What do Christians think of Nietzsche? (6 of 6)
|March 21, 2015||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Changing the subject, I don’t care for Nietzsche’s sweeping generalizations. The English are such and such . . . the French are so and so . . . the Germans are this and that . . . the Romans were sublime and magnificent . . . the Greeks had a proper sense of the body, of health, of the will to power, cruelty and bloodshed, until they were all corrupted by the decadent Socrates. The Jews are intelligent. After all, Heine was intelligent and he was a Jew – ergo, all Jews are intelligent – but they are also a devious and cunning people who have corrupted civilization with their false notions of sin and guilt, which they have cleverly spread through Christianity, a Jewish trick.
Nietzsche often makes these pronouncements with the serene conviction of someone for whom there are no truths and no abiding right and wrong except for his own opinions. His writings were often divorced from reality, and what he wrote about was often the opposite of what he lived. He eulogized health, but was a chronic invalid. He advocated strength and hardness, but was a pathetic failure in his two brief attempts at military life. He spoke about what was good for life and what was against life, as if he had figured it all out and would now explain it to us. His gifts and talents were wasted, in my opinion – but those who love his emphasis on the self and complete freedom from all restraint, will continue to follow him to their own detriment, without considering that his philosophy of egotism free from any and all restraint is the philosophy of a spoiled child. Unfortunately, the selfish and undisciplined attitude of a child can be very destructive when made the basis of adult actions.
It is generally agreed that Nietzsche was struck down by syphilitic insanity. This is a progressive illness – that is, Nietzsche was not perfectly sane and healthy one day, and a certified lunatic the next. The disease was progressive, and was influencing his mind adversely long before his final breakdown. One biographer wrote that in the late 1870s “rumors about Nietzsche’s sanity began to spread” . Erwin Rohde, who visited him in 1886, wrote “An indescribable atmosphere of peculiarity emanated from him, something that deeply unsettled me . . . as though he were from a country in which no one else lives” (p. 336).
Towards the end of 1888, before his final breakdown, Nietzsche was writing “I am strong enough to break the history of mankind in two . . . since the old God has abdicated, I shall rule the world from now on . . . today no other name is treated with so much distinction and reverence as mine . . . In two months I shall be the foremost name on earth . . . the complete fascination that I exert – over all classes of people. With every glance I am treated like a prince” (p. 337). And people admire this pitiable and delusional man?
Paul Deussen, who visited Nietzsche in 1887, described his room in a farmhouse: He noted “a rustic table with coffee cups, egg shells, manuscripts and toilet articles thrown together in confusion, which continued past a boot-jack with a boot still in it to the unmade bed” . Nietzsche said that Christians were unclean, but few Christians have egg shells and toilet articles on their writing desks.
Nietzsche was lonely, sick, and unhappy. Peter Gast, one of Nietzsche’s early and devoted admirers, spent some time with him in 1880. He described his efforts to help Nietzsche in the following terms: “You have no idea of the exertions . . . Nietzsche’s presence costs me” (p. 126). “I am fed up with the patient’s complaining the whole day long” (p. 126). Also mentioned was Nietzsche coming to his room at 5:30 in the morning and stating that they needed to start walking right away (p.126) – but this sort of demanding thoughtlessness is only to be expected of someone who thought that nothing was more important than his own will to power, for whom truth was nothing but his feelings, his instincts, and his opinions.
Gast continued: “Here it rains almost without ceasing. How Nietzsche – who is sensitive to every cloud that appears in the sky – is faring you may imagine” (p. 127). He doesn’t sound like much of an Overman to me. This is what Gast had to say about spending five to six hours a day with Nietzsche: “You have no idea what I endured . . . I was often filled with such rage that I threw myself into contortions and called down death and damnation on Nietzsche . . . Then, when I had at last managed to get to sleep at four or five in the morning, Nietzsche would often come along at nine or ten and ask if I would play Chopin for him” (p. 127). This is only to be expected from the high priest of selfishness and egotism, who taught that all that really matters in life is me-myself-and-I.
Of course, we can have some sympathy for Nietzsche as a poor invalid, but it is difficult to have sympathy for those who try to make a hero out of Nietzsche because they share his adolescent desire to live life free of all moral and social restraint. This is a recipe not for happiness, but for disaster.
Much more could be said about Nietzsche’s elitism, arrogance, racial obsessions, hatred of people who disagreed with him, and especially his intoxication with evil, crime, and cruelty, which he saw as the essence of real life. In spite of the clever obfuscations of his fans who admire his emphasis on total freedom, he should go down in history as the most confused man who ever put pen to paper in the name of philosophy.
Nietzsche wrote in The Genealogy of Morals of “the blond Teuton beasts” who represented his oft-stated ideal of man as a beast of prey, in opposition to the “tame and civilized animal,” the “domesticated people,”  the soft and spineless people who believed in peace, fairness, forgiveness and democracy because they had been corrupted by Christianity.
Someone who typically tried to explain away the most despicable aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy said that the blondness here was only a metaphor for a lion. Only a metaphor? In this same book Nietzsche refers to the “blond beasts of prey” with whom he was so infatuated as “a race of conquerors and masters” who were, in fact, “the origin of the ‘State’” (p. 58). Never mind about the Greeks, the Romans, and the ancient Near East – the origin of the State was the blond Teuton beasts who conquered the original dark-haired pre-Aryan inhabitants (p. 14).
This race of heroes could engage in “murder, arson, rape, and torture, with bravado and a moral equanimity” (p. 22) because their healthy animal instincts had not been corrupted by modern civilization. He was writing about people here, not lions (as if lots of blond and dark-haired lions were roaming around Europe raping and murdering), and was within a recent but well-established tradition of modern Germanic paganism. Like Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, H. S. Chamberlain, Lagarde, Langbehn and many others were obsessed with strong, virile, and healthy pre-Christian Germanic paganism.
Nietzsche did note that the noble qualities he associated with the blond beasts could also be found in the Romans, the Arabs, the Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, and elsewhere (pp. 22-23). Of course other peoples in history showed the conquering and warlike spirit admired by Nietzsche – but they partook of the ideal represented by the blond Teutons of Nietzsche’s fantasy world.
Finally, in The Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche wrote that blood and cruelty were at the foundation of all good things (p. 38); that “The sight of suffering does us good, the infliction of suffering does one more good” (p. 42); that “disinterested malice,” inflicting harm and pain on others without personal reasons, was good (p. 41); that “cruelty constituted the great joy and delight of ancient man” (p. 41); that life in the old days was better when people were not ashamed of cruelty and could practice it openly without restraint (p. 42).
I believe such ideas represent not philosophy but personal bitterness intensified by mental illness. They do not follow logically or necessarily from atheism. Most people are too soft and well-natured to understand what Nietzsche meant here, but I believe Hitler understood it, and my personal opinion of Nietzsche is that if he could have seen a Nazi death camp he would have been thrilled.
Much more could be written on this subject, but I’ll save it for my work in progress, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Failure of Modernism (with a final chapter asserting that the spirit behind Nietzsche’s ideas, a spirit that also animated many other people, was one of the many factors that combined to make the Holocaust possible).
 James Miller, The Philosophical Life: Twelve Great Thinkers and the Search for Wisdom, From Socrates to Nietzsche (London: Oneworld, 2010), p. 328. All following quotes in this and in the following paragraph are from this source only.
 R. J. Hollingdale. Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy (Cambridge University Press 1999), p. 174. Some of the ellipses in quotes are Hollingdale’s, one is mine.
. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Horace B. Samuel (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003), p. 23.