Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), A Perspective
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900, A Perspective
Who was he? He was known for his intellectual depth, perplexing personality and controversial thinker in the history of philosophy. He has been interpreted in variety of ways. He was maligned, deeply respected or completely misunderstood. There have been misconceptions about him and one them being he was anti-Semitic, which is absolutely false. In fact he broke his friendship with Richard Wagner (1813-83), the German composer over the same issue. His sister Elisabeth had a relation with the national socialists in Germany. His concept of the ‘Ubermensch’ or superman or overman is perhaps closer to Aristotle’s man of virtue than the highly venerated Aryan hero. His sister edited and changed his writings and published them after his death called ‘The Will to Power’. What she did in fact injured and spoiled the reception of Nietzsche’s philosophy in the 20th century. Even though he has been exonerated in the academic world, he is still not fully appreciated for a kind of genius he was. I myself were influenced by what other scholars said about him till I studied him a little more to find out who this man really was and what his philosophy was all about. Even though Freud apparently denied he either studied or was under the influence of any philosophers, when asked about Nietzsche, he said ‘he had a more penetrating knowledge of himself than any other man who ever lived or was ever likely to live’. He also said if he had read everything Friedrich Nietzsche ever wrote, there wouldn’t have been anything left for him to write. Perhaps Freud thought what he had come up in psychoanalysis was totally original. I personally believe he must have studied Plato’s thoughts very deeply and then he came up with his deterministic ideas of the influence of our childhood behavior on our later lives. I think there must have been a misunderstanding as far as Freud’s denial is concerned, because as great a personality he was it is very unlikely for him not to be unaware of this contradiction in his live. However, Nietzsche wrote avidly regarding psychological state of human beings, which reminds us of our 19th century pragmatist philosopher and psychologist William James. (1842-1910) as you noticed all these figures were contemporaries.
Perhaps since he was son of a Protestant minister, Nietzsche became a professor at the University of Basel at 24. As we there’re smart individuals who just don’t have proper connection to make it to the top. They say, it is not how much you know, but who you know. Nevertheless, what matters is that being as genius he was, he would have been able to reach the pick of the academic world of his day even without being related to a prominent personality. Poor health made him retire after 10 years. Consequently he became a solitary and wondering person and traveled across Europe, where he spent his time in writing and recovery. He became famous as a result in the last 10 years of his life. In 1889 he suffered he had a breakdown and this led to him being in sane for the rest of his life. His sister sold tickets to those who wanted to visit Nietzsche while he was in such a situation. He never made it to the 20th century and dies in 1900. Hitler is said to have made copies of his works and gave them to his generals. May be he thought he was the superman Nietzsche had written about. It is possible Hitler also thought he was anti-Semitic, which was totally wrong.
Nietzsche must have read the works of Schopenhauer entirely. When ‘will’ was the thing-in-itself for the latter, it became ‘will to power’ for the former. Apparently he didn’t believe in the world of noumenon what Kant had argued about. Was he influenced by Schopenhauer’s philosophy, I think so?
