Philosophy, recent, The Totalitarian Philosophers

Why We Should Read Nietzsche

This the fourth instalment in a series of essays by Matt McManus examining the work and legacies of the totalitarian philosophers.

In Ecce Homo, the autobiographical self-examination written shortly before his descent into madness on the streets of Turin in 1889, Nietzsche cheekily opined that he was a “destiny.” It must have seemed like an almost tragic act of self-aggrandizement at the time. When he collapsed near the height of intellectual powers, Nietzsche was a sick and lonely man. His books, many of them self-published at Nietzsche’s expense, were barely selling and he often depended on charity from his friends. A few years earlier Nietzsche’s one firm romantic attachment, Lou-Salome, had rejected his proposal of marriage and rebounded on vacation with the philosopher’s friend Paul Ree. His sister Elizabeth and her husband were increasingly flirting with forms of nationalism and anti-Semitism that the cosmopolitan Nietzsche found extremely vulgar. Ironically, she would assume responsibility for Nietzsche’s care throughout his illness, editing many of his books and falsely presenting her brother as a proto-Nazi icon. It must have seemed at the time that Nietzsche’s “destiny” was to live out his remaining days as a vegetative invalid and quaint intellectual curiosity.

Yet, only a few decades later, Martin Heidegger would declare that in Nietzsche’s thought, the history of Western metaphysics had finally reached its climax. If Plato was the originator of Western metaphysics, then in Nietzsche every Platonic insight had been inverted and the story had moved from one extreme to the next. Many at the time might have agreed, as new artistic, intellectual, and political movements claiming Nietzsche as a predecessor were emerging with tremendous rapidity. Unfortunately, not all of these were admirable and many would stain the philosopher’s reputation for many decades to come. Most infamously, many fascist and Nazi figures saw in Nietzsche a clear precursor to their outlook. Perhaps the most infamous example is Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 propaganda film Triumph of the Will, which depicts Adolph Hitler as a pseudo-superman descending like Zarathustra from the clouds to greet the German people. As a result, Nietzsche’s initial reception in liberal democratic and progressive circles was often chilly. He was regarded as an inegalitarian philosopher who celebrated strength and cruelty, or a shrill proponent of irrationalism. In his 1945 work A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell spoke for many at the time when he wrote:

I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit into a duty, because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die.

Nietzsche and Politics

The goal of humanity lies in its highest specimens.
~Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations

Unlike the controversy surrounding Marx and Heidegger, the outrage associated with Nietzsche has given way to ubiquitous and lavish praise. Since the end of the Second World War, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of interpreters like Walter Kaufmann, there has been a flurry of more rigorous and charitable interpretations of Nietzsche. The range is truly impressive; perhaps no other philosopher has influenced so many different opinions. Nietzsche was a profound influence on figures like Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault who have become prominently associated with the political Left, who supported overcoming society’s remaining moral and traditional barriers to self-creation. Other figures influenced by Nietzsche moved to the political Right, including the libertarian Ayn Rand and the classicist Leo Strauss. Artists have invoked his work to call for radical new aesthetic forms to emerge, while others have appealed to him to decry the decadence of modern art and feeling. Perhaps most interestingly, Nietzsche has even gained some popular traction, with his books selling millions of copies despite their strange topics and myriad styles. Despite this, Nietzsche remains a thinker very much at odds with many of the political positions at play today. This is perhaps inevitable, as Nietzsche was ever the contrarian and would likely have approved of Kierkegaard’s solemn maxim that “when you label me, you negate me.”

Firstly, Nietzsche was certainly in no way a progressive in gestation. He would almost certainly have had nothing but contempt for the postmodern proponents of difference and toleration who invoke aspects of his thought. Nietzsche was a staunch elitist who frequently derided the “herd” which made up most of mankind. And he was openly contemptuous of many cultural practices and traditions; lampooning Buddhism, dismissing the British as a nation of mediocre shopkeepers, and of course endlessly denigrating Judeo-Christianity as religions of “resentment” oriented by a “slave” morality. Moreover, Nietzsche had little good to say about either socialism or radical democracy, regarding them as little more than watered down efforts at secularizing vulgar Christian tropes.

Secondly, Nietzsche would not have been fond of contemporary liberalism—classical or egalitarian—and liberal rights, either. For Nietzsche, the call for rights—whether to private property or welfare—were simply slavish demands by the weak for protection from the worthy and strong. As John Rawls pointed out in his critique of Nietzschian “perfectionism,” there is a strong sense in Nietzsche that society does not exist to benefit all of its members. Instead, it exists to enable the few truly great men and women to rise and establish new and almost god-like kinds of values. It was offensive that such figures must be held back by the mediocrity of humankind; great men like Napoleon cared little for the rights and welfare of others as they rode out to remake the world. This, of course, did not mean that such individuals wanted to trample over others as a sign of their greatness. Rather, as he put in On the Genealogy of Morals, the great “eagle” devotes very little thought one way or another to the “lambs” beneath it. But that includes feelings of pity where the lamb lies between the eagle and its goals.

There is nothing very odd about lambs disliking birds of prey, but this is no reason for holding it against large birds of prey that they carry off lambs. And when the lambs whisper among themselves, ‘These birds of prey are evil, and does this not give us a right to say that whatever of the opposite of a bird of prey must be good?’ there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such an argument—though the birds of prey will look somewhat quizzically and say, ‘We have nothing against these good lambs; in fact, we love them; nothing tastes better than a tender lamb.’

Thirdly, Nietzsche would hardly be a friend of the contemporary Right either, in any of its various forms. Despite some rejigging by figures like Ayn Rand, Nietzsche was hardly a proto-libertarian or classical liberal. Nietzsche disdained consumer culture and capitalism, seeing it as producing vulgar and decadent societies of “last men” focused on the pursuit of meaningless wealth and menial satisfactions. These last men lived out their days in material affluence, but were committed to no truly great projects, mostly concerned with issues like “health” and physical appearance. One can think of the Wall Street icons ridiculed by Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho, each thinking he was lord of the world and each in fact tedious and indistinguishable from on another. Nietzsche was also dismissive of nationalism, sharing Schopenhauer’s opinion that it was an infantile outlook for individuals not strong enough to will their own destiny without banding together with the rest of the “herd.” Part of this is due to Nietzsche’s personal disdain for German nationalism, and his preference for pan-Europeanism. Whether this means he would be fond of the contemporary European Union, with its liberal outlook and social democratic policies, one can only guess. But he would have certainly regarded the idea of moving away from the nation-state model appealing. 

