Beyond Master and Slave: Developing a Third Paradigm
Lester H. Hunt
I am sure that readers of the first of the three “Essays” of Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals, “'Good and Evil,' 'Good and Bad,'”1 are very often afflicted with a certain ambivalence. On the one hand, Nietzsche's words are somehow very compelling – their persuasiveness is indeed much more salient than the precise content of the thesis of which he means to convince us. And yet, on the other hand, Nietzsche's own presentation of his thesis somehow seems to undercut its own effect, at least if that effect involves agreeing with him in some way. It is a rather strange reading-experience, an encounter with ideas at once powerful and repellent. In what follows I seek to relieve if possible this ambivalence by trying to add something to the account Nietzsche gives. You have heard so far of The Master and The Slave: but I give you The Trader.
But I leap ahead of myself. First I need to present the ambivalence that I seek to relieve. To do so, I must retrace what to many will be familiar ground. In order to do so in a way that does not defeat my own purpose, I will need to present Nietzsche's project in his First Essay in a way that is as uncontroversial as it can be, with a minimum of interpretation (at least initially). Ultimately, I hope to shed some light on the issues with which he is grappling there, and also to some extent on meaning of the text itself. To a considerable extent, I will be engaging in just the sort of investigation that Nietzsche is engaged in. The result that my own efforts produce might, just possibly, be regarded as a sort of “friendly amendment” to his conclusions. The matter of just how friendly this amendment is I must largely leave to the reader to decide.
The title of Nietzsche's book indicates the First Essay is meant as an attempt at “genealogy.” The question of the precise nature of this enterprise is of course a profound one and the occasion of much discussion and dispute, but he does tell us in the Preface an important part of the answer, at least insofar as the attempted genealogy is applied to the subject matter that is currently at hand, namely, that of “morals.” The point of the enterprise, he says, is “a critique of moral values” (Pref. 6, emphasis in the original). For this, he says,
there is needed a knowledge of the conditions in which they [ie., these values] grew, under which they evolved and changed (morality as consequence, as symptom, as mask, as tartufferie, as illness, as misunderstanding; but also morality as cause, as remedy, as stimulant, as restraint, as poison)... (Pref. 6).
This enterprise rests on a Nietzschean premise that he does not discuss at length in the Genealogy, perhaps because by this point in his life he takes it to be obvious: that our values come to us, not as a gift from some absolutely authoritative Beyond, but as human creations.2 He seems to conclude from this that such values can to some degree be evaluated, as other human creative acts are, in terms of their origins.3
It is important to keep in mind the realm within which he is carrying out his project of evaluation. The realm of evaluation involved is what can roughly named “the good” rather than “the right.” That is, he is interested in delineating psychological profiles of types of persons who in one respect or another seem worthy of approval – if not as admirable, exactly, then at least as healthy. On the other hand, he is not directly concerned with what I am calling “the right,” with features of actions that, according to at least to some standard or guide for conduct, which make them right to do or wrong to omit. Though, as we shall see, issues about the right do figure into Nietzsche's genealogical investigations, they play a mainly secondary role. He holds that the task at “the very beginning” of the enterprise of the genealogy of morals is to determine “the origin of the concept and judgment 'good',” (2) and he finds the origin of such concepts and judgments in their reference to persons. Moreover, he finds that they apply originally to people in virtue of who they are rather than in virtue of things that they have done.
As is very well known, he claims that the people, the specific type, to whom they originally applied were those who were “noble” or “aristocratic” in, as he put it, “the social sense” of those words: that is, to they applied to the politically dominant, and they applied to them in virtue of this same political dominance. This simple notion is, he says, “a fundamental insight” for moral genealogy. (4.)
In the language they used to pronounce value-judgments, these noble ones sometimes designatesd themselves in terms of the very power that enables them to determine names (denominating the good with words that simply mean “the powerful,” and so forth), but sometimes they designated themselves in terms of their race, and sometimes “by a typical character trait,” such as truthfulness or courage. He comments in passing that the last instance, in which “the good” are characterized in virtue of a character trait, is “the case that concerns us here.” (5.) The present concern is of course the genealogy of morals. This is worth noting because it indicates a conceptual connection between his project and that of “virtue ethics”: of the three dimensions mentioned – social status, race, and traits of character – it is the last that fit his present concerns. Those concerns are clearly, in some sense of the word, ethical in nature. Further, traits of character so far comprise the only ethical subject-matter being investigated. However, a qualification is in order here. In traditional virtue ethics, good people are good because they possess virtues. In the conceptual structure that Nietzsche is investigating here, something like the reverse of this is the case. The character-traits involved merely designate or specify (bezeichnen) these noble individuals. The traits are not what makes these people good. Rather, the traits are virtuous because these people have them. According to Nietzsche, the primary sense of “good” is one in which it is applied to a type of person, where the personal type is itself is the standard of goodness. (As we will soon see, this fact has enormous potential significance.)