Nietzsche’s works are very different dealing with variety of topics such as ethics, religion, metaphysics, and epistemology. However, he is very famous for his writing on ‘the will to power’. Being influenced by Schopenhauer’s philosophy up to certain extent minus so much of his metaphysics, Nietzsche realized the basic driving force of human beings in need of dominating and controling the external powers working on him. As we can see, he is not concerned with Kant’s thing-in-itself and Schopenhauer’s vertical nature of the will. He seems to be more worried about the train moving forward rather than Jacob’s ladder. Nietzsche’s man demands what existentialists would argue, which is the force to be master of his own destiny. He is looking for a power of will to break away from the chains all around him. He seems to searching for freedom from all restrictions. He saw different moral and religious institutions binding and subduing the will. This bird wants to be free from the bondage of the cage. Perhaps because of being the son of a minister he became unfriendly towards Christianity. He believed this Religion encourages ‘slave morality’. There he saw the anger of the weak towards the strong. Those who were not courageous enough to master their passions, lacking inner power of character became revengeful and try to get even with those who were stronger than themselves, not in this life but in a fictitious ‘other’ world where a power like God would take revenge on their behalf. I’m reminded of Karl Marx would argue that while those in power are emptying your pockets you’re promised by the religious authorities that you’ll be rewarded in the hereafter. Let us not forget that Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche were involved in what is called ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’. Nietzsche in fact said at one point we have thousands of years of interpretations and nothing of who Jesus really was. (Not exact quote) it sounds like they were saying the God we’re to believe in is nothing but our own creation not the God who created us in His image. This is where we see the influence of Buddhism on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and even Freud. 2600 years ago Buddha argued that he was not against God but what people’s perception of it. This is my own observation, of course. Karl Marx, however, was influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) who argued that God is but a projection of our imagination and is our own creation. Buddha, however, was not an atheist. He was a non-theistic Hindu philosopher, who later became the founder of what we know as Buddhism. He was definitely not a Buddhist just as Christ was not a Christian. Was Feuerbach an atheist? I personally believe he was. Religions were used and abused by those who had no reverence and respect for the sacred and sacred knowledge. All these three thinkers were suspicious of the sincerity of the Religious bodies of their time. When Buddha was asked do you really think God, gods, deities, Atman, and Brahman are devoid of reality, he must have responded by saying that yes I do. He didn’t reject them, but he didn’t accept what the Hindu priests said about them. He must have long arguments and discussions with them over what they knew of them. Even through long hours of meditations they were not able to discover what those deities were. They were not, for example, to prove the existence of Brahman, simply because it is beyond being and non-being, existence and non-existence, rest and motion and any duality that we could come up with. Schopenhauer must have sensed something of this nature by being exposed to the Hindu and Buddhist thoughts. Personal gods are morphed by the priests and people to fit into their procrustean beds. Buddha found out after he explored and navigated the sea of the Ultimate Reality, which doesn’t exist in our own standard, namely standing out there like the song watching us from a distance. Jesus tried to convey this message by what we know of the story of Mary Magdalene and others for which he was crucified.
Nietzsche believed the will to power should be followed and affirmed not resisted like what Schopenhauer thought. Come to think of it resisting something is an affirmation of its existence. By not resisting it Nietzsche tried to let it be channeled in the right way. If I didn’t posses a will to detach myself from the changing world, then this means I’m obviously giving into suffering, which would ensue. It is not the will that I ought to resist but I should resist to be attached to what is becoming. Am I reading into Buddhism, not at all? This is only a comparison or a dialogue to let the Truth manifest itself. To my opinion what drives me to either be attached or detached is that uncreated Reality within called ‘Atman’. Buddha may have refuted its existence, which is rightly so, because it doesn’t exist any way but it is there not like I’m here typing. When we say it is, we seem to be making this Reality static. Thus, it is better not to even say that, because the word static has its own opposite, that is duality. Whatever it may be, it drives me towards either right or left. However, since it is Atman and connected to Brahman, it gives me the direction to what is right, namely detachment.
Nietzsche maintains that this will to power is the superabundance of spring, the decoration of life, and it is the uttering of ‘Yes’! He never supported the dominance of the powerful over the weak. He also didn’t said that the mastery of the will to power belonged to special group who have inherited it. We’re reminded of Buddha’s refutation of the caste system, which had become hereditary. The domination of the powerful results in and it is historically necessary for the ‘evolutionary progresses’ of mankind. This is exactly where his being aware of the Darwinian evolution is manifested. The survival of species and the strongest always wins the day are what we have learned from Darwin. Perhaps if there were no Hegel, there wouldn’t have been a Darwin, because of the value time and history. Knowing this fact would shed light on what we just mentioned, that is the dominance of the strong over the weak, which Nietzsche never supported. He only described how historically the domination of the strong follows and becomes necessary for the ‘evolutionary progresses’ of human kinds. As you might have noticed, he was very careful not to mix up what it is with it ought to be. His criticisms of Christianity alone tell us why he never advocated the dominance of the strong over the weak. Hume taught that we can never infer ought from is. Nietzsche was knowledgeable about what Hume had in mind. Just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean this is the way they ought to be. In the mean time he predicted that there would be many wars in the 20th century. Some scholars might consider this as a contradiction in Nietzsche’s thoughts. Nevertheless, Nietzsche thought scientifically and physically the West would progress. More than 100 million people perished in the 20th century all over the world. Some felt he was a prophet for predicting such a disaster for human beings way ahead of time. Well, mankind progressed but horizontally not vertically. This was not pilgrims’ progress. The latter doesn’t take place in time, because it is through Jacob’s ladder. Nietzsche argued that this strength is not physical but psychical power. This is where he seems to be referring to the forces beyond the physical world. (Webster’s New World Dictionary) the strong are who are more fulfilled as human beings. They have learned to exalt and control their passions. They have mastered the art of channeling the will to power into an inventive force.
