Monday, March 07, 2005

Nietzsche, Homo Religiosus

A correspondent wrote to ask me my opinion of Curtis Cate's recent study of Nietzsche. Well, I haven't seen it, but I have just read a review by John Gray published in the New Statesman. Here is the final paragraph:

Like innumerable, less reflective humanists who came after him, Nietzsche wished to hold on to an essentially Christian view of the human subject while dropping the transcendental beliefs that alone support it. It was this impulse to salvage a religious conception of humankind, I believe, that animated Nietzsche's attempt to construct a new mythology. The task set by Nietzsche for his imaginary Superman was to confer meaning on history through a redemptive act of will. The sorry history of the species, lacking purpose or sense until a higher form of humanity came on to the scene, would then be redeemed. In truth, Nietzsche's mythology is no more than the Christian view of history stated in idiosyncratic terms, and a banal version of it underpins nearly all subsequent varieties of secular thought. The militant atheist who charmed the good burghers of Sils-Maria with his innocent sanctity left a contribution to our religious inheritance that remains unacknowledged to this day.

I would say that this is basically on the right track. Or as I put it in an unpublished draft, "Although Nietzsche's was the bladed intellect of the sceptic, he possessed the open heart of the homo religiosus."