Flow of Ideas

Nietzsche’s School? The Roots of Educational Postmodernism [1]

Glenn Rikowski, School of Education, University of Birmingham

A paper prepared for the Social Justice Seminar, Semester 2, University of Birmingham, School of Education, 24th March 1998


This paper examines and unearths - for the eyes of socialist and communist educators - a most dangerous phenomenon; Nietzsche’s intentions, re-birth and project as they manifest themselves within postmodernism in general and educational postmodernism in particular. It spells out the main items in the historical contract drafted by Nietzsche - a contract which is headed by: Humanity to be Torn into Two Halves Throughout Eternity - a contract which increasing numbers of "Left" theorists, one-time-Marxists and retro-prophets are signing up to. Not reading, or reading and not seeing or registering the small print, these (largely unconscious) signings (Nietzsche “wrote with blood”, his brood sign with their psychoplasma - or, they are ‘signed’, subcutaneously, by Nietzsche as they sign) invoke self-destruction and human betrayal.

The consequences of this abominable rebirth and techno-bio-psychic flow are especially manifest within educational theory (Usher and Edwards, 1995; Blake, 1996 - as prime examples). Educational research methodology (with the work of Stronach and MacLure, 1996) has recently been infected, corps/ed and spiritually incorporated by/within Nietzsche as theoretico-organic (postmodernised) life-form. Nietzsche as all-too-earthly organism has yet to devour even the tastiest morsels of compulsory schooling; mainly because technicism, Taylorism and modernist managerialism are depressing, but ultimately prophylactic, barriers to Nietzschoid 'growth'. The New Labourite ‘modernisation’ of education (and other spheres of contemporary British capitalism) is also a key antidote to some of the potential viral growth of the Nietzschoid entity (though this poses other debilitating and energy-sapping challenges for those committed to socialist and Left outlooks on education and life-in-general, which will not be dealt with here). However, contemporary English post-compulsory education and training, with its postmodern apprenticeships, time-compressed 24-hour colleges, dodgy staff contracts and officially celebrated flexibility, fragmentation and ‘responsiveness’ appears to be a fertile environment in which the Nietzschean organism can take hold and morph and mutate itself into new, alluring and erotic enigmas. This is more evident in relation to the organisation of the further education sector than its curriculum; Nietzschean postmodernism has made only slight inroads into A-level syllabuses (principally in sociology, media studies and philosophy), although a case could be made out for General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ) as a ‘postmodernised’ learning experience (but this is not pursued here). Higher education and the ‘advanced’ academic and intellectual life-worlds are most infected with Nietzschean, postmodernised discourse and modes of thought and ‘being’. In several strands of ‘theory’ - within sociology, radical philosophy and psychology, organisation studies, human geography, management theory, political theory, and, more recently, educational theory and philosophy - Nietzsche’s corps and the Nietzsche Industry are major elements within the seminar room and reading lists within undergraduate and postgraduate teaching agendas. In academic journals within these fields of study, Nietzsche Inc. has significant holdings. It is in higher education that Nietzschean postmodernised discourse has found its most congenial lair. Stronach and MacLure (1997) note that postmodernism, and theories of postmodernity, penetrated educational theory and research in the UK particularly late as compared with other academic disciplines (p.12). In the summer of 1996, in a special issue of the British Educational Research Journal on postmodernism and poststructuralism, Paetcher and Weiner (1996) ‘announced that these had “finally hit education” (ibid.) [2].

Through the work of Geoff Waite (1996), this paper uncovers Nietzsche's one intention; the Eternal Recurrence of the Same as the perennial maintenance of the ‘elite few’ and the variously enslaved masses. It illustrates how Nietzsche - through his corps, his hard-core followers - has been spectacularly successful in embedding himself in Westernised, postmodernised neo-capitalist technoculture so that his ‘one great intention’ is seed-corned within everyday life and acts as a foreclosing to a socialist/communist future. Thirdly, it exposes the complicity of postmodernism and educational postmodernism in this project of bamboozling humanity for nefarious ends. The argument at this point builds upon an outline of two possible effects of Nietzsche/anised postmodernism first hinted at by Waite: the ‘strong’, positive effect (as emergent/previously “Left” intellectuals are corps/ed and recruited as blood brothers and sisters); and the ‘weak’, negative effect - the immobilising, anaesthetising and nihilistic moment - which precludes or makes mischief for any project of struggle for socialism/communism, social justice and ‘progressive’ education and politics. The Conclusion is both summary and warning. It addresses the issue of re-appropriating the Future from the Nietzschean project and visions of the unending domination of capital, where both tendencies are viewed as aspects of a unity. All this is foregrounded by the next section which addresses the question of method: a case is made for ‘heading Nietzsche off at the pass’ or uprooting his cybersoul rather than playing his own laborious game and tracing his ‘influence’ back - perhaps genealogically to suit him and his acolyte Foucault - to his corpus and corpse.

The High Road

One way of assessing the influence of Nietzsche within educational theory, systems, politics and practice would be to work backwards. That is, starting from educational theory and philosophy, and more latterly, education research methodology - intellectual spaces where Nietzsche/anism is most virulent within ‘education’ - the task would be to show the following relationships: between educational postmodernism and contemporary postmodernism; between contemporary postmodernism and the “classical postmodernists” (Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Hiedegger and Lyotard); between the “classical”, precursory postmodernists and Nietzsche; and, finally, between Nietzsche’s grand corpus and its internal and specific educational extracts. This long chain, could, in principle, be forged.