H spoke of the eternal reoccurring of the world. Perhaps he got this idea from Hindu/Buddhist thoughts through Schopenhauer. Time is cyclical in those traditions. Time and change are illusions. Of course, he didn’t believe things will happen again as in a circle. Things take place in a cyclical way and yet they’re different. This is where he goes against the Augustinian/ Hegelian notion of history being linear. Even though it is said Augustine was influenced by Buddhism at one point, his idea of history was very much Biblical, namely the period of God the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit on a straight line. Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return appears to be more Eastern philosophy rather than Western thought. He never approve of ‘master morality’, which is a moral system characteristic of aristocracy. However, it is a fact that he thought this morality was more life affirming than ‘slave morality’ as it is the case in Christianity. He rather believed the strong had an obligation or responsibility towards those who were weak. ‘The man of virtue, too, helps the unfortunate, but not, or almost not, out of pity, but prompted by an urge which is begotten by the excess of power’. God became man so man can become God is something we have in Christianity. Christianity must not be the way he observed it to be. We’re not sheep’s and Jesus Sheppard. Master/slave mentality is not what Christ had in mind. We ought to be afraid of the day when slaves become masters, because they’ll do the same thing. In the old version of the movie ‘Spartacus’ once the former slaves and gladiators rebelled against the guards and took over the training school shortly after they sat around and forced those who were in charge to fight each other to death like they were before. Spartacus didn’t appreciate this behavior. He told them we didn’t break away to become like them. Nietzsche didn’t think there’s a Reality greater beyond the phenomenon world. Therefore, this master/slave idea shouldn’t exist in Christianity. This is a made up reality, which doesn’t exist in this Religion. We have thousand years of interpretations and nothing of the man who started everything in the first place.
Buddha is said to have rejected the personal gods of the Hindu Religion. While in reality he refuted what people had morphed in their mind about them. When Nietzsche said ‘God is dead’, though he meant Christian theology had died, it is possible he was referring to the fact that a new era had begun when we ought to go beyond the Christian God, which is nothing but a projection of what people’s perceptions are. This is where the word ‘Ubermensch’ or superman’ comes to tell us about us with our duty and obligations. We have evolved not physically but psychically to treat those who’re not on the same level like us with respect.
When God created the world He said it was good. But compared with what world? There must have been a bad one too. If, Nietzsche argued, we believe in God that is perfect and good, there must be another God who is about all the bad things. Perhaps that is why the presence of evil becomes necessary. St. Augustine said evil is the absence of good. A bad God is the absence of a good God. A God whose existence is subject of a comparison is not what we should believe in. We live in a world of opposites and contradictions. Relativity and imperfection are characteristic of this realm. No wonder Plato believed in the world of perfection in which his Forms were resided. When there’s relative, there must be absolute. Even if his Forms were, let us say, absolute, including the Good or Being, there must be an Ultimate Reality, which is beyond any duality what so ever. Plato being such a genius had to know about it. Nevertheless, being under pressure to come up with an explanation for change, motion, and becoming, he decided to stay with the Forms, which are immutable Realities. Motion only makes sense in contrast to rest. This is how he explained movement or this is the way I understand it.
