Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Stefanie Ohnesorg

Committee Members

Adrian Del Caro, Daniel H. Magilow, Maria Stehle


It is often assumed that since Marx and Nietzsche were both anti-religious thinkers, religion played no part in the formulation of their philosophical outlooks. With this assumption, the influence of historical religions on rhetoric has received a subordinate role, if at all, in the discourse on 19th century German critiques of those very religions. Although differing fundamentally in the debate on inclusiveness versus individuality, this essay asserts that Marx and Nietzsche, both from families of religious scholars, broke with previous philosophical tradition and utilized a religious form of rhetoric in their writings to combat doctrines of human deficiency inherent in previous European thought. Through an analysis of passages of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality and Thus Spoke Zarathustra and of Capital, The Communist Manifesto, and other writings, this paper will demonstrate the appropriation of religious rhetoric of human sufficiency in such works. Secondly, this essay posits the necessity of “slave morality,” as described by Nietzsche, to the awakening of the proletariat in Marxist political theory, and characterizes Marx as the final “priest” figure who redirects ressentiment back onto oppressors. This analysis ultimately shows the effectiveness of the tradition of religious rhetoric of oppression/liberation, in spite of its simultaneous harsh critiques, and the emotional power of persuasion inherent and necessary in such language to restore human sufficiency. This essay further displays the intersections of the works of Nietzsche and Marx as products of 19th century German cultural criticism.

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