Sunday, January 10, 2010

Friedrich Nietzsche

Modern European Intellectual History -  10

He was born at Röcken, Prussia, on October 15, 1844 - the birthday of the reigning Prussian King, Frederick William IV, and was named after him.  His father was a minister, and had tutored several members of the royal family.  His mother was a Puritan.  He was raised in a very religious household by women (his father died when Nietzsche was still young).  He read the Bible a great deal, and even read it to others.  This led to him being called by his school mates “the little minister” and described as “a Jesus in the Temple.”

 He lost his faith in the God of his fathers at 18, and spent the remainder of his life searching for a replacement (he thought he found one in the Superman).  At 23 he was conscripted into the military, but a fall from a horse injured him and he was released from service.  His brief experience of the military left him with almost as many delusions about soldiers as he had on entering it–the hard Spartan life of commanding and obeying, the endurance and discipline appealed to him.  He worshiped the ideal of the warrior although he could never become one. Instead he became a scholar.  He earned a Ph.D., and at 25 was appointed to the chair of classical philology at the University of Basle.

This conflict of opposites, of Parsifal and Siegfried, underlie Nietzsche’s philosophy.  In Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and The Genealogy of Morals (1887) he is trying to destroy the old morality and pave the way for the morality of the superman.  He seeks an understanding of the current morality through an understanding of the etymologies of the words and finds two contradictory valuations of human behavior, two ethical standpoints and criteria: a morality of masters and a morality of the herd (or slaves).  The master morality values manhood, courage, enterprise, bravery.  The herd morality was born of subjection and values humility, altruism, and the love of  security and peace.  Honor is pagan, Roman, feudal, aristocratic; conscience is Jewish, Christian, bourgeois, democratic.

But this morality is merely a veneer covering our secret will to power.  Love is a desire for possession, courtship is combat and mating mastery.  This passion for power makes reason and morality helpless.  The Judeo-Christian ethos has subverted the true nature of mankind by exalting the herd morality and suppressing our instincts, which are the most intelligent of all kinds of intelligence.  Moral systems are not universal, different functions require different qualities and the “evil” virtues of the strong are as necessary as the “good” virtues of the weak.  The ultimate ethic is biological:  Good is that which survives, which wins; bad is that which gives way and fails. Morality, as well as theology, must be reconstructed in terms of evolution theory.  The function of life is to bring about “not betterment of the majority, who, taken as individuals, are the most worthless types,” but “the creation of genius,” the development and elevation of superior personalities.” (Schopenhauer as Educator)

The goal of human effort, therefore, is not the improvement of mankind (who exists only as an abstraction) but superman.  At first thought of by Nietzsche as a new species, he later came to think of the superman as superior individuals rising out of the mire of mediocrity, and owing his existence to careful breeding and education.  Such a man would be beyond good and evil because what is good is all that increases the feeling of power, the will to power and what is bad is what is weak.  Mankind should give themselves to this goal of creating the Superman just as Europeans once gave themselves as the means to the ends of Bonaparte.  But the Superman cannot come about from democracy, which was born in Christianity’s rebellion against everything privileged,  only from aristocracy.

Democracy means the worship of mediocrity and the hatred of excellence.  Great men are impossible in a democracy, because they would not submit to the indignation of a system that presumes equality.  Great men are like wolfs among dogs, and the dogs hate the wolf, the free spirit.  Along with democracy, Nietzsche also condemns feminism, by which women become more like men, and socialism and anarchism, which are the offspring of democracy.  If you have social equality, why not economic equality, why have leaders at all?  But nature abhors equality, all life is exploitation and subsists ultimately on other life.

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