Reading Friedrich Nietzsche is like standing in a thunderstorm; frequent bursts of illumination, some of them very frightening. Few have ever peered so deeply into the abyss, or written so beautifully of what they found there.
In a time when people thought "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world," Nietzsche screamed "Have you not heard! God is dead!" His aphorisms are razor-sharp; his prose among the greatest in the German language. His ideas have become ingrained in postmodern culture; concepts like "Apollonian and Dionysian art forms," "the Will to Power," "the Superman" and "Master and Slave Cultures," radical in their day, are almost truisms among today's Gothic/Industrial types.
For Nietzsche, morals, decorum, and our concepts of "good" and "evil" were the fruit of ressentiment the resentment of a slave in chains. Nietzsche saw "thou shalt nots" as sour grapes proclamations issued by those who could not. The peasant cannot have his master's possessions, and so claims "it is immoral to steal." When the master takes the peasant's things, he can assuage his humiliation by calling his master "evil" and putting on a mantle of moral superiority. Nietzsche saw Christianity as the ultimate "slave religion;" it praised passivity, docility, and non-violence while criticizing "master virtues" like ruthlessness and strength. Throughout his career he would condemn Christianity and the "slave culture" it created in works like The Antichrist and Twilight of the Idols. This virulent anti-Christianity and antinomianism would later be aped by Industrial artists who, like Nietzsche, saw our technological society as "sick" and who preferred truth to politeness, strength to gentleness, action to belief.
He contrasted this Christian ideal with the way of the "Ubermensch," the "master," the "blond beast" who takes what he wants and cares nothing for those he takes it from. Taking his cue from Darwin, Nietzsche suggested that the strong should rule and the weak should get out of their way. Those who are capable of ruling should do so, without any concern for the sufferings they inflict in the process. (Indeed, Nietzsche considered a hallmark of the Superman that he was willing not only to suffer for his ideals but to make others suffer for them as well). The Superman has little time for morality or ethics; like a healthy animal, he spends his time doing rather than contemplating. Nietzsche was above all a philosopher of passion: in his own terms, he considered himself "Dionysian" (connected to sensation, emotion, excitement) rather than "Apollonian" (reason, logic, thought).
This concept of the "Superman" has become the most controversial and most misunderstood part of Nietzsche's philosophy. Hitler tried to create the "Ubermensch" through eugenics and the extermination of "undesirable racial elements." (Nietzsche loathed nationalism, despised anti-Semitism, and frequently criticized Germans as worthless, stupid cows). Leopold and Loeb read that the Superman was cruel and decided to prove themselves Supermen by killing Bobby Franks. (Nietzsche would have considered their murder of a defenseless child ressentiment by two frail bullies incapable of attacking anyone more powerful). Nietzsche said many readers treated his work like an invading army; they loot it for what they find interesting, reject everything else and leave the whole defouled. A quick glimpse at the trailer park Fuhrers and pimply "Elites" who still mangle his philosophy shows he was speaking truth.
- Thus Spake Zarathustra
- Beyond Good and Evil
- Twilight of the Idols
- Ecce Homo
- The Genealogy of Morals
- Nietzsche Contra Wagner
- The Antichrist
- The Will to Power
Commentary by Kevin Filan, Tuesday, July 7, 1998.
|Illustration by Kurt Komoda|