It is no secret that Nietzsche had contempt for democracy. In Beyond Good and Evil, he compared democrats, those people of democracy who think that humans are all equal and free, to a herd of farm animals (section 44 in the second part, "The Free Spirit"). Thus, he clearly finds the concept of freedom in democracy, and of democracy itself, laughable.

Nietzsche also has a well developed concept of the "free spirit," one that he relates to often. The phrase "we free spirits" or something of the like has appeared more than once in his writings. His free spirit is one who is not trapped by morality, by a closed view of the world, but one who can see humanity for what it is and understand it properly. Consequently, it seems quite apparent to me that the free spirit should not be a democrat. However, the following passage (coming after a short fictional response to his words) from On the Genealogy of Morals has confused me:

This is the epilogue of a "free spirit" to my speech; an honest animal, as he has abundantly revealed, and a democrat."

This is an excerpt from the end of Section 9 of the first essay, "Good and Evil," " Good and Bad," which can be found (though by a different translator) here.

Now, the passage seems to me to suggest that free spirits, and thus Nietzsche, are democrats (all of you Nietzsche scholars are probably shaking your heads in pity: "Oh dear, he has taken Nietzsche out of context again!").

I see several possible explanations:

  1. I have misunderstood something in the text/taken it out of context, leading me to this conclusion;
  2. Nietzsche is indeed a democrat;
  3. What just occurred to me, that the quotation marks around "free spirit" indicate that the speaker himself is not really a free spirit, but only thinks that he is.

Obviously, #2 is simply not true. I would appreciate an explanation of whether it is #1 or #3 (or possibly something else), and if it is #3, how the "free spirit" is only fooling himself and isn't really free.

  • 2
    This is a great question, and not just because I don't know the answer without going back and doing some more reading in context. Mar 2, 2012 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


I'd go for a combination of #1 and #3.

The context is polemical; Nietzsche is showing an argument between him and (one or more) putative interlocutors, who Nietzsche responds to. The "free thinker" or "free spirit" in the quoted passage is an opponent who Nietzsche is in the process of dismissing, and does not represent his own views-- and the scare quotes around "free spirit" helps indicate this, if there was any doubt from the context.

As an aside, this is one of the most difficult things about reading Nietzsche-- for almost any passage (taken out of context), one can find a corresponding passage (taken out of context) that argues the exact opposite. Thus, to attempt to assess Nietzsche's intent, one must read the arguments with an assiduous attention to context-- hence Nietzsche's claim that "philology is the art of reading slowly."


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