In the first instance, educational postmodernism - as exemplified in works such as Ball (1990), Aronowitz and Giroux (1991), Lather (1991), Gore (1993), Usher and Edwards (1994), Smith and Wexler (1995) and Stronach and MacLure (1997) - could be traced back to contemporary postmodern themes and vistas, exemplified in such works as Barrett (1991), Bauman (1991), Rosenau (1992), Seidman and Wagner (1992), Hollinger (1994) and the vast tracts of postmodernised writing and discourse [3].

The second step would involve showing key relations between representatives from the latter type of contemporary social theorist and the “classical postmodernists”, Heidegger, Foucault et al. In practice, things would be much messier and must, of necessity, be far less mechanistic. This is because educational postmodernists - educational theorists/researchers writing through and within postmodernism - sometimes skip contemporary postmodernists, derivative and secondary texts and enter into direct discourse with the founding Godfathers. For example, Usher and Edwards (1994) occasionally discuss particular ideas in direct relation with the postmodern Godfathers; their Chapter 4 on ‘the subject in education’ does this through Foucault’s writing [4]. Furthermore, some of the “classical postmodernists” are still alive (Lyotard, Baudrillard) and adding to the foundations; in practice, the distinction between “classical” and contemporary postmodernists might be difficult to make (with some postmodernist writers - such as Blake (1996) - wishing to preclude such distinctions). Let us, for the moment, assume that such a distinction could be effectively drawn.

The third step along the path would involve showing how the “classical postmodernists” were influenced by, and grounded within, Nietzsche and became Nietzschean. For some of the Godfathers this would be ‘easier’ than others; Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida all wrote books on Nietzsche, [5] whilst Foucault discussed Nietzsche at some length, especially in his early work. On Lyotard and Baudrillard the task would be to show how, thematically, stylistically and politically they were akin to Nietzsche and are part of his (hard) corps. The work of Schrift (1995) is helpful on all of this part (three) of the project; he shows that Nietzsche’s ‘French Legacy’ includes French poststructuralism and aspects of what has become known as ‘postmodernism’.

The final part of the programme would involve an exploration of the work of Nietzsche himself. Whilst his whole corpus would form the backdrop to an analysis of how the postmodern Godfathers had become Nietzschean, his specific ‘educational’ writings could form the backbone of the analysis (especially Nietzsche, 1909/1872; 1983a/1874; 1983b/1874) and links could be sought between his educational writings and educational postmodernism. Nietzsche’s ‘teachings’ (particularly in Zarathustra - Nietzsche, 1969/1883-85) and his ‘doctrines’ (Eternal Recurrence of the Same, will to power, the overman, amor fati, becoming what you are and so on) would furnish the analyst with a more wide-ranging perspective within which to situate his specifically educational ideas. During the last thirty years or so there has been a growing interest in Nietzsche’s educational writings and viewing ‘Nietzsche as Educator’ in a similar way to which Nietzsche himself viewed Schopenhaur [6]. To round the whole trajectory off, the growing volume of writing on ‘Nietzsche as Postmodernist’ (precursor) could also be examined; this work encapsulates the whole analytical movement charted out above [7].

The problem with this mammoth research, genealogical, histiographical, theoretical and analytical agenda is that working through it would fail to nail Nietzsche. Whilst of ‘academic’ interest, such a project would be highly likely to have any answers to the key question: what is wrong with Nietzsche? Even if Nietzsche had ‘influenced’ the “classical postmodernists”, and they, in turn, had formed the bedrock to both contemporary postmodernist and educational postmodernist writings - so what? The usual way of ‘getting at’ Nietzsche (and the postmodernists) is to attempt to pin the rise of Nazism and Fascism (and its associated horrors, such as the Holocaust) on the ‘philosopher with a hammer’. However, as I have noted elsewhere there are problems with this; several writers have made out strong cases against conflating Nietzsche’s political position and his views on anti-Semitism with those of his Nazi sister (Elizabeth) and Nazi philosophers (see the discussion in Rikowski, 1996: 432-433). Nietzsche also screams with a misogynist, anti-socialist, anti-democratic and racist voice within his texts, but why does this make him dangerous? Can’t we just ignore him, hate him from a distance? No, for to grasp what Nietzsche was really about, to attain an understanding of the monstrous danger he poses to humanity (and specifically to education) we have to examine his intentions - something that postmodernism, with its Derridean ‘death of the author’ does not even allow us to do. In exploring Nietzsche’s intentions, the project behind his ‘text’, we can get at the roots of educational postmodernism. To expose these roots we need to start with Nietzsche, not work back to him. Thus, Nietzsche’s (and Foucault’s) own method - the genealogical method - is useless in this case. Rather, we require Foucault’s other methodological device ‘archaeology’. It will be argued through the rest of the paper that the roots of educational postmodernism are identical with Nietzsche’s ‘one great intention’; to render the human world into two for all time, between the elite (those enlightened, and ‘in the know’) and the masses or ‘herd’ (those who toil to create the material conditions for the emergence and flourishing of the ‘few’). It is this abominable project which constitutes the roots of educational postmodernism. To give substance to these points we need to examine the work of Geoff Waite (1996).

