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Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Marx (1818-1883) weren't quite contemporaries, but both were prominent and influential German thinkers, and one might expect that they have at least heard of each other. Marx might have missed Nietzsche's most active period (1880-1889), but it is certain that Nietzsche had known of Marx's ideas.

Both were prominent materialists and anti-religious thinkers: "God is dead" vs "Religion is the opiate of the people" and both also subscribed to historicist views on the evolution of human thought. But mostly they seem to be in dialectic opposition to each other.

Marx's view on the value of community and "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" seems antithetical to Nietzsche's views on master vs slave morality and his ideal ubermensch.

  • Is there a chance that Marx had heard of Nietzsche, or did Nietzsche only gain prominence after Marx's death?
  • Assuming Nietzsche read Marx, what did he make of his ideas?
  • Is my reading of their ideas as being antithetical correct, or is it superficial, and they can actually be reconciled?
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    Good question; I don't know about N; but wasn't the German Ideology Marx's riposte against Stirner, who on some readings was comparable to Nietzsche. – Mozibur Ullah Mar 2 '16 at 7:21
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    I would like to also know the "relationship" between Dostoevsky and Marx, the 2 most significant "philosophers" at late 19th century. Please delete, moderators, since King is asking about Nietzsche ( I am not familiar with, well, I must say at all ( but being interested )) – Kentaro Mar 4 '16 at 2:37
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    See Thomas Brobjer, Nietzsche's philosophical context: An intellectual biography (2008), page 70: "Nietzsche never mentions Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels, and it is generally assumed that he had no knowledge of them and their kind of thinking and socialism. However, this is not correct. Marx is referred to in at least eleven books, by nine different authors, that Nietzsche read or possessed. In six of them he is discussed and quoted extensively, and in one of them Nietzsche has underlined Marx’s name." 1/2 – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 3 '16 at 18:50
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    "The nine authors who mention or discuss Marx, whose works we know that Nietzsche either owned or read, are Jörg, Lange, Dühring, Meysenbug, Frantz, Schäffle, Frary, Bebel, and Jacoby. Of these, the books by Lange, Dühring, Frantz, Schäffle, Bebel, and Jacoby contain extensive discussions and long quotations. Nietzsche read several of these nonphilosophical books in 1876 or shortly thereafter." 2/2 – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 3 '16 at 18:50
  • I actually found coincidentaly -- the exact answer -- through Anti-Du:ring. It was just a coincidence, kindly be reminded it was in Japanese and German, kindly wait. ( In summary, Nitche actually might have almot intentionally dismissed Marx ( aka Engels )). – Kentaro May 14 '16 at 5:45
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Nietzsche mocked German idealists at length, but I think calling him a materialist is a bridge too far, same as for all his anti-Christianity it is not clear that he was an atheist. He inherited his metaphysics from Schopenhauer, transforming his World Will into will to power, who can be seen as irrationalizing Hegel's Absolute Geist with a side of that "intellectual intuition" that Kant kept rejecting but couldn't let go of. Nietzsche's is a highly personalized and individualistic philosophy focused on human condition and action, like existentialism, barely a realism but hardly materialism, and with panpsychic overtones perhaps.

He explicitly rejected and mocked the dominant version of materialism of his day, atomism. As Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil:"As regards materialistic atomism, it is one of the best-refuted theories that have been advanced, and in Europe there is now perhaps no one in the learned world so unscholarly as to attach serious signification to it, except for convenient everyday use (as an abbreviation of the means of expression)". Moreover, he joined Hume in deflating the categories of substance and causality, along with the logical laws of identity and contradiction, all of which he saw as crutches of intellect clinging to the ephemeral stability of Being, and inadequate for capturing the Becoming of life, which only truly manifests itself in willings and urges:"Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to DISCHARGE its strength — life itself is WILL TO POWER".

