Sunday, 3 July 2011

book review: friedrich nietzsche, beyond good and evil

things i found interesting in friedrich nietzsche's book beyond good and evil:

page xv

In Beyond Good and Evil he maintains that original Christianity represents 'an ongoing suicide of reason' (p.44; 46), ascribing it to an Oriental slave revolt against Roman antiquity. Like Freud after him, Nietzsche considered religion a 'neurosis' (p. 45; 47); it involves an unnatural self-denial and sacrifice. In one of his most interesting observations, Nietzsche compares the history of 'religious cruelty' to a ladder with three important rungs: the first entails the sacrifice of one's loved ones to the deity; the second demands the sacrifice of one's own instincts or inner nature; and the final rung, which we are now coming to know, involves the sacrifice of God himself for the worship of 'stone, stupidity, heaviness, fate, nothingness' (p. 50; 55). Nietzsche here suggests that our modern penchant for science or nihilism, as atheistic as it appears at first glance, is merely a replacement for religious belief.

page xvi

Nietzsche is not unaware of the advantages that religion has brought to human society,
even as it has debased human nature. It has helped humankind to endure an otherwise intolerable existence and has assisted us in constructing a viable social order by demanding that we love each other. But religion also has other essential socializing functions. For a particular group of people Nietzsche mentions the Brahmans by name--religion provides a spirituality that permits them to remove themselves from the mundane and crude world surrounding them. For those who are destined to be rulers it is one means for overcoming resistance in their subjects, since it forms a common bond with ordinary people and pacifies them into obedience. It also serves as a pedagogical and disciplinary device for the ascending classes, teaching them a certain abnegation that ennobles their spirit and allows them to rise above the common rabble. Finally, for the vast masses, religion provides a solace for their suffering and the meaninglessness of their existence, 'something that justifies their everyday lives, all the baseness, all the semi-animal poverty of their souls' (p. 55;61). In general, however, Nietzsche's attitude towards religion is that it represents a stage of human development that must be overcome. Christianity, in particular, has led to a 'degeneration of the European race' (p. 56; 62), and the persistence of Christian belief is a sign that the human being has not developed into a creature that is strong enough to achieve the type of self-contained nobility of spirit Nietzsche envisions.

page xvii

The Jews, he asserts, 'brought about that tour de force of a reversal of values' (p. 83; 195); they negated a noble order in which richness, excess, cruelty, and sensuality were validated, and substituted for it a value system in which poverty, godliness, timidity, and spirituality hold sway. This 'slave revolt in morals' (p. 83; 195) disdains as evil the beast of prey and the man of prey, for Nietzsche the 'most healthy of all tropical plants and brutes' (pp. 834; 197), while affirming abstinence, pity, and a tolerance for suffering. The institution of the Judaeo-Christian 'herd' morality has made modern Europe possible even as it has meant an impoverishment of possibilities and human potential. Nietzsche reasons that there have always been rulers and subjects, and he recognizes that a morality preaching docile obedience is a necessity for the masses.

page xix

He [the free spirit] will rid himself of moralities that preach equality, democracy, the general welfare, and utilitarian values, and affirm instead the natural hierarchy Nietzsche captures repeatedly in the term Rangordnung.

page xx

More problematically Nietzsche propagates a human being that will not feel compassion with the oppressed and the unfortunate in society, and that will not seek to do away with suffering, including his own suffering. Rather, the pity this future man feels will involve the disdain for the manner in which the human race has made itself small and petty, and he will nourish suffering as the aid to 'depth, mystery, mask, spirit, cleverness, greatness' (p. 117; 225). In a controversial aphorism Nietzsche even ventures a reconsideration of cruelty as an essential part of human nature. All higher culture, all great tragedy, everything sublime, all knowledge, he contends, are ultimately based on cruelty, either towards ourselves or towards others. ... The task Nietzsche assigns his free spirits is 'to return man to nature; to master the many conceited and gushing interpretations and secondary meanings that have heretofore been scribbled and painted over that eternal original text homo natura'(p. 123; 230). In terms of present values Nietzsche's free spirit will thus prove to be an 'immoralist' who affirms life and aspires to the heights of culture and creativity.

page 7

We do not object to a judgement just because it is false; ... The question is rather to what extent the judgement furthers life, preserves life, preserves the species, perhaps even cultivates the species; ... Admitting untruth as a condition of life ... and a philosophy that dares this has already placed itself beyond good and evil.

this review is ongoing (not finished)...

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