Finally, Nietzsche would have found the invocations by the far Right—past and present—infuriating. He often looked at his sister Elizabeth’s gradual descent into German nationalism and later Nazism with an uncharacteristic mixture of pity and scorn. Had Nietzsche lived to see the rise of Hitler, he would likely have immediately recognized the Austrian dropout as the mean and resentful creature he was. He would likely have been horrified to see his work on the will to power and the great man transformed into a kind of racist eugenics, insisting that his work was about the individual self and not collective genetic overcoming. And, of course, Nietzsche would regard the deindividuation of totalitarianism, its attempt to completely assimilate the single person into the nation, as nihilistic. Today, no doubt Nietzsche would have lambasted the alt-right efforts to associate his work with concerns about immigration and the racial makeup of society.

So what then did Nietzsche believe politically? In some respects it is difficult to say a priori, since if one could give a strict formula for how to produce the “highest specimens” of humanity then they would cease to be the highest. Instead their greatness and creativity would be manufactured and predictable. As Nietzsche sometimes puts it, a priori formulas must occasionally give way to the nobility of the “nose,” which recognizes the scent of greatness and vulgarity when it is near. My sense is that Nietzsche is best understood as a radical individualist; one who insists passionately that our duty in life is to become what we are. But what kind of person is that? And how can we avoid false paths? I think the deepest clue lies in his profound treatment of resentment, which is well described by Gilles Deleuze in his classic book Nietzsche:

We rediscover the definition of resentment: resentment is a reaction which simultaneously becomes perceptible and ceases to be acted: a formula which defines sickness in general. Nietzsche is not simply saying that resentment is a sickness, but rather that sickness as such is a form or resentment.

For Nietzsche, much of human action which appears superficially great is actually done for slavish reasons. The weakness we feel at our limitations becomes a hatred for those who present themselves as our betters, and we therefore undertake works to either bring them down or prove our own superiority. This can take myriad forms, from the socialist demand to redistribute wealth to the poor to the nationalist demand that intellectually minded cosmopolitans are corrupting the pure soul of the real people. Sometimes it even takes more vulgar forms, for instance when someone engages in self-aggrandizing acts to draw attention to themselves from the mass of people who dared to ignore them. In some circumstances, resentment can lead to tremendous and terrifying outbursts of energy, which give it the appearance of strength and power. But this is a lie, since buried beneath all such acts is a personal and collective weakness which stifles all efforts to truly overcome its opposition.

The person driven by resentment may claim to hate the rich or the foreigner and wish them to be destroyed. But they are also dependent on them, since the only way the resentful can feel any real power is by feeling morally superior to what opposes them. The poor need to feel morally superior to the rich to claim they are victims being exploited, as nationalists needs to feel morally superior to the foreigner to feel pride in their collective identity. In this sense, resentment is an impotent force which can wail and brag, but never achieve anything truly for itself. This is left to the truly great person, who lives for himself and his values and cares little enough for the opinions or actions of others.

Conclusion: What Can We Learn From Nietzsche

Nietzsche is one of the most difficult thinkers in the Western canon to think through. This is both in spite and because of his brilliant literary powers. In part due to illness which hampered his ability to write for an extended period of time, most of Nietzsche’s writings appear as aphorisms and short essays rather than sustained works. Nietzsche was also moody and emotional, meaning that he occasionally lashes out with vitriol against a figure or idea which is later treated more soberly. Overall, his philosophy is not a manual for how to become a Nietzschian, but rather how to overcome one’s self limitations and unleash new creative potential and insight. Nonetheless, there are two key points we can pick up from his work.

Firstly, Nietzsche draws our attention to the historical contingency of many of our moral conceits. This is perhaps best accomplished in the On the Genealogy of Morals and the short books Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist. In these works, Nietzsche develops some of his most striking imagery and ideas. He suggests that most every moral philosopher and figure thus far has failed to recognize that the moral claims they presented were historically and psychologically motivated. They took the moral claims presented as true, when in fact they were culturally or psychologically motivated. The failure to acknowledge this left us unable to recognize the deepest prompts to our actions, leading to a great deal of corruption and vulgarization.

For instance, Nietzsche famously had mixed feelings about Jesus Christ, occasionally ridiculing him, and occasionally praising him as the only opponent worthy of the Antichrist. In either case, he was the only real Christian and he “died on the cross.” Later Christians appropriated his rhetoric to argue that he sought to bring universal love. The reality is that they wanted to replace the aristocratic and warlike ancient Greco-Roman world with one that conformed to the mediocrity of the slaves, and so needed to find a way to re-describe weakness and servility as a moral virtue. The upshot was Christian morality, which was resentful to its core. Nietzsche often gleefully pointed out how the religion of universal love was paranoid about sin, fixating with almost erotic satisfaction on the suffering of those in hell. Nietzsche thought that unawareness of often unconscious motivators leads us to make vulgar and baseless moral claims. This insight is frequently misused today by a host of commentators who substitute pop-psychologism for real analysis of their opponent’s position. Invocations of resentment can also be dangerously overused to dismiss appeals which are really about fairness or justice. Nonetheless, it was a profound contribution to our understanding of morality.

Secondly, and most innovatively, Nietzsche’s writings radically deepened our understanding of what constitutes authentic individuality. Like his existentialist kin Søren Kierkegaard and Simone de Beauvoir, Nietzsche recognized that we all too often regard being an individual as simply doing what we profess to want. It certainly is not mere consumerism and the acquisition of material goods. He draws our attention to the many ways in which external factors like culture and internal psychological motivations like resentment can actually lead us to become false or vulgar iterations of our selves. The task then is to free ourselves from these inauthentic constraints through continuous and arduous self-overcoming.

 

Matt McManus is currently Visiting Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey. His forthcoming books are Overcoming False Necessity: Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and What is Post-Modern Conservatism? He can be reached at garion9@yorku.ca or followed on Twitter @MattPolProf

71 Comments

  1. Mitch Hyman says

    I don’t think Nietzsche was concerned with ‘authenticity’ in the Maslowian sense (which is where you seem headed in the last paragraph; I don’t know Kierkegaard well enough definitively to add his name here, too.) Don’t forget that Nietzsche believed in the ubiquity of the will to power — he says in ‘The Will To Power’ that the WTP is what we are — and therefore also believed in the inevitability – and value – of great social hierarchies. (And of our fundamental needs to obey — and command.) Any Nietzschean project of ‘becoming who one is’ must therefore reconcile itself with such elemental facts of ‘nature’ and human nature. This is something well beyond ‘self-overcoming’ of (presumably socialized) ‘inauthentic constraints’: it means transcending many constraints we’ve also come to identify as human; becoming (as N says in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’) at once ‘more G-d and more beast’.

