| Thinking hard|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
“”Unspoken and unrealised hath my highest hope remained! And there have perished for me all the visions and consolations of my youth! How did I ever bear it? How did I survive and surmount such wounds? How did my soul rise again out of those sepulchres? Yea, something invulnerable, unburiable is with me, something that would rend rocks asunder: it is called my will. Silently doth it proceed, and unchanged throughout the years. Its course will it go upon my feet, mine old Will; hard of heart is its nature and invulnerable. Invulnerable am I only in my heel. Ever livest thou there, and art like thyself, thou most patient one! Ever hast thou burst all shackles of the tomb! In thee still liveth also the unrealisedness of my youth; and as life and youth sittest thou here hopeful on the yellow ruins of graves. Yea, thou art still for me the demolisher of all graves: Hail to thee, my Will! And only where there are graves are there resurrections.
|—Thus Spake Zarathustra|
Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a German philosopher and an atheist, thus commonly demonized as a bogeyman. His most famous quotation is: "God is dead... and we have killed him". The line first appears within his book The Gay Science. The quotation is among the most widely misunderstood. However, the philosophical novel, Thus Spake Zarathustra, reiterates the repercussions of the declaration. He was also the world's foremost expert on analyzing the problem of nihilism, profoundly disagreeing with it.
According to some Christians, Nietzsche was corrupted to his twisted beliefs purely because of "Darwin's teachings," claiming that Darwinism "had a way of corrupting the beliefs of all who submitted to it." This is particularly silly, since Nietzsche had very little time for Darwin, condemning him in his later works as being one of the "English psychologists." He opposed the idea of natural selection, thinking it would favour the worse simply because they reproduce more, and instead envisioned a universal will to power. Nietzsche believed in some sense that mankind was favoring the weaker and weaker, but he felt that this was not because of natural selection, but because of what he called the "slave morality" of Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism, and that Darwin was actually too optimistic. Nietzsche's rather prophetic writings about the Übermensch (roughly, the "superman") envision not some kind of genetic drift of humanity to that state, but a determined individual crossing the bridge and becoming the Übermensch in his or her own life.
However, some Nietzsche scholars dispute whether "atheism" is a good summary of Nietzsche's work. R. J. Hollingdale suggests that Nietzsche's thought can be divided into three main phases: (1) the Christianity of his childhood, more specifically Lutheran pietism; (2) the atheistic nihilism he adopted in reaction to the Christianity of his childhood, best represented in his earlier works; (3) a reaction against that nihilism, a positive system of thought, which Hollingdale sees best represented by Thus Spake Zarathustra. Hollingdale views the third phase as a return to the substance of the Christian beliefs of his childhood, while avoiding the surface form of Christianity — a sort of "Christianity without Christ" or "crypto-Christianity"; in this Hollingdale locates the origins of many of Nietzsche's more unique views, such as eternal recurrence, the Übermensch, and the Great Noontide. This final stage in Nietzsche's thought can be viewed as a synthesis between the thesis of his Christianity and the antithesis of his atheistic nihilism.
Arguably, this is inconsistent with his philosophy. Nietzsche made his disgust with Christianity known throughout his writings and proposed a philosophy that opposed its core precepts. In Nietzsche's writings, he was far more supportive of Judaism and Islam compared to Christianity.
As it happens, Nietzsche was a rather complex man (he was a philosopher—go figure), and his opinions are rather hard to pin down. His fundamental concern was nihilism, specifically how all of Western civilization is (to his mind) dominated by it. In Nietzsche's view, the West is and has been for two thousand years fundamentally nihilist. This might sound odd, but if one follows his logic it makes a kind of sense. He argues that Platonism and Christianity (which he regarded as vulgarized Platonism) were nihilistic by positing the existence of a metaphysical "true world" beyond the reach of the human senses, and that the world detectable by the human senses is merely apparent. By positing such a "true world," the ancient Platonists and Christians devalued the world in which we live by dismissing it as merely "apparent", essentially saying that it does not exist.
|“||I come again, with this Sun, with this Earth, with this Eagle, with this Serpent, not to a new Life, or a better Life, or an akin Life: - I come again eternally to this identical and same Life, in the Greatest and also in the Smallest, that I will teach again the Eternal Return of all things. - that I will again speak the word of the great Midday of Earth and Man, that I will announce again to men the Übermensch.||”|
—Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None
At this point, his primary definition of nihilism comes into play: "that the highest values devaluate themselves." You see, Nietzsche was deeply concerned with values (he was the first person to use the term "values" in a social rather than economic context), and he argued that the fundamental values of society usually end up attacking themselves until there is nothing left. In the West, he identifies truthfulness as the driving value of its history (did we mention that, like any good 19th-century German philosopher, he was a historicist?). Christian morality values truthfulness very highly (perhaps not quite so highly as Zoroastrianism, but it's up there), and this value of truthfulness developed in Western civilization led to the creation of modern science. However, in time, science turned against its Christian forebear, finding that its discoveries about the truth of the objective universe made belief in Christianity unbelievable (or at least difficult). And thus was born the modern age, in which Christianity dies slowly at the feet of its child, modern science.
