overcome the cosmic indifference resulting from his God’s-eye view. He doesn’t care enough to stop the Comedian from murdering a woman.

17. The scientificity of Marxism can be bought easily at the expense of its revolutionariness. The prize, the challenge, is to have both. Those who immediately collapse Marxism’s revolutionariness into its scientificity are preemptively insulating themselves against solidarity and accountability, teleporting away to Mars.

18. What could be a sadder affect than aristocratic pessimism? The Aristocratic Marxists cannot imagine winning, only a long winding down of the clock. To proceed on the assumption that we are going to lose is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seeing the future always means seeing multiple futures, and choosing.

[1] Karl Marx, 1943. Letters from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. [web]