Waite’s Nietzsche

In an earlier paper, I noted that postmodernism has the effect of drawing in radical, disenchanted, dissenting and ‘Left’-posing academics and intellectuals who might, in other times, have been drawn to Marxism (Rikowski, 1996). Chris Harman has similarly argued that:

“Postmodernism is the fashion that has poisoned an increasing proportion of academic intellectual life in the last two decades. Its central message is to abandon any attempt to arrive at a true understanding of the world” (Harman, 1997: 9).

The interesting thing about this claim, however, is that it does not implicate Nietzsche in all this; although, to be fair to Harman, he does mention the fact that such hopeless ideas were around in Russia at the turn of the century after the failure of the revolution of 1905 (ibid.). What is so powerful about the work of Geoff Waite (1996) is that he goes beyond merely describing and cataloguing the dire effects of Nietzscheanised postmodern discourse and anti-politics. Nietzsche’s Corps/e shows, first of all, how Nietzsche biased, programmed and handicapped his writings (his life even) to yield such effects. Secondly, it exposes the enormity of Nietzsche’s demonic claim on the Future of humankind. Lastly, it indicates how Nietzsche brought about, engineered and created a corps, a vanguard, who became agents for the Master's world-historical project of Eternal Return of the Same - splitting humanity into elite and mass. This section examines Waite’s Nietzsche in relation to the first two of these three claims. An earlier draft of this paper touched upon on Waite’s account of Nietzsche’s esotericism and esoteric semiotics - the means through which he has hooked all-too-many ‘Left’ intellectuals [8]. This issue will not be dealt with in this paper.

Waite Contra Nietzsche

“Nietzsche’s position is the only one outside of communism” (George Bataille, 1991, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy).

Waite is a self-declared communist. He takes Bataille’s view of Nietzsche as the world-historical enemy of communism as foundational in his portrayal of Nietzsche. For Waite, the Future is either a Nietzscheanised culture of hierarchy, or, a future which contains at least the possibility of communism. According to Waite, communism is the social drive for/towards social equality. It is against both the drive of capital - as self-expanding value, where capital as social form and social relation is based on the difference between the value represented by wages and the value of social production - and associated Nietzschean cultural hierarchisation. For Nietzsche, capitalism was mere means, a social foundation, upon which his few cultural giants, his ‘few good men’, would be supported by the toil (wage-slavery) of billions. Nietzsche’s critique of capitalism, according to Waite (and this is partly what gives him superficial appeal to Leftists), is that the capitalism of his day was not sufficiently geared towards the “breeding” of such cultural colossi. He crafted his writings with this end in view, according to Waite. His writings were geared to have certain unconscious, subcutaneous, sub-rational effects on his readers such that they would come to play an active part in this enterprise. Waite’s Nietzsche is an esotericist, and, according to Waite, one of the problems Marxists, socialists and communists have in undertaking a depth-critique of Nietzsche is that they do not take esotericism seriously. Through the esoteric semiotics embedded within his writings, Nietzsche attempted to ‘live again’ through his corps. Such beings who become part of the corps are those whose personhoods are interpellated, hailed and called forth by Nietzsche, and then radically undergo re-shaping and re-energising so that they enact and effect Nietzsche’s world-historical programme and project. Thus spoke Waite.

Before outlining Waite’s account of Nietzsche’s ‘one great intention’, Nietzsche’s meta-project, it is worth stating some of the general claims against Nietzsche, Left-Nietzscheanism and post-Left intellectualism framed in his Nietzsche’s Corps/e. These claims constitute a strong case for being against Nietzsche and all he stands for and transforms himself into. Writing as a communist, Waite’s main claims against Nietzsche are as follows [9]:

1) Nietzsche is the ‘... revolutionary programmer of late pseudo-leftist, fascoid-liberal culture and technoculture.’ (xi) and ‘... his deepest influence is subconscious and subcutaneous.’ (ibid.).

2) and ... ‘If any one person or thing is responsible for the death of communism as imagined fact or “the death of communism” as ubiquitous concept, then it is the concept “Nietzsche”, the man Nietzsche.’ (ibid.).

3) Nietzsche’s influence is contemporary and direct as ‘For whether or not the living movement is dead, the dead man, the corpse, definitely lives on - as corpus [GR: Nietzsche’s works] and as corps’ (p.1).

4) Furthermore, ‘... Nietzsche programmed his reception in unconscious, subliminal ways to produce what will here be called “Nietzsche/anism” and “Nietzsche’s corps/e”’ (p.2).

5) Nietzsche’s influence reached “Even the greatest communist philosopher” - who, for Waite, was Louis Althusser (p.3).

6) For all those fighting for social justice and equality ... ‘No single strike in human history is - potentially if not actually - more totalitarian, fascist, racist, sexist, classist, or national socialist than ... [the] ...Nietzschean one’ (p.4).

7) Both capital and Nietzscheanism (especially in combination as they exist embedded within neo-capitalist technoculture) aim to ‘kill off’ all alternatives to hierarchically-ordered society (p.5).

