Monday, February 1, 2016

Nietzsche's Worldview, article in The Methodist Review 1914

NIETZSCHE, article in The Methodist Review 1914

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There was a time when a man of personality and power could stand in the midst of the stream of men's affairs and by sheer determination or great ability halt the current for a moment or send it into a kind of hesitating whirlpool. Especially was it so if his voice or philosophy was not in accord with orthodox religion. Mill and Schopenhauer and Heine and Darwin were events, not individuals; because of which the march of the race hesitated and parleyed before continuing in its former course. But the day is past when open unbelief or honest doubt or philosophic speculation can stampede the church or its adherents. There are always questioners and deniers giving voice to mental creations, but nowadays the wise world barely notices them and does not lose a single step. Of those who thus have failed none has been more pitifully noteworthy than Friedrich Nietzsche. His life was as a summer's day which opened with sunshine and the sweet promise of blessing to things that wanted to grow, but which became cloudy, and misty, and destructive with its storm. One cannot but weep as he contemplates the proud and brilliant youth, with the light shining fully upon him, turning aside from the tried course and losing himself in a wilderness of egoistic vagaries. He had power, even genius, and had he chosen to be constructive he could have attained a rare place and a happiness which he did not secure. But somewhere in his youth an influence twisted and tortured his life, distorting perspective and clouding disposition.

It is difficult to believe that he was normal. It is easier to believe that either his use of drugs or his overwhelming egotism gave his mind that turn which made him eccentric in thought and manner. Sometimes, too, a subject of study is pursued with attention to but one of its phases, with the result that this assumes undue proportions and, with a youth especially, so enlists approval that he finds his entire life in the grip of a philosophy which he cannot escape. One cannot say what caused the child of two generations of clergymen, on the side both of his father and of his mother, to lose his early faith and to become a violent opponent of Christianity. It was unfortunate that his brother died in infancy, for until Nietzsche went away to school his companionship was almost exclusively with his mother, grandmother, two aunts, and a sister. He was also left much to himself, and the boy became sensitive, introspective, and devoted to music and poetry. At fourteen years of age he became a scholar at Pforta, a school almost cloisteral in its somber regulations and quiet. He was here for six drab years, during which he steeped himself in Byron and Schiller and meditated wonderingly upon the higher criticism taught by two of his professors. He kept a diary, and in it one follows the development of some phases of his mentality: the intensifying of his morbidness, his self-scrutiny, and his pride. When twenty years of age he entered the University of Bonn and for some months gave himself to the riot and wickedness of reckless student life. He soon turned from it with disgust, but the marks of sin and doubt had been made and the man of twenty-one found himself so disturbed in his beliefs as to be unable to partake of the communion. After a year at Bonn he went to Leipsic, where he heard Ritschl and Curtius and became fascinated with Schopenhauer. From this time his separation from Christianity was complete.

At the early age of twenty-five Nietzsche became professor in the university of Bale, giving his inaugural lecture in May, 1869. During the twenty years following he produced more than a dozen volumes, mostly upon philosophical subjects. In 1879 he resigned his professorship because of ill health and thence-forward became a wanderer in various parts of Central Europe. He never married, although he twice sought to do so and was two times refused. He had not the faculty of making friends, and the lack of them increased his morbid sensitiveness. In January, 1889, he went violently mad. He imagined himself to be immensely rich, or the king of Italy, or God, and in 1900 he died at Weimar.

It is difficult to analyze the writings of Nietzsche, certainly not easy to express his philosophy in small compass. He seldom wrote connectedly, and he delighted in the aphorism. He often wrote before his ideas were fully matured and never hesitated to change his opinions. When a student in the university he discovered that Theognis, a Greek poet, used the words "good" and "bad" in the sense of aristocrat and plebeian. It was a suggestive thought to Nietzsche which fixed itself in his mind and later caused him to inquire, "Under what circumstances and conditions did men invent the valuations good and evil?" In seeking an answer he observed that mankind has always been divided into two classes: those who have and those who have not, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the well and the sick. There has always been a struggle between these two classes; the one class seeking to retain what they have and the other class trying either to dispossess the fortunate or to discover treasures of power for themselves. In this warfare the strong have called themselves and their actions "good" and have named the weak and their actions "bad." Each class of people formulated a moral code which justified their course of life and condemned that of the other class. The moral code, therefore, was a weapon in class warfare, a warfare that had Power as its real object.