    Also, you make no mention of N’s epistemology — which is a useful part of his moral critique and not at all separate from it. Because we misperceive the world – via anthropological and linguistic errors – we also fail to see its essence — the sovereignty of the will to power. (We mistakenly believe in ‘things’, cause and effect, etc. – the whole mechanistic universe.) This erroneous ‘dependable and logical’ world we’ve constructed for ourselves is also not ‘noble’ in N’s view: ‘reason,’ science and the deification of Truth are for him already moralistic corruptions of the spirit; and they have accordingly only added to the original perceptual/phenomenological errors of our forefathers. (Quantum physics, or at least so I glean, also seems to be leaning to a conception of the world not composed of matter but of loci of information; or perhaps as N would say, of ‘centers of force’.) For Nietzsche, any ‘optimum individual’ (we used to call him the Superman) must needs grasp all this, too, and see the world in a wholly new way: as composed of the will to power and nothing more.

    Though perhaps no one can yet experience such a world-view, Nietzsche’s argument does draw back the veil and raise our consciousness almost to the point.
    And that is his fundamental value for me…

    • Old Geezer says

      “ No one was ever certain
      What it was that he was sayin’
      But they loved it when he told them
      They were better than the rest “

      Don Henley

      • Mitch Hyman says

        It’s really not that complicated. But OK – you’re welcome.

    • Andy Espersen says

      “Authentic individuality” – that is precisely what existentialism is about. The difference between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche is that one was a Christian philosopher and the other was not. Had Nietzsche been a Christian, also he would have hit on the concept of “the Lonely Individual before God”, continuously and arduously striving to counter nature.

  2. thebigsausage says

    Nietzsche believed that the platonic Christian pursuit of god’s truth would result in the destruction of all myths necessary for human sanity. The Christian myth being the first casualty. Nietzsche believed in going back to pre-platonic Ancient Greece where the tragedy of life was a more prominent theme & heroic myths and legends were what strengthened people’s minds. It is worth bearing in mind that, without Nietzsche, there would be no Freud and no Jung; these are the founders of modern psychoanalysis. He is regarded as as influential as Darwin and Einstein.

    Youtube lectures on Nietzsche are the best way to learn about his subtle and elusive message. reading Nietzsche on your own is not easy without a background in philosophy.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkhbSLExYbc

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWBIFavfCtM&t=3075s

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  4. Bespectacled Turtle-necked edgelord with a serious PhD in the sociology of black metal (please take Nietzsche seriously) says

    If Nietzscheanism conveys an advantage in politics and life, why does it get its ass kicked over and over by these alleged “resentiful” losers and last men?

    • Mitch Hyman says

      Why does illness befall even the strongest of men?

      • neoteny says

        Because the adjective ‘strong’ can be attached to many nouns; and it has a distinct meaning depending on the noun. ‘Strongest of men’ how? Men with the strongest immune system do not become ill.

        • Mitch Hyman says

          But they do, eventually. (And it’s the men then who become sick – not the immune systems…)

          • neoteny says

            But they do, eventually.

            No, they don’t; death is not an illness.

            <

            blockquote>the men then who become sick – not the immune systems

            <

            blockquote>

            Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

        • Mitchell Hyman says

          Well, death is certainly not an invigoration; whatever you call it – and however you parse the causality – strength has never been permanent for any individual organic entity (or by extension, culture)..

          And Nietzsche too would explain – basically has explained – the decline of stronger civilizations on the basis 1) of decadence (internal exhaustion; e.g. Romans) and/or 2) exposure to unfavourable conditions (e.g., poor diet, migration to geographically unsuitable locales [decline of Aryans], “alcoholic poisoning” [medieval decline of Germans], etc.)

          Strong men become weak with time; if you don’t like the disease model, feel free to posit whatever agent/process you wish for that outcome.
          And understand that Nietzsche would reference that agent/process to explain why the devotees of ressentiment sometimes temporarily (it’s only been 2000 years, mate) seem to triumph over those who retain a memory of greater human potential…

          • neoteny says

            strength has never been permanent for any individual organic entity

            Well, there’s the answer to your question of why does illness befall even the strongest of men.

            <

            blockquote>And Nietzsche too would explain – basically has explained – the decline of stronger civilizations on the basis 1) of decadence (internal exhaustion; e.g. Romans)

            <

            blockquote>

            This explanation is on the cognitive level of the vitalists explaining the difference between living entities and non-living ones by reference to vis vitalis, the “life force”.

            2) exposure to unfavourable conditions

            Without specifying why those ‘unfavourable conditions’ occurred exactly when they occurred, this is an explanation which leaves much to be desired.

  5. Joana George says

    I enjoyed reading this article, but I think the author didn’t clearly articulate the most important reason for reading Nietzsche yourself, namely that there are so many interpretations of his work and most of them can sound plausible. This strongly hints to the fact that if you just read about his views instead of reading his work directly, you are very likely to miss out on a lot.

  6. Jean Levant says

    “Overall, his philosophy is not a manual for how to become a Nietzschian, but rather how to overcome one’s self limitations”
    I think so. Alas, he was a very poor example of his own philosophy. If you want to be believed, prove your speech by your acts.
    Another point : I think you’re also right, Matt, arguing that N. would be horrified by nazism but nevertheless he paved the way for Hitler and the like. Mussolini was maybe a bastard but he could read. Ecce Homo is indeed an excellent illustration of a proto-nazi book. His only excuse was, perhaps, he was already mad. Ecce Homo is very well written, funny, even poetic, but it’s often sheer narcissistic and megalomaniac madness.

  7. Aylwin says

    Nietzsche seems to be a kind of Rorschach test.

    I’m conflicted about whether articles about Nietzsche are worthwhile or not. On the one hand they’re another piece of noise that stops his work dying, like it should, and relieving humanity of the swamp that has no doubt consumed so many otherwise valuable intellects, but on the other hand they’re a nice reminder of what a huge opportunity cost would be incurred by reading his work.

  8. Jeff says

    I love Quillette but I’m disappointed. I have a visceral hate for Nietzsche. He is a stupid, incoherent, arrogant, and inegalitarian philosopher, whose status in the philosophical community is totally undeserved. I tried to force myself to read through his work but couldn’t find anything of value.

    First off, the opacity of Nietzsche’s readings is sold to us as depth. To read Nieztsche, we’re told, we must not read it literaly but search for a supposed hidden sense in his writings, connect it to other philosophers. His vagueness and inconsistency are presented as positive qualities, and the reader who does not understand him is told to read X more books about how to correctly interpret Nietzsche. Ironically this looks very similar to theological disputes about how to correctly interpret the Bible/Quran, but in the case of Nietzsche nobody pauses to think that, if very different people can give vastly different and often contradictory interpretation of the same text, then maybe the issue lies with the text itself.

    Second, Nietzsche was an elitist and celebrates inequality. The thing to understand here is that the kind of hierarchy he desires is 1) a meritocratic one, a hierarchy between individuals rather than groups and 2) a hierarchy based around brute biological and psychological capabilities such as intelligence, strength, determination, etc… as opposed to group-level hierarchies based on race, sex, wealth, or other social group marker.This allows the Left to also claim N as one of their own. What characterizes the Left as a whole, notwithstanding their internal disagreements, is seeing society as conflict between oppressed groups and oppressive groups or institutions.