8) For Marxists, taking on Nietzsche/anism in mortal combat is essential as: ‘Nietzsche/anism ... may be ... the dominant intellectual form in what has become the postcontemporary world of purportedly postideological, post-Marxist, and postsocialist neocapitalism’ (p.48).

These are not the only claims Waite fires at Nietzsche. But they are more than enough for socialists to engage Nietzsche and his contemporary - and not so contemporary (the Godfather-type) - disciples in intellectual and political combat. However, when set against Nietzsche’s prime intention, the above charges against him pale into insignificance.

Nietzsche’s ‘One Great Intention’: Eternal Return of the Same

“I write for a breed of humans that does not yet exist: for the ‘Masters of the Earth’” (Nietzsche, 1884, in: Waite, 1996, p.131).

Nietzsche himself said that he had ‘one thought’ but didn’t say what it was (Waite, 1996: 208). For Waite, Nietzsche’s ‘one great thought’ and goal was to be a “terrible destiny” - to cause an eternal rift in humankind for all future time - unless we can stop him. This ‘one great thought’ hinges upon Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same.

The Eternal Recurrence of the Same (Eternal Return hereafter) was first presented in Nietzsche’s published works in The Gay Science written in 1882 (Ansell-Pearson, 1994: 112). It has been variously interpreted within the Nietzsche Industry as a cosmological principle (literally, the universe ‘returns’, eventually, to the exact state it is in currently), as pointing towards a cyclical notion of time, and as an ultimate moral test. On this last option, if you can will the eternal return of all that has occurred throughout history - and its eternal revisiting - then it can be viewed as an indicator of lack of resentiment, a cheerful good will towards existence.

For Waite, the Eternal Return has a terrible and horrific significance within Nietzsche’s corpus; it pins down, like none of his other “doctrines” what Nietzsche was really about. He argues that:

“Nietzsche’s gradually-to-be-incorporated thought of Eternal Recurrence of the Same is ... intended to “break humanity in two” by keeping slaves out of the know, elites in the know - a polarization that is increasingly global” (p.14).

The Eternal Return is a mechanism for “weeding out” the strong from the weak - the elite from the mass. A few can stand and embrace this Great Thought. Most cannot, according to Nietzsche. However, the horror is contained in Nietzsche’s desire that the rift in humankind between elite and mass becomes eternal. Futuro-ontologically, what is willed to return is this basic human division. Nietzsche’s prime intention is to attempt to ensure that desire becomes future reality through inserting an esoteric semiotic within his texts which seeks to eternally re-create this rift within humankind. It is this intention and project that is at the roots of Left-Nietzscheanism and all that sails with it - including postmodernism and educational postmodernism. The fact that the Nietzschean elite was essentially a caste of “artist-warriors” - not grubby capitalists or sleazeball politicians - puts education to the fore, for it follows that a divided, differential and elite-creating education would be preferred over equality-enhancing (much less socialist-educational or communistically-driven) provision.

The Eternal Return was an aspect - but the most serious one - of Nietzsche’s general orientation towards creating division and ‘orders of rank’, argues Waite, for:

“Nietzsche was a firm and consistent advocate of nothing so much as polarization in all walks and modes of life. Witness his persistent, seductive appeal to archaic notions of “pathos of distance” and “order of rank”” (p.17 – original emphasis).

Nietzsche was most concerned to write differentially for the two groups - elite and mass - in order to maintain their relative existences and differences. Thus, he was concerned with writing for two audiences, or rather for one audience to the detriment of the other whilst also not seeming to make an enemy of the latter. Thus, for Waite:

“Nietzschean hypotheses ... are not merely pragmatic tools in any abstract sense; instead, they are part of an overarching polemic and pragmatic intent that is to function differentially for two basic groups - the elite and the masses, “us” and “them” - whose absolute social difference is thereby to be perpetuated. This properly, quintessentially Nietzschean perspective cannot be exposed enough today, under postmodern global conditions in which the discrepancy between hyper-rich and hyper-poor escalates by the hour” (p.65).

What makes Nietzsche’s writing particularly dangerous - for Waite - is that it is designed to take Left intellectuals with the flow - not to antagonise them so that they seek to expose Nietzsche’s abominable project. To this extent, Left-Nietzschean intellectuals are not generally part of the elite but come to play a specific role and function within the mass; that of propagating and generalising Nietzsche’s influence within the technoculture whilst also obscuring any critical insight into his real intentions. Hence:

“His [Nietzsche’s] esoteric message is ... morally monstrous and horrific: namely, to elevate the few by enslaving the many, but with the latter’s more or less willing approval and enjoyment, including the substantial support of gullible intellectuals - self-described Left-Nietzscheans being unwitting vanguard among them” (p.71 – original emphasis).

Nevertheless, there is a problem of how Nietzsche was managed to keep all this together and to ‘make it work’, so to speak. Waite is well aware of the problem and the middle sections of his book attempt to deal with it. Put simply, the problem for those wishing to pin Nietzsche’s intentions upon his contemporary corps must address:

"[The problem of] ... the causal relationship between Nietzsche’s original intention and the subsequent appropriation of his works by Nietzscheans and others. The precise mechanism of articulation between Nietzsche and Nietzscheanism is surprisingly undertheorised and invisible in the vast field of Nietzsche studies" (p.25 – original emphasis).

