Friedrich Nietzsche


Born on October 15th, 1844, Nietzsche later became a German philosopher and critic of culture, who influenced a number of the major writers and philosophers of the 20th century Germany and France. Nietzsche's most popular book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885), went ignored at the time of its appearance. Full of provocative ideas, Nietzsche was a master of aphoristic form and use of contradictions. Before and after the rise and fall of the Nazis, he was widely misrepresented as an anti-Semite and a woman hater, and many philosophers found it difficult to take his writings seriously. Similar to Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, Nietzsche often contradicted himself.

Friedrich Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor. His father died in 1849. Rejecting his father's faith, Nietzsche became a lifelong rebel against Christianity. "In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross", he wrote in The Antichrist in 1888. Nietzsche was brought up by pious female relatives who would later betray him. He studied classical philology at the universities of Bonn from 1864 to 1865 and in Leipzig from 1864 to 68. At the age of 25 he became a professor at the University of Basel, Switzerland. In 1872, he published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy.

Nietzsche considered reality as an endless Becoming (Werden). Apollonian power is associated with the creation of illusion - the plastic arts deny the actuality of becoming with the illusion of timeless beauty. Dionysian frenzy threatens to destroy all forms and codes. Only the Apollonian power of the Greeks was able to control the Dionysian flood. But all illusions are temporary, and in his "experimentalist phase" Nietzsche saw that the loss of Apollonian spell will make the return to Dionysian actuality even more painful. But it must be noted, that the Dionysus whom Nietzsche celebrated in his later writings, was the synthesis of the two forces and represented passion controlled. In the earlier work he favored perhaps more Apollo. His thesis, however, was, that it took both to make possible the birth of tragedy. 

Nietzsche gave up Prussian citizenship in 1869 and remained stateless for the rest of his life. In 1879 Nietzsche resigned his professorship - or was forced to give up his chair - due to his headaches and poor health. He wandered about Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, living in boardinghouses, and producing most of his famous books.

Lou Andreas-Salomé (1861-1937), the talented and spirited daughter of a Russian army officer, became Nietzsche's most painful love. "... I lust after this kind of soul", Nietzsche wrote to her companion Paul Rée; actually he needed a young person around him who is intelligent and educated enough to serve as his assistant. "From which stars did we fall to meet each other here?" were Nietzsche's first words when he saw her at Saint Peter's Basilica.

In Ecce Homo Nietzsche praised her poem, 'Hymnus an das Leben' (1882, Hymn to Life), which he set to music. "Whoever can find any meaning at all in the last words of this poem will guess why I preferred and admired it: they attain greatness. Pain is not considered an objection to life: 'If you have no more happiness to give me, well then! you still have suffering ...' Perhaps my music, too, attains greatness at this point." Possibly Nietzsche proposed marriage to her, although according to some sources he never did so. However, Nietzsche told Andreas-Salomé that Zarathustra had been conceived as an artistic substitute for the son he would never have. In Lucerne Andreas-Salomé, Nietzsche and Rée had a photograph taken of themselves, Lou kneeling in a small cart and holding a whip over the two man-team, who are pulling the cart.

Rejected by Andreas-Salomé, Nietzsche withdrew into the existence of a tourist-scholar. He spent summers in Switzerland and winters in Italy, and published his major works in a period of ten years. Thus Spoke Zarathustra appeared first in three parts in 1883-1884 and was formally published in 1892. Thus Spoke Zarathustra centered around the notions of the will to power, radical nihilism, and the eternal recurrence. Pain, suffering, and contradictions are no longer seen as objections to existence but as an expression of its actual tensions. In a note entitled 'Anti-Darwin' Nietzsche stated that "man as a species is not progressing." He substituted the ordinary conception of progress for a doctrine of eternal recurrence, and stressed the positive power of heroic suffering.

In January 1889 Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown in Turin, Italy. He was found in a street, weeping and embracing a horse who was being beaten. Nietzsche lived first in an asylum and then in his family's care. His insanity was probably due to an early syphilitic infection. During his disease Nietzsche was almost invariably gentle and pleasant, and in lucid hours he engaged in conversation. Nietzsche spent his last decade in mental darkness and died in Weimar on August 25, 1900. After his death, his sister Elisabeth secured the rights to his literary remains and edited them for publication - sometimes in arbitrary and distorted form. Elisabeth had married in 1885 Bernhard Förster, a prominent leader of the German anti-Semitic movement which Nietzsche loathed. "For my personal taste such an agitator is something impossible for closer acquaintance," he wrote in a letter to his mother. In 1880s Elisabeth founded with Förster a German colony in Paraguay, which was meant for the "Aryans only." Förster killed himself 1889 when his hand was caught in the till. How much Nietzsche's illness - dementia paralytica or syphilis - affected his thinking and writing is open to speculations. During the second period of brain syphilis the patient often acts manic-depressively and has megalomaniac visions. During his manic period in the 1880s Nietzsche produced Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Gay Science, and Beyond Good and Evil.

His sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche would care for him until his death in 1900. Rather than for his well being, many of her actions suggest that there may have been ulterior motives. Not only did she go against Freidrich's wishes to not hire a priest for his funeral, Elisabeth also took a leading role in narcissistically promoting her brother, especially through the publication of Nietzsche's fragments under the name of The Will to Power. In 1930, Förster-Nietzsche, a German nationalist and anti-semite, became a supporter of the German National Socialists. After Hitler and the National Socialists came to power in 1933, the Nietzsche Archive received financial support and publicity from the government, in return for which Förster-Nietzsche bestowed her brother's considerable prestige on the regime. Elisabeth's funeral in 1935 was attended by Hitler and several high-ranking National Socialist officials.

Nietzsche believed that all life evidences a will to power. Hopes for a higher state of being after death are explained as compensations for failures in this life. The famous view about the "death of God" resulted from his observations of the movement from traditional beliefs to a trust of science and commerce. Nietzsche dissected Christianity and Socialism as faiths of the "little men," where excuses for weakness paraded as moral principles. John Stuart Mill's liberal democratic humanism was for him a target for scorn and he called Mill "that blockhead." His announcement of the death of God can be interpreted religiously or atheistically: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him... 

According to Nietzsche, the other world is an illusion, and instead of worshipping gods man should concentrate on his own elevation, which Nietzsche symbolizes in the Übermench or Superman. The contrast of "good and evil" as opposed to that of "good and bad" Nietzsche associated with slave morality. He argued that no single morality can be appropriate to all men. The meaning of history was the appearance, at rare moments, of the exceptional individual. And by creating the figure of Zarathustra he presented the teacher of the coming superman.




Website Builder