The Macksey Journal


This paper destabilizes Friedrich Nietzsche’s argument against the “ascetic ideal” in On the Genealogy of Morals by interrogating his misappropriation of Vedanta philosophy. Nietzsche devotes an entire treatise in On the Genealogy of Morals to explicating the ascetic ideal, presumptively in order to draw attention to the evils of slave morality and the values of poverty, humility, and chastity that seep into the quotidian lives of religious people. However, Nietzsche adopts a unique approach to this explication. Rather than to draw attention to the suffering of people victimized by the ascetic priest, he embarks upon a roundabout path to distinguish between the ascetic in general and the unaffected, rational philosopher, whom he sees as the priest’s foil. Nietzsche argues that the philosopher is also ascetic in some ways, but that the asceticism of the priest and the philosopher differ in important ways. He then introduces Vedanta philosophy in order to clarify this distinction. However, in misappropriating Vedanta philosophy, Nietzsche inadvertently makes his philosopher complicit with the very ascetic ideal he condemns. His characterization of the Vedanta ascetic is intended to draw a stark contrast between the ascetic priest and the ascetic philosopher, but I argue that the Vedanta ascetic ultimately shares much more with Nietzsche’s philosopher. This unintended complicity calls into question Nietzsche’s cure for the ascetic ideal and slave morality more generally—atheistic, rational philosophy that exposes the oppression of religious structures—since it suggests that ascetics and philosophers have similar dispositions, methods, and goals. This paper explores various sources in conversation with Nietzsche that support this suggestion, in the end arguing that on the whole, Nietzsche’s misappropriation of Vedanta asceticism and philosophy is both polemical and damaging to his rhetorical case against the ascetic ideal.