Yet the old morality of Christianity endures (or so Nietzsche claims), albeit unsupported by the old God who had created them. Thus enters the age of incomplete nihilism, where the Christian values, particularly the value of truth, remain current despite the death of the Christian God. Yet the other god, the god of modern science, remains, applying herself to human beings and creating the churches of liberal democracy, capitalism, and socialism. All aim towards a sort of Heaven on Earth (albeit, in the capitalist and liberal democratic forms, a deeply imperfect Heaven), and thus devalue the now. And the god of modern science (to Nietzsche) is Herself subject to criticism. For one thing, the modern scientist still believes in a "true world" distinct from an "apparent world", but the "true world" is now a material one of subatomic particles and invisible forces rather than a spiritual one of forms, gods, and souls. In other words, science remains metaphysical. For another, the distinction between facts and value judgments eats at itself (no matter how much Max Weber complains), because the very seeking after truth that characterizes modern science implies a value judgment about truth: that the truth is good.
Yet, by science's own admission, value judgments cannot be known, and thus are all equally false (from Nietzsche's perspective). So why pursue the truth? And thus comes radical/complete nihilism. Yes, our heads are spinning too.
Nietzsche taught the doctrine of eternal recurrence -- that all the events of one's life, and more broadly the entire history of the universe, repeat beginninglessly and endlessly, not new and differently each time, but exactly the same every time, in even the most minute detail. However, his main focus was not on trying to demonstrate this view of time to be true, but rather on asking what would be the consequences of believing in it. If someone truly loved their own life -- as the Übermensch would -- they would be supremely happy for it to recur endlessly, exactly the same every time. Whereas, if someone did not truly love their own life, if they hated or detested it, then such a proposition would be absolutely terrifying.
Genealogy of the Morals
In this book, Nietzsche makes the argument that ancient civilizations shifted into anti-nature habits due to the necessity of remaining clean and eating properly for longevity. He argues that religion and the "ascetic ideal" were created by ancient civilizations to give meaning to their suffering because they couldn't rationalize the concept of meaningless suffering.
Beyond Good and Evil
Nietzsche makes the argument that putting emphasis on the herd — i.e. the public — will engender someone to feel detachment and disappointed in expecting the public to improve or to consider their ideals. Typically, people can only expect unrepentant mockery from the public. He argues that nihilism will set in from the apathy of the world. To get away from feeling apathy and nihilism, he argues for concealment of one's true views from the world. He argues that a true free spirit isn't one who seeks to make positive social change, but rather someone who conceals their true views from the public. This, according to Nietzsche, is true freedom for the free spirit.
Nietzsche argues that it wasn't Jesus Christ but Paul the Apostle who twisted Christianity for his own sick delusions of the so-called end of times. He mocks Christianity for trying to steal the Old Testament from the Jews, along with the idea of dying for the faith as proof of its value or innate goodness, finding the idea insane. He argues that the ancient Jewish people created Christianity as revenge against the Romans by coming up with the blasphemous concept of a God dying through human actions, and further argues that the Jews are a warrior race that can surmount all obstacles and will be a beacon of human progress once they rid themselves of the Abrahamic God. Nietzsche also points out a theological blind spot in the Abrahamic faiths; chiefly, that once Judaism gains its prophet, then the believers of the new faith will immediately see the old faith as deceivers, and vice-versa — as was the case with the rise of Christianity, the rise of Islam, and the various schisms in both. Therefore, the Abrahamic faiths can never be truly peaceful.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Nietzsche uses his fictional character, Zarathustra, to lay the groundwork for his Ubermensch philosophy. The Ubermensch is someone who follows their own self-given meaning in life — their own self-satisfaction — and pushes against their own wretched complacency to follow their goal. Idealistically, the Ubermensch is willing to carry the burdens of the struggle, to undergo "down-going" and "over-going" for their work, and to not allow the herd, self-doubt, the pious, or basically anyone else stop them from living for their highest valued goals. This, according to Nietzsche, is how to fight against the nihilism of existence and to consider eternal recurrence along with this mindset. Nietzsche offers several different higher men in the novel, including ascetics and people who are willing to serve the Christian doctrine of pity (shockingly, Nietzsche introduces a character in part 4 that mocks Zarathustra's isolationist and self-centered tendencies), and seems to leave it open for reader interpretation on whether or not these are bridges or different types of Ubermensch. It can be implied from the characters that Nietzsche viewed people like Buddha and Jesus as types of Higher Men but for the ascetic ideal; this is along with the more traditional idea of people who seek self-empowerment and personal success.
Interestingly enough, the Ubermensch that Zarathustra seems to be looking for in the novel could be argued to mean the reader of the book. If you agree with some or many of the philosophical arguments in the book, then Zarathustra has "found" you, and if not, then you aren't the one that Zarathustra is looking for.