Such is the fundamental idea behind what he calls “master morality.” Slave morality is in a way fundamentally similar, in that the fundamental idea is that of a type of person. The idea mirrors that of master morality. If master morality is based on the primacy of “good,” slave morality is based on the primacy of “evil.” In master morality, the self is taken as the standard of the ethically positive, while in slave morality the evil other – originally, we suppose, those who oppressed the original slaves – is taken as the standard of what is ethically negative. Nietzsche thus finds the motive or the formation of this idea in the passion of ressentiment – resentment, in a particular, of the evil other. Two basic features of slave morality are the basis of the constrast Nietzsche draws between it and master morality and of the argument he makes for its inferiority to this contrasting type: He claims that slave morality is essentially a reaction to factors in its environment and not a spontaneous act of creation, and that it is guided by an ulterior motive. It is because of this ulterior motive that slave morality is an illusory and falsifying view of the world: it aims to disfigure its evil opponent – “in effigie of course” – thereby wreaking its revenge upon it. Its other basic feature, its mere reactivity, is linked to the fact that while slave morality is fundamentally an expression of hatred, master morality is fundamentally a grateful and triumphant act of affirmation. To be specific, it is an act of self-affirmation. (10.)
Upon this foundation Nietzsche creates portraits of two contrasting syndromes of interconnected ideas, principles, and passions. These dual portraits are fascinating I have no doubt the strike many readers as a research project worthy of further pursuit. This is so in spite of the fact that the precise connections between the elements of these portraits are far from clear. Is the radiant healthiness that he associates with master morality simply its cause, the thing that originally gave rise to it, or is it its effect, so that adhering to master morality might help to give those who adhere to it a healthier outlook? Or is it both cause and effect? Regardless of how Nietzsche might answer this question, the idea that there is some such connection seems both plausible and important.
And yet, alluring as it is, I see a very serious flaw in this pair of portraits, one that would surely haunt the sensitive reader even if questions like the one I just raised were to be answered. It is a problem that Nietzsche himself raises, though I think I think the problem is rather more serious than he does. It might be called “the behavior problem.” Nietzsche's portraits of the two moral types are just that: types. They are things that people can be. Yet people cannot simply be, they must also do. Indeed, being is deeply connected with doing in various ways. For one thing, one's doings are partly the result of one's being, of what one is. What, then, are the doings of Nietzsche's superordinate type, the masters? Well, he tells us, their behavior is held “sternly in check inter pares [that is, among equals] by custom, respect, usage, gratitude, and even more by mutual suspicion and jealousy” and “among themselves” they are often “resourceful in consideration, self-control, delicacy, loyalty, pride, and friendship.” However, he insists, and with considerable emphasis, that all these resources of social control only apply among themselves, and that as soon as they venture outside this rather narrow group of equals they are “not much better than uncaged beasts of prey.” They will even, on occasion, “... emerge from a disgusting [scheusslichen] procession of murder, arson, rape, and torture, exhilarated and undisturbed of soul, as if it were no more than a students' prank.” (11.)
He recognizes that this admission might get in the way of the reader's sharing his partiality to master morality. This is his response to those who might raise this concern:
One may be quite justified in continuing to fear the blond beast at the core of all noble races and in being on one's guard against it: but who would not a hundred times sooner fear where one can also admire than not fear but be permanently condemned to the repellent sight of the ill-constituted, dwarfed, atrophied, and poisoned? (Ibid.)
This response rests on at least three assumptions that are worth mentioning, one of which is obvious and explicit. The obvious and explicit one is that the reader will share his preference for the one constellation of emotional responses to life – admiration plus fear – versus the other one implied by this quote, which would be the absence of fear plus whatever the opposite of admiration is, which I suppose would be disgust, and in this case it would be chronic disgust. I suppose I should admit that personally I probably share Nietzsche's preference for admiration plus fear over (something like) restful security combined with chronic nausea. I also have to admit that I am less confident than he seems to be that this preference will be shared by everyone whose opinion I respect. However, there is no need to discuss (at least not right now) the soundness of this preference, because the other two assumptions he is making here, the two less obvious ones, seem to me to be clearly not true.
One of these assumptions is the idea that slave morality is the only relevant alternative to master morality. This is needed if we are to face the highly constrained choice he poses here. If this assumption fails, if there is a third alternative, then it might be possible avoid both fear anddisgust, rather than being compelled by fate to choose between them. The other assumption is that the only basis on which to choose between moralities is by considering the value of the human types associated with them.
