On Nietzsche

Short essay on Nietzsche written in response to a lost set of test questions in my Fall 2015 Existentialism class at the College of Staten Island, slightly edited and amended to reflect my updated views on the subjects discussed. This is by no means a complete summary of my views on Nietzsche, but rather a brief, mostly on-the-spot response to certain particular passages of his work.

When Nietzsche proclaims the Death of God, he is stating that the influence of Enlightenment thinking has removed from the minds of the masses the idea of an objective and inherent system of values in the universe (whether or not they are consciously aware of it). This is exhilarating in that it affords each individual the opportunity to define and discard values as s/he sees fit from moment to moment, yet terrifying in that the absence of an objective truth to fall back on leaves the individual with an enormous responsibility to use hir power of valuation in a way that is beneficial to hirself in hir experience of the reality created from hir valuation.

Nietzsche's disdain for Christianity stems from his perception that it, in the absence of inherent meaning, propagates a value system which seeks to deprive the individual of hir power of valuation and content hir with this status of weakness and helplessness. This applies equally to all religions promoting an absolute model of truth over the truth of the individual, and likewise to similar nonreligious belief systems, or perhaps the very concept of a fixed belief system in general.

I would say that these ideas and others explicated by Nietzsche are both dangerous and necessary. For one thing, they are dangerous to established power structures relying on the concept of authority. This is necessary, as these power structures are largely corrupt and inhumane, and ought to be dismantled by a population no longer willing to passively accept their arbitrary and toxic value system. But they are also dangerous in allowing for the new establishment of reactionary, even fascistic belief systems, such as the Nazi ideology developed by Nietzsche-fan Adolf Hitler.

I understand Nietzsche's point-of-view on his concepts of master- versus slave-morality, and I think there are certainly some valuable insights to be gleaned from it with regards to the need for the individual to assert hir individual will and self-determination and to reject the self-defeating victim-psychology imposed by oppressive social structures and personal psychological trauma. However, I believe it is largely an incomplete model which fails to recognize the genuinely unselfish motivations one can hold for compassion and altruism, or rather, those which are selfish not only in the sense of valuing compassion in order to receive it, but selfish in the sense of taking for oneself a true, unconditional joy in serving others.

I recognize Nietzsche's intention to go beyond the view that selfless acts are necessarily good and selfish acts necessarily bad, but I think he perhaps swings too far in the other direction, covertly endorsing master-morality over slave-morality while feigning impartiality. In fact, I don't think it's really too far of a stretch to interpret Nietzsche's ideas on these moralities in the way that the Nazis did, and I am unsure of whether he truly would have disapproved of Nazi ideology as his apologists often claim.

I would also caution against taking the revelation of a lack of inherent and objective truth and value in the universe so far as to undermine the existence of the subjective values invented and imposed by conscious beings within it (existences which, if not objective, are at least somewhat real relative to ourselves), which I think Nietzsche has some tendency to do in the way he describes the will of the individual as absolutely supreme; it is perhaps more accurate, or at least more useful, to understand the objective values of the universe as their closest existing approximation: the sum total of all the subjective values of all conscious, value-determining beings in the universe (or at least, the percievably relevant universe of the individual) at all moments in time (or at least those percievably relevant to the present situation of the individual), each in the context of all others.

This distinction is important because without it we are apt to go building violent and unsatisfying empires, asserting the supremacy of our individual wills to do so over the arbitrary collective desire of most human beings (and likely of our true, unconscious self as well) to live in peace, or simply to meet much folly in the attempt to enact our will through poor strategy; it is necessary to be mindful of the relationship between our individual value systems and those of others with whom we interact, as well as that between those and our own deeper psychological, spiritual, and emotional needs, if we wish to assert our own values effectively in such a context.

Despite the Nazi connection and other qualms, I certainly would not advocate Nietzsche's censorship, as there is value for the discerning-but-open mind in seeing even the most incorrect of perceptions articulated with Nietzsche's level of clarity, and as I said, I still would not categorize all of Nietzsche's perceptions as entirely unfounded. Nietzsche's groundbreaking contributions to the philosophical tradition have no doubt positively influenced many progressive and humanitarian cultural engineers just as well as they have unfortunately inspired authoritarian ethno-nationalist movements. While a somewhat critical perspective may be necessary to minimize this destructive potential of his work, Nietzsche's baby of personal liberty and self-determination ought not to be flushed from our culture with his proto-fascist bathwater.