    However, the Left is relatively uninterested by individual inequalities and sometimes promote views and policies that would make them worse (eg. hostility to biotechnology). This incites them to defend N’s elitism by saying that it shouldn’t be taken literaly, that it’s about self-growth, that it’s not the same kind of hierarchy the Right wants. N was not a fascism or a Nazi, that is true, yet THE MERE FACT that he was instrumentalized by them should give them pause.
    Academics ought to very clearly say that N’s elitism is bad and immoral, rather than hiding it or minimizing it.

    The author said Nietzsche’s reception has been bad. Oh, really? I’ve tried very hard to find ANYONE directly criticizing N. The only 2 direct critics of N I found (as opposed to people who just disagree on the correct interpretation) were Bertrand Russell, who is quoted here, and Steven Pinker. Just 2 people disagreeing with him isn’t “bad reception”. Philosopher’s admiration of N is more religious than anything else.

    • Nietzschez Wit Ariadnetudes says

      “Academics ought to very clearly say that N’s elitism is bad and immoral, rather than hiding it or minimizing it.”

      They aren’t going to do anything because academics see themselves as N’s overman. They are the ones making the values now. People like McManus think he should rule (or be making the rules and norms). And if you disagree with this state of affairs? Well, read the article he wrote. It’s the classic “hermeneutic of suspicion”: Your response must be resentiment, or class ideology, or projection, or a perversion, or anti-intellectualism, or racism, or colonialism, or whatever other new dazzling thick-conceptual buzzword of power they use to shut down any critique of the liberal madrassas.

      • Jeff says

        “They aren’t going to do anything because academics see themselves as N’s overman.”

        That’s an excellent point. Nietzsche is popular because his work is academic self-fellatio. Is the author a leftist though? I don’t think he would be published by Quillette if he were.

        • markbul says

          Quillette is crawling with leftists who just got kicked by their former leftist friends. The attacks on the Left here are by the not-quite-so-Left Left.

    • Nathan says

      You sound like a cuck pleb. Your lord and savior Friedrich Nietzsche presides over you on the vista of world historical significance. Egalitarian untermenschen like yourself aren’t capable of comprehending his form of thinking, so you deride him as “overrated”. For god’s sake I could wrap my mind around much of Nietzsche by the time I was out of my teens.

      The truth is, there has been no thinker as universally significant as Nietzsche since his time. He is up there with Marx and Darwin in terms of effect on the world, and probably more profound than either of them because he was a prophet of the upcoming century and also spawned psychoanalysis. The 20th and 21st centuries could be aptly called the Nietzschean era. That is his impact you plebtard. No other thinker foresaw the consequences of the death of god like he did. The Steven Pinkers of Nietzsche’s day we’re too busy naively talking about how scientific and material progress would continue progressing ever upward, oblivious to the potential for world war and Marxist revolutions looming on the horizon. Just as the fucking idiots today think we will just continue on the march of “Progress”. What an utter stupidity.

      Also, in the postwar Anglosphere, Nietzsche absolutely had a bad reception until he was rehabilitated by Kaufmann. Learn your history.

    • Jeremy H says

      “I tried to force myself to read through his work but couldn’t find anything of value.”

      I thank you for this honesty as it essentially explains the rest of your comment. Odd that you would admit to not having read or understood him but then proceed to lecture us on how to correctly interpret him.

      For myself I find something of value in almost every paragraph I read of Nietzsche. I don’t find him opaque at all nor do I have to dig to find meaning; the effect for me is more like being slapped in the face (like when I finally got what he meant regarding the origin of guilt or the true psychological motivations behind asceticism). He is, in my opinion, one of the most literal philosophers in the Western canon. (I’ve never read any books on how to interpret Nietzsche so I can’t vouch for their efficacy).

      “Nietzsche was an elitist and celebrates inequality.”

      So? We all do. Do you seek out mediocre music? Do you celebrate the achievements of the average athlete? Whatever your passion is I guarantee you that you, like the rest of us, seek out the best representatives of it to admire and emulate. Nietzsche in this regard is imploring us to be honest: the real reason we despise hierarchy is more likely from envy and resentment of those at the top than out of any real attachment to principles of equality. Which is why, lacking this self-awareness, the Utopian/communist movements of the past 2 centuries inevitably devolved into more vicious and rigid hierarchies than anything they attempted to replace.

      I may not agree with Nietzsche’s extreme position that it would be worth sacrificing the happiness of the majority of humanity to produce a few exalted individuals but nor do I dismiss the essential problem he revealed: that civilization itself is an expression of inequality and exploitation.

      “Academics ought to very clearly say that N’s elitism is bad and immoral, rather than hiding it or minimizing it.”

      Wow, are you sure you understand the mission of the academy?

      • Jeff says

        “For myself I find something of value in almost every paragraph I read of Nietzsche.”

        Nietzsche didn’t make any point that wasn’t made better by someone else. Whatever good point he made didn’t stand out to me as particularily original.

        “Whatever your passion is I guarantee you that you, like the rest of us, seek out the best representatives of it to admire and emulate.”

        If mediocrity means nobody is being left out, then yes, it’s an acceptable compromise. I don’t think resentment is intrinsically a bad thing btw. It’s justified when you’re in a situation of weakness.

        “Wow, are you sure you understand the mission of the academy?”

        Well, that’s the mission Leftists want to give to academia. It would be a good thing if they stood by their principle in this case. But of course they won’t even though it’s one of the few instances when it would be appropriate to do so.

        Also you all seem to believe I’m a Leftist. I’m right-wing (well, everything that isn’t orthodox Anarcho-communism is fascism nowadays so it’s not that difficult), but not part of any right-wing that sees individual inequalities as tolerable or even desirable. I’m not criticizing the implicit social darwinism of the Left to embrace the EXplicit social darwinism of the Right.

        • Jeremy H says

          “Nietzsche didn’t make any point that wasn’t made better by someone else.”

          I can only disagree. “Genealogy of Morals”, for example, contains three of the most original premises in human thinking as far as I’m concerned: Christianity as the most important moral revolution in history, guilt and bad conscience as the inevitable result of civilization itself, and asceticism as the last resort of a dying will to preserve itself.

          If you can point me to thinkers who tackled these ideas prior to and in greater depth than Nietzsche I would sincerely be grateful.

          “I don’t think resentment is intrinsically a bad thing btw. It’s justified when you’re in a situation of weakness.”

          You’re missing the point. Whether or not it’s justified is irrelevant. The question is what effect it has on the individual (or group) who is resentful. Does it make them a better person? Does it help them overcome whatever is holding them back? I would argue that resentment is wrong precisely because, by focusing on the other rather than oneself, it offers cheap emotional compensation in place of any real growth.

