On this count, Nietzsche directs most of his barrages at the utilitarians of his day. As a self-styled “free spirit,” he could not bear the thought of someone using such a noble name for purposes so unlike his own, particularly levelers of all stripes, “glib-tongued and scribe-fingered slaves of the democratic taste and its ‘modern ideas’” (44; see our first post for Works Cited). If Nietzsche is the father of cynics, surely the utilitarians were our first hippies, seeking “the universal, green-meadow happiness of the herd, together with security, safety, comfort, and alleviation of life for every one,” while chanting their twin anthems of “Equality of Rights” and “Sympathy with All Sufferers” (Nietzsche 44). He therefore dismisses all “systems of morals which address themselves to the ‘happiness’” of individuals – such as “hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, or eudaemonism” (225) – in that they place each person on an equal footing with every other and therefore encourage a sort of mediocrity that does nothing to temper passions, correct improper tendencies or encourage nobility (198).
Since he has removed objective truth as a proper standard for judgment, Nietzsche bases his criticism of utilitarianism in the historical framework outlined above, as well as the psychological weakness implied by its exaltation of the low throughout all areas of life. “Nietzsche demonstrates how psychological strength rather than truthfulness may be used to evaluate competing interpretations of the world and the ways of life they spawn” (Kirkland 598). Thus in his view, utilitarians suffer from a sort of identity crisis due to their blending of secular skepticism and Christian morality. Such a person’s “fundamental desire” is that “the war which is in him should come to an end” by means of “a soothing medicine and mode of thought (for instance, Epicurean or Christian)” in which one may find rest in “the happiness of repose, of undisturbedness, of repletion, of final unity,” a unity, however, that is impossible within such a framework (Nietzsche 200). Instead, the utilitarian must live with such a crisis unresolved, in a sort of moral mediocrity. Thus, he sees around him the exaltation and propagation of the average, and mourns that “they will be the men of the future, the sole survivors; ‘be like them! become mediocre!’ is now the only morality which has still a significance, which still obtains a hearing.—But it is difficult to preach this morality of mediocrity” (262)!
Aside from his complete terror at the thought of Europe being surrendered to such sissies, Nietzsche rebukes utilitarian thought for the same kind of self-contradiction and inversion of nobility found previously in Christianity. “Ye Utilitarians—ye, too, love the utile only as a vehicle for your inclinations,—ye, too, really find the noise of its wheels insupportable” (Nietzsche 174)! Both schools of thought, based as they are primarily on principle rather than precept, are exploitable through either personal abuse through mere selfishness or systemically by the strong and cunning. Nietzsche therefore sees in the weakness of Aristotelian, Spinozan and utilitarian thought an opportunity for those who “have the Will to Power” to “play the master” (198). Utilitarianism is merely the latest development in modern political thought, and since “the democratic movement is the inheritance of the Christian movement,” utilitarianism is merely a modern, democratic Christianity without the Christ as king (Nietzsche 202). So while in Nietzsche’s view, Christianity was bad enough, the sinking of Christianity to a mere moral philosophy resulted in a transformation that is even more to be regretted, in which, “all . . . the absolute demands . . . the difficult virtues . . . and the saintly heroic struggle were degraded . . . into a kind of charity of softness that demanded nothing while it provided every earthly comfort” (Wiker 110-111).
Although an atheist, Nietzsche had no room for such soft atheism. As Wiker puts it, “The bestseller atheists around now (like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris) are pussycat atheists, not lions like Nietzsche who, if he were still around, would chew them up and spit them out in disgust” (100). Linker points out that this is due in part to the fact that Nietzsche recognized a sad truth that others have not yet brought themselves to realize: “Whereas most modern atheists viewed their lack of piety as an unambiguous good—as a mark of their liberation from the dead weight of authority and tradition—Nietzsche responded to his insight into the amoral chaos at the heart of the world with considerable pathos.” So while other non-believers may still seek some measure of joy in a world without purpose, “All of Nietzsche’s work begins from the assumption that, viewed in itself, the world is a meaningless and purposeless chaos,” and one in which happiness is to be found only in a purpose of our own making (Linker).
His atheism was one that “wanted nothing less than to make us totally at home in the world, and he understood that this monumental task could be accomplished only by convincing us that we possess the power to redeem it, all by ourselves, without God” (Linker). Nietzsche therefore called on philosophy to do as it had always done: to reflect “the most spiritual Will to Power” by creating “the world in its own image” (9), to convince others “that all of human experience and history had to be reconceived” in order to make “sense of the world in terms of its intrinsic meaninglessness” (Linker). He is therefore unique among atheists, in that he was “brutally honest about what atheism really meant . . . . No up or down; no good or evil; just sheer human will swimming in an indifferent, if not hostile, chaos” (Wiker 100).
But the progress of human history seemed to him to be heading in exactly the opposite direction, killing God, but still mourning his loss, and therefore looking for his resurrection and second coming (a resurrection that so frightens Nietzsche he does not mention it even once in his text). Thus he wondered whether moral thought would ever find freedom in the realization that its ideals were merely “an arbitrary valuation projected onto reality in order to derive a sense of purpose in the face of chaos” and in that realization “kill the Christian God” to which such a search for purpose had given birth (Linker). He therefore “eventually became disillusioned with his own early proposals to cure modern disillusionment. . . . As before, modern man had fallen into meaninglessness, but now there was no possible redemption from it—and this we were supposed to accept as good news” (Linker). But if the modern age was characterized by this struggle between philosophies partly Christian and partly skeptical, a new age was dawning in Western thought. He “detected in Enlightenment secularists the residues of Christian morality, the extirpation of which would require a direct confrontation with nihilism,” and such a confrontation is exactly what he achieved (Hibbs).