“Nietzscheanism” is a ‘difference-engine’, but the precise ways it functions to separate elite from mass and yet allow theoretical and political space for the corps to forge a consensus which rules out communism, the drive to social equality, need close examination. It functions as an unacknowledged consensus under the cover of the production of apparently maximum difference of opinion. This deep consensus (within Nietzsche’s corps) works to ensure that:

"... the deepest levels of desired solution and directive proposed by the agent known as “Nietzsche” are disguised from view and/or subconsciously embodied by his subagents, as though his solutions and directives ought automatically to be their own" (pp.28-29).

As with Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, “You never know” [10]. Agents work for him/Nietzsche without their knowledge, believing that they are working for themselves, and perhaps even for or at least not against the mass of humanity. Furthermore, argues Waite (pp.52-53), Nietzsche attempted to control his posthumous influence, to handicap it (eso/exoterically) - but there was no guarantee of success. Not being aware that you are “working for Nietzsche” as an agent of his corps makes Nietzsche’s project more likely to succeed, it could be argued, only if such agents are conscious of certain advantages in living out this duality. These benefits - for contemporary postmodernist members of Nietzsche’s corps - are very clear; relatively easy publication, the prospect of intellectual stardom, academic promotion, rocketing into the hip and ‘cool’ mode of contemporary intellectual life - and at least being talked about and noticed.

Of course, Nietzsche had the problem of aiding and abetting elite formation whilst keeping his human-dividing project hidden. To this end:

“... he operated to a significant extent within an esoteric tradition of political philosophy that had principled objections against ever communicating ultimate ends” (p.30 – original emphasis).

For ...

“Had he communicated these aims fully he would have expected himself to be more persecuted than he has in fact ever been” (p.30).

Despite all of Nietzsche’s cunning, opacity and esotericism Waite holds the Left responsible for the current situation where ‘Nietzsche can seem more radical than Marx’ behind the backdrop of postmodernist, postcontemporary, poststructuralist and cultural studies-type approaches, ideas and writings. Thus, it is both sad and regrettable that:

“While the Left presumably has read or could have read Nietzsche’s elitist remarks, published and unpublished by him, it has most often chosen to ignore them, sooner or later embracing him as the Left’s own. Precisely this effect (or meconnaissance) flows from Nietzsche’s esoteric design (p.31 – original emphasis).

Nevertheless, for Waite, Left-Nietzscheanism is not just something to be castigated, but must be seen as an enigma that can still, in principle, be explained. The paradoxical nature of Left-Nietzscheanism must be at the heart of such an explanation, for:

“Arguably the constitutive paradox of post/modern intellectual, artistic, and political life ... is that Nietzsche seems to attack nothing more vehemently than democracy, socialism, feminism, popular culture, and the Left in general. Yet nowhere and at no time has he enjoyed a warmer, more uncritical - hence more masochistic - welcome than today from precisely this same Left ... And so is incepted and reproduced the Left-Nietzschean corps” (p.75 – original emphasis).

To summarise, Nietzsche’s ‘one great intention’, his malevolent project, can be seen as:

Nietzsche’s Project:

• To be realised (proleptically) in the future;

• Esoterically hidden from exoteric view;

• Not to be realised rationally, cognitively or consciously only;

• Elitist at root and requiring a social base of “more or less willing slaves to support it” (Waite, 1996, p.133).

“But that he [Nietzsche] has one fundamental aim, and that its implications are going to be horrific for most of humanity - of this there is, or ought to be, no doubt” (Waite, 1996: 207 – original emphases).

In Mortal Combat with Nietzsche: Winning Moves?

The struggle against Nietzsche/anism is inseparable from the task of rebuilding the communist project, the struggle for socialism and the drive for social equality. For Waite, Nietzsche/anism stands in the way of building “proper communism”, for: “To grasp - and combat - celebrations of the “death” of communism, and to grasp and build - proper communism, it is crucial to grasp in philosophy and mass or junk culture the causes and effects of this death. Nietzsche and Nietzscheanism among the vanguard” (p.4 – original emphasis).

To grasp: ‘a genuinely communist alternative to capitalism requires - as a necessary if insufficient condition - the grasp of Nietzsche and Nietzscheanism’ (Waite, 1996: 6-7). Empirical work - mere cataloguing of the horrors of “really existing capitalism” - is not enough for this enterprise to succeed. A theoretico-political effort is also required for the urgent task of attempting to grasp:

“... the uncanny phenomenon of the endlessly attractive-repulsive adversary and paranoia that is Nietzsche’s corps/e: that is, the living corps of people it informs, incarnates, embodies, incorporates. “We all carry part of him within us” - unconsciously as well as consciously (p.8 – original emphasis).

We can all be “infected” - even Waite - for the Nietzsche Industry Inc. is super-efficient at ‘... producing and reproducing the fetishized commodity “Nietzsche” for the capitalist market and for capital. No book is exempt from this rule.’ (p.9). Nietzsche does not want enemies; he wishes to seduce us. This is his allure for the Left. For Nietzsche: ‘we were to be - may actually be - his corps/e. And thus not his adversary after all, but his friend or lover’ (p.11 – original emphasis).