Nietzsche having gone through the history of human beings and been involved in philology, tried to figure out why we have been shy away from the importance of the existence of evil and Satan. In ancient Greek culture the myth of Dionysius played a great role. He was the god of wine. Among the Romans this god would take pleasure in wine and drunkenness. The Dionysius was later renamed as Bacchus or Backus by the Romans. This very fact triggered something in the mind of Nietzsche. If our God is good in all respects, then the question remains, in contrast to which God? Inebriation was the characteristic of this God. Being the son of a minister, he must have question the fact that why we had good angels and a bad one? We revered the personal God who was painted on the ceiling of a chapel in Vatican. Nietzsche once named Buddhism “a hundred times more realistic than Christianity”. (God is Not One, by S. Prothero, p. 176) “… God’s death would free true atheists from the shackles of conventional morality,” (Prothero, p.325) God of our perceptions is not a true God. We might say it has been Christian theology, which has killed God not these who voted to have Jesus crucified thousands of years ago.
What Nietzsche tells us reminds me of what Adam Smith (1723-90), the Scottish economist said about the rich’s attitude towards the poor or the middle class. His first book was about ethics following David Hume his friend. Sentiments and feelings are universally true everywhere. Thus, those who’re affluent economically shall help the unfortunate but not, because they feel sorry for them. They ought to do so, for the excess of power according to Nietzsche. However, for Adam Smith it is the human feelings, which oblige them to do so. Remember, we cannot infer ought from is for Hume. For Smith it is not the belief in God which would make us obligated to be there for less fortunate. Nonetheless, when the wall street collapsed years ago, which coincided with the beginning of the former president Obama’s presidency, it proved Adam Smith wrong. Many involved in the event took their millions and took off without thinking of the needy. Did Friedrich Nietzsche know about that? As we can see many powerful people in the world took billions of dollars out of their countries without thinking of the poor and the middle class. These events led their countries to bankruptcy defaulting due to economic disasters.
Nietzsche’s philosophy suggested that the master should be assisting the poor. This had been the laws of several Religions in the Middle East for thousands of years. For example, in Abrahamic Religions the followers are told to share their prosperity with the rest of their communities. There’s nothing wrong in getting rich as long as these at the bottom would also have a share. However, what guarantee do we have that these who‘re economically well off will help those who have not had a chance to become like them? Also what guarantee do we have that once the poor become rich they shall help others? How can we trust the sentiments and feelings of those who have made fortunes to be there for those in need while Adam Smith made competition the foundation of economic progress? There’re millions of students who’re behind their student loans, which are to be paid to the banks. What do the billionaires in America do to help out? Their debt has risen to be more than we could possibly imagine. The affluent would rather compete with other billionaires. Karl Marx criticized Smith on this point. How can the two come together? How can oil and water get mixed? On the one hand we speak of sentiments and feeling and on the other hand we talk of rivalry and competition. Where’s justice in this?
Back to Nietzsche we must ask him what power would make those who have will to power think about the low income people. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened since the end of the 60’s. We’re facing a grand canyon as we move into the heart of the 21st. century.