“”As Interpreters of our Experiences. One form of honesty has always been lacking among founders of religions and their kin: they have never made their experiences a matter of the intellectual conscience. "What did I really experience? What then took place in me and around me? Was my understanding clear enough? Was my will directly opposed to all deception of the senses, and courageous in its defence against fantastic notions?" None of them ever asked these questions, nor to this day do any of the good religious people ask them. They have rather a thirst for things which are contrary to reason, and they don’t want to have too much difficulty in satisfying this thirst, so they experience "miracles" and "regenerations," and hear the voices of angels! But we who are different, who are thirsty for reason, want to look as carefully into our experiences as in the case of a scientific experiment, hour by hour, day by day! We ourselves want to be our own experiments, and our own subjects of experiment.
|—The Gay Science|
Much of Ayn Rand's philosophy and morals are blatantly ripped off from Nietzsche. She acknowledged his early influence on her work, but then spent a lot of time trying to show why she was different. She not only failed in this endeavor, but proved herself to be a complete idiot in the process. Her embrace of capitalism -- which Nietzsche criticized as being dehumanizing and stifling to the Übermensch -- also calls her original understanding of Nietzsche into question.
Nietzsche had some ideas, which he may or may not have intended to publish in a book entitled The Will to Power, but he went insane before he could tell anyone. While he died before Nazism came around (and he actually thought that anti-Semitism should be "utterly rejected with cold contempt by every sensible mind"), his sister was a Nazi, and she pretty much quote mined and rewrote some of his scattered notes into the book The Will to Power in order to jive with her ideology. It's entirely clear that he wouldn't have wanted it that way, with some of his letters to his sister vehemently denouncing and being disgusted by her anti-Semitism and her husband's association with it. On another occasion he said that ..."anti-Semites should be shot" and his falling out with Richard Wagner was partially over Wagner's growing anti-Semitism. Despite this, dumbass neo-Nazis somehow try to claim him as one of their own.
While Nietzsche was certainly not an anti-Semite, his various works had a profound impact on the ideology of the Third Reich. He pontificated against democracy and parliaments, praised war, and thought about the concept of a super-man. He, like Hitler after him, considered the State to be of greater import than any individual and hated Christianity for its focus on charity and pity. On war, Nietzsche mirrored many other 19th Century German thinkers. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, he writes "Ye shall love peace as a means to a new war, and the short peace more than the long. You I advise not to work, but to fight. You I advise not to peace but to victory… Ye say it is the good cause which halloweth even war? I say unto you: it is the good war which halloweth every cause. War and courage have done more great things than charity." Note that this was written before World War I, at a time when lots of people thought war was a wonderful, glorious undertaking.
Despite having no experience with them, Nietzsche considered women to be distinctly inferior to men, decreeing that their place was in the kitchen and the maternity ward. "Men shall be trained for war and woman for the procreation of the warrior. All else is folly." In Thus Spake Zarathustra he expanded on this concept with "Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip!" This bit of silliness supposedly led Bertrand Russell to quip "Nine women out of ten would have got the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women."
Later, other existentialists were inspired by Nietzsche's writings, although they did reject some aspects of his philosophy. Søren Kierkegaard was also a contemporary influence on existentialism, but Nietzsche did not read his work until the last few months of his life. If he had read it earlier he might have been a little more chillaxed (not that Kierkegaard was, especially).
Although Friedrich is regularly and incorrectly accused of being a proto-Nazi, the allegation can be made far more correctly about his younger sister Elisabeth (1846-1935). She married Bernhard Förster, an anti-semite and German nationalist, and they moved to Paraguay where they created an Aryan colony called Nueva Germania in 1886. Nietzsche mocked her, calling her a "llama gone among the anti-semites". Nueva Germania soon failed, because their German agricultural methods were totally useless in the Andes. Förster committed suicide in San Bernardino, Paraguay, and most of the colonists left the compound and became regular Paraguayan farmers.
After this demonstration of Teutonic superiority, Elisabeth moved back to Germany in 1893, where Friedrich had meanwhile gone mad. She edited his unpublished texts to fit her own antisemitic ideas, and after his death continued to popularise him while twisting him to fit her beliefs. She befriended senior Nazis to whom she promoted Nietzsche as an intellectual forefather, sent Mussolini birthday greetings, and tried to get Albert Speer to build her a Friedrich Nietzsche Memorial Hall. She probably did more than anybody else to ruin her brother's reputation.
- Apollonian and Dionysian
- Richard Wagner
- Social Darwinism
- One example
- R.J. Hollingdale's introduction to his translation of Thus Spake Zarathustra (the new introduction of 1969; specifically section 5, pp. 27-29 in 2003 edition)
- For a fuller discussion, see Wikipedia's article on the Divided Line
- Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by Thomas Common and with notes by Anthony Ludovici
- H.L. Mencken. "Introduction to The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche". http://www.seesharppress.com/nietzscheintro.html.
- Shirer, William L., "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - A History of Nazi Germany." Pages 99 - 100.
- See the Wikipedia article on Nueva Germania.
- It wasn’t him, it was her, Jenni Diski, London Review of Books, vol 25 no 18, 25 September 2003