Understandably, Nietzsche saw the new figure of the plebeian intellectual embodied above all in Rousseau, plebeian on account both of his social origin and his ideological positions and particularly treasured by the Jacobins. In his speech on inequality, Voltaire had already commented: ‘This is the philosophy of a beggar [gueux] that wants the rich to be robbed by the poor.’ One can see why Rousseau became for many the first and best of the gueux plumées. Constant accused him of having inspired with his ‘tirades against wealth and even against property’ the most brutal phase of the French Revolution, namely the social unrest of the disinherited masses and the Jacobin policy of intervention in the economy and the private sphere. Similarly, Flaubert saw in the author of The Social Contract ‘the progenitor of envious and tyrannical democracy’. These themes also found support in Germany, so a contemporary and opponent of Hegel, Gustav Hugo, ranked Rousseau among the ‘opponents of private property’. But it was above all Taine that took us back into the immediate vicinity of Nietzsche, whose school he claimed to have followed. While the French historian denounced Rousseau on account of the ‘rancour [rancune] of the poor plebeian’ that oozed from his writings, Nietzsche called him the ‘person of rancour [Ranküne-Mensch]’, who sought ‘in the ruling classes the cause of his being miserable [Miserabilität]’ (XII, 421), or a person of ‘ressentiment’ (GD, Expeditions of an Untimely Man, 3 ). He was ‘idealist and canaille rolled into one’.
The consonance between Nietzsche and the culture of his time is clear. But no less obvious and equally important are the new elements. After pointing out that ‘the duality of idealist and canaille’ could also be seen in the French Revolution, the aphorism from Twilight of the Idols continues: ‘I do not really care about the bloody farce played out in this Revolution, its “immorality”: what I hate is its Rousseauian morality.’ Rousseau, ‘this deformity of a person’, ‘needed moral “dignity” in order to stand the sight of himself’. And, in the name of morality, the revolution propagated the ‘doctrine of equality’, which ‘seems as if justice itself is preaching here, while in fact it is the end of justice’, since it claimed to even out realities actually separated by an abyss (GD, Expeditions of an Untimely Man, 48 [221–2]). Not only the claim to social equality, made especially by liberal authors, but also the claim to equality as such, and even the reference to an allegedly universal morality, itself pervaded by an egalitarian logic, was an expression both of plebeian rancour and exalted revolutionary utopianism.
Nietzsche, the Aristocratic Rebel