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I was kissing Satan’s asshole—otherwise known as drinking a Starbucks coffee—when I started to think about the difference between Carlyle and Nietzsche. Nominally, the men resemble each other, since both spoke for hierarchy, individual heroism, and non-Christian spirituality in the 19th century—and yet Nietzsche hated Carlyle. He hated him because Nietzsche’s aristocratic elite was leisured, whereas Carlyle, with his old Scotch Knoxian blood, thought hard labour was everything—he thought the French aristocracy was overthrown because they were lazy and decadent. He wanted the century’s freshly minted industrialists to become a new aristocracy, whereas Nietzsche lionised the very decadent French aristocracy Carlyle thought deserved to be overturned—his ideal was 18th-century France.

Both men were neurotic and had stomach complaints—Nietzsche vomited all the time and Carlyle had gas all the time. The typical writer-thinker neurosis: Carlyle had a room built on top of his house to find somewhere quiet to work—then he complained he could hear the wind; it’s like when you sit very quietly and you can hear your blood pumping in your ears. So it was pure neurosis—Carlyle would never find anywhere quiet enough, the sound was in his own head. Similarly, Nietzsche wandered Europe in search of a quiet room—yet rarely satisfied. You have to wonder if such men are really fit to pass judgement on who should rule a state…

I reject both men: if you want an elite, you want a responsible elite that is in touch with reality—perhaps that involves a commitment, per Nietzsche, to war and leisure (perhaps it means industry, per Carlyle). This is the flexibility necessary to rule, since nobody wants to end in a work camp (Carlyle) nor with decadent aristos who just play polo all day and then go to war (Prince Harry is the overman?). No, reality will sort everything out soon enough—reality is right-wing, reality has a pathos of distance and, in the end, reality decides who is fit to rule.

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