Nietzsche on the Origin of the State

Keepin' it Kleen

In the mind of Nineteenth Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the growth of the state (Staat) was one of the most alarming developments of the modern world. Where others saw the promise of a new democratic age in which “the people” ruled, Nietzsche saw a “cold monster” that was destructive of creative and independent forces. He described the state as a “clamp-iron” pressed upon society, shaping and harnessing it.

Artist's impression of Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic settlement Artist’s impression of Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic settlement

The modern state was particularly problematic because it potentially recognized no limits in its efforts to satisfy the wants and desires of the common man. To fully understand Nietzsche’s pessimistic understanding of the modern state, however, it is important to understand his beliefs about the origin of that state. Why is the modern state so different from what came before?

Historically, we know that prior to 4,000 BC, most if not all…

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