To take the second assumption first: It might seem obvious that, if we can specify in some way which human type is associated with a given moral code, then the value of that code is indeed given by then determining how lofty that type is. The precise nature of this association might of course be debatable. We might disagree, for instance, about whether we should evaluate a code on the ground that it tends to encourage the formation of a certain character-type or whether the relevant factor is nature of the (already existing) character that is revealed by the fact that we accept the code in the first place. But isn’t it obvious that promoting or revealing character, the one sort of relationship or the other, is what a moral code is all about? Actually, it is not. In fact, moral codes serve at least one function that is much more mundane than that.
They also serve to bind people, commit them to various behaviors so that others can count on their doing some things and on their not doing others. It is essential that we have institutions that can do this if we are to do carry out the various schemes of cooperation needed for our survival. If we are to survive we must cooperate in productive activities, and if we are to cooperate we must be able to count on the behavior of others. If we are to do that, there must be institutions that require individuals to do some things and not do others. Law, with the brute force that stands behind it, is one institution that serves this essential function, and moral codes constitute another. Moralities, then, like laws, are principles of social order. This seems to be one of the functions served by the “morality of custom” (Sittlichkeit der Sitte) that Nietzsche discusses at length in Daybreak – the sort of morality that governed human behavior for the longest period of its development.4
Suppose we judge the merits of master morality and slave morality on the basis of their ability to carry out this function – what then? It seems to me that they both fail this test, though not to the same degree or for the same reason. That master morality fails, and spectacularly, is something that Nietzsche has already told us in passages that I have already quoted. The noble ones who measure up to the ideal of master morality do not regard themselves as bound or constrained at all, except within the circuit of their social or political equals. If a moral code permits – or even causes -- these people to be little better than uncaged beasts when they venture outside this context, it has failed to do one of the things that moral codes are supposed to do. Admittedly, it is true that when Nietzsche first introduces the contrast between master morality and slave morality in Beyond Good and Evil, he makes a comment on this particular point that might give a very different impression: “… against beings of a lower rank, against everything alien, one may behave as one pleases or ‘as the heart desires,’ and in any case ‘beyond good and evil’ – here pity and like feelings may find their place.”5 This, however, is merely a more benign version of the same theory. To act on pity is indeed, as he says, to act as the heart desires, and that means of course it is not to act as one who is bound so to act. It is not something others can count one.
Master morality – unless we change Nietzsche’s account of it – cannot serve as a principle of social order. This however is not a reason, at least not a very good reason, to prefer slave morality. Nietzsche identifies a number of traits that are valorized as virtues by slave morality, including humility, obedience, patience, and forgiveness (see 14), but it seems obvious that the most relevant trait for our present concern is universal love, especially love of one’s enemy (see Nietzsche’s comments on the latter at the end of 10). It contrasts starkly with the “uncaged beasts of prey” comment, inasmuch as the fact that someone is doing something out of love, whatever it is they are doing, at least we know that it was intended benevolently, that it was meant to do good and not harm. This, no doubt about it, endears the idea to many people. However, if it is put to be put forth as a principle of social order, it is obviously very problematic. The particular problem I have in mind is much like the thought behind Nietzsche’s provocative comment in Twilight of the Idols on marrying for love: “[n]ever, absolutely never can an institution be founded on an idiosyncracy; one cannot … found marriage on ‘love’….”6 The problem, it is almost needless to say, is that an institution serves to give some sort of stable order to human life, one that humans can rely on. Leaving aside whether this implies that the modern institution of marriage as a love-match is a mistake, it certainly implies that it is would be a mistake to replace an institution as fundamental as the moralities that regulate relations between people with something as unstable and unreliable as the affect of love. If Jesus really did intend to introduce a morality that is based on nothing but love, that would be evidence that he was not trying to bring in a new social order but giving up on the problem of social order altogether, probably because he thought the world would end soon, abolishing the problem of social order once and for all. Be that as it may, the ideal of univeral love is the only idea Nietzsche attributes to slave morality that is relevant to this problem. Though this idea might make it more attractive than master morality to many people, one cannot found a society upon it. At best, slave morality does little better than master morality at solving our problem.
This, though, raises a deeper question, which I surely must face: Does my test, whether a given morality satisfactorily supports social order by requiring and forbidding actions, ask the wrong question? Perhaps Nietzsche does not have to answer my question – not of course because he believes the world will end soon, but because he deals with this issue elsewhere. The function of moralities that consists in their rendering humanity regular and dependable is precisely the subject-matter of the second essay of the Genealogy. He might think of master morality and slave morality as alike dealing only with the, so to speak, problem of human types and not with the social order problem at all. He may think that the latter sort of problem is dealt with by another sort of moral code or another department of morality.
