Richard Spencer: American piñata
Updated: Mar 14
I saw a recent interview with Richard Spencer in which he said that, in effect, every political system needs a “boogeyman” or a “villain” and that he has chosen to fulfil this role for American society. It’s hard to know if Spencer is sincere because he is not a sincere man in nature—similar formulations are given by academics who like to “play Socrates”, to put forward controversial points in a “gadfly” fashion.
These people are also insincere, for Socrates died for his beliefs whereas the modern “gadfly” never does—indeed, the whole conceit is based on the idea that Socrates didn’t mean what he said, it was all just “a provocation”; and so it follows that a “healthy society” has people who put forward controversial points but it’s “unfair” to punish them for it (in other words, these people are not Socrates—they expect to have their cake and eat it, insult the city gods and not be punished; and perhaps they are not punished because the modern “gadfly” never says anything really controversial—everyone likes the idea of being Socrates, not everyone likes being Socrates).
The fact Spencer has embraced the boogeyman-gadfly dynamic demonstrates that he is not a serious person—he is a narcissist, an attention-seeker. This is consistent with his beliefs. His beliefs, so far as I can tell, amount to what I call “the high-school Nietzschean”. The archetype is perfectly illustrated in the above clip from the film Little Miss Sunshine (2006). The high-school Nietzschean dresses all in black and slouches in the back of class; in his jotter pad he doodles upside down crosses, pentagrams, and the swastika—in his school bag is a dog-eared copy of Helter Skelter, an attorney’s eye view of the Manson case (the book has been so well-thumbed that the cover is striated with white lines, as is the well-broken spine).
When called on by the teacher (this is a civics class), the high-school Nietzschean slowly raises his eyes and says, in mock sincerity, “Have you considered that, like, maybe murder is…good?” Mrs. Harrington places her hand on her white merino sweater and puffs herself up in mock shock, “Why, Dick Spencer, how could you say such a thing? What ever will we do with you?”
Spencer shows the same characteristics as the high-school Nietzschean—in other words, he’s reactive; to be “the over-man” is just to countersignal the majority—so everyone says racial harmony is good, you say it’s bad. Jonathan Bowden displayed the same view when he said that you should always do the opposite to what the mass does—that is not to be the over-man, that is to be determined by the mob as its contradiction (the over-man knows that the mob is sometimes right).
It’s easy to see how this cod Nietzscheanism appeals to adolescents—adolescents are narcissists and they like Marxism because it lets them portray themselves as “heroic saviours of the oppressed masses” and they like Nietzscheanism because it lets them self-conceptualise as a “totally different and unique free-thinker who determines his own life” (ironically, they form a predictable type—the high-school Nietzschean).
The hallmark for the high-school Nietzschean is that they will have an axiomatic detestation for Christianity. This is because they are not sophisticated enough to extract the meta-semantic in Nietzsche, just as many people cannot understand that the meta-semantic in Christ was “don’t be a hypocrite” (he helped the poor to illustrate the point, some people interpret this to mean “to be like Christ is to help the poor”—incorrect). So the high-school Nietzschean reads Nietzsche’s savage attacks on Christianity and just repeats the same sentiments in a world where Christianity has collapsed to a cultural remanent, whereas when Nietzsche wrote it was a cultural powerhouse (although hollow and riddled with unbelief).
Yet the over-man is both a value-giver and also a Machiavel. The Machiavel possesses virtù—effective action, manliness. The virtuous man is not burdened by beliefs; he arrives in contemporary America and surveys the political scene—he sees, in broad terms, “evangelical” Christians as the main antagonists towards a progressive left. He accepts both views derive from the same slave morality but he grasps, as a virtuous man, that the progressives are more degenerate than the “evangelicals”—have carried slave morality further.
The over-man is untroubled by belief, he has an interest that his own power of action be enhanced—in this case, in the political arena. Perhaps, in principle, he would prefer to lead a horde of Viking warriors—there are no such people in America, or none who sway politics. He discards that option. Instead, he supports the “evangelical” Christians; he uses his wiles to advance them because he understands that they cleave closer to reality (though not as close as he does). If the left is defeated and a future Christian America “goes mad” and starts to pull down nude Greek statues because they are “sinful”, the over-man supports a more realistic sect or introduces a secular or non-Christian element to preserve the higher. He is not perturbed; he just does what is necessary to be effective.
