21/12/2016 04:59 SAST | Updated 21/12/2016 04:59 SAST

Friedrich Nietzsche Explains Why Revolutionary Governments Fail

How can one claim to be free from one's oppressors and yet maintain one's victimhood?

Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher.
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Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher.

I've also had the privilege of living on different spots all over this blue globe, and what I've found is that people are basically the same everywhere. We can all see faults in other people, but for psychological reasons we hide from ourselves. The image of the Self cannot be tarnished so easily. We protect it by lying to it, and sometimes we bury the brutal truth so deep that the Self forgets or denies its own honest reality.

Take for instance a man like Jacob Zuma, and almost everybody who supports him. Now, as a white fellow I have to admit his assessment of me is very close to the truth. We white folks have come all the way from Europe to teach Africans how to be civilised. Thanks to philosophers like Plato and Rene Descartes, we seem to have decided that our ideals reflect the will of God better than the world we see around us. And so we want to shape this world into this orderly and civilised reality we imagine, whether the world likes it or not.

Let me be the one to admit it. We screwed up Africa pretty badly.

Now, I know what my white brothers and sisters will say. Yes, we industrialised this country. Yes, we brought our technology, our skills, and brandy and Coke along as well. But hear me out for a minute or two. What if the chaos we found here hundreds of years ago was order and structure in African people's minds? What if they saw us as the chaos in their world?

If you listen to people like Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, it sounds as if they pretty much see it exactly that way. Quite frankly, to this day I don't think they have any idea what white people are all about, and at the same time white people's understanding of Africans isn't any better. We're indeed from different continents. There is the "us", and there is the "them." We don't look the same, we don't talk the same, and we don't think the same.

Yet we are very much the same in every way.

The only reason we can't see this sameness is because we bury the truth.

We white people sometimes forget that Africans also had their own philosophers, and Africans might be surprised to learn that their philosophers came more or less to the same conclusions as ours.

The truth is that the Self and the Other are naturally in conflict, even if you have a twin, a child, or if you think about God. This conflict arises from our fear of meeting the true Self in the reflection we see before us. That reflection frightens us; for in that moment when we recognise the Self in the image of the Other, we are reminded of those things we try to hide from the Self. It is our own flaws that offend us.

This principle is very important to understand: It's not possible for a man to think of another anything which he has not thought of himself. In the same way that we believe our ideals reflect reality better than the chaos we perceive around us, we also impose our ideas of chaos on the world. There is no order or chaos in the world; there is only the world. Consequently, if I hate another, I've merely recognised an image of the Self that I hate.

This tragic absurdity of our existence might have been the stock of laughter for Wittgenstein, but I fail to see the comedy in it. Yet, whenever I feel the urge to laugh at his mistake, I'm reminded by my own philosophy that I'm laughing at myself, which is perhaps funny.

Nevertheless, I think this concept is a good starting point if we want to understand the cycles of conflict here in our country, and perhaps also all over the world. The idea that we're basically just angry at ourselves should make it easier to process.

We white people sometimes forget that Africans also had their own philosophers, and Africans might be surprised to learn that their philosophers came more or less to the same conclusions as ours. The reason is that philosophers all over the world talk about the same things. They talk about the affairs of people and also our place in the world. Where our respective philosophers might differ are their ideas about how we should think.

Two of the greatest African thinkers that I'm aware of was Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko. Their understanding of the African dilemma in the face of colonisation shows a deep understanding of the human spirit. However, Friedrich Nietzsche could've come from exactly the same cloth, for it is his concept of the Will to Power which to me expresses the situation we currently find ourselves in more clearly. He uses the relationship between a slave and his master to explain his ideas, which sadly seems appropriate here as well.

In the mind of the revolutionary, the only way to defeat his oppressor is to subject him to the slave's eternal and unchanging God, which is the only world he knows. This is the world of the oppressed, a world where victimhood is eternal, where nothing ever changes but can only get worse.

For this to work, imagine an eternal and unchanging God with ultimate power who is also everywhere at once. For some of us this shouldn't be too difficult to imagine.

Like the powerful God of the Israelites who always watches and punishes them severely for even the slightest wrong, the slave's situation is an eternal and unchanging quagmire from which he cannot escape. For this reason the slave also sees the reality in which he exists as eternal and unchanging. Therefore he subjects himself to a higher order and becomes a pawn in a game which he cannot understand nor learn how to play himself.