To some extent, I believe that this is true. He deals with the social order problem in the second essay. But that it does not necessarily follow that master morality, or slave morality for that matter, does not need to pass my test. This would only follow if the two sorts of issues logically separable. They are not. This is shown by the fact that, in one way or another, both master and slave morality tend to conflict with the requirements of social order. As to slave morality: What is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil. When Nietzsche said that (Beyond Good and Evil, sect. 153), he may or may not have been thinking of the slave-morality version of love, but it is surely true of any sort of love that it is beyond good and evil in the same way that pity is: to act from such a motive is not to do it because the rules require it. Such forms of motivation alike involve a suspension of concern with what the rules require. A morality that is truly based on the ideal of love, such as the morality of the “flower children” of the sixties, would be one that shows scant respect for rules, institutions, and the behaviors required by their strictures. The conflict with the requirements of social order is much stronger in the case of master morality, which actually denies that requirements apply to the masters' relations with the majority of the human race.
So neither of these moralities can rightly be thought to deal only with the issue of the ideal human type: both have implications for the problem of social order and it is at least arguable that in both cases the implications are unattractive. The question of which one is more attractive in this respect is still relevant to that of which one of them is superior to the other. Indeed, another question presents itself: Isn't there some third morality the deals with ideal personal types and is in this same respect superior to either of Nietzsche's two? One can easily imagine this being so. It will be so if there is a morality that projects an ideal type that is not simply external to the requirements of social order, in which, perhaps, the ideal is partly based on a conception of such requirements. For instance, there might be a morality in which the ideal type is precisely the sort of person who makes the social system work, in which the ideal is admired because they do meet these responsibilities, because they carry out the obligations that form the foundations of the society in which they live, and because they do so with the virtues needed to do so effectively. Common sense suggests that such moralities must exist. Don't they?
Of course they do. In what follows I will draw a sketch of such a morality, one that should be familiar to all of us and has played an undeniably major role in history. I will conclude by commenting on the implications of my sketch for the positions that Nietzsche takes in the Genealogy. Partly in order to economize time and space, my I will rely rather heavily on work already done by someone other than myself.
In her book, Systems of Survival, Jane Jacobs carried out a task very similar to Nietzsche's in the first essay: that of describing and explaining two different moralities – she calls them moral “syndromes” – two moralities that deal with similar subject-matters but do so with sharply contrasting contents and implications.7 The syndromes she discusses are ones that govern work, and since she believes there are one two kinds of work – “protecting, acquiring, exploiting, administering, and controlling territories” on the one hand, and “trade – exchanging our goods and services for other goods and services” on the other -- there are only two such syndromes to discuss. She calls the two moral codes that govern the two sorts of work, respectively, “the guardian syndrome” and “the commercial syndrome.” The “guardian syndrome” clearly includes the old aristocratic moral codes that are that are the subject-matter Nietzsche's analysis of master morality. One might not guess this from his analysis (his attention is pointed elsewhere), but Nietzsche’s old aristocrats did serve a legitimate function in the larger society of which they were part: the policing and protection of the territories within their legitimate control. They had work to do and accordingly the appropriate work ethic applied to them. The guardian syndrome includes several values that will sound familiar to students of Nietzsche: among others, these include honor, fortitude, exclusivity, adherence to tradition, exerting “prowess,” showing respect for hierarchy, and at times practicing deliberate deception (when, that is, it supports legitimate use of prowess).8
In many respects, the commercial syndrome, the morality of the trader, is the antipode of the guardian syndrome. Far from enjoining the exercise of power over another, it actually prohibits it.9 The reason for this, I would say, arises from the very nature of trade itself. A trade is an exchange of rights, and it is effective only if it is mutually consensual. If you and I are a farmer and a fisher trading corn for fish, I am trying to bring it about that your corn is mine, and this only happens if I meet the conditions on which you consent to this – namely, that my fish become yours. If I simply force you to give me the corn, and then leave the fish in your house, by the morality that traders live by, the corn is not mine: it is still yours. This is true even if you would have agreed to such an exchange if given a chance. Trade requires real, actual consent. Acquisition by trade and acquisition by force are mutually exclusive.
Beneath the obvious contrast between trader morality and master morality – consent vs. force – lies a basic similarity. Trade is an exchange. So, to, is the master-slave relationship. The sort of exchange that is involved in each case is however profoundly different. In the master-slave relationship, which as I have said is based on force, the exchange is the very thing that is forced: the relationship is essentially a forced transfer of value from the slave to the master. Of course, the master does confer benefits on the slave – including sustenance and protection from other masters – but these are entirely at the discretion of the master. On the other hand, the consent on which trade is based is mutual consent. From this mutuality arises a certain spirit of equality that contrasts starkly with the spirit of hierarchy that dominates the master mentality. The farmer's consent is no more or less important than that of the fisher: both are absolutely essential or there is no deal at all.