          • Jeff says

            “I can only disagree. “Genealogy of Morals”, for example, contains three of the most original premises in human thinking as far as I’m concerned: Christianity as the most important moral revolution in history, guilt and bad conscience as the inevitable result of civilization itself, and asceticism as the last resort of a dying will to preserve itself.”

            I must have been more specific: N didn’t make any VALID point that wasn’t made more convincingly and rationnaly by someone else. I find scientific explanations of the origins of guilt and bad conscience much more convincing than his.

            N freely mixes value judgments with facts. He’s hardly the only philosopher to do that, unfortunately, but given his demigod status in the academia you wouldn’t expect such fallacies from him.

      • “For myself I find something of value in almost every paragraph I read of Nietzsche.”

        Interesting. Where’s the value for you in this no untypical gem. I posted one in the same vein below

        “Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel in himself the force and will to inflict great pain?”

    • Stephanie says

      Jeff, I’m far from a philosopher and know nothing about Nietzsche, but why is desiring a meritocratic hierarchy based on individual competence bad? I’ve never heard anyone suggest a better or more realistic system.

    • dimitrios otis says

      Yet, Nietzsche has impacted you, no? But it is interesting that Nietzsche does get such a pass from almost everybody–especially since he doesn’t even want it!

    • kn83 says

      Most of Nietzsche’s observations on morality, the mind and human nature/behavior have been proven right by modern Biology (especially socio-biology and cognitive science) on multiple levels. And Nietzsche was right about Egalitarianism, it IS a fiction based on resentment and a denial of human nature.

      The so-called “immorality” of any belief or idea has nothing to do with its truth value. Of all of the major Western Philosophers on the topics of morality and human behavior, Nietzsche is easily the most accurate and honest of the bunch.

  9. Diogenes says

    Undoubtedly Nietzsche would have found this article tedious and plebian.

    Nietzsche examined things from many sides, often leading to apparently contradictory pronouncements. Explaining Nietzsche is beside the point. Read Nietzsche yourself and leave out the intermediaries who reduce everything to gruel.

    • Mitch Hyman says

      The article fixed Nietzsche well in his own corner; the trouble is, Nietzsche himself exhorted us to look around it…

  10. “My sense is that Nietzsche is best understood as a radical individualist; one who insists passionately that our duty in life is to become what we are”

    Nietzsche certainly was a radical individualist but, I believe much more than that. As the author correctly points out, it is difficult to categorize Nietzsche partly because of the very nature of his writings. He writes somewhat in fragments and taken individually one fragment may say one thing which is contradicted by another fragment somewhere else. Making sense of all of this is, I believe, a key to understanding Nietzsche.

    I believe Nietzsche understands himself as a force of nature. His writings are a manifestation of him contemplating and transforming experiential reality into language (he also wrote music). He is not concerned with generating a systematic philosophy. He is not concerned with contradictions because he understands reality itself to consist of a vast unified play of contraries. He is concerned with the whole, how all forces, all manifestations of “power” interact and conflict.

    The enduring power of Nietzsche’s work is in its capacity for provocation. This provocation is not simply found in Nietzsche’s iconoclasm or his clever formulations but in his ability to provoke the reader out of his or her own narrow interpretations of reality.

    Nietzsche, in effect, provokes the reader to get beyond all preconceptions of how reality works and to actually pay attention to the contradictory and even frightening nature of experiential reality. In this regard, Nietzsche is, above all, an empiricist.

    To even read Nietzsche requires a level of receptivity in the reader, which is to say, a level of power in the individual. This power is not strictly a function of intelligence. Indeed, Nietzsche is consistently misread (even comically misread) by very intelligent people such as Bertrand Russell, almost all postmodernists, and more recently Stephen Pinker. If you are not prepared to question everything you know, if you’re convinced of your own cleverness and intelligence, don’t bother reading Nietzsche.

    Nietzsche is, as he understood himself, a world historical event. He will continue to outlive both his acolytes and his detractors.

    • dirk says

      What I think, CA, is that Nietzsche can’t be understood and evaluated in the USA, because what made him special in the West European context (thus, much less in the East) : he sensed a breakpoint in the current of history (from feudalism and religion to pure humanism, the self as value barometer) where in the US they just started from the very beginning with that secular humanism as the basics, not as succinctly and grossly expressed as by Nietzsche, but expressed in general terms in their manifests and general beliefs.
      As said by Harari on Nietzsche and all this in his Homo Deus: -so, even while saying that I believe in God (think on his God is dead, my addition), the truth is that I have a much stronger belief in my own inner voice-.

      • dirk

        I think you are correct about Nietzsche being misread in the USA, but he is also misread in Europe as near as I can tell. In fact, I think Harold Bloom is correct to refer to more recent postmodern European readings of Nietzsche as “French Nietzsche.” And it is this French Nietzsche which has predominated in academia. This is essentially Nietzsche as avatar of nihilism.

        Also, a highly neglected fact about Nietzsche was his love for Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson’s profound influence on Nietzsche has been largely ignored, especially by postmodernists. But anyone who is serious about understanding Nietzsche has to ask why the two of his contemporaries of whom he spoke most highly were the American Emerson and the Russian Christian Dostoevsky.

        • dirk says

          That admiration for Dostoyefski doesn,t surprise me CA, even if christian. His Crime and Punishment in fact is rather Nietzschean in theme, that Crime was not a good translation, literaly it was -transgression, escalation- and it wasn’t on crime punished by law, but by guilt, an inner, higher process thus, less fear for God’s punishment, but more an inner, humanist process.
          I just Googled this Kaufmann, mentioned above by Nathan, and saw he was a German-American, translating, but also promulgating Nietzsche in the US (at least, did his best to do so). Interesting to know.

          • dirk

            Walter Kaufman helped relegitimize Nietsche who suffered from his associations with Nazism which is extremely ironic since he was probably the most outspoken anti-anti-semite of his day. Kaufaman’s translations into English have been extremely widely read and highly respected.

  11. Lightning Rose says

    Meanwhile, as Quilletteers’ brains are overheating with this and starting to smoke, somewhere a plumber successfully sweated a pipe and stopped a leak under a kitchen sink.

    You tell me which better represents human progress.

    • Lightening Rose

      I wrote my little comment on Nietzsche, now I’m off to sweat some pipes. Actually, I’m going to fix my pipes with PEX tubing and sharkbite fittings – now that’s real human progress.

  12. Ray Andrews says

    I found this to be a delightful essay and was unsure I’d find anything to disagree with, but there is this:

    “and so needed to find a way to re-describe weakness and servility as a moral virtue. The upshot was Christian morality, which was resentful to its core. ”

    Christianity is not resentful. It does not secretly aspire to have what it pretends to despise, it genuinely despises it. Contrast, say, the radfems, who pretend to hate The Patriarchy but who in fact are resentful of it and really want to take it over and rename it The Matriarchy without really changing how it works. That is, there will still be Oppression and Hierarchy only this time it will be wimin who will do the Oppressing. Resentment plain and simple.