What makes masters of the world think about the slaves inhabiting it? Is it Nietzsche’s superman, gods, karma, the fear of the Day of Judgment, the wrath of God? The fear or reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (St. Paul) What power would make human beings come to their senses to have feelings towards those who just don’t have? Those who have go on vacations one after another and those who don’t go to work to pay their bills and mortgages. In the ‘slave morality’ Nietzsche saw the hatred of the weak towards the strong. The debilitated and powerless try to take over their master’s place but to no avail. However, some become worse than their masters once they become rulers forgetting the past. Not every body would look back to see where they were before. What is it that Nietzsche admires about Buddhism? Is it the fact that Buddha rebelled against his own Hindu tradition and rejected the existence of gods or deities? Buddha knew about the force urging him to become attached to the worldly matters. What did he do about it? He came up with the 8 steps to reach freedom from the bondage of attachment. What did Nietzsche do about it? He argued that in the absence of God, we should become God or ‘Ubermensch’. He never directed us to overcome this force within us with morality first and then systematic and disciplined meditation. He tried to free us from ‘slave morality’ of Christianity. But what did he replace it with? We know what the world is all about. Perhaps that is why prophets and inspired individuals showed up on the stage of the world theater throughout the history. Nietzsche describes the world as he saw it. He observed how people were used and abused like we hear the singer tells us in a song. Kant knew about it too. He then came up with his second and the third principles to tell us it is wrong to do that. This is David Hume’s ‘is’ and ‘ought’ dichotomy. If lying is wrong, just don’t lie. ‘Will’ for Schopenhauer was very important. ‘Thing-in-itself’, Kant argued, is what we cannot know through pure reason. we cannot have knowledge of what it is through our reason. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, said this is the ‘will’. This ‘will’ reminds us of what Buddha talked about encouraging us to stay away from and detach ourselves from it. We call it private desire. Nietzsche, however, followed and affirmed it. I guess what Nietzsche did was channeled the ‘will’ to a different direction rather than resisting it. In a word, let us use this drive within us for the good for mankind. Therefore, it became the ‘will to power’. We ought to release this power rather than choking it. But once it is freed we ought to control it. There’s nothing wrong in getting rich as long as we help the poor. Instead of not getting rich to begin with, we should let the will to power flourish and grow as long as wouldn’t advocate slave morality we have seen in Christianity. Perhaps Hitler learned this from Nietzsche but was not able to control his power, which led to his defeat and the death of millions of people. Putin rose to power but has been incapable of controlling it. Once the genie or Jinni is out of the bottle it would be very difficult to get it back into it. If we don’t be careful, electricity can kill us. There’s nothing wrong to be angry as long as we have enough sense to control it.
Schopenhauer’s thought is very much in line with what Buddha taught 2600 years ago. By detaching we resist our private desires. But for Nietzsche we should pursue and affirm it. He believed strength is not established in physical, but psychical. The latter is about those who are more fulfilled as human beings, who have learned to elevate and control their passions in order to channel the will to power into a creative strength. Freud once said sports are there to channel our aggressions in to something positive. Hopefully I’m right in what he said. He never supported master morality. But this was more life affirming than ‘slave morality’ of Christianity.
Yes, we have advanced technologically or physically but when it comes to humanity we’re still the same as we were thousands of years ago. We have not progress an iota or the smallest quantity or a jot. We have made weapons that can kill a lot more people than a 6 chambers hand guns of the Wild West. These guns can kill as it did in Texas a few days ago. 18 years old male teenager entered an elementary school and killed 19 children and a teacher or two. He was killed in gun battle with the police later on. In the war in Ukraine advanced war machines are used. 4 to 5 thousands Ukrainians have been killed since the beginning of this war. In the 20th century more than 100 million people were killed across the globe. Our tools of killing have advanced but not our humanity and I don’t believe this has anything to do with our psychical ability. Nietzsche made a good prediction when he said there’ll be many wars in the next century that is 20th century. He acted like a prophet though he supported an ‘evolutionary progress’. When he said ‘God is dead’ he was referring to the declining Christian theology. This very fact is an indication of how false Darwinian evolution was. What would Darwin’s theory be without Hegelian concept of time and history any way? Once God became time and history with Hegel, we couldn’t expect anything more. Nietzsche’s eternal return or reoccurring of event alone should tell us the influence of Buddhism on him, which goes against Hegelian linear notion of time. This Augustinian idea of history, namely the rule of the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit became a reality in Christianity while he is said to have known of Buddhism. Modern mathematicians, which are 20th century figures have proven that there’s nothing in the Universe that is straight, which means everything is curved like a rainbow. If it were true that St. Augustine was puzzled by having to accept both of these ideas of time and history, so was Nietzsche. There’s a similarity here between the two philosophers.
