Making 300 sandwiches in exchange for marriage is sinister and degrading, not romantic

Marriage surely cannot be bought for the bargain price of 300 sandwiches, but a New York Post reporter is attempting to do just that. Sarah Ditum shares her recipe for true love (which oddly enough, isn't bread-based).

In this monstrous modern world, so many people have lost their respect for a sacred union. They think that the rites built up over many centuries, bonding disparate elements together in harmony, can be taken in vain. I am talking, of course, about Stephanie Smith, the New York Post reporter behind the blog 300 Sandwiches. What’s the significance of 300 sandwiches? That is the number of bread-with-filling based snacks her boyfriend has claimed as the price of matrimony. Or as Smith tells it in her coming-out article for the Post:

I assembled turkey and Swiss on toasted wheat bread. I spread Dijon mustard generously on both bread slices, and I made sure the lettuce was perfectly in line with the neatly stacked turkey slices… As he finished that last bite, he made an unexpected declaration of how much he loved me and that sandwich: ‘Honey, you’re 300 sandwiches away from an engagement ring!’

Smith tells the story as if it’s a cutesy-ootsy work of romance, but I think we can see it for the sinister act of degradation it is: how depraved, how vicious to reduce the noble sandwich to a bargaining chip for romantic fulfilment. The sandwich is a serious business. Your base must be good and carefully matched to chosen filling, the condiments not overpowering, the contents generous but not so incontinently lavish that they overspill their bready bounds.

Actually, having read Smith’s blog, I wonder if she even knows the meaning of “sandwich”, because a lot of what she’s produced just looks like “dinner on bread”, and that does not count. Look, I was as dazzled as anyone by the Scandinavian glamour of the Open Prawn Sandwich the first time my parents took my to Ikea, but I’ve grown up since then: if you can’t pick it up with both hands and bury your face up to the nose, then that is not a sandwich.

Sandwiches have rules. Compared to sandwiches, relationships are a piece of pastrami. Here is the recipe for true love: find someone you enjoy hanging out with and fancy, who enjoys hanging out with and fancies you; hang out, fancy each other; persist in this for as long as it is amiable or until one of you dies. (Serve with a coleslaw garnish.)

But in the same way a sandwich is not a quiche or a pizza or baked beans on toast, there are some things that marriage is not. It’s not a prize or a trophy. It’s not something you earn by submitting to the demands of your peckish partner, even if you are submitting whimsically through the medium of sandwiches and documenting the progress of your yeasty dowry with a nice DSLR.

A marriage isn’t a tender trap for cunning women to constrain idiot men in, either. “You women read all these magazines to get advice on how to keep a man, and it’s so easy,” Smith’s boyfriend advises. “We’re not complex. Just do something nice for us. Like make a sandwich.” What is he saying about his gender here? He makes men sound about as complex as worms, absorbing carbs and excreting affection. I don’t know, maybe men are like people or something. Maybe women are too! Maybe we’re all people! This is excitingly radical!

And not is marriage a compulsory waypost in the journey of womanhood. The author mentions that she upped her sandwich-making rate when she realised that, on her original schedule, “I wouldn’t be done till I was deep into my 30s. How would I finish 300 sandwiches in time for us to get engaged, married and have babies before I exited my childbearing years?” To which I’d say firstly, marriage isn’t even a compulsory prelude to children, never mind the engagement and the sandwiches. Secondly, your ovaries probably aren’t going stale as quickly as you think. And thirdly, come on, you call sandwiches “sammies”: I don’t think an excess of maturity is your biggest problem. Get married, don’t get married, but for the love of cobs, leave sandwiches out of it.

A Sandwich of Interest. Photo: Getty

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Friedrich Nietzsche, the conqueror with the iron hand

Gavin Jacobson considers the great philosopher’s plan for society as revealed in Nietzsche’s Great Politics by Hugo Drochon.

In 1893 Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche returned to her mother’s adopted home town of Naumburg in Germany. She had been living in Paraguay with her husband, Bernhard Förster, a nationalist and anti-Semite who had founded an Aryan colony to begin “the purification and rebirth of the human race”. Elisabeth’s brother, Friedrich Nietzsche, had condemned her husband’s anti-Semitism and her decision to join him in South America. The experiment failed in any case. Blighted by disease, poor harvests and intercommunal strife, the outpost collapsed in two years. Förster committed suicide in 1889. Around this time, Nietzsche began his final descent into madness and Elisabeth came back to take care of him and his legacy.

Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, published in 1872 while he was a professor at the University of Basel, received marginal attention. It wasn’t until the 1890s that his writings gained a wide readership across Europe. Elisabeth soon took control of Nietzsche’s literary estate and, little by little, transformed him into an instrument of her fascist designs. She began to rework his notebooks and to clip, cross out and fabricate quotations, so that, in the public imagination, her brother went from an opponent of German nationalism to a lover of the fatherland, from the author of The Antichrist to a follower of the gospel, and from an anti-anti-Semite to a venomous ­Jew-hater. Before his death in 1900, Nietzsche had asked his sister to ensure that “no priest or anyone else utters falsehoods at my graveside, when I can no longer defend myself”. He could not have foreseen this betrayal by Elisabeth, as she cast him as the lodestar of National Socialism.