By contrast, the high-school Nietzschean—a man like Spencer—just extracts the idea “Christianity = bad = I am against it in all circumstances = I am the over-man freed from slave morality”. Incorrect—you are someone who cannot read Nietzsche because you are too narcissistic and possibly too stupid to extract the meta-semantic. So Spencer tends to sneer at Trumpites because, far from being an “over-man on the peaks”, he is a believer—even though progressives would destroy a person like him, he says positive things about them because he finds Christianity and “Qanons” to be “icky” and low-status. Hence he had a good sneer at the J6 protesters.
Yet the over-man accepts reality as is and works to the material at hand—and Nietzsche would agree, Nietzsche would be able to see that the progressive left is worse; if your goal is to build the higher, then you must use “evangelical” Christians—and that was because he was a genius and not self-absorbed narcissist of moderate capacity.
High-school Nietzscheans almost always think that “the more violence the better”. This is a sort of Ragnar Redbeard “might is right” parody of Nietzsche—so for Spencer the problem with the J6 protesters is that they were “meek and mild”; he wanted them to burn the Capitol down, not walk around it respectfully. Why? Because that’s the anti-Christian thing to do—Christians say to be polite, so I’ll be rude; Christians disdain violence, so I’ll commit violence for no reason—again, you let what you are be determined by your opposition to Christianity and not by a positive value. Yet when Nietzsche spoke of the over-man he meant people like Socrates, Confucius, and Christ—people who brought values, not just people who did the opposite of what was normal.
The reality is that the J6 protesters used minimum violence to enter the Capitol—they were “meek” in its true ancient Greek sense, they exercised manly restraint. These people were the most radical Trump supporters—and this was as violent as they got (compare their conduct to the left—it had burnt down cities that very summer). This is the material the American over-man has to work with—and in their nature the people attracted to the right, even nutcase “Qanon shamans”, just aren’t that violent (they’re basically law-abiding, as you would expect). That’s what they are—they’re about up to breaking down a door and walking through some roped-off pathways. Again, the virtuous man meets them where they are and uses that material in a creative way—Spencer turns his nose up at it because the people who follow Trump aren’t amoral man-beasts who murder and rape on impulse. In fact, he prefers to praise Biden and “sophisticated” liberals—perhaps because if your definition of “Nietzschean” is “animal instincts unleashed” you prefer people who want to let black criminals out en masse.
Bottom line: the high-school Nietzschean is a type. Most people grow out of it—many flip and become ultra-Christians and repudiate their “sinful” pasts because at heart they’re believers, believers in Nietzsche or Christ; and they need that certainty that you get from total belief in a doctrine. The real over-man is a cross between Socrates and a Renaissance prince: he’s an effective man who understands reality and works with it creatively to maximise his powers—and he also brings new values to his society. The combination might be impossible because the value-givers and the Machiavels seem to be different people—Christ and Socrates are not the same as Patton or Caesar, but that’s Nietzsche’s ideal anyway. In the interim, you could say what Nietzsche is after is virtue and that means effectiveness and to be effective transcends good and evil and can look “evil” but is not done “just to be evil”.
The fate for the high-school Nietzschean is to become what Spencer is: not an effective man but rather a media piñata—a “boogeyman” who is wheeled onto various podcasts and news spots, like Hannibal Lecter strapped to his gurney, to say “evil” things (he’s a Nietzschean, you see) and “put the other position” (so that we can reject it in an axiomatic way—since it comes from a man in his early-40s with a Hitler Jugend haircut). This has happened many times before (insert eternal recurrence reference here)—except now the “American piñata” is dragged onto podcasts and not Ricki Lake. It has almost nothing to do with Nietzsche and almost everything to do with narcissism; and the person who does it is not fated to be an effective man but rather to be a voluntary whipping boy for the democracy (much to his own gratification—because at least it’s fame; or infamy, anyway). As always, we’re back in civics class—Mrs. Harrington has given an exasperated sigh and said, “What ever will we do with you, Richard?”.