    And is Christianity really a servile morality? One might think so, given ‘turn the other cheek’, but consider that mythical distillation of American virtue: Superman. As meek, mild Clark Kent he puts up with any amount of derision and bullying even tho at any time he might do something about it. He is at once all powerful and as restrained as Master Po.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOMP3NglVMI

    Christianity teaches restraint, not weakness, as did Po. But there is the understanding that usually violence begets only more violence and anyway, one should choose one’s time and if at all possible convert one’s enemy rather than kill him.

    • Matt says

      I should add Ray that I disagree with Nietzsche’s interpretation of Christianity on that point. But I was trying to exposition his position as clearly as possible.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Matt

        Thanks, it can become unclear when one is defending an idea or just reporting it. Or one might even give it a vigorous defense in the spirit of the true intellectual while still not agreeing. Anyway, a first class essay.

    • Ray Andrews

      Actually I think Nietzsche is far more subtle about Christianity than commonly thought. He qualifies much of his vehemence in passages of Beyond Good And Evil and he speaks highly of Jesus in The Antichrist.

      What concerns Nietzsche is the resentment and nihilism contained within Christianity and how he saw this being exacerbated and fulfilled with the collapse of the Christian universe. When specifically comparing Christianity to modern man Nietzsche tends to see modern man as the more degenerate. We tend to focus on his dramatic pronouncements and vitriol in this regard and neglect his tempered views.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @CA

        Thanks, that adds a bit of nuance. Come to think of it, whereas I’d say the Christianity of Jesus has neither resentment nor nihilism, I can see the resentment of modern Christians at the destruction of the civilization that they consider to be ‘theirs’. I feel it myself. Even then, tho it might be splitting hairs, I’m not sure resentment is the best word. ‘Dread’ might be better — it’s not so much that I want power ‘back’ and resent those who have taken it, it’s that I fear the current elite are going to do grievous harm because they know not what they do.

        • Ray Andrews

          ” . . . the Christianity of Jesus has neither resentment nor nihilism”

          Your point is well taken. There seem to be two strains of interpreting Jesus: One is that Jesus emdodies pure love and the acceptance of suffering – salvation is here and now. The other is that faith in Jesus will allow us to escape suffering in some kind of afterlife not here, not now.

          Nietzsche respected the first interpretation and the second (as promulgated by Paul) reflects a resentment of reality. Moreover Christianity was a “nihilistic” religion insofar as it preached the existence of a reality without conflict and suffering.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @CA

            Resentment of reality itself? Putting it that way I have a harder time disagreeing. I’ll have to let that idea simmer for a while. And that puts a new spin on nihilism too.

  13. Jean Levant says

    I’m not a big fan of N. the great philosopher who speaks to us, poor losers, from his icy and solitary mountain top; at his best, he makes me laughing (because he was a great loser too). But I loves sometimes N. the really great poet. The impossibility to define clearly his thought comes from his bad habit to wear different masks and from his good habit to write poetry even when he writes philosophy. But none of his poetic splendors or his suffering is an excuse for the path he mapped out for nazis and fascists.

  14. Lydia says

    The Nazi’s were socialists/totalitarians with a global aim to take over other countries.

  15. Tripp Denison says

    I think part of why it’s difficult to articulate an overall systemic philosophy of N’s is that he, like a painter, intentionally went through phases and changed his views and style throughout his career, and treated topics inconsistently. Somewhere (I think in Untimely Meditations?) he talks about trying on values and beliefs like articles of clothing and unhesitatingly throwing away those that aren’t fitting or useful. Whether this is a virtue or flaw of his philosophy is up to the reader to decide. I personally like it.
    There’s a distinction implied by the article author and commenters that’s worth making explicit: that N’s Overman is superior because of intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, qualities. ‘Nother words, what makes one better than others are the things you carry around with you like fitness, intellect, skills, charisma, creativity; not your wealth or socially-structured accomplishments or position in an organization. So I feel that political and military leaders fail those criteria, as do probably most capitalists. It’s worth looking at a group whom N very much admired: mountaineers. People who develop their strength, skill, and judgement to overcome challenges presented by the natural world, motivated mostly by aesthetics and living outside of the social order, even scorning it. As a climber I’m being self-aggrandizing but I think N would see us as the truest embodiments of his ideal. Academics, whose position in an institution is their chief virtue, are deluding themselves.
    All that said I think reading N is great for one’s personal morality as regards oneself, but terrible for how to regard others and possibly despicable or useless at best for organizing a society politically or normatively.

  16. Andrew Simpson says

    In Thus Spoke, there are two scenes in juxtaposition, both feature Zarathustra finishing an address to the crowd; in the first the crowd jeer, mock and laugh, thinking him a poor jester, Zarathustra turns away in disgust. In the second the crowd cheers and idolises, shouts for him to continue and asks how to be like him, Zarathustra again turns away in disgust…

  17. The pithiest and most acute interpretation of N’s philosophy was GK Chesterton’s. He said it exhibited an all too common human weakness, ‘the weakness for the strong man’. Doesn’t detract from his literary brilliance or other psychological and philosophical insights. But taken in the round Nietzsche was the philosopher of power worship whose closest political expression followed a few decades after his demise.

    This is perhaps the starkest instance of his proto-Nazism but there are any number of other passages out of the same mould. That he abjured nationalism as a form of refuge is supposed to acquit him – but that was but one strand of Nazism. The elimination of weaker types, a constant theme of N’s, had no national bias:

    “But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of suffering : that is great, that belongs to greatness.”

  18. Village Idjit says

    The article could’ve started and stopped with “Nietzsche was ever the contrarian.”

    What do you expect from the man who philosophized with a hammer, he liked to break things not build them.

    • Robert Quevillon says

      No mention so far about chaos theory. This takes into account his elastic view point of human events. He did not specifically deny the presupposition of uniformitarianism. But he averted to saying that just because it seems like it is so here (a cultural consensus) that does not mean it is true in the rest of the universe.

  19. Bob Johnson says

    The ultimate irony is that ultra individualism-in the form of Ayn Randian capitalism and sexual hedonism-is the ultimate idol today. We worship those with the most money and orgasms, and the ideology that worships the pursuit of success, talent, and self-cultivation (look at all the self help movements) has now produced vulgar, television addicted, money-pursuing cultureless clones across the west. To be religious or nationalist, or to accept any sort of thing as true that imposes self-restriction and makes one a “”slave”, is to be a rebel. Nietsche would probably side with religious people today, or noationalists or socialists, because all resist the cash-nexus of mass individualism

  20. John Dutchman says

    Herr Nietzsche dismissed everything and then conveniently went insane without leaving any blueprint for his re-valuation .. and good for us. All the best teachers and teachings cannot spell it out for you, you must go it alone. So keep reading Your Nietzsche, and I’ll keep reading Mine … as they are different .. two drops in the same ocean.