Based on this mutuality is a concept that has no counterpart in the aristocratic morality of the guardians: that of paying your way.10 In trader morality one gets things by paying for them. This gives rise to the closely related, and also deeply unaristocratic, value of earning what one gets. This provides a basis for a mode of self-valuation that might be called “rational pride.” Rational pride is self-esteem which is regarded as earned.11 You have this sort of value if, but only if, you have done specific things that would justify a reasonable person in esteeming you. This is profoundly and absolutely difference from the sort of self-affirmation that typifies Nietzsche's masters. The difference can be seen in the basic idea of master morality: the primacy of “good.” The masters themselves are the original standard of what is good. It is not that they have admirable qualities or achievements that make them good. There is no “making” good going on here. They simply are the good. This is not because of what they have done, but because of who they are. They are unable to be not-good. To a trader, this mode of self-valuation, this sense of one’s own value as something antecedent to any distinct personal qualities or achievement, will appear to be a simple, bone-headed imperviousness to all rational grounds for self-doubt. This is not pride, but arrogance. Slave morality, as I have suggested, rejects both arrogance and rational pride in favor of humility (see again 14).
Trader, master, slave: pride, arrogance, humility. In this formula is condensed a world of difference between these three moralities. However, the most basic difference between trader morality and the other two is one I have so far only hinted at. The exchange which is trade itself is really an exchange of rights: specifically, of property rights. The farmer does not just want to get the fish, but to have the right to hold, consume, or otherwise dispose of the fish. This is one of the differences between the trader and the thief. However, in the view of both master morality and slave morality, this feature of trader morality, that it seeks to acquire property rights, marks it as comparatively low and mean. These “rights” are only property rights -- no more than that! I would only point out that they are indeed rights. They are what is violated if one substitutes acquisition by force for acquisition by consent. They place requirements on both parties to the exchange. This means that they supply one thing that is lacking in slave morality and too intermittent and spotty in the case of master morality: requirements that can support social order. With the advent of trader morality, longer does one act merely as the heart desires.
This of course is also true of the advent of “the right to make promises” in the second essay of the genealogy: there, also, one does not merely act as the heart desires. The difference is that in the case of trader morality we have a morality that can also serve the same sort of function that is served by master morality and slave morality. That is, it includes a distinctive personal ideal, defined robustly by distinctive virtues, such as efficiency, productivity, initiative and enterprise, thrift, and willingness to secede from the crowd by dissenting from its views.12 Jacobs argues explicitly that each of these virtues is part of the commercial moral syndrome. Regardless of the merits of her argument, it is perhaps already sufficiently obvious for our present purposes that such a case can be made. That is, it is sufficient to show that in principle a moral code can pass both of the tests that I have proposed. The personal ideal of trader morality is consistent with the requirements of social order, and in this it differs from master morality. Beyond that, it actually requires such a structure. In this it veers far from the course that is followed by slave morality. While pursuing the ideal of slave morality involves a suspension of concern with the sorts of rules that support social order, trader morality requires a commitment to such rules. In large measure its ideal is about how well one does in meeting such a commitment.
Having said that, I do not mean to say that there is no more to be said about the issues I have raised here so far: far from it. For one thing, Nietzsche could have a good deal more to say in defense of master morality. How well a morality does in passing my tests is in both cases a matter of degree. For any morality, in judging whether to prefer it to others, it is certainly necessary to ask how well it passes both of my tests. Some may do better on one, though less well on the other. Trader morality is clearly vulnerable as to the matter of how well it does on the first of them: as to the matter, that is, of how attractive is the ideal type that it projects. Throughout history, warriors, aristocrats, and other adherents of master morality have regarded people who practice trade, commerce, for a living as mean, crass, and lacking in honor. A partisan of the aristocratic way of thinking could have a good deal to say about this, and proponents of the ideals of trader morality would have to respond. In addition to that, people who adhere to codes that Nietzsche would regard as forms of slave morality, such as Christianity and socialism, have despised traders as selfish, individualistic, and consequently as antisocial or sinful.