In order to combat Nietzscheanism one must realise that:

"Nietzsche ... [is] ... against the masses in his willingness to induce some of the multitude to their own self/destruction. Hence a philosophically coherent and politically emancipating philosophy must forge its way back to Spinoza past the Nietzschean self and only then, through communism, into the future" (p.14 – original emphases).

Those who take up the banner of Left-Nietzscheanism - in all its manifestations, including postmodernism - run the real risk of their own self-destruction according to Waite. This occurs when they act as decentred ‘selves’, and Rosen (Right-Nietzschean) argues that a further element of Nietzsche’s intentions was to ‘accelerate the process of self-destruction intrinsic to modern ‘progress’’ (in Waite, 1996: 166) whilst for himself attaining a terrible and horrific “centre” in his own writings as constituted by his world-futurised project (Waite, 1996: 212). So, he’s okay then. But hapless and hopeless postmodernists - decentred, perspectivised in outlook and relativist in anti-epistemology - dissect and vivisect them(their)selves at the behest of the master, and then argue for similar treatment to remaining modernist dinosaurs and for its ‘political’ educational and other benefits! The necessity - for socialists, communists and remaining Left radicals - however, is to fight this monstrosity.

Nietzsche, Waite and ‘Weak’ / ‘Strong’ Postmodernist Effects

“... one of the things Nietzsche intended was to recruit good-natured people to support him against the interests of others – non-elitists, whom good-natured people might otherwise have helped better” (Waite, 1996: 155).

This section aims to pinpoint the precise effects that postmodernism and postmodernists have on the contemporary intellectual landscape, for the unwinding of neo-capitalist technoculture, and in relation to possibilities for the emergence of socialism-communism through a Future that can be regained from Nietzsche’s project. Waite distinguished between a ‘weak’ and a ‘strong’ form of esotericism within Nietzsche’s corpus. The latter is the most interesting as it assembles a particular role for Left-Nietzscheanism (including its postmodernist variety).

In the ‘weaker’ sense of “esotericism”, Nietzsche wrote for three audiences at once:

(1) Those in the know, to draw them in further;
(2) Those out of the know, to repel them further away;
(3) Those “in between” - to recruit or “interpellate” an audience that as not yet in the know and yet at the same time susceptible to being in the know, useful to have in the know (p.198).

It is within the third audience that postmodernists reside. Waite sometimes argues that Nietzscheans and Left-Nietzscheans are part of the ‘herd’, the masses - playing the role of recruiters to a dead-end project (as they do not, typically become ‘one of the few’). On the other hand, they may (also) play a role in aiding bona fide members (or potential members) to attain self-consciousness of both their world-historical role and the work and succour of Nietzsche’s corpse and corpus. Ironically, they ‘enlighten’ elite/proto-elite members in terms of their role for establishing cultural domination and hierarchisation - when postmodernists typically sneer at the Enlightenment project (including concepts associated with it - such as rationality, justice, liberty and autonomy) flowing from the French Revolution, Kant, Hegel and the Scottish Enlightenment.

In the ‘strong’ sense of “esotericism”: “... [the] ... writer would care much more about how to transmit general and specific doctrines subrationally - beneath or beyond any “claim of reason” - to readers of various persuasions, with the intent to preserve, produce, or reproduce the socio-economic division of manual and intellectual labor in a society perpetually divided into classes and/or other social groups” (p.205 – original emphases).

The role of Left-Nietzscheanised postmodernism is different here. It immobilises. In the process of framing a doctrine entirely esoterically, beyond “reason”, the claims of reason must be also destroyed - in order to totally secure the doctrines against the possibility of encroachments through reason - just in case the esoteric doctrines occasionally slide into becoming exoteric ones. The curtain must not be allowed to slip. Hence, the destruction of “reason”, morality and epistemological foundations. All bridges must be burnt, and it this which causes the immobilism, for if all this is ‘taken on board’ (in management-speak) then arguments for equality, socialism and social justice - let alone communism - become non-starters.

For those wishing to establish the case for social justice, the problem of attempting to establish a foothold when concepts such as rationality, morality, the ‘good’ and accountability are all put in jeopardy by postmodernist onslaughts on Enlightenment values is debilitating. For those wishing to establish the case for socialism/communism whilst yielding to postmodernist criticisms of ‘totality’, contradiction, opposition, labour and value - the game becomes a kind of minimalist re-writing of the socialist project along the lines of Laclau and Mouffe (1985), or a descent into an oxymoronic ‘market socialism’. Nietzscheanised postmodernism as the Great Immobiliser precludes futuro-historical options approaching socialism-comunism and pours water on the sparks of Marxism.

Conclusion for Radically New TransHuman Life Forms

On the basis of the ‘high road’ outlined earlier - that we can trace educational postmodernism back to Nietzsche - it transpires that at the roots of this theoretical current stands Nietzsche’s ‘one great thought: the Eternal Return as the eternal rendering of the future of “the human” in terms of an elite group of artist-warriors and a mass of ‘willing slaves’. Postmodernists (educational or otherwise) either play the role (from a ‘weak’ esotercist perspective) of being great immobilisers of radical and socialist thought, or, they actively recruit others into the living-dead, zombified Nietzschean corps, and place the signs for ‘the few’ as they keep Nietzsche’s corpse alive (on the ‘strong’ esotericist ticket).

