Lecture on Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols
Nietzsche wrote this book in the last active year of his publications (1888); then, he slipped into insanity. The book rails against the sickness of his age, in which he duels with reason, anti-Semitism (which he condemns), positivism, modernism, humanism, and above all the ascetics in history from Socrates to the eunuch priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, whose renunciation of the instinctual life is tantamount to a renunciation of life itself or a naturalistic morality. He takes, covertly, particular aim at Wagner and his operatic magnum opus of the Goetterdaemmerung--from his cycle of The Ring, because he made tragedy farce and kitsch. Wagner commercialized music with his organized spectacles that stifle human involvement. All the protagonists and villains have fates fixed by Destiny; so, Nietzsche finds Richard Wagner repulsive in his anti-realism and, above all, in his racial bigotry that Nietzsche could not sanction. They once had been the best of friends.
Let us discuss this quotation:
In the early Middle Ages, when the church was indeed, above all, a menagerie, the most beautiful
specimens of the ‘blond beast’ were hunted down everywhere; and the noble Teutons, for example were ‘improved.’...He had become a ‘sinner, ’he was stuck in a cage, imprisoned among all sorts of terrible concepts ...full of hatred against the springs of life, full of suspicion against all that was still strong and happy. In short, a ‘Christian’.
Nietzsche, a nominal Protestant, had a strong loathing for the Roman Catholic Church with its iconography. He smashed their idols because he felt that the Church entailed a renunciation of manly values for the faith. Kindness, piety, devotion, and so forth, embodied values that had to be transvalued. He had a contempt for females and their characteristics that made men soft, particularly through the institution of marriage, contolled by the State and Church. Nietzsche believed that Christianity destroyed the heroic German nation and replaced it with a Church and State, based on nationalistic prejudices, that rendered life both effeminate and bureaucratic. Nietzsche advocated a vigorous sexual life, spontaneity in short, in which men would not feel guilt about asserting their will to power.
Great men make history according to Nietzsche. They destroy old, liberal values and institutions and replace them with the noble and imperial values best found in ancient Rome. Napoleon was his hero because he wanted to create an empire in Europe. Nietzsche detested nationalism because he believed that it made men parochial in outlook. Nietzsche believed himself to be the man who would destroy the ideologies of socialism, modernism, and democracy. He loathed the masses as unworthy of life, let alone having rights and the vote. He thought their role should be that of slaves to serve the masters, who by genetic breeding would be fit to rule. These great men would live by not denying their instincts and would take to the deed, instead of thinking like philosophers, who corrupt. Yes, Socrates should die. He corrupted the youth of Athens by setting a bad example. He admired ancient Rome and the historical period of the Renaissance, in particular. In his doctrine of eternal recurrence, Nietzsche affirms that history can be made noble by working on it as a hammer works on a piece of stone to shape it. The image is graphically violent. Oddly, in his time, he thought that Czarist Russia, with its primitive tribalism and transcontinental expanse, would best reinvigorate Europe by example. He was an imperialist. Expand or die. You should note that Machiavelli and Homer were his two favorite writers. They wrote epics and understood history in its totality.
War cleanses in the mind of Nietzsche. He wanted an elite to rule the world. He thought the most ignoble thought ever conceived were that men were created equal by God. He said God is dead and that democracy cannot make what is inherently unequal equal. In particular, he cursed Rousseau as an effete intellectual, who stirred the Paris mobs to action in the French Revolution. When Napoleon seized control of the French Revolution, he represented the man of action on the front lines; not the weak types like Mirabeau and Robespierre, who worked for the people. Napoleon represented an ancient race, the Corsicans, who inspired him with the idea of blood and soil.
Was Nietzsche a proto-Nazi? No. He was not a racist. He rejected the decadence of life in a capitalist, materialist society, where men were unmanned by the forces of modernism. He was an advocate of Dyonysius, a mythic figure who lived a life of excess, frenzy, and affirmation. He looked for those values in a naturalist art and philosophy of life. Hence, he was more an existentialist than National Socialist. His views of the dark side coincided with that of Freud; though he would place less emphasis on the Unconscious with its soft determinism. Nietzsche had a very positive view of Jews that contradicted Wagner’s eliminationist antisemitism that influenced his operatic productions. Nietzsche thought them sickly morbid and wrote a work called Contra Wagner to express his contempt for the man and his racism. Nietzsche viewed Jews as a universal race that creatively had survived persecution and adversity. Such strength he admired in a collectivity. As for friends, some of Nietzsche’s were Jewish and were treated equally concerning social standing and professional accomplishments.
Three months after writing this essay in late September 1888, along with other pieces during that feverish year of productivity, he fell into a paralytic insanity from which he never emerged. The Nazis fifty years later did appropriate whatever they found useful in Nietzsche, particularly his making cruelty a virtue in hard times. There is no progress in history toward man’s betterment. Nietzsche despised Enlightenment ideals; hence, he could be considered a posthumous fellow traveler.
Human, all too Human. Men die. That is a cold fact that could not be undone, according to Nietzsche. But he viewed death positively as compelling men to make great decisions now, not await glory in the hereafter. He would have been disappointed had he seen what had happened to Germany under Hitler, a man of ressentiment, who unleashed the forces of nihilism with no strategic objectives that had a root in reality, unlike Napoleon.