Even aside from what might be said from these two different points of view, it might also be said of trader morality that its ideal does not seem on the face of it to be very lofty and inspiring. You might say that the ideal exemplar of slave morality is a certain type – the saint – while that of master morality is the hero. The saint and the hero are both very lofty types, though very different ones. What is the ideal type of trader morality? Traders have never claimed that the outstanding representatives of their way of life are saints. Of course they are not. Are they heroes, then? If so, the “hero” of trader morality will be the factory worker who gets up in the morning and checks in for work without “calling in sick,” even though he does not feel like it, and just because this is what he being paid to do. It is the businesswoman who meets the terms of a contract that has turned out to be less profitable than she had thought it would be, and despite the fact that her client would not be able to afford to sue her for breach of contract, simply because this is what she agreed to do. It is a single mother who finds a way to work and support herself and her child, thus earning an income and paying taxes that support others less scrupulous or less resourceful than she. If these are “heroes,” then they are everyday heroes, quotidian heroes. Does such an idea even make sense? This is a question that trader morality must face and deal with. To be fair, I think we should note in passing that this is a problem that will be faced by any morality that does well on my second test and also attempts to pass the first one: any morality that provides a basis for social organization that really works and thrives is going to have to be one that many, a great many people can follow. If social order depended on behavior of which only saints or heroes were capable, it would been doomed to extinction, and the very survival of civilized humanity would be doomed along with it. Fortunately, that is not the case. However, there may be no getting around the fact that it may be impossible for moralities that enable social order to also do outstandingly well on the other test.13
The points of contrast between traders morality and the other two are fascinating and worthy of further study. I will comment on several that bear fairly directly on topics Nietzsche touches on in the first essay.
Constitutive error. Nietzsche makes some interesting observations on what might be called the constitutive error of each of his two moralities, a certain characteristic falsification of reality which each commits and which colors the way in which each responds to the world. Each is based on a certain moral dichotomy – good vs. bad in the case of master morality and good vs. evil in slave morality – which includes a portrait of the adherents of the other morality. To the masters, the slaves are paradigms of the “bad,” while to the slaves the masters are paradigms of “evil.” Both portraits, Nietzsche tells us, are of course inaccurate, but the nature of the error is quite different in the two cases. The masters' misunderstanding of the slave is a result of mere ignorance. Due to their pathos of distance, there is “too much looking away” from that which is lowly for them to really understand the slave. The opposite error, on the other hand, is a result of motivated falsification, the mistreatment in effigie that I described earlier. This, Nietzsche says, is a much worse sort of falsification than the other one. (10.) His reasons for thinking this, interesting as they are, we have no reason to go into here, as it seems to me that trader morality has no comparable constitutive error at all: quite the opposite, in fact. The reason is that the trader is part of a system, call it the marketplace, that punishes the sort of error he is discussing here: errors about pure matters of fact. Anybody who has “played” the stock market knows that it is no game. If California wineries give you warm fuzzy feelings and gun manufacturers give you a creeping sense of revulsion, the market does not care. What you think the value of a thing “ought” to be has nothing to do with the value the market actually places on it. If you do not wish to lose your investment, you had better put your own values and feelings aside and try to understand what the market will do. The reason, once again, rests on the consensual nature of trade. The prices of things are a function of what people are willing to pay for them. Those people may be quite different from you, and your own preferences may be very poor predictors of what they wish to do with their own resources. You need to understand their preferences and accurately predict what they are willing to pay for. If you put your money on a wrong prediction, the market will punish you instantly. This gives the trader a point of view that seems ruthlessly cold-hearted to adherents of the other moralities. Fundamentally, they are right: a cold objectivity is as profoundly typical of the trader as contempt is of the master and resentment is of the slave.
Cosmopolitanism. The adherent of slave morality embraces one ethical idea that conditions one's relations with everyone. This of course is the idea of love. If you practice slave morality, then your love is directed at everybody, even your enemies. From masters on the other hand, there is nothing good that is directed at everybody, nothing that that others can count on. In this respect, trader morality resembles slave morality, with the important difference that the idea involved is not love or anything like it. If I consistently live up to trader morality, there is something everyone can count on from me: respect for certain rights. The property rights on which the trade relationship is based may not be lofty moral ideals, but they are rights that do apply to everyone. Everyone has property rights in something, if only in their own person and labor. Further, trader morality gives the trader a strong incentive to be open to entering into trade relations, relations based on these rights, with anybody. The reason is that, unlike the master, the trader has no captive exchange partners. One of the wonderful things about the master-slave relationship, from the master's point of view of course, is that if the norms that underlie the relation are followed, the slave will always be there, at least until either the slave dies or the master decides that they will leave. The trader also relies on exchange partners – customers, suppliers, employers, employees, and so forth – but cannot rely on any of them being there indefinitely. They may be bound by contract to deal with a given trader for a while, but such contracts by nature are for limited periods of time and as soon as the contract's period is up, the contracting parties are free to deal elsewhere and with others. This of course is absolutely essential to the trade nexus and is based on its consensual nature. Given this simple fact, the trader needs to be willing to deal with others, and prudence (a trader's virtue if ever there was!) counsels that the more willing the trader is to deal with anyone, the better off they will be. Thus trader's morality applies to everyone. In slave morality, the same thing is true as a theoretical matter: as an ideal, universal love applies to everyone and is obligatory on all believers. Whether any believer actually does practice it is of course is a separate matter. Perhaps nobody will. With trader morality the situation is in a way reversed. It does not require everyone to enter into relationships based on rights (it merely requires respecting those rights if one does so), but it does give people a powerful motive to enter into such relationships with as many people as possible. Though missionary zeal is not one of the imperatives underlying trader morality, the natural psychological dynamic that underlies the trader’s way of life tends to spread it from one person to another without limit. Unless something interferes to stop it, it will naturally lead to a global economy in which all are, to some extent, traders and are linked to the world by the commercial nexus. Cosmopolitanism, the idea that the world, and not merely some narrow state, is one's home comes naturally to the trader.14 Arguably, it also comes naturally to the practitioner of slave morality, but for profoundly different reasons. In slave morality, it is an ideal to be striven for, if the practitioner is saintly enough to do so. In trader morality, it is driven by the trader's own interests.
