Unfortunately for Nietzsche, in expanding on his polemic he also provides the soundest arguments against his line of thinking, of which we will now deal with three. The first concerns his views of truth as a farce and reason as all-too-fallible for ultimate understanding. The paradox of such an epistemology is that if his conclusions are correct, he is just as influenced by his instincts, not capable of independent thought, and therefore not to be trusted, as any one of us. And herein lies the chief fallacy of his new philosophy, the free spirits, and the arrogance of his thoroughgoing post-modernism.
The second concerns his treatment of religion in general (as a pious fraud that can at times be an effective control over the masses) and Christianity in particular. Here again, Nietzsche provides his own best refutation. In seeking to displace theistic narratives of Creation, Fall and Redemption, he finds that success means creating his own. His story “has its roots in the Jewish and Christian slave rebellion in morals” and far from rejoicing with his precious pagans “in the face of nature, Christians are suspicious of nature, seeing it as deceptive, tempting, and infected with sin” (Hibbs). Men have fallen, then, by accepting the Fall, and redemption is found in the denial of redemption. Thus as Stephen Mulhall points out, Nietzsche “turns out to reproduce rather than transcend a paradoxical structure of Christian thought” (in Hibbs). His views are therefore a kind of unintentional parody of a Christianity without a resurrection.
The third criticism concerns his stated object of seeking to go “beyond good and evil” and to establish a new framework for ethical thought in which, strictly speaking, there is no longer anything to call by those terms. Yet Nietzsche’s ideal of nobility as seen in both the historical narrative discussed above and its implications for the future of humanity, would seem to argue to the contrary. “At the very least, it seems obvious that despite Nietzsche’s incessant denial of any possible foundation for a higher good in the order of things, he could not help but presuppose that such a good exists and that it has been violated by the rise of social and political equality” (Linker). It is quite possible, then, that Nietzsche too fell prey to the very neo-Platonism that he found so distasteful in other thinkers, and therefore it is hard to take seriously one who so hastily criticizes others while being blind when he makes the same mistakes himself. “One cannot help but conclude that Nietzsche—the man who gleefully proclaimed in a book titled Beyond Good and Evil that it was his goal to ‘sail right over morality’—was himself a perverse kind of moralist concerned above all about the injustice of shallowness and mediocrity” (Linker). So while he sought to transcend morality and referred to “We immoralists” (226), he was in fact, nothing of the sort.
When Nietzsche’s work arrived on the scene, he wanted to make a statement that others would remember, and he “was indeed explosive” (Linker). Unfortunately, however, even today, we are still suffering the consequences of his thinking. “Western culture has yet to come to terms with the fallout produced by the detonation of his most volatile ideas” (Linker). And thus as Wiker points out throughout his chapter on Beyond Good and Evil, our author falls within a steady continuum that leads from bad to worse, through Rousseau, Mill and Darwin and continuing through Hitler, Sanger and only God knows who else. There is something of the last century that tells us that things are not as they should be, nor should we seek to fulfill Nietzsche’s dreary vision for the future. We have witnessed the horrors of two world wars, a cold war that at certain times and in certain places was anything but cold, the worst kinds of tyranny and genocide, and the calculating cowardliness of terrorism. And yet throughout these experiences we have also seen heroes rise to the occasion, some from prominence and others from obscurity, and demonstrate that there is not only something worth fighting for, but something within man that still points to a sort of sacrificial greatness that Nietzsche could never understand. It is something that at times seems even beyond human capacity, and gives us an impression of something perhaps divine. “Yet, being something godlike, we are not, as Nietzsche would have it, gods ourselves, but something far less, a faint but glowing resemblance to Someone else infinitely more resplendent” (Wiker 231). The possibility yet remains, then, that Nietzsche was correct, but only partly so. That “God did indeed die, but rose again, an übermensch of a very different kind, one that can save us from the madness of our own making” (Wiker 231). And so we are faced with the choice between Nietzsche’s darkness, chaos, and “might makes right” morality, or we can trust these natural inclinations toward sacrifice and honor, “allowing the good that is reflected in common opinion and experience to serve as an indication—however tentative, ambiguous, or elusive—of what is likely to be true” (Linker). So while Nietzsche sought to overcome the traditional and modern conceptions of truth and morality through a post-modern pragmatism, he instead points us back to our heads, and our hearts.
Nietzsche’s interpretation of the past was inextricably connected with his vision for the future. Just as Marx saw communism as the synthesis of preexisting thought and practice, Nietzsche saw in the future of European thought a change that would finally reverse what he saw as the ill effects of centuries of classical Christianity. Judaism and Christianity had turned the natural values of strength and nobility on their head, but modernism provided no real challenge to this reversal based on its commitment to moralism. It would be the task of the next generation of philosophers would set this inverted world back on its proper foundation. Throughout his work, Nietzsche lamented that “the philosopher has long been mistaken and confused by the multitude, either with the scientific man and ideal scholar, or with the religiously elevated, desensualized, desecularized visionary and God-intoxicated man” (205; see our first post for Works Cited). In his view, of course, neither is to be trusted, the modernist because of his view of objective truth, and the religious because of his belief in a transcendent God. Having therefore dismissed both rationalism and Christianity (see Nietzsche 188), the philosophers of the future would need to develop a new system of thought that was consistent with his interpretation of history and the development of moral principles.
