Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Nietzsche Misunderstood?

Ed Yetman writes by e-mail:

I noticed this paragraph at your site, which I copied in part. I think the author [Curtis Cate] makes a gross error in understanding Nietzsche:

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.

He could not be farther from the truth. Nietzsche is not at all interested in the Superman redeeming history, nor has he any interest in "salvaging a religious concept of humankind", to use that grotesque feminist perversion of "mankind."

Nietzsche was a pure individualist, with no concern for anything other than the life of the individual. This life, the life lived now, is all that matters. All values must be created now and lived now; all acts must be done now. To think about a "redemptive act of will" is to do what Nietzsche explicitly condemmed: squandering the spirit. I think Nietzsche wanted to create a non-religious spirituality. For Nietzsche, the spirit was something natural and inherent in man. To expend it on anything other than the self was wasteful. I do not think Nietzsche was a religious man, but he was an intensely spiritual man. I am degraded from grading papers all week. I hope this makes sense.

BV: Thanks for writing, Ed. And thanks for running my column, The Chess Philosopher, in your Descriptive Chess Magazine. I am working on two more chess & philosophy posts as we speak. If I can't be a good player of chess, I may perhaps reasonably aspire to be a good philosopher of chess.

Yes, grading is degrading. Nevertheless, you are making sense. But the senseful is not equivalent to the true. Part of the problem, however, is figuring out exactly what the sense is that you are making. Like many today, you distinguish religion from spirituality. That's a distinction that needs explaining, and absent explanation is to my mind bogus. (I'm planning a post on this very topic.)

I don't think it can be denied that there is a redemptive aspect to the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Nietzsche speaks of the will as the "great redeemer" (the reference is buried in a manuscript that I will 'resurrect'). If I will every detail of my life and the world, and their eternal recurrence, then I will the future and in willing the future I will the past, and so redeem the past, present, and future from meaninglessness. Perhaps I will unpack this later.

I don't think it can be denied that Nietzsche is of the type, homo religiosus. His style of writing, however, makes it possible for him to be exploited by partisans of a wide variety of contradictory positions. For example, it always amazes me that so many leftists love Nietzsche. I suppose it has to do with his doctrine that "The world is the will to power and nothing besides!" That is right up the leftist alley.

But I do agree with you about 'humankind.' It is nonsense to think that standard English excludes women. It certainly didn't exclude Ayn Rand!