He may have been dead for over a century, but his influence remains widespread.
On this day 123 years ago the world bid farewell to one of its greatest minds – Friedrich Nietzsche. Although, by the time of his death, his mind was no longer great and had well and truly gone to mush thanks to a combination of illnesses he had been suffering. Nevertheless, this isn’t going to be a biography on his life, nor a simple recollection and regurgitation of his works, for that would be boring for the man who philosophised with a hammer.
I should preface that I’m no Nietzschean scholar, I’ve currently read two of his books (Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil), but the profundity in which he wrote deserves praise. I’m familiar with some of his other books which I intend to read before the year is out; they may not be long, but the man knows how to condense a lot into a small amount.
"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book — what everyone else does not say in a whole book." - Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s no denying the dude had an ego that would make even Donald Trump blush. The chapter titles in his book “Ecce Homo” are particularly comical in a way even though they were a reflection on his own writing (see image below). Nietzsche’s prose ability is highly regarded, and in a way he was a poet-philosopher much like Plato. Naturally, he wanted to usurp Plato at the top of Western thought, and through the telling of his philosophy using the prophet Zarathustra in his magnum opus, essentially replace God and Jesus as well – ballsy!
Posthumously, small wonder Nietzsche was not that popular in his day. A university professor by the age of 25, he pulled no punches, tightrope walking between confidence and arrogance. He was the ultimate sceptic and a fervent critic of Christianity, of which he referred to as one of “the two great European narcotics”, the other being alcohol. For Nietzsche, it was humans that created their own values, not the gods, in which the embodiment of such divinity was to be found in that of the Übermensch, the superior individual and ideal for humanity to aim for.
“Insanity is the exception in individuals. In groups, parties, peoples, and times it is the rule.”
We all know this on a far simpler level; you get people on their own and they’re mostly reasonable beings, it’s only when they start forming a mob does madness strike. I think the aforementioned quote teamed together with, “distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful”, is imperative for all of us to not only remember, but embody. Sometimes the good amongst us, perhaps even especially so, really do need to take heed of the latter. It’s so easy to chastise those we deem wrongdoers when we feel we’re acting on the side of the good.
I think this is why I really like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment along with Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Raskolnikov essentially tries to be an Übermensch, believing himself to be a Napoleonic type figure, amongst the rarity of beings, who are allowed to and capable of transcending moral, natural and criminal laws in pursuit of a higher purpose. While he gets away with the crime, he doesn’t escape the punishment – which you’d think if he was an Übermensch, he would be able to, but perhaps no one can. These two books greatly complement one another and offer a tremendous exploration in morality, amongst many other things.
Nietzsche postulated this idea called the eternal recurrence, in essence as a counter and to overcome nihilism. Basically, life is a cosmic loop, and if you had to live your life over and over again for eternity would you be happy with how you live it? It’s meant as an affirmation to life: to energise, to embrace life and “live dangerously”, as he once said, in order to garner the greatest fruits and joys.
Like I said, this wasn’t intended as depiction of his lifetime nor a bibliography of his writings – I just wanted to pay homage to one of history’s greatest thinkers. I feel there is a lot to learn, and wisdom to be acquired through diligent study of those who came before, it’s what helps me have gratitude for where we are now. Also, it's incredibly difficult to come up with original ideas, but man, Nietzsche had some absolute humdingers!