This last point suggests an advantage that trader morality enjoys over Nietzsche's alternatives. Though I have already suggested it, I probably should give it more emphasis. Its importance is so enormous it would be difficult to over-emphasize it. This is its superior stability. As we have seen, master morality is on his account incompatible with the masters' being bound by requirements of justice to most of the rest of the human race. It is hard to see how a society that is erected on such a foundation can endure with any sort of structure that persists through time. Trader morality on the other hand is based on rights and obligations, as I have said, that can apply to everybody. Furthermore, this system of rights and obligations is supported by behavior that the participants have self-interested reasons to carry out. Everyone in the system has very self-interested reasons to engage in relations of trade with others. Having done so and acquired obligations, they also have self-interested reason to carry out these obligations – to pay their debts – because doing so maximizes one’s prospects of further relations of trade with others. Of course, it is always possible to gain, at least in the short run, by cheating and breaking the rules. This is true of any system of norms. In this respect, though, it has a considerable advantage over slave morality in that its norm for regulating interpersonal behavior – the idea of love – seems to require a pure transfer of value from the doer of the deed to the person to whom it is done. The required deed seems to be an act of pure self-sacrifice. Such a standard of behavior does not seem to be one that one appeals to the self-interest of those who are asked to conform to it at all – it seems to be inimical to self-interest. Yet it does not appeal to any other source of motivation that is equally enduring and powerful. You might say that master morality would be a very weak basis on which to found a stable society because it does not constrain everyone, while slave morality is similarly weak because it does not appeal to everyone. Trader morality suffers from neither of these defects.
Once one thinks of it, the idea that the trader is an attractive alternative to both the master and the slave is so plausible, indeed so obvious, that one wonders why Nietzsche did not think of it himself. Why did it not occur to him, at least as something that deserves to be argued against? I can think of two possible reasons.
One is that it is so different from the other two moralities that a neat comparison might seem impossible. As I have pointed out, both master morality and its antipode are fundamentally about value: good/bad and good/evil. The primacy of good in the one case is mirrored by the primacy of evil in the other. In trader morality as I have sketched it, the fundamental distinction is neither good and bad nor good and evil but right and wrong. To observe one's contractual commitments and the property rights of others, and so forth, is right: to fail to do so is wrong. This is the sort of subject that Nietszche discusses in the second essay. Does this mean that Nietzsche is right to reserve all such discussion for that part of the Genealogy and ignore trader morality as an alternative to both the moralities he treats in the first essay? I have argued that he was not right to ignore it there because it is such an alternative. Though it treats the conception of the ideal type of person as derivative and not, like master morality, as primary, it does have such an ideal. This is enough to make it an alternative to master morality and slave morality, though its logical structure is different from both. Its ideal of the good is derived from its conception of the right, but it does have an ideal of the good.
The other possible reason why Nietzsche would not have placed trader morality on the same footing as the moralities of master and slave is historical. I think he probably was aware of the existence of trader morality – in fact it is at least arguable that he makes it the basis of the his reasoning in the second essay. His language as he introduces it is revealing:
[T]he feeling of guilt, of personal obligation, had its origin … in the oldest and most primitive personal relationship, that between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor.... No grade of civilization, however low, has yet been discovered in which something of this relationship has not been noticeable.15
He thinks of the commercial nexus, the moral connection between buying and selling as ubiquitous. It is common to everyone and consequently cannot distinguish a distinct personal type, as master morality and slave morality do. It is common throughout history and across cultures, simply part of our common humanity. Consequently, it does not belong to the project of the first essay, which is to distinguish between different types.