Marx passed away in 1883 and Nietzsche started writing about philosophy only in 1878. He probably did not gain enough prominence for Marx to notice in his waning years. As for the influence the other way, Clark and Leiter write in Nietzsche: Daybreak, "there is no evidence, however, that Nietzsche ever read Marx". He was aware of socialists and Young Hegelians more broadly, like Strauss, Stirner and Feuerbach, and yes, his individualism and emphasis on the historical role of "exceptional individuals", was antithetical to socialism and historical materialism, and his philosophy of life was antithetical to everything rationalism, especially Hegel. This said, he did embrace the Heraclitean aspects of Hegel, the becoming, the flux of life, irrationalized and vitalized by Schopenhauer. So there is one point of contact between Nietzsche, and especially early Marx of Young Hegelian days and alienation from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Stirner wrote in a similar spirit), — the Hegelian dialectic.

See also online discussions concerning Nietzsche on Marx, and Marx on Schopenhauer.

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  • I always got the feeling that Nietzsche was a no-nonsense materialist hiding behind flower language he used. Eternal Recurrence strikes me as being as materialist as it gets. – Alexander S King Mar 3 '16 at 20:22
  • @Alexander Eternal recurrence is very Heraclitean too, "this world is an ever living fire, going in and out", but he did filter Heraclitus through Hegel and Schopenhauer. And he was too impressed by Hume to take "things in themselves" seriously, and mocked Kant for noumena philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/26820/… If he believed in realist's kind of "access" at all it was irrational one, through urges of will in action, darkly. It's hard to make him even into a dialectical materialist :) – Conifold Mar 5 '16 at 0:27
  • Like Ayn Rand, he was not a Materialist. He uses all sorts of 'folksy wisdom' a materialist could never accept. – J. M. Becker Oct 7 '16 at 15:38
  • @TechZilla, and like Ayn Rand, Nietzsche was not a philosopher. One agrees or disagrees with their way of looking at the world; neither advance hypotheses. – Mr. Kennedy Oct 22 '16 at 2:52
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    Brobjer argues that Nietzsche had "a reasonably detailed knowledge of Marx and Marxism." I haven't read the article yet, but that seems like it may contradict Clark and Leiter. – Brian Z Apr 25 at 0:00
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I doubt there is any crossover whatsoever.

Nietzsche's breakdown was in 1889. Marx died in England in 1883, and was not at all the most prominent socialist of that time. Engels completed Capital in 1894 and "Marxism" only emerged in distinct contrast to other variants of socialism and anarchism around the turn of the century.

What they shared in their views of history, attacks on bourgeois culture, abhorrence of British mechanics, and inheritance of German romanticism is mainly zeitgeist and retrospective selection on the part of later thinkers. Whatever they shared as atheists, they were in wholly different denominations in respect to god's replacement...Culture.

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    Do you agree with Conifold's statement that Nietzsche wasn't necessarily and atheist? – Alexander S King Mar 3 '16 at 20:20
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    Yes, atheist probably isn't right. But I have no particular take on that. – Nelson Alexander Mar 3 '16 at 22:19
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As other answers have indicated, the chance that Marx knew about Nietzsche is virtually zero. Nietzche's most significant works were published after Marx's death. The Gay Science was published in the year before Marx's death but I can find no evidence to suggest that he might have known about it.

@Conifold correctly states that we have no evidence that Nietzsche read Marx directly. On the other hand, Thomas Brobjer shows that Nietzsche probably knew Marx's name (he underlined it in a book) and he certainly knew something about Marxist thought. He seems to have read a number of books (written by Lange, Dühring, Frantz, Schäffle, Bebel and Jacoby) that quote or discuss Marx at length.

Brobjer's deals only briefly with what Nietzche may have actually thought about Marx and Marxism:

The reason for the absence of discussions of Marx, and of themes central to Marxism, in Nietzsche’s writings may be due to his general rejection of such thinking, as was the case with political economy. It seems likely that it was natural for him to subsume such questions into his general critique of political and economic thinking, and even more so into his critique of socialism. Nietzsche’s critique of Marxism can therefore only be dealt with in relation to his critique of socialism in a wider context.

Overall it is fairly clear that Nietzsche explicitly rejected socialism and related political philosophies across several of his major works. In that way, yes, it's is difficult to reconcile Nietzsche and Marx. However there are a number of works that deal with interesting connections and parallels between their works.

Ada Albequrque de Silva focuses on their shared rejection of religion and also the distinct kinds of "redemptive" visions they each put forward.