In order for really radically new human life forms to emerge - as opposed to warmed-up, morphed and incorporated pre-modern re-energised as postmodern organisms - socialists and communists, and all those batting for social justice and equality, need to settle scores with Nietzsche and his brood. If Waite is right about the fusion of Nietzsche(anism) and forms of contemporary capital then there are problems with ‘purifying’ ourselves from this multi-effect virus. This is because, as I will argue in future work (Rikowski, 1998a, 1998b), we are, partially but unavoidably, capital. There is simply no Romantic 'going back' to a form of the ‘human’ which is not capital. The task is to transcend capital through mortal combat and abolition, whilst appropriating the resources (of knowledge, invention, power, force and possibilities for post-capitalist technologies) of the historical (alienated) time stored within capitalist relations of production and knowledge (Postone, 1996).

If Waite (1996) is correct and Nietzsche(anism) has morphed him/itself into contemporary forms of capital then we cannot simply purge our personhoods of him/it However, there is the possibility of escape into the ‘transhuman’, the overcoming (very Nietzschean) of Man. Unfortunately, Nietzsche had checked out this possibility too (Ansell-Pearson, 1997) and had opened up prospects for a post-Darwinist form of the ‘human’. Ansell-Pearson (1997) explores these possibilities through Nietzsche, posing the question of whether projected technocultures hold out optimistic forms of Future. It would seem though, that possibilities for the ‘evolution’ of radically new human life forms, a transhuman condition which allows for democracy, justice and a full and rich life for all - communism - cannot be opened up by desperately thrashing about in the Future whilst attempting to avoid either Nietzschean nightmares of endless inequality (no matter what the ‘human’ becomes) or sci-fi possibilities set around human/machine/biotech fusions (cyborgs, androids and the like - as in Virilio, 1995). The trick is to attack the dominating social force in contemporary society: capital. Of course, in taking this route we turn partly against ourselves too, in so far as we are also capital. Thus, the abolition of capital, whilst leading to the simultaneous abolition of Nietzsche-within-capital, simultaneously abolishes the working class and the ‘human’ as presently constituted. We abolish ourselves as presently constituted by and through capital [11]; we become something else, but this is a transhumanity worth fighting for. The ‘transhuman’ would no longer be limited and grounded by either capital or Nietzsche’s transhistorical project.

Meanwhile, those who sail with educational postmodernism are implicated in the present-future establishment of the Eternal Return: they (mostly unknowingly - but less so post-Waite) aid and abet in a crime against humanity; the maintenance of the cultural division between elite and mass. The full educational implications of this have yet to be worked out. Future work will be undertaken on these questions. For now, those who do not wish to see Nietzsche’s Eternal rift actually return all owe a debt to the pioneering work of Geoff Waite.


1. This is a revised and edited version of a paper first written for presentation at the University of Brighton, School of Education, 19th November 1997, as part of a Seminar (with Mike Cole and Dave Hill) on A Marxist Critique of Postmodernism in Education.
2. I would be inclined to date the ‘arrival’ of educational postmodernism in the UK to the publication of Usher and Edwards’ (1994) Postmodernism and Education. Stronach and MacLure (1997) note that the British Education Index had no postmodern entries between 1986-1991. There was one for 1992, two for 1993 and fifteen for 1994 (p.32). My Left Alone (1996) paper charts the effects that the rise of educational postmodernism has had on the ‘death’ of the old Marxist educational theory flowing from Bowles and Gintis (1976) and Willis (1977).
3. This list constitutes a microfragment of the writing on postmodernism. These texts are given as exemplars of the type of writing which has been heavily influenced by the postmodern Godfathers. For a useful historical account of the rise of postmodern theory see Bertens (1995).
4. See also Usher and Edwards’ (1994) Chapter 7, where they explore ‘education and textuality’ in relation to the work of Derrida.
5. Deleuze’s (1983) Nietzsche and Philosophy, Derrida’s (1978) Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles, and Heidegger’s (1982) massive work, Nietzsche.
6. On the educational dimension of Nietzsche’s work see: Rosenow (1973, 1986, 1989); Jenkins (1982); Cooper (1983a,b); Hillesheim (1986, 1990); Aloni (1989); Aviram (1991); Sassone (1996). On Nietzsche ‘as educator’, see: Aloni (1991).
7. There is a growing debate around the issue whether Nietzsche can be viewed as a ‘postmodernist’, or as least as the originator of postmodernism. The consensus of opinion is on the affirmative, and Babich (1990) expresses this tendency. Sadler (1995) takes a dissenting view and attempts to present Nietzsche as anti-postmodernist and slayer of nihilism (which postmodernists, on his account, actively embrace and wallow in).
8. As Waite notes, Nietzsche was trawling in Left intellectuals into his net long before the first ‘postmodernist’ stalked the planet. Waite points to the rise of ‘Left’ Nietzscheanism in Russia prior to the October Revolution and in Germany in the 1920s. The precise mechanisms through which Nietzsche ‘hooked’ his followers (whilst denying that he wanted followers) are extremely complex and will be left alone here. Waite does not provide a very lucid account either, though he stresses the illusive and enigmatic nature of what he is trying to grasp.
9. Abbreviated, part-quotation and note form. This part of the paper needs stands in need of more time to develop and review Waite’s complex argumentation. But perhaps Nietzsche is best fought in hotel rooms and on trains - where I drafted these notes from Waite.
10. As Verbal Kint/Kevin Spacey put it: “He [Keyser Soze] is supposed to be Turkish. First generation, maybe second. All kinds of stories about him. What he’s done, who he’s killed. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” (McQuarrie, 1996, p.89).
11. A point I owe to discussions with Mike Neary, University of Warwick, Department of Sociology.