  21. Andrew Elsey says

    Terrible, butchered, complete misinterpretation of Nietzsche. Seems to be written by a mentally-stable leftist with the (mal)purpose of moving Nietzsche towards a centrist position (which he was not even close to in any rational framework) where he would prefer him be.

    Not even sure where to start, there’s so many things- “vulgar and decadent societies of ‘last men’ focused on the pursuit of meaningless wealth and menial satisfaction”. No meaningful correlation at all between last men and capitalism, which is now “right wing” according to leftist author. “Consumer culture” is also now a right wing phenomenon also. Reading this logic caused me intense physical pain (I must live in SJW reality). Humoring the undeserving author, Capitalism is a modern form of warfare and competition, which are the exact terrors the passive last man bleats against.

    No, Nietzsche would NOT have been disgusted by the “Racist nationalist Nazis” (paraphrasing several descriptions and assertions). Nietzsche openly endorses ethnic German nationalism and German ethnic superiority in dozens of places in his works. Nietzsche was a huge racist by modern liberal standards. To hedge myself, I admit I recall him complimenting French sophistication ONCE! You make the false claim that: “socialist demand to redistribute wealth to the poor to the nationalist demand that intellectually minded cosmopolitans are corrupting the pure soul of the real people. ” He again, openly and in plain, simple language mocks liberal politicians and the intelligentsia. The language is so simple and plain that if you have actually read any of his books, there is no other interpretation. On the other hand, he places those allegedly deceitful nationalists, that you are fallaciously attempting to equate with socialists and academics, near the very top of his pantheon.

    Whether or not he would have liked to have been idyllicized is a separate question that you did not accurately address before stating your conclusion.

    I need to stop. I could go on all day dissecting points. Please read Nietzsche for yourself instead of reading this butchered essay written by a liberal who read Nietzsche on sparknotes, if you haven’t already! Outside of whether or not you approve of his ideology or not, Nietzsche is so purely far right that it takes absurdism (to give the benefit of the doubt) or ignorance to argue otherwise.

    • Matt says

      This is from the Gay Science, a section commonly translated as “We The Homeless.”

      “No, we do not love humanity; but on the other hand we are not nearly “German” enough, in the sense in which the word “German” is constantly being used nowadays, to advocate nationalism and race hatred and to be able to take pleasure in the national scabies of the heart and blood poisoning that now leads the nations of Europe to delimit and barricade themselves against each other as if it were a matter of quarantine. For that we are too open-minded, too malicious, too spoiled, also too well-informed, too “traveled”: we far prefer to live on mountains, apart, “untimely,” in past or future centuries, merely in order to keep ourselves from experiencing the silent rage to which we know we should be condemned as eyewitnesses of politics that are desolating the German spirit by making it vain and that is, moreover, petty politics:—to keep its own creation from immediately falling apart again, is it not finding it necessary to plant it between two deadly hatreds? must it not desire the eternalization of the European system of a lot of petty states? … We who are homeless are too manifold and mixed racially and in our descent, being “modern men,” and consequently do not feel tempted to participate in the mendacious racial self-admiration and racial indecency that parades in Germany today as a sign of a German way of thinking and that is doubly false and obscene among the people of the “historical sense.” We are, in one word—and let this be our word of honor!— good Europeans, the heirs of Europe, the rich, oversupplied, but also overly obligated heirs of thousands of years of European spirit:

      And from Beyond Good and Evil Section VIII

      “Owing to the morbid estrangement which the nationality-craze has induced and still induces among the nations of Europe, owing also to the short-sighted and hasty-handed politicians, who with the help of this craze, are at present in power, and do not suspect to what extent the disintegrating policy they pursue must necessarily be only an interlude policy—owing to all this and much else that is altogether unmentionable at present, the most unmistakable signs that EUROPE WISHES TO BE ONE, are now overlooked, or arbitrarily and falsely misinterpreted. With all the more profound and large-minded men of this century, the real general tendency of the mysterious labour of their souls was to prepare the way for that new SYNTHESIS, and tentatively to anticipate the European of the future; only in their simulations, or in their weaker moments, in old age perhaps, did they belong to the “fatherlands”—they only rested from themselves when they became “patriots.” I think of such men as Napoleon, Goethe, Beethoven, Stendhal, Heinrich Heine, Schopenhauer: it must not be taken amiss if I also count Richard Wagner among them, about whom one must not let oneself be deceived by his own misunderstandings (geniuses like him have seldom the right to understand themselves), still less, of course, by the unseemly noise with which he is now resisted and opposed in France: the fact remains, nevertheless, that Richard Wagner and the LATER FRENCH ROMANTICISM of the forties, are most closely and intimately related to one another. They are akin, fundamentally akin, in all the heights and depths of their requirements; it is Europe, the ONE Europe, whose soul presses urgently and longingly, outwards and upwards, in their multifarious and boisterous art—whither? into a new light? towards a new sun? But who would attempt to express accurately what all these masters of new modes of speech could not express distinctly? It is certain that the same storm and stress tormented them, that they SOUGHT in the same manner, these last great seekers!”

      He was certainly no liberal, as I explicitly said in this article, but he had little patience for nationalists either.

        • Matt

          Thanks for the apt quotes. However, I think it may be a little misleading to say Nietzsche “had little patience for nationalism”. He certainly had great contempt for the way German nationalism was unfolding but he was eminently concerned with what constituted a viable society. He repeatedly articulates the need to define a “horizon”, to create a “rank order of values”, and to create “a pathos for distance” which is another way of saying hierarchies. He was concerned with what constitutes “a people”. I don’t recall where in his writings he denounces in general the concept of national borders.

          • Matt says

            That is certainly true. It’s why I question whether he would support the European project as it stands today, with its social democratic underpinnings and liberal style of cosmopolitanism. Very hard to speculate one given his pan-European speculations were never developed very far.