It is in this sense that one can rightfully speak of Nietzsche’s post-modernism. Built in to his rejection of Enlightenment and Christian morality is his rejection of Enlightenment and Christian epistemology. His goal, then, was a complete revolution in morals, rejecting the bulk of both schools, but forging a third way that was substantially different from either. While modernism is relatively recent and trusts entirely too much in the human mind, pre-modern traditionalism is old and fantastic and relies too much on ‘divine revelation.’ Nietzsche therefore seeks to overcome both approaches by adopting the method of the first (independent reasoning) and the confidence of the second (faith), while rejecting any of their qualifications (particularly a logical and moral framework accountable to both God and the community).
What results is a new, post-modern, amoral pragmatism. To Nietzsche, “it is high time to replace the Kantian question, “How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?” by another question, “Why is belief in such judgments necessary?” Instead, modern man “should understand that such judgments must be believed to be true, for the sake of the preservation of creatures like ourselves; though they still might naturally be false judgments” (11)! Nietzsche, of course, bases such a conclusion on his view of human nature as revealed through history, as well as his conviction that “the psychological demands of humanity lie beyond the indifference of nature” (Kirkland 604).
The path to ‘free’ thought is therefore partly a return to the glorious ancients (insofar as they differ from dogmatic moralists), and partly a progressive plan for the future of philosophy. Nietzsche therefore seeks to free pessimism from “the half-Christian, half-German narrowness and stupidity” that he believes characterize it (56) by pointing out the glorious historical and moral reality of the will to power. For true philosophy rid of the prejudiced search for “truth,” “one must await the new order of philosophers, such as will have other tastes and inclinations, the reverse of those hitherto prevalent—philosophers of the dangerous ‘Perhaps’ in every sense of the term” (Nietzsche 2). Not only would such a world finally rid itself of the feigned existence of objective truth, it would even defy the gregarious, utilitarian conception of moral relativism, declaring that, “My opinion is my opinion: another person has not easily a right to it” (Nietzsche 43). Nietzsche therefore found he and his peers “standing on the threshold of a period,” “which would be distinguished negatively as ultra-moral,” in which he and his “immoralists” reassert that “the decisive value of an action lies precisely in that which is not intentional” but instead draws its authority from the simple fact that it has been asserted (32).
The concept of nobility is at the heart of both Nietzsche’s historical interpretation and his hopes for the future. Though most recognize that only a few people will ever be truly ‘great’, Nietzsche gives this fact ethical weight and therefore finds two separate laws for human behavior, which he dubs “master-morality and slave-morality” (260). “It is the business of the very few to be independent; it is a privilege of the strong” (Nietzsche 29). In Nietzsche’s mind, greatness is defined not by the truthfulness of one’s ideas or his strength of character, but in the recognition that “egoism belongs to the essence of a noble soul” and must be employed in exploiting the weakness of others (265; see 259). In other words, “All claims will be understood not according to their correspondence with truth, but according to what seeks to gain power by making that claim” (Kirkland 587). True greatness, then, will only be attained when these elites “gain courage to rebaptize our badness as the best in us” (Nietzsche 116). It is on this basis, that Nietzsche condemns the European rulers of his day, who “know of no other way of protecting themselves from their bad conscience than by playing the role of executors of older and higher orders . . . by maxims from the current opinions of the herd, as ‘first servants of their people,’ or ‘instruments of the public weal’” (199). He therefore sees “gradations of rank” as an essential prerequisite for true philosophy, and the goal of his own work as the development of “a new ruling caste for Europe” (219, 251).
Nietzsche’s elitist views, then, were more than a mere historical ideal or philosophical abstraction. In fact, he viewed “the rearing of a new ruling cast for Europe” as his most “serious topic,” which he referred to in a proto-National Socialist manner as “the ‘European problem” (251). Nietzsche sought to “galvanize the dormant aristocratic element and revive Europe” by recasting their moral thought, so that when “a great danger” presented itself, it “would awaken men from their utilitarian slumber and call forth the desire to fight and conquer” (Wiker 111). The true leader would therefore rediscover that “he is a creator of values” and philosophers of the past would be overthrown by “commanders and law-givers,” who say, “Thus shall it be” (Nietzsche 260, 211)! As Kirkland states, “Once the illusory task of positioning oneself beyond mere illusions is abandoned in the face of nihilism, the task of philosophy becomes that of ‘great politics,’ transforming humanity by legislating values” (581).
Surprisingly, Nietzsche still finds a role for religion in this new world order. As he himself states, “Modern philosophy, as epistemological skepticism, is secretly or openly anti-Christian, although . . . by no means anti-religious” (54). In other words, though Christianity is impossible in a world without divine revelation, objective truth or the classical sensus communis, religions based on the same foundation of his new amoral pragmatism will remain vital to social vitality—that is, when all things are subjected to the powerful and the powerful realize that they themselves have become gods. “The philosopher . . . will use religion for his disciplining and educating work, just as he will use the contemporary political and economic conditions” (Nietzsche 61). As Kirkland states, then, Nietzsche tears down one cosmic story in order to prepare “the future for new myths” thereby demonstrating in reality what had only existed before as theory, that “the untruth of mythological interpretations . . . is wholly subordinate to the question of their service to a noble way of life” (600-601). Nietzsche the great man has therefore become what he feared the most: a pragmatic utilitarian.