His master, on the other hand, is free to do as he wants. If the master has a god, this god submits to the master's will. Far from being eternal and unconditional, this god seems to pop into existence at the snap of a finger and is always agreeable. In fact, the master might even decide that he has no need for a god at all, because the master's situation is of such nature that he can change anything whenever he feels like it, and his actions are mostly designed so that the consequences always end up to his benefit.

Obviously the slave is envious of the master and would like to have his awesome power. But when the slave sees his own situation and how the master's power oppresses the will of the slave, he realises how the very existence of such power is an affront to the will of God.

Yet, because the slave cannot see a way to escape his situation, he devises another plan. He convinces his master to accept his eternal, unchanging and unconditional God. When his master converts and submits to the slave's God, the slave's will to power prevails.

To understand this analogy we first have to accept that the God of the slave is simply a reflection of the slave's will to power. It is how he has learned to understand power. From his perspective, power never changes, and he is always subject to it. The only way he can therefore defeat his master is to also subject his master to this power.

However, it becomes more interesting, because the slave and the master both exist in the Self of every single individual on this planet. As shown above, most of us simply hide one of them while we allow the other to dominate. Therefore this analogy is a struggle that occurs repeatedly within the Self. But at the same time, it is not so easy to step out of one character and into the next. True actualisation is required in the Self. In other words, you have to now adopt precisely what you fear and reject and become what you hate the most.

Luckily, we have the option of synthesis, which involves a composition of seemingly opposing views. Therefore we needn't replace the Self we love. We just need to rethink it.

The problem is that you have hidden your other qualities from the Self and can't find them.

It is for this reason that most revolutionary movements in Africa have failed in government, and also why the ANC government or a possible EFF government will most likely also fail.

The failure of the ANC has nothing to do with the ability or potential of Africans, but rather with the role they were forced to play for so long. And yes, white people are responsible.

In the mind of the revolutionary, the only way to defeat his oppressor is to subject him to the slave's eternal and unchanging God, which is the only world he knows. This is the world of the oppressed, a world where victimhood is eternal, where nothing ever changes but can only get worse. From the revolutionary's perspective, this is what power looks like, and it is how he understands it. It remains unchanging and it is eternal, like his God.

He thus never attains his master's power but only brings his master down to his own level, which is a place of suffering and poverty. Therefore, neither of them is now free.

One only needs to listen to the rhetoric used by Zuma and his ANC to recognise all that has been explained above. To this day they blame apartheid, colonisation and the entire western world for their failures in government. This message still resonates with the majority of people in this country. This alone proves that many South Africans still maintain the ideology of the oppressed, of someone who is powerless against the might of the master.

It is ironic then that the ANC still insists that they have freed all South Africans.

How can one claim to be free from one's oppressors and yet maintain one's victimhood?

A slave doesn't require shackles to be a slave. A slave only requires the mind of a slave.

Most South Africans are still enslaved by their minds, and the leaders they've appointed as their new masters are in no better position. The power of the free world confuses them, because it is a power they have learned to reject and fear.

For these reasons it is highly unlikely that the majority of white people and a growing number of young Africans will ever vote for the ANC. By propagating and perpetuating victimhood, they show weakness. Change is also unlikely in the near future, because the ANC still confuses government with revolution. The difference in objectives is vast. Leading a revolt is not the same as managing and overseeing a workforce. The role of government is not to obtain power for the people, but to use the power of people.

At this point the revolutionary leader may want to argue that revolutions in fact rely precisely on the power of people, and he would have a point. However, the question is whose Will to Power is being used? The answer would be the slave's Will to Power, which is not power at all. The motivational force driving a revolt is victimhood.

And yet change is possible, because the perspective that reality is unchanging and eternal is fundamentally and factually a flawed perspective. The reality we live in changes constantly and nothing lasts forever. People are born and people die. Even planets, our sun and the entire universe have expiry dates. Everything changes, and so can we.

A good place for the ANC to start would be to take responsibility and to stop playing the victim. Part of that would entail giving Zuma his day in court. But more than that, it would involve curbing the mind-set of a revolutionary movement, and adopting the mind-set of a competitive corporation. It is time to face the fact that the masters are gone. It is time to face the fact that you are now the masters, and that with power comes responsibility.

In this new political climate we find ourselves in, victimhood is a choice, while the choice we should really make is as follows: We are free and responsible for our own situation.

This is the key to the power of the master within us all and it is unreasonable to reject it.

It is my hope that these concepts would enable and empower the ANC to govern responsibly. As South Africans, we need our government to succeed and compete globally. Government will fail if it continues on its current path. Please change.