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Remembering Friedrich Nietzsche:
October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900

511 words

Friedrich Nietzsche was born this day in 1844 in the small town of Röcken, near Leipzig, Saxony, in the Kingdom of Prussia. He died in August 25, 1900, in Weimar, Saxony, in the Second German Reich. The outlines of Nietzsche’s life are readily available online.

Nietzsche is one of the most important philosophers of the North American New Right because of his contributions to the philosophy of history, culture, and religion.

If you are thinking of reading Nietzsche’s works, the best introductions are The Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, preferably in the R. J. Hollingdale translations. The next volume should be Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, which Nietzsche described as the prose presentation of his entire worldview. I recommend the Judith Norman translation from Cambridge University Press.

Thus Spake Zarathustra is Nietzsche’s poetic presentation of his philosophy, but it should be saved for later. It is the worst possible introduction to Nietzsche. It has been many people’s first Nietzsche book, and for all too many it has been their last.

Such Nietzsche books as On the Genealogy of Morals, The Birth of Tragedy, Untimely Meditations, and The Gay Science are highly valuable, but should be saved till later. Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality and Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits are products of a brief flirtation with certain Enlightenment ideas and are thus quite misleading as introductions. Ecce Homo, The Case of Wagner, and Nietzsche Contra Wagner should be saved for last. As a rule, the Cambridge University Press translations of Nietzsche should be preferred.

The introductory books on Nietzsche are mostly disappointing. I do recommend H. L. Mencken’s The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Julian Young’s Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Art and Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Religion are very clear and exciting books that examine the development of Nietzsche’s ideas throughout his career. Because of the importance of art and religion to Nietzsche, they serve as excellent overviews of his philosophy. Young has also published an important biography, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, which combines overviews of Nietzsche’s life and works in a single volume. Although it is a long book, it is well worth the investment of time.

Nietzsche is probably the author most often tagged on this website.

Here are the main works we have published by and about Nietzsche:

By Nietzsche:

About Nietzsche:


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  1. Posted October 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Bravo Greg. I might add only another biography: Curtis Cate’s Friedrich Nietzsche. While it lacks the analytical flare of the Young bio, Case is very sympathetic to Nietzsche’s attacks on modernity and modern men. This makes for less meta-narrative through which to wade. In contrast with Cate using some of the best descriptives of modern weakness I have encountered, Young is disgusted by Nietzsche’s anti-liberalism. Of course, the Young book is beautifully written and packaged – thank God for Cambridge University Press! – making it a luxurious read.

    Put otherwise: Cate is great for beginners, while Young is great for experts who know when to raise an eyebrow when an interpreter steps out of line.

    • UFASP
      Posted October 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think Nietzscheans, more than any other philosophical thinkers, have to learn when to raise eyebrows when the man who laid down their inspiration is critiqued. It’s not that I mind criticism of Nietzsche; for example, Heidegger’s later, not so flattering critique of Nietzsche’s thinking is extremely profound. What gets me is that so often the criticism that comes from the lips of these scholars takes liberalism as an a priori moral good and thus makes me wonder how well they really even grasped Nietzsche’s thought or how much they really appreciate it in the first place if they’re willing to violate such basic “no-no”s from the stance of his philosophy. Their always making these little exceptions or dispensations in order to suspend the logical train of thought that comes from a philosopher in order to just spout liberal pieties that they never feel the need to defend.

      A point that one of Nietzsche’s teachers, Arthur Schopenhauer, makes is that people need to realize that really good scholars are not necessarily really good thinkers. In fact, by nature, they usually are not if being a “thinker” is understood in a particular way. He has several passages in his musings related to this point, but here is one of them:

      “Students and learned men of every kin and every age go as a rule in search of information, not insight. They make it a point of honour to have information about everything: it does not occur to them that information is merely a means towards insight and possesses little or no value in itself. When I see how much these well-informed people know, I sometimes say to myself: Oh, how little such a one must have had to think about, since he has had so much time for reading!” — Schopenhauer, Essays & Aphorisms, On Various Subjects

      Historians and even scientists may know “the facts,” but their interpretation of them is perhaps more often than not going to be lacking (from our perspective). A lot of misinformation and distorted thinking could be avoided if people were capable of not only keeping the above in mind while reading biographies and history books, but were actually capable of truly thinking for themselves. But most people cannot.

      Perhaps this is why Savitri Devi and other Traditionalist thinkers have lamented mass literacy?

      • Roissy Hater
        Posted October 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        “I sometimes say to myself: Oh, how little such a one must have had to think about, since he has had so much time for reading!”

        I’ve always looked at Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as gnostic thinkers… men who practiced and suffered through their philosophy. Their vision is more actual and emotionally produced than it is rational or a product of abstract thinking.

        It bothers me how many well-read ‘intellectuals’ I know are Nietzscheans or post-moderns, yet they put none of these ideas into practice in their own life. They merely find these ideas ‘interesting’, but their is no personal applicability.

  2. rhondda
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I do not need an intermediary between Nietzsche and me. His words are enough. After all he railed against priests. There is a difference between literacy and comprehension.

  3. Roissy Hater
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    I’d be interested to hear about how others experienced Nietzsche.

    Personally, I read about 10 books about Nietzsche before reading his actually works. It helped tremendously (except for the liberal commentary which neutered his work).

    • UFASP
      Posted October 16, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      I don’t think it’s possible to fully understand Nietzsche without understanding Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and the “realist” tradition of thinking (as much of that is what he’s rebelling against). Many college-aged people pick up “The Gay Science” or “Beyond Good and Evil” and simply have no clue what it is they are reading even when they think they do because Nietzsche’s prose is deceptively simple. They just think “words are words” and relying on face value interpretation of words will lead one astray from the minute you read a single one of his poetic aphorisms. I was one such person who allowed myself to be lead astray about a decade or so ago with my Walter Kaufmann version of Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” because I didn’t want to put in the effort to approach philosophy from the ground up. Shortcuts just won’t cut it. You will be wasting your time.

      Unfortunately, Nietzsche also comes across as much more nihilistic to someone who doesn’t understand the Western philosophical dialectic and how he fits in with it so many people have strong feelings about the man without really even understanding him. He’ll impugn a type of “goodness,” often with respect to some abstract Platonic idea of “goodness” or “truth” or “category” and people just assume that Nietzsche is some madman without a conscience (after all, he really did go mad!) when really he’s trying to get to the essence of any basis for saying we have such a thing as meaning which we can attach our value judgments to. It also doesn’t help that he is associated with nihilism (because he saw it coming and wanted to overcome it). People assume he was embracing it in the sense that he wanted what we have today. That was how I sized him up, myself, unfortunately. Reading some of his notes in The Will To Power quickly reveals how big of a folly it is to view Nietzsche in such a way but I would not recommend that work as a place to start, at all.

      So he’s really the last of the big names in Western metaphysics people should read (because he is the ultimate critic of the whole project) and too often he’s the first because “God is dead” and “beyond good and evil” and “the Abyss” staring back at you all sounds so chic and exciting to a wishy washy, pedantic, young pseudo-intellectual who likes to talk big at the cafe to his pseudo-intellectual buddies who make art-house films. Much more so is he chic than someone who’s PERCEIVED as being comparatively dull and dusty (and perhaps even Christian) like Plato who Nietzsche himself called “boring.” But then, people read Heidegger and Foucault and Derrida and aren’t even sure who wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” Mass academia has become prone to considerations of trendiness rather than discipline so the best thing someone can do is ignore anyone’s opinion on Nietzsche who can’t explain to you the difference between nominalism and realism and even then, sometimes that’s not enough.

      I also believe that you cannot CANNOT understand Nietzsche the way you should without understanding Kant’s epistemology on a basic level and Schopenhauer on an even more nuanced level. Kant’s epistemology HEAVILY influenced Schopenhauer and Schopenhauer formulated the metaphysical concept of the Will. Too often people read Nietzsche’s prose and see “will” and think of it in the manner we use it in everyday speech rather than as the driving force of his metaphysics. Even academics who think they understand “will” will make this mistake. Nietzsche also criticizes Kant as being a “moral obsessive” but without understanding Kant’s ethics, it’s, again, easy to interpret Nietzsche as some nihilist with no moral conscience.

      Furthermore, you have to get your mind out of the modern mindset to understand Nietzsche’s disdain for it. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche praises Thucydides and understanding WHY is very important for people when trying to wrap their minds around his less systematic approach to ethics.

      I agree that reading about Nietzsche before diving into him will offer someone a huge boost in all likelihood if they have the patience for such a task. However, one must also be careful when reading what people have to say about him because people straw man him worse than any other thinker I’ve come across. He’s too often associated with diabolical super-villains from comics and movies. Conservative Christians (people I often sympathize with) are often the worst offenders and it’s painfully obvious that they have an ax to grind. Here is one such example (though I will say that Nietzsche still comes across as powerful even in this cartoon version of him that blatantly distorts his thoughts):

      In The Twilight of the Idols, when Nietzsche writes about “the wisest” of men saying that life is “no good,” he is trying to UNDERSTAND why they have come to such a conclusion. Yet, this Christian (Catholic) production makes it out that he really thinks life is no good (which is the exact opposite of what his philosophy teaches).

      Wipe all that “evil nihilist” non-sense out and replace that non-sense with the world as Thucydides paints it and then you’ll be ready to read Nietzsche’s words in such a way that prevents the meaning in them from getting lost. Understanding the ethics of the ancient world did me wonders, anyways. Richard Spencer’s interviews with Jonathan Bowden, while merely a sampling of Nietzsche, are also helpful as is Bryan Magee’s series on philosophy; he interviews J.P. Stern for the Nietzsche installment.

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