      • Andrew Elsey says

        Matt,

        The first passage from the Gay Science you selected was ostensibly intentionally deceptive, considering the immediately following paragraph on both modern liberals and liberalism to it that you omitted:

        We “conserve” nothing; neither do we want to return to any
        past periods; we are not by any means “liberal”; we do not
        work for “progress”; we do not need to plug up our ears
        against the sirens who in the market place sing of the future:
        their song about “equal rights,” “a free society,” “no more
        masters and no servants” has no allure for us. We simply do not
        consider it desirable that a realm of justice and concord should
        be established on earth (because it would certainly be the
        realm of the deepest leveling and chinoiserie; we are delighted with all who love, as we do, danger, war, and adventures, who refuse to compromise, to be captured, reconciled,
        and castrated; we count ourselves among conquerors; we think
        about the necessity for new orders, also for a new slavery-for
        every strengthening and enhancement of the human type also
        involves a new kind of enslavement. Is it not clear that with all
        this we are bound to feel ill at ease in an age that likes to claim
        BOOK FIVE 339
        the distinction of being the most humane, the mildest, and the
        most righteous age that the sun has ever seen? It is bad enough
        that precisely when we hear these beautiful words we have the
        ugliest suspicions. What we find in them is merely an expres–
        sion-and a masquerade-of a profound weakening, of weariness, of old age, of declining energies. What can it matter to us
        what tinsel the sick may use to cover up their weakness? Let
        them parade it as their virtue; after an, there is no doubt that
        weakness makes one mild, oh so mild. so righteous, so inoffensive, so “humane”!
        The religion of pity’ to which one would like to convert
        us–ob, we know the hysterical little males and females well
        enough who today need precisely this religion as a veil and
        make-up. We are no humanitarians; we should never dare to
        pennit ourselves to speak of our “love of humanity .. ; our kind
        is not actor enough for that. Or not Saint-Simonist1
        “‘ enough. not French enough. One really has to be afflicted with a Gallic
        excess of erotic irritability and enamored impatience to approach
        in all honesty the whole of humanity with one’s lust!

        If you’re going to include a passage with ” EUROPE WISHES TO BE ONE”, here’s another, from the same section, that fully articulates the view that is not at all characterized:

        Whether we call it “civilization,” or “humanising,” or “progress,” which now distinguishes the European, whether we call it simply, without praise or blame, by the political formula the DEMOCRATIC movement in Europe–behind all the moral and political foregrounds pointed to by such formulas, an immense PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESS goes on, which is ever extending the process of the assimilation of Europeans, their increasing detachment from the conditions under which, climatically and hereditarily, united races originate, their increasing independence of every definite milieu, that for centuries would fain inscribe itself with equal demands on soul and body,–that is to say, the slow emergence of an essentially SUPER-NATIONAL and nomadic species of man, who possesses, physiologically speaking, a maximum of the art and power of adaptation as his typical distinction. This process of the EVOLVING EUROPEAN, which can be retarded in its TEMPO by great relapses, but will perhaps just gain and grow thereby in vehemence and depth–the still-raging storm and stress of “national sentiment” pertains to it, and also the anarchism which is appearing at present–this process will probably arrive at results on which its naive propagators and panegyrists, the apostles of “modern ideas,” would least care to reckon. The same new conditions under which on an average a levelling and mediocrising of man will take place–a useful, industrious, variously serviceable, and clever gregarious man–are in the highest degree suitable to give rise to exceptional men of the most dangerous and attractive qualities. For, while the capacity for adaptation, which is every day trying changing conditions, and begins a new work with every generation, almost with every decade, makes the POWERFULNESS of the type impossible; while the collective impression of such future Europeans will probably be that of numerous, talkative, weak-willed, and very handy workmen who REQUIRE a master, a commander, as they require their daily bread; while, therefore, the democratising of Europe will tend to the production of a type prepared for SLAVERY in the most subtle sense of the term: the STRONG man will necessarily in individual and exceptional cases, become stronger and richer than he has perhaps ever been before–owing to the unprejudicedness of his schooling, owing to the immense variety of practice, art, and disguise. I meant to say that the democratising of Europe is at the same time an involuntary arrangement for the rearing of TYRANTS–taking the word in all its meanings, even in its most spiritual sense.

        Around that passage, as well, that I won’t go through the headache of citing, are a dozen panegyrics over the “German soul”, a commentary about the hidden superiority of the Jewish race, and several pages on how stupid English people are. The simple explanation to your passage is that Nietzsche contradicts himself often (inter and occasionally intra book), so I don’t believe his or your assertion that he was not an overt racist. It’s very clear that he was one, with or without his protestations.

        Nationalism means something extremely different with drastically different stakes than it did 100 years ago, so your comparison is not in good faith. The stakes are not: should Germany conquer France and merge with their culture? Nationalism is now synonymous with resisting open borders to the Middle East/Africa or a new religion of white guilt promulgating an intersectional hierarchy, which it effectively does now. Can you argue with a straight face that he would have sided with the people flooding the country with uneducated migrants for humanitarianism and diversity?

  22. Max York says

    I have read a lot of Nietzsche and found him fun, but I hardly considered him “profound” , much less a guide for living my life. Why? Several reasons.

    First, I don’t equate his opacity with profundity; if a thinker cannot communicate clearly and succinctly, it calls into question whether he has thought his propositions through.

    Second, he exalted the Overman and despised the Everyman; but what did he know of either?. He was no Overman, but it doesn’t require much psychologizing to guess that he fancied himself as such, to better characterize his personal failures as due to his innate nobility.

    Third, insufficient attention is paid to the fact that Nietzsche “suddenly” went “mad”, as if he had a normally-functioning mind before that day. Why is such normality taken for granted? More likely, his mind slowly deteriorated over a course of time. His worldview and his writings may have been the product of a brilliant but disturbed mind.

  23. Itzik Basman says

    So you say Heidegger says that Nietzsche overturns Plato and, so, begins the inversion of western metaphysics. You say that in the context of a focus, as I read this piece, on Nietzsche’s thought politically. I understand though that among political philosophers that it’s a commonplace observation that insofar as political science is concerned Machiavelli is the omen who does this.

    Insofar as this essay tries to locate Nietzsche politically or key in on his political thought I see no helpful synthesis of any of that emerging. So either that location is unachievable given his writing or this piece hasn’t achieved it.

    • Itzik Basman says

      Should be ….Machiavelli is the one who does this…

  24. Petruchio says

    “Today, no doubt Nietzsche would have lambasted the alt-right efforts to associate his work with concerns about immigration and the racial makeup of society.”

    Indeed. Nietzsche and all sensible people realize a Muslim/African Europe complete with grooming gangs, race riots and terror attacks is the only way Europe can realize its true destiny.

    • Petruchio

      Nietzsche writes of a people’s inablity to define itself and defend itself as a sign of decadence.

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  26. Sukh says

    Nietzche was a philosopher. What do philosophers do ? They try to THINK their way out of the suffering of the Human Condition , it doesn’t work that way . That is why he went mad .
    In a way he was on the right track , and was fascinated by a historical Mystic Zarathustra.
    To transform the Human Condition , going BEYOND the mind is required , into AWARENESS , SILENCE thru Meditation, this dissolves the unconsciousness , dropping from the mind into the Intelligence of the Heart which has been scientifically regarded as a second brain due to the complexity of the nervous system that runs thru it .. A LIVING ENLIGHTENED MASTER or MYSTIC is an essential support here. There are quite a few living on this planet right now .And they are supporting a huge shift in Consciousness.
    Largely the comments above are only philosophy ,mindfuck and speculation , nothing will change , people will stay stuck in their heads , relatively lifeless. And addicted to thinking .

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