This is an ongoing series on some influential modern thinkers who influenced the world of unbelief. (For previous entries, see Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli.)
These are notes based on an essay by Peter Kreeft.
Who was Friedrich Nietzsche?
A German philosopher.
When did Nietzsche live?
What did Nietzsche think of his own role?
He called himself “the Anti-Christ,” and wrote a book by that title.
He offered the following argument for atheism:
“I will now disprove the existence of all gods:
 If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god?
 Consequently, there are no gods.”
How did he die?
He died insane, in an asylum, of syphilis—signing his last letters “the Crucified One.”
What did he think about reason?
He scorned reason as well as faith. He often deliberately contradicted himself. He said that “a sneer is infinitely more noble that a syllogism.” And he appealed to passion, rhetoric, and even deliberate hatred rather than reason.
What did he think about love and morality?
Love is “the greatest danger.” Morality is mankind’s worst weakness.
What are the three schools of thought about Nietzsche?
- Nietzsche is gentle. This is the most popular view of academics. They see him as a sheep in wolf’s clothing: his attacks should not be taken literally. He was really an ally, not an enemy, of the Western institutions and values which he denounced.
- Nietzsche is utterly awful. They at least pay him the compliment of taking him seriously.
- Nietzsche is a wolf (not a sheep) but a very important thinker. He shows to modern Western civilization its own dark heart and future.
What is the center of Nietzsche’s philosophy?
He is as centered on Christ as Augustine was, only he centered on Christ as his enemy.
What are Nietzsche’s main themes?
Nietzsche’s main themes can be summarized by the titles of his main books. Each is, in a different way, an attack on faith.
1. What was the theme of Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music?
This book single-handedly revolutionized the accepted view of the ancient Greeks as all “sweetness and light,” reason and order.
For Nietzsche, the tragic poets were the great Greeks.
The philosophers, starting with Socrates, were the small ones, pale and passionless.
All the Western world had followed Socrates and his rationalism and moralism, and had denied the other, darker side of man, the tragic side.
Nietzsche instead exalted tragedy, chaos, disorder, and irrationality—symbolized by the god Dionysus (god of growth and drunken orgies).
Nietzsche claimed that Socrates had turned the world instead to the worship of Apollo (god of the sun, light, order, and reason).
But the fate of Nietzsche’s god Dionysus was soon to overtake Nietzsche himself; as Dionysus was literally torn apart by the Titans, supernatural monsters of the underworld, Nietzsche’s mind was to be cracked asunder by his own inner Titans.
What was the theme of Nietzsche’s book, The Use and Abuse of History?
He continued the Dionysian-vs.-Apollonian theme.
The “abuse of history” = theory, science, objective truth.
The right use of history = to enhance “life.”
Nietzsche sets in opposition:
- life vs. truth
- fire vs. light
- Dionysus vs. Apollo
- will vs. intellect
What is the theme of Ecco Homo?
(Ecco homo is from the Latin Vulgate, translating Pontius Pilate’s words about Jesus in John 19:5, “behold the man!”)
This book was pseudo-autobiographical shameless egotism. He willingly embraces falsehood and fantasy. It is consistent with his philosophy or preferring “whatever is life-enhancing” to truth. “Why not live a lie?” he asks.
What is the theme of The Genealogy of Morals?
Nietzsche claims that morality was an invention of the weak (especially the Jews, and then the Christians) to weaken the strong. The sheep convinced the wolf to act like a sheep.
This is unnatural, argues Nietzsche, and seeing morality’s unnatural origin in resentment at inferiority will free us from its power over us.
What is the theme of Beyond Good and Evil?
This is Nietzsche’s alternative morality, or “new morality.”
“Master morality” is totally different from “slave morality.”
Whatever a master commands becomes good from the mere fact that the master commands it. The weak sheep have a morality of obedience and conformity. Masters have a natural right to do whatever they please, for since there is no God, everything is permissible.
What is the theme of The Twilight of the Idols?
Nietzsche explores the consequences of “the death of God.”
(Of course God never really lives, but faith in him did. But that is now dead.)
With God dies all objective truths (for there is no mind over ours) and objective values, laws and morality (for there is no will over ours).
Soul, free will, immortality, reason, order, love = “idols” (little gods that are dying now that the Big God has died).
What is the theme of Nietzsche’s masterpiece, Thus Spake Zarathustra?
This book celebrates this new god, the Superman..
He called Thus Spake Zarathustra the new Bible. He told the world to “throw away all other books; you have my Zarathustra.”
It was written in only a few days, in a frenzy, perhaps of literally demon-inspired “automatic writing.” No book ever written contains more Jungian archetypes, like a fireworks display of images from the unconscious.
Its essential message is the condemnation of present-day man as a weakling and the announcement of the next species, the Superman, who lives by “master morality” instead of “slave morality.” God is dead, long live the new god!
What is the theme of The Eternal Return?
Nietzsche discovers that all gods die—even the Superman.
He believed that all history necessarily moved in a cycle, endlessly repeating all past events.
Nietzsche deduced this disappearing conclusion from two premises:
- a finite amount of matter
- an infinite amount of time (since there is no creator and no creation)
Therefore, every possible combination of elementary particles—every possible world—occur an infinite number of times, given infinite time.
All, even the Superman, will return again to dust, and evolve worms, apes, man, and Superman again and again.
Instead of despairing at this hopeless new history, Nietzsche seized the opportunity to celebrate history’s irrationality and the triumph of “life” over logic. The supreme virtue was the will’s courage to affirm this meaningless life, beyond reason, for no reason.
What was the theme of Nietzsche’s last work, The Will to Power?
Without a God, a heaven, truth, or an absolute Goodness to aim at, the meaning of life becomes simply “the will to power.”
Power becomes its own end, not a means.
Life is like a bubble, empty within and without; but its meaning is self-affirmation, egotism, blowing up your bubble, expanding the meaningless self into the meaningless void.
Nietzsche’s advice: “just will.” It does not matter what you will or why.
Why should we think of Nietzsche as an important thinker?
It is not despite but because of his insanity. Almost no one in history has ever so clearly, candidly, and consistently formulated the complete alternative to Christianity.
Nietzsche is the essential, modern post-Christian and anti-Christian. He rightly saw Christ as his chief enemy and rival. The spirit of Anti-Christ has never received such complete formulation. Nietzsche was not only the favorite philosopher of Nazi Germany, he is the favorite philosopher of hell.
We can thank Satan’s own foolishness in “blowing his cover” in this man. Like Nazism, Nietzsche may scare the hell out of us and help save our civilization or even our souls by turning us away in terror before it’s too late.