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America’s Public Policy: A Nietzschean Approach

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By William Clements
February 21, 2019

Friedrich Nietzsche’s early work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is alarmingly applicable in the realm of public policy and administration today. Currently in the United States we have observed a major economic and geographic fracturing within the fabric of America. Huge gaps in education and quality of life can no longer be ignored, as they are placing dire strain on citizens and local governments. According to the latest Brookings Institute study, big metros have accounted for 72 percent of the nation’s employment growth since the financial crisis and over three-quarters of it since 2015.

Nietzsche once said, “You exert powers with your values and doctrines of good and evil.” It is vital that, as public policy officials, we are aware of the role values play in our decisions regarding sociopolitical matters. The changing of America is imminent, and as a result, there may have to be a change in what is considered good and evil. For example, we know that smaller towns were considered the supply chain that linked numerous geographical areas within the United States. What is of interest is that America’s belief in “hard work” as a manual activity has now been replaced with the title of “uneducated workforce.” There has also been a shift from women staying home to women being the most educated group in America and the bread-winners for many households. Essentially, we have noticed an evolution in the sphere of what it means to be a productive member of society. To be traditional has now been labeled as being ignorant. To be progressive has now been labeled as being sensitive, and to be libertarian has come to mean being an anarchist. Is there an appreciation of the truth in the public sphere today? What if we took heed to Zarathustra when he stated, “Silence is worse; all truths that are kept silent become poisonous.” Has America lost its ability for constructive dialogue, disagreement and debate? If so, is our society showing symptoms of being septic?

The concept of Naïve Realism is people’s tendency to believe that they perceive the social world “as it is”—as objective reality—rather than as a subjective construction and interpretation of reality. If we were to observe some of the major differences between geographical regions and different economic classes, it is possible that a symbiotic misconception of another group would exist. What is even more alarming is the amount of distance we have allowed in our public sphere, with distance only serving to aid in misunderstanding. Zarathustra’s wisdom regarding learning and growing is worth noting. Instead of teaching children and young adults to perform a job and desire to stay local, what if we applied Nietzsche’s association between pupil and teacher. In the words of Zarathustra, “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.” One would be hard-pressed to imagine that a public policy which drives innovation, independence and exploration will contribute negatively to the convergence of America’s population socio-politically and socioeconomically.

There have been numerous philosophers and economists who have addressed the age-old problem of what equality means. Economists such as Dr. Thomas Sowell suggest that equality of opportunity is not the equality of outcome. If we are to be honest as public policy administrators, we must face the tough questions, and in turn, give tough answers. Will we continue to suggest that the nation’s brightest minds are the same as the nation’s least performing? Are we going to continue to proclaim that we are all the same and we should all receive similar things? If we revisit Nietzsche’s position on such topics, it raises an interesting dynamic. According to Zarathustra, “No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.” Has this attribute integrated into American society? Can it be seen in its public policies? For many years, our public policies have been aimed more toward equality of outcomes which has inadvertently damaged the position of those who such policies were designed to help. For example, by wanting to address equality of outcomes instead of the equality of opportunity, this occurrence has set in motion generational claptrap that has the potential to keep the recipients of such altruism constantly at a disadvantage.


Author: Mr. William Clements is a Professor of Criminal Justice and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at higher education institutions. He possesses a Bachelor of Science Degree in Justice Studies, a Master of Science Degree in Forensic Psychology, and he is currently an A.B.D. in Public Policy and Administration, completing the last two chapters of his dissertation. He has served in the field of public service for a total of 11 plus years and is a well-read enthusiast for topics of economics, politics, and most of all, public policy.

Email: [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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