‘Slave morality’ can be traced back to the covenant between God and man. God says to Abraham, I’m your Lord and you’re my people. In other words, I’m your husband and you’re my wife. It is possible that such an event triggered something in the mind of Nietzsche. Adam would say, I’m your servant and you’re my Master. I’m your slave and you’re my Master. It is, however, said that if there were only two individuals in a room, one would be the leader. In other words, there cannot be two masters or two leaders. There must be one that leads the way and the other would follow. It sounds like the principal of ‘one’ and ‘many’. This is where the ultimate judge is the Master. Then who do we go to when we’re weak and vulnerable like Job? Before when we were under pressure by our master without having the inner strength to get even with him or her, we would wait till God would punish them on their behalf. However, what if God Himself were the master? This is exactly what Job faced when he experienced suffering while he was innocent of all chargers, at least to himself. If god is the one who is behind what is happening to me, who would I go to except God Himself? Perhaps this is why Nietzsche went against God’s existence and said ‘God is dead’. In a British comedy we read what is written on a board, ‘God is dead’ signed Nietzsche. Under it we read, ‘Nietzsche is dead’ singed by God. When Christian theology was dead, this would mean Christians were dead and that is why God is dead. When Christianity of his father was to resist the will, then ‘slave morality’ emerges. Just like the movie, ‘six sense’ in which the little boy looks around and sees nothing but dead people. This kid, it seems, was Friedrich. We just heard in the news that the Russian Orthodox Church has been supporting Putin’s invention of Ukraine. But did they know of the genocide. Pope Francis asked the representatives of the Orthodox Church of Russia to meet with him in Jerusalem. What did the Church do when Hitler was playing havoc with the lives of millions of innocent people? Where is the Church now? Where is the power of the United Nations? Where was the Church when mass graves were filled with the dead bodies of thousands of Muslims and their women raped in the former Yugoslavia?
This is not about only Christianity but other Religions too. What power do they have to fight the evils of the world? We live in world of imperfection in which innocent people and children are slaughtered in Ukraine and even United States. Where is God when we need Him to help us? Perhaps we shouldn’t expect perfection of this world. The God of our perceptions and opinions must be dead. This is exactly what Buddha thought when he rejected the deities and gods of Hinduism, which happened to be his own Religion. Is this what baffled Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud? Who is this God that is my master and I’m His slave? Is it possible that this God is the one we have created for ourselves? There’re 7 billion gods we have been worshiping. There’re as many gods as there are human beings. Why, because we shape and morph what we’re taught as children to be God? We ought to step away from this notion of God as a dictator who gets credit for when we do good and let us have the bad credit when we do evil. Mat be we should move up the Jacob’s ladder and climb beyond the personal God to the Ultimate Reality in which there’s no duality. It is not male or female and it is beyond being and non-being, existence and non-existence, rest and motion, relative and absolute, good and evil, and day and night. It is possible Plato knew about the Ultimate Reality, if he had the knowledge of Hindu thought. After all, he believed in reincarnation. We can speculate about these philosophical matters till we come up with some answers to our questions. With directing our attention to this Reality we understand we don’t have to think regarding master/slave. No such a duality exists in the Ultimate Reality. It is One. It is in the center like the sun. As we get farther away, we reach darkness.
Can Nietzsche have his cake and eat it too? Well, perhaps he was thinking that history moves forwards in a way like the surfs breaking on Hawaiian shores. They move towards the shores while they go through curves in which the surfers appear as if they’re in tunnels of water. History has a movement on a linear fashion while it repeats a cycle. This is only an analogy; however, I think it can convey a message here.
Nietzsche was without doubt a complicated character. Nevertheless, he was a turning point in the Western intellectual history before the 20th century. Perhaps he felt in the weakening of the Christian values there was a sign of wars in the next century. He saw this very decline in the writings of Kierkegaard. We have seen the works of the revisionists and Jesus seminars among American, British, and German thinkers. 19h century was impregnated with movements away from different moral systems and religious institutions. A little more than four months has passed and there’s already a rift a split in Eastern orthodoxy. Ukrainian orthodox Church is separating itself from the Russian one over the genocide committed by the president Putin. This is in the news as I write these sentences. Ukraine not being a member of NATO cannot be fully defended against Russian atrocities. Is not this how Nazism started in Europe a century ago?
I believe we ought to appreciate Nietzsche even more than before.
(Philosophy, 100 essential thinkers, by Philip stokes)