Since the 1950s, scholars have endeavoured to rescue Nietzsche from his asso­ciation with Nazism. Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1950) was a formative work in which the German philosopher became a humanist and progenitor of 20th-century existentialism. His thinking was directed not at the triumph of Teutonic supremacy but at reviving, as he wrote in Twilight of the Idols (1889), an “anti-political” high culture.

The problem was that, in stripping away the layers of external disfigurement that had built up and set over the years, Kaufmann and others denied Nietzsche an interest in politics. The task that Hugo Drochon sets himself is to reinsert some political content into Nietzsche and show that he had a systematic political theory. The result is a superb case of deep intellectual renewal and the most important book to have been written about him in the past few years.

Drochon’s study takes place against the backdrop of 19th-century Europe, as that is where Nietzsche’s account of politics – the fate of democracy, the role of the state and international relations – is best understood. Nietzsche’s sane life coincided with the main political events of his time. He served as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War, witnessed German unification and experienced at first hand the traits of a modern democratic order: party competition, secret ballots, voting and the influence of mass media. He also lived through Britain’s and Russia’s “great game” for control over central Asia. He went mad in the year Bismarck tended his resignation to Wilhelm II.

Drochon traces Nietzsche’s “intelligible account of modern society” in response to these events. Inspired by the Greeks – especially Plato and his mission to legislate a new state and train the men to do it – Nietzsche wanted to establish a healthy culture in which philosophy and great art could be produced. He was certain that slavery was necessary for this (a view that led to his eventual split with Wagner). The “cruel-sounding truth”, he admitted, was that “slavery belongs to the essence of culture”, as the artistic class, “a small number of Olympian men”, is released from the drudgery of daily existence to focus on producing art.

His disagreement with Wagner over the role of slavery led Nietzsche to describe the genesis and decay of the state. He saw clearly, like Hobbes, that the state of nature was “the war of all against all”. But whereas Hobbes imagined the state arising through a contract, Nietzsche saw it originating from a “conqueror with the iron hand”, who “suddenly, violently and bloodily” takes control of a people and forces it into a hierarchical society. Nietzsche then plotted its evolution, from a space within which culture flourished to the modern Kulturstaat, in which culture was appropriated for its own sake. If the state’s birth was violent, its decay was slow and was linked to Nietz­sche’s notorious phrase about the death of God: given that the Christian God was no longer a self-evident foundation of morality upon which societies could support themselves, the state faced dissolution.

Tracing with great forensic skill the minutiae of Nietzsche’s arguments across multiple sources, Drochon never loses the overall narrative thread (an occupational hazard of studying the history of political thought). Nor does he shy away from his subject’s unsavoury views. If Nietzsche’s remarks on slavery were harsh enough, his thinking on eugenics, or his physiologically inflected theories about democracy (which he regarded as the victory of a slave morality – associated with the “dark-skinned and especially dark-haired man” – over a master morality of the “Aryan conquering race”) sound even more repellent. Without wishing to justify these ideas, Drochon reminds us that theories of racial classification were prevalent and acceptable modes of inquiry in the 19th century. It would have been strange if Nietzsche had not drawn on them.

His darker side notwithstanding, many of Nietzsche’s insights speak to our politics now. He foresaw the privatisation of the state, in which “private companies” (Privatgesellschaften) would assume the business of the state, including those activities that are the “most resistant remainder of what was formerly the work of the government” – that is, “protecting the private person from the private person”. He showed how democracies gave birth to aristocracies and could become hostage to a “herd morality”, majoritarianism and misarchism: “the democratic idiosyncrasy of being against everything that dominates and wants to dominate”. He explored the question of wage labour and the increasing hostility between workers and employers and predicted the erosion of trust in
public institutions.

Nietzsche also described how statesmen revive the kind of pathologies that are corrupting European and American societies at the moment: nationalism, racism, intellectual parochialism and political insularity. He knew what he was talking about: Bismarck’s power politics, a tribute to blood (war) and iron (technology), was a “petty politics” that divided nations and peoples. Nietzsche’s “great politics”, by contrast, imagined the unification of Europe led by a cultural elite, the class he termed “good Europeans”, bred by intermixing Prussian military officers and Jewish financiers. Continental union would not only constitute a geopolitical counterweight to Britain and Russia. Good Europeans would, as Drochon writes, create “a new trans-European culture, which itself is specially called on to lead a world culture”.

So, this book has come at the right time. In the light of Britain’s vote for Brexit, which threatens to take us back to a petty politics of nationalism and continental division, Nietzsche’s writings are more significant than ever. Those of us who desire a more integrated and peaceful union with our neighbours cling despairingly – and with receding hope – to his dream that, in spite of “the morbid estrangement which the nationality craze has induced and still induces among the peoples of Europe, owing also to the short-sighted and hasty-handed politicians . . . Europe wishes to be one”.

Nietzsche’s Great Politics by Hugo Drochon is published by Princeton University Press, 224pp, £34.95

Gavin Jacobson is a writer and book critic

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt