For Heidegger and Nietzsche alike, good and evil were childish notions. What matters is will and choice. Self-assertion was the highest value.
~ Jonah Goldberg, “Liberal Fascism” (2007)
Dr. Benjamin Wiker has written an outstanding and timely book titled: “10 Books that Screwed up the World: And 5 Others that Didn’t Help” (Regnery, 2008). Besides reviewing books by Machiavelli, Hobbes, Descartes, Rousseau, Marx, Engels, Darwin, Hitler, Mead, Kinsey and other writers, Wiker, in Chapter 8, gives the reader an engaging critique of the book “Beyond Good and Evil” by the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
“Nietzsche is in the air,” wrote a New York Times editorial in 1910, “whatever one reads of a speculative kind one is sure to come across the name Nietzsche sooner or later.” While Nietzsche during his lifetime was the epitome of the frustrated artist, his work achieved worldwide notoriety shortly after his death on the eve of World War I – particularly in America, where his ideas were made accessible to the masses by Walter Kaufmann’s popular English translations of Nietzsche’s work.
The early 1900s witnessed such an intoxicating allure of Nietzsche’s ideas over America and throughout the West, that Jonah Goldberg in his excellent new book, “Liberal Fascism,” chronicled, “A week before America joined the war, Walter Lippmann (who would later write much of [President] Wilson’s 14 Points) promises that hostilities would bring out a ‘transvaluation of values as radical as anything in the history of intellect.'”
Herbert Croly, editor and progressive standard bearer of the New Republic, affirmed the radical zeitgeist of Nietzsche writing that “this [WWI] was a transparent invocation of Nietzsche’s call for overturning all traditional morality.” Croly and Lippmann were protegees of William James – father of American pragmatism who in turn was influenced by Italian pragmatism (Mussolini). The philosophical lineage was unbroken – Lippmann, James, Theodore Roosevelt, H.L. Mencken, liberals, progressives, academics, socialists, artists and intellectuals pre-World War II, were all in one way or another greatly influenced by the writings and ideas of Nietzsche.
British historian Paul Johnson, in “Modern Times,” wrote:
Nietzsche’s Will to Power would produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatsoever and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind. The end of the old order, with an unguided world adrift in a relativistic universe, was a summons to such gangster-statesman to emerge. They were not slow to make their appearance.
Johnson masterfully places Nietzsche’s radical philosophical ideas in the context of modern times. Although he died in 1900, it was as if Nietzsche were a 20th century prophet regarding his keen understanding of the cataclysmic events to come. On this point, Wiker said that Nietzsche “so accurately predicted the transmutation of faith into political zealotry and the totalitarian will to power.”
Wiker further commented that according to Nietzsche: “The person who can impose his likes and dislikes on everybody else thereby defines good and evil.” Wiker saw Nietzsche’s work in totalizing context – “Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, over powering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest, exploitation.”
In Nietzsche’s writings you can almost hear the Nazi Brownshirts goose-stepping down the boulevard. When I read Nietzsche, I can almost see the genocidal tyrants as they enter the stage of the 20th century – Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini all read Nietzsche. The Nazis utilized many philosophical ideas of Nietzsche, but did so selectively; this association with National Socialism caused Nietzsche’s reputation to suffer following the Second World War.
In his book, Goldberg said that “Nietzche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ issued the call for a world ruled solely by the ‘Will to Power.'” This self-asserting philosophy has come to us in modern times most egregiously in the Holocaust, but also subsequent social upheavals, including the pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and anti-senior citizen movements popular in America and throughout Europe and Asia, particularly China’s “One Child” policy.
Regarding Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory, Wiker rightly noted that if Darwin emphasized survival, then Nietzsche emphasized the fittest.
Nietzsche believed in an “Ubermenschen” – a superman, a master race that would ruthlessly rule over all the other inferior races. This theory contains a master/slave paradigm. Nietzsche called one part master morality – whatever is strong and great is good, whatever is weak and trivial is bad. And the other part was called slave morality – the attempt by the weaker to protect themselves as comfortably as possible. “Nietzsche considered Christianity to be (at least in certain respects) a species for slave morality and hence a cause of the West’s degradation. …Christian charity has worked … to worsen the European race,” according to Wiker.
Do ideas have consequences? Do damnable, evil ideas have damnable and evil consequences? If so, then a unbiased view of 20th century history would have to link Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” directly to World War I, but more directly to Hitler’s Third Reich, World War II and the Holocaust. Hitler, Hess, Rohm, Goering, Bormann, Himmler, Heydrich and all of the top Nazi officers venerated Nietzsche’s radical ideas of Ubermenschen and modeled their Third Reich on his grim philosophical speculations.
The consequence of Nietzsche’s damnation of ideas was his own personal, protracted descent into madness beginning in January 1889 – his perhaps syphilitic-derived dementia so completely cast him into despair that his daily rantings and ravings were: “I am dead because I am stupid. … I am stupid because I am dead.”
Regarding the popular “political correctness” movement that dominates the modern academy, politics, culture and civil discourse where one cannot even tell the truth about anything for fear of offending someone, Nietzsche howled against that immature view in his own inimitable style – “Niceness [political correctness] is what is left of goodness when it is drained of greatness.”
Where will Nietzsche’s Will to Power take a people, a society, a nation, a world that has long since disposed with the inconvenient niceties of Christianity and morality? Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao, Ho Chi Mihn, Pol Pot, Edi Amin, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea, Syria, Iran, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given us a glimpse into the abyss, and it is not very hopeful.
British historian Paul Johnson wrote about Nietzsche and his indelible place in history: “The greatest event of recent times – that ‘God is dead,’ that the belief in the Christian God is no longer tenable – is beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe.”
Nietzsche, admittedly, was a brilliant and influential philosopher, but because his ideas are rooted in atheism, humanism, Social Darwinism, eugenics and nihilism, the latter of which is an extreme view that there is no need for values and no justification for good, evil or morality, in the end he can only offer society perpetual war, genocide, utter despair and no future hope of eternal life with God, because Nietzsche declared, “God is dead.”
America, we can do better than Nietzsche … can’t we?
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