Nietzsche on Wealth and Pretense

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Here’s an interesting passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human (1878).  I combined two different translations with minor edits for clarity:

Only a man of intellect should hold property; otherwise property is dangerous. For the owner, not knowing how to make use of the leisure which his possessions might secure to him, will continue to strive after more property.  This striving will constitute his entertainment, his strategy in his war against boredom.  So in the end, real wealth is produced from the moderate property that would be enough for an intellectual man.  [Wealth] looks quite different from what its humble origin might lead one to expect, because it can mask itself with culture and art, – it can, in fact, purchase the mask.  By this means it arouses envy in the poorer and the uncultivated – who at bottom are envying culture and fail to recognize the masks as masks – and it gradually paves the way for social revolution.  For gilded vulgarity and histrionic self-inflation in the pretended enjoyment of culture inspires that class with the thought, “It is only a matter of money”- whereas, while it is to some extent a matter of money, it is much more a matter of intellect.

 

The mask wearing Oligarchs and their clerisy we are now studying think that they are intellectually superior to everyone else because of their wealth, but they are, in fact, not.

 

Nietzsche would be laughing. Here’s another quote in which his disdain for pretentious, greedy wealthy people drips off his every sentence (from Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy (1926)):

It is a sign of inferiority that the man of money should be the object of so much worship and envy. But these business-men too are slaves, puppets of routine, victims of busy-ness; they have no time for new ideas; thinking is taboo among them, and the joys of the intellect are beyond their reach.  Hence their restless and perpetual search for “happiness”, their great houses which are never homes, their vulgar luxury without taste, their picture-galleries of ‘originals’, with cost attached, their sensual amusements that dull rather than refresh or stimulate the mind.  Look at these superfluous!  They acquire riches and become poorer thereby; they accept all the restraints of aristocracy without its compensating access to the kingdom of the mind.  See how they climb, these swift apes!  They climb over one another, and thus drag themselves into the mud and depths…..There is no use in such men having wealth, for they cannot give it dignity by noble use, by the discriminating patronage of letters or the arts.  Only a man of intellect should hold property; others think of property as an end in itself, and pursue it more and more recklessly.  They seek the smallest profits out of every sort of rubbish.  To-day, mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement on piratical morality…

  

Back to Kotkin’s book on Tuesday.

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