The similarities between these two seminal thinkers are remarkable: they were contemporaries, their lives overlapping by four decades, and they both rose from privileged classes in Germany. Their concerns were strikingly similar. Each one strove to moor the human psyche in an increasingly fragmented world. To achieve this, each sublimated his early religious influences into a philosophical doctrine, emphasizing the importance of an earthly redemption over a mythical redemption in the afterlife. But there the similarities end. While the Overman attains solitary spiritual redemption, the proletariat attains redemption based on a communal harmony that provides for men both spiritually and materially. While Marx places man's salvation in the embrace of collective humanity, Nietzsche finds it in high solitude, far from the madding crowd.

Robert Miner goes a bit further to argue that some of Nietzche's later thought can be interpreted as implying a certain sympathy for socialism in the following form:

(1) In particular circumstances, when inequalities become too massive to bear, some version of socialism deserves unhesitant and energetic support; (2) one should resist the allure of becoming a partisan who sees the whole of human life as an attempt to build a new society that conforms to the socialist vision.

Overall, I would say that your question seems to be very much on track. Yes they are basically antithetical. However there is just enough common ground that a number of thinkers have brought the two in to a kind of dialogue.

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    Good answer, but on de Silva's comment that "the overman attains solitary spiritual redemption", there are interpreters of Nietzsche who don't think "Übermensch" referred to some sort of heroic individual but rather to a future type of being evolved beyond present-day humanity (see the discussion starting on p. 153 of Ullrich Haase's Starting With Nietzsche which translates it as 'Overhuman'), noting for ex. Nietzsche's comment "What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the Übermensch: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment." – Hypnosifl Apr 25 at 16:07
  • @Hypnosifl Interesting... still an idea of redemption very different from Marx. – Brian Z Apr 25 at 18:50
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    I haven't read this other piece yet but it seems to makes a fairly similar argument using this understanding of Last Human. – Brian Z Apr 25 at 20:34
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Nietzsche says in the Genealogy of Morals in dispersed sections in the book:

I have already let it out: in the contractual relationship between creditor and debtor, which is as old as the very conception of a ‘legal subject’ and itself refers back to the basic forms of buying, selling, bartering, trade and traffic.

 

Precisely here, promises are made; precisely here, the person making the promise has to have a memory made for him: precisely here, we may suppose, is a repository of hard, cruel, painful things. The debtor, in order to inspire confidence that the promise of repayment will be honoured, in order to give a guarantee of the solemnity and sanctity of his promise, and in order to etch the duty and obligation of repayment into his conscience, pawns something to the creditor by means of the contract in case he does not pay, something that he still ‘possesses’ and controls...

 

Punishment as a means of rendering harmless, of preventing further harm. Punishment as payment of a debt to the creditor in any form (even one of emotional compensation).

One could compare and contrast Nietzsche's and Marx's views on credit. (See especially section 5, second essay, in Genealogy of Morals).

Also, Nietzsche was niether a materialist nor an "immaterialist" because he despised all metaphysics. He saw Metaphysics as that very culprit of making the distinctiom between "appearance" and "reality" which ends up destroying both worlds of metaphysics because philosophers can't decide if the transcendent ("reality") world is real or if the phenomenal (appearances) world is real. To get a glimpse of how Nietzsche solves this problem you're gonna have to read Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Ecce Homo. In Ecce Homo he says: "Zarathustra was the first to see in the struggle of good and evil the true wheel in the working of things — the translation of morality into the metaphysical, as force, first cause, end-in-itself, is his work."

Nietzsche saw morality and metaphysics as interconnected, so he uses Zarathustra to go beyond morality and thus go beyond metaphysics. You're gonna have to do a close reading on Thus Spoke Zarathustra on how he does go beyond metaphysics! (You also have to remember materialism and metaphysics are predominantly philosophy of science terms and Nietzsche certainly was not a philosopher of science, so its best not to read him through that lens...)

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    Sorry, but how does this answer the question what Nietzsche and Marx thought of eachother? – user2953 Aug 14 '16 at 8:42
  • Well they obviously weren't aware of each other but they still had views on economic concepts like credit. – Mr. Smith Aug 14 '16 at 8:58
  • @Keelan they would have downright hated each other from every bone in their body. Only a postmodernist could argue otherwise. – J. M. Becker Oct 7 '16 at 15:42

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