I posted a link the other day to Corey Robin's article, Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek. There are a couple of good critiques up as well: Critics respond to “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children”. Henry offers his view in Nietszche and the Marginalists.
Let me take a brief detour. I've noticed that undergraduate economics offers no rigorous account of what drives long run economic growth. Furthermore, there's no rigorous account of how and why capital, which is a sunk cost, gets "baked into" perfect competition and zero economic profit. Economics, as Henry notes, is about equilibrium, and at a true equilibrium, there's no growth at all. Economists talk about long run economic growth, but their writing is almost mystical. It either "just happens" or it relies on the magic of "entrepreneurship."
Henry finds an important theme in both Nietzsche and the Austrians: the idea of the "heroic individual." In Nietzsche (as best I can recall from reading him many years ago), the heroic individual is the "ubermensch" who rejects the slave morality of Christianity. In the Austrians it is the entrepreneur. In Weber, according to Henry, it is the politician; politics "provides a ground in which these very few individuals can fully develop themselves through struggle."
One way that some communists view communism is that in communism, the concept of the heroic individual is deprecated rather than extolled. Individuals, in this view of communism, should not try to become exceptional; the acme of virtue is to be the undistinguished member of the masses. I can't blame capitalists for this view: real communists really hold this view.* But I think this view is naive and simplistic.
*I can blame capitalists for insisting that anything that any communist wants to do (that they don't like) necessarily entails every controversial or erroneous view that any other communist ever had.
It is true that communism is necessarily concerned with the well-being of everyone. It is not, however, true, that the trade-off between the well-being of the many and the well-being of exceptional few is as the capitalists describe it, and it is not true that we must somehow eliminate exceptionalism to achieve communism.
The issue is not exceptionalism per se, the issue is the moral status of the exceptional individual. In one view of human nature, the exceptional individual has the moral right, and perhaps has even a moral obligation, to dominate, subordinate ordinary individuals. Taking away this moral right, in this view, is tantamount to stamping out exceptionalism. Domination of the ordinary is the incentive to and reward for becoming exceptional; if we take away this social incentive, no one will become exceptional, and we will be doomed to a civilization of static mediocrity.
But wait... I have failed to define a key term: what precisely do I mean by "exceptional." The dictionary definition doesn't help: "exceptional" just means being unusual or out of the ordinary. But everyone, from Nietzsche to the Austrians, means something more: there are some particular characteristics that are both morally valued and exceptional. There is a thread running through Nietzsche to the Austrians to present-day "common knowledge": by exceptional in this context, we mean the person who has the awareness to see the world as something that can be shaped, the will to try and shape the world into what he or she wants it to be, and the skill, energy and cleverness to succeed in shaping the world. Such people are indeed unusual; most people are asleep, most who are awake lack a strong will, and most who are awake and willful lack skill, energy, or cleverness. For the sake of brevity, I will label a person with awareness, will, skill, energy, and cleverness as an "entrepreneur."
The naive communist view, then, is that in capitalism (and to a lesser extent in previous social structures) the entrepreneur achieves domination over the ordinary. Communists do not like any relations of domination and submission; therefore, if we eliminate exceptionalism then we eliminate relations of domination and submission. Go to the root cause, n'est pas?
There are, however, two subtleties that this naive view ignores. Why should the entrepreneur be incentivized and rewarded by dominance? More importantly, why should the entrepreneur be exceptional in the first place?
I argue first that entrepreneurship is its own reward. We do not need to socially incentivize and reward the entrepreneur. At the beginning of capitalism, incentivizing the entrepreneur with social dominance was one effective way of achieving industrialization. We know this is true because that's what we did, and it got us to the modern industrial civilization. It is possible that the capitalist way was the only way, or perhaps just the best way, but that's an argument about the past. The question today is whether we still want to reward the entrepreneur with social dominance, or, more precisely, to believe we reward the entrepreneur with social dominance. I argue second that the entrepreneur is exceptional is an artifact of modern civilization, strongly leveraged by capitalism. It is not that most people are not entrepreneurs, it is that modern civilization actively molds the masses of people into non-entrepreneurs; entrepreneurs are exceptional in that they have, for one reason or another, overcome or escaped this process.
Thus, a more nuanced communist view abandons the idea that we should eliminate the entrepreneur as an exceptional insult to the non-entrepreneurial masses. Instead, we should first establish that the entrepreneur has no consequent right to subordinate others. Secone, the goal of communism should be to turn everyone into entrepreneurs. We should all be aware that the world is to be shaped, we should all have the will to shape it, and we should all develop the skill, energy, and cleverness to be successful in actually shaping it.