This seems, in my humble opinion, to be simply wrong, as a matter of history and of anthropology. Though I cannot claim expertise in either of these areas, it may be of interest if I briefly indicate the reasons for my dissent. It may be true enough that everyone engages in trade and always has done so, as long as there have human beings. Even slaves who have no legally recognized property rights might barter goods among themselves, if only on a very modest scale. Masters might have properties that produce a surplus, beyond what can be consumed by themselves and their dependents, which they can then sell to outsiders. However, not everybody, throughout human history and prehistory, has related to others primarily as a trader, and trade and its moral conceptual baggage has not had a strong effect on the lives and thinking of everyone – very far from it, in fact. Aristocrats, and indeed all others who do what Jacobs calls “guardian work” have a long history of consistently looking down on trade as beneath them and avoiding it on principle, as much as possible. They devoted their efforts as exclusively as possible to more “noble” pursuits, such as dueling, hunting, and warfare.16 The great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne wrote eloquently about how the merchants of the Middle Ages, uniquely among the social classes of their time, traveled almost constantly from city to city, often in bands armed for protection.17 When not on the road, they were typically separated from the countryside by city walls. Outside those walls were the sedentary nobility, living off the productive labor of their many bondsmen. Living a highly distinctive way of life in relative isolation, these merchants must have developed a highly distinctive view of the task of life and a distinctive table of virtues.
I hope I have made a convincing case that the trader's table of values deserves to be taken seriously in the context of the sorts of issues that Nietzsche treats in the first essay. The issues he raises there are deep and perplexing, and deserve to be pursued further by others. Study of the master and slave types is woefully incomplete without also considering the morality of the trader.
1 All quotations from the Genealogy and from Nietzsche’s other writings will be in the translations of Walter Kaufmann and will be identified by giving, in parentheses located in my text, the sub-division of the book and section-number assigned by Nietzsche rather than by page numbers from any particular edition. This I think has become by how the customary method of Nietzsche citation. The Kaufmann translation can be found in The Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York: Modern Library, 2000). Other quotations from Nietzsche's works will be identified by giving section-numbers in footnotes.
2 An emphatic statements of this idea is the chapter of Part II of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “On the Thousand and One Goals.”
3 We should notice a qualification here. Nietzsche lets us know that he is well aware of the dangers of what is sometimes called “the genetic fallacy,” in fact he insists on it. The original cause of a thing and its current significance, he assures us, are quite different: Indeed, they “lie worlds apart” (II 12). The issue of how one is to conduct Nietzschean genealogy without committing this fallacy is one I hope mainly to avoid. Suffice it to say that I do not think that in the discussion that follows here either he or I will commit this mistake.
4 See Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. by R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982) sect. 9 and Passim,
5 Beyond Good and Evil, sect. 260, in Basic Writings, cited above.
6 Twilight, sect 40, in Walter Kaufmann ed. and trans., The Portable Nietzsche (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1968), p. 544.
7 Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (New York: Random House, 1992).
8 Systems, passim, but esp. p. 214.
9 Systems, pp. 33-34.
10 Here I am going beyond Jacob's analysis.
11 Here I am moving well beyond the analysis of Jacobs, who does not discuss modes of self-valuation.
12 See Systems, Ch. 3.
13 Philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand has much to say on this problem, most famously in Atlas Shrugged (New York:
Random House, 1957). As is well known, she was a defender of trader morality who was influenced by Nietzsche early in her career (though she later became a blistering critic of his views). Her strategy, in defending trader morality, was to criticize and reject the ideals represented by the saint and to press the ideal of the trader as far as possible in to the mold of the hero, denying as much as possible the quotidian character of the commercial ideal. The characters in her novels are geniuses and courageous fighters, not everyday people at all. To this extent – but no further! – hers could be called a Nietzschean defense of trader morality. How well this works as a defense is a question I will not be able to discuss further here. Suffice it to say that it is a strategy that has both strengths and weaknesses.
14 See Jacobs, Systems, p. 35.
15 Genealogy II, sect. 8. In Kaufmann, Basic Writings, p. 506.
16 Jacobs takes some pains in attempting to explain the guardian's curious aversion to trade in Systems, pp. 67-60.
17 “The nobility never had anything but disdain for these upstarts come from no one knew where, and whose insolent good fortune they could not bear. … [T]he prejudice that it was degrading to engage in business remained deep-seated in the heart of the feudal caste up to the time of the French Revolution.” Henri Pirenne, Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade, trans. by Frank D. Halsey (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1925), p. 123. See also, Ch. 3, passim.