Aloni, N. (1989) The Three Pedagogical Dimensions of Nietzsche’s Philosophy, Educational Theory, Vol.39 No.4.
Aloni, N. (1991) Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche’s Healing and Edifying Philosophy, London: University Press of America.
Ansell-Pearson, K. (1995) An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker, London: Routledge.
Ansell-Pearson, K. (1997) Viroid Life: Perspectives on Nietzsche and the Transhuman Condition, London, Routledge.
Aronowitz, S. & Giroux, H. (1991) Postmodern Education: Politics, Culture and Social Criticism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Aviram, A. (1991) Nietzsche As Educator? Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol.25 No.2.
Babich, B. (1990) Nietzsche and the Condition of Postmodern Thought: Post-Nietzschean Postmodernism, Albany: The State University of New York.
Ball, S. (ed) (1990) Foucault and Education: Disciplines and Knowledge, London: Routledge.
Barrett, M. (1991) The Politics of Truth: From Marx to Foucault, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bataille, G. (1991) The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Trans. R. Hurley, New York: Zed Books.
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Bertens, H. (1995) The Idea of the Postmodern: A History, London: Routledge.
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Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. (1976) Schooling in Capitalist America, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
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Cooper, D, (1983b) Authenticity and Learning: Nietzsche’s Educational Philosophy, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
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Hollinger, R. (1994) Postmodernism and the Social Sciences: A Thematic Approach, London: Sage.
Jenkins, K. (1982) The Dogma of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol.16 No.2.
Laclau, E. & Mouffe, C. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London, Verso.
Lather, P. (1991) Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/in the Postmodern, New York: Routledge.
McQuarrie, C. (1996) The Usual Suspects. Film script, London, Faber and Faber. From The Usual Suspects, a film directed by Bryan Singer, © (1995/1996), Blue Parrot/Bad Hat Harry Production & PolyGram Video Ltd.
Nietzsche, F. (1909/1872) On the Future of our Educational Institutions, Trans. O. Levy, in: The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol.3, Edinburgh: T.N. Foulis.
Nietzsche, F. (1969/1883-85) Thus Spoke Zarathustra: a book for everyone and no one, Trans. R. Hollingdale, Harmonsworth: Penguin Books.
Nietzsche, F. (1983a/1874) On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life, Trans. R. Hollingdale, in: Untimely Meditations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nietzsche, F. (1983b/1874) Schopenhaur As Educator, Trans. R. Hollingdale, in: Untimely Meditations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Paetcher, C. & Weiner, G. (1996) Editorial, British Educational Research Journal, Special Issue: Postmodernism and post-structuralism in educational research, Vol.22 No.3, pp.267-272.
Postone, M. (1996) Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A reintrpretation of Marx’s critical theory, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Rikowski, G. (1996) Left Alone: end time for Marxist educational theory? British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol.17 No.4.
Rikowski, G. (1998a) Deep Possession: Education, Capital and Transhuman Identities (Forthcoming: Paper for University of Birmingham School of Education Research Papers).
Rikowski, G. (1998b) Education, Capital and the Transhuman, forthcoming in: Postmodernism in Educational Theory: Education and the Politics of Human Resistance, (Eds.) D. Hill, P. McLaren, M. Cole & G. Rikowski, London: Tufnell Press.
Rosenau, P. (1992) Post-modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads and Intrusions, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rosenow, E. (1973) What is Free Education? The Educational Significance of Nietzsche’s Thought, Educational Theory, Vol.23 No.4.
Rosenow, E. (1986) Nietzsche’s Concept of Education, in: Y. Yovel (ed) Nietzsche as Affirmative Thinker, Dordrecht: Martin Nijhoff Publishers.
Rosenow, E. (1989) Nietzsche’s Educational Dynamite, Educational Theory, Vol.39 No.4.
Sadler, T. (1995) Nietzsche, Truth and Redemption: Critique of the Postmodernist Nietzsche, London: The Athlone Press.
Sassone, L. (1996) Philosophy Across the Curriculum: A Democratic Nietzschean Pedagogy, Educational Theory, Vol.46 No.4.
Schrift, A. (1995) Nietzsche’s French Legacy: A Genealogy of Poststructuralism, London: Routledge.
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Stronach, I. & MacLure, M. (1997) Educational Research Undone: the Postmodern Embrace, Buckingham: Open University Press.
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Virilio, P. (1995) The Art of the Motor, Trans. J. Rose, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.
Waite, G. (1996) Nietzsche’s Corps/e: aesthetics, politics, prophecy, or, the spectacular technoculture of everyday life, Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Willis, P. (1977) Learning to Labour: how working-class kids get working-class jobs, Farnborough, Saxon House.

© Glenn Rikowski, London, 12th April 2006.
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