Nietzsche does not believe that the love of life is the chief motive of organic being, as do most thinkers. He finds the deepest motive to be "the will to power," the desire of a man to increase his feeling of power. And the two moral codes are named by him as master morality and slave morality. Since they affect conduct he considers it a matter of utmost practical importance to discover which produces the better type of men. He unhesitatingly pronounces in favor of master morality, and with equal emphasis declares that slave morality should be destroyed. It is here that he comes into conflict with Christianity and democracy, because both favor the development of slave morality. The moral code of Christianity is that of the weak and burdened and commonplace, not that of the strong and self-sufficient and dominant. Therefore it does not encourage the growth of a desirable type of man, and it should be destroyed. He discovers that Christianity is simply a scheme of the physiologically inferior people to protect themselves. They devised this standard to suit and to protect their own inferiority; appealed to fear and reward as motives, crowning all by the invention of the doctrine of eternal life; thereby luring "all the bungled and botched, all revolting and revolted people, all abortions, the whole of the refuse and offal, over to its side." Looking at the human products of Christianity, he finds no word strong enough for its condemnation. Christianity destroyed Greek and Roman culture and power just as they were ready to make the race glorious. Instead of man exalting strength and dominion he is encouraged by Christianity to adopt the soft policy of love and meekness and peace. The system protects the weak and lets them live; blesses the meek and persecuted; condemns the man who is high-spirited, who dominates by his power. The result is a dethronement of greatness and the elevation of mediocrity. As he thinks of this Nietzsche says of Christianity, "I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind." In like manner he denounces democracy for its foolish encouragement of the lower classes. He finds that men are not equal, and all statements concerning equality and liberty and fraternity are intoxicating battle cries intended to enlist the masses against Power. There must always be masters and slaves; there must be slaves in order that there can be masters, and there must be masters if the race is to advance. Democracy seeks to do away with social differences, and in so doing destroys the world's one chance of being enriched by the noble, wise, and strong.

All this has been pointing to Nietzsche's fetish and shibboleth, the Superman. He borrowed the term from Goethe and made it the conjuring word of his philosophy. He would have the race always look toward and seek the Superman. Man can and must transcend what he now is. As the ape appears to man now, so will man appear to Superman; and Nietzsche's continuous appeal is for man to spend everything and sacrifice anything in order to create the Superman. This is the main argument in Nietzsche's philosophy; and the most cursory of his readers will agree that he is not a logician, that he does not write consistently, and that his conclusions are not supported. His philosophy is based upon the unverified declaration that morality has no permanent standard, and he is obliged to assume that man invented all valuations of good and evil. Any reasons for this belief must be a priori, and if it be thus examined one immediately sees its weakness. For our knowledge of morals from the earliest times to the present shows that the decrees were most incisively applied to the persons who are supposed to have invented them. If, as Nietzsche says, the moral code is a weapon of warfare to be used against an enemy, it surely would not be so inexorable with its friends, the inventors.

It is not possible for anyone to say what the dominant motive of organic life is, but there are few persons who will agree with Nietzsche that it is the desire for power. In the face of the evidence for the theory that the basal motive is the support of life, Nietzsche's statement is little less than a dogmatic declaration. His opposition to Christianity is based upon misconceptions. He finds that its morals are those of the infirm and unfit and that they tend to preserve an inferior race. He fails to take account of moral courage and moral strength, he has no idea of valuing the heroism of the spirit. He is unable to get far under the skin of man, and therefore his ideal is the Greek or Roman. That Christian morals were devised by the physically inferior is gratuitous. He is especially unfriendly to Paul; and while it is true that Paul was small of stature, and had a "thorn in the flesh," he yet lived to a good age and was able to give a proper account of himself against beasts, hunger, wrecks, and vengeful men. Clearly he is not to be despised for his intellect; and so far as one knows, the other early Christians were not inferior men, but, as shown in the writings of those who wrote, were leaders in their times. Nietzsche's idea that Christianity tends to promote a weak race is justified only when he notes a single function of its work and neglects to attach value to its other elements. Of a truth it values human life and does try to prevent suffering and death. It has created a sentiment which forbids the Tarpeian rock, the arena, the river, and the caves. But alongside this is the fact that the length of life has increased under Christianity, that it has encouraged medicine and its related sciences, that on behalf of chastity and temperance, the two best angels of physical excellence, its voice is like thunder.

Nietzsche did not expect his doctrines concerning democracy to be any more acceptable than his ideas of Christianity, but his reason therefore is not sound, namely, that people are too wedded to pleasing notions to be willing to accept the truth. The real reason for his views lies in his failure properly to understand what democracy is. Of course, all people are not created equal, and democracy is not based upon such an idea. It is, however, rooted in the belief that there are certain rights which should be possessed by all. Nietzsche is wrong in thinking there must be slaves in order to have masterly men. Nietzsche's thought that mental powers are transmissible by heredity led him astray. But it is only another instance where he ignores facts in his pursuit of a theory. Wherein, then, lies the strength of Nietzsche? In three or four things. The term Superman, around which his theories revolve and which he opportunely emphasizes, is striking, appealing, and suggestive. His loud call for a better type of man, for a saner appreciation of parenthood, for rational and applied eugenics, is noble and timely. Furthermore, Nietzsche is a master of choice language and of frequent epigram. Much of his "Thus Spake Zarathustra" has been likened to the book of Proverbs. A great deal of the beauty of his language is lost in translation, yet even in English he delights those who can forget some of his sentiments. Finally, I think the tragedy of his life invests his writings with an interest which they would not otherwise have. It has always been "Poor Keats!" and we read him with tears. So it is "Poor Nietzsche!" as we gaze upon the broken silver cord, see the fragments of the pitcher at the well, and hear the mourners as they go about the streets.

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