Translated by Cologero Salvo
In Italy it seems that an interest in Friedrich Nietzsche has been revived. One obvious sign of it is that Adelphi of Milan is publishing critical translation of all his works; secondly, there is the almost simultaneous appearance of two books, Nietzsche by Adriano Romualdi, which contains a full essay on this thinker followed by a selection of passages from his writings, and then the translation from the German of an excellent systematic work, Nietzsche and the Meaning of Life by Robert Reininger. The specific approach of the second of these books leads us to pose this question: apart from the importance that Nietzsche has as a philosopher in general, what can his ideas mean today and, more precisely, which of his ideas maintain any validity?
The relevance of this problem was brought to light by Reininger, by noting that the figure of Nietzsche also has the quality of a symbol, and that his persona embodies at the same time a cause: “it is the cause of modern man for which one fights, of this man without roots any longer in the sacred soil of tradition, oscillating between the peaks of civilization and the abysses of barbarity, seeking himself, i.e., led to create for himself a satisfying meaning for an existence of everything pushed back to himself.”
One can further specify this view concerning the problem of the man of the period of nihilism, from the “point zero of all values,” of the period in which “God is dead,” on the basis of what Nietzsche had his Zarathustra announce, and that today is notoriously translated in a common and almost banal form; of the man in the period in which all external supports fail and in which – as our philosopher already said – “the desert grows.”
In the same way, one can say that however much Nietzsche can possibly provide concerns the pure individual problem. All the formulations having a possible relation with collective and political problems are put aside, those for which many wished to see collusions between Nietzschean doctrines and some past political movements, especially Hitlerian National Socialism and which were also accused of having fueled the pride of a presumed “Herrenvolk” (i.e., a master race) and the fixation with a poorly understood biological racism.
If a “superman” undoubtedly constitutes a central idea of the whole of Nietzschean thought, it is in terms of a “positive superman,” it is not that grotesqueness in the style of d’Annunzio, nor the “blond beast of prey” (this is one of Nietzsche’s poorest expressions) and not even the exceptional individual who incarnates a maximum of the “will to power,” “beyond good and evil,” however without any light and without a higher sanction.
The positive superman, which suits the “better Nietzsche,” is instead to be identified with the human type who even in a nihilistic, devastated, absurd, godless world knows how to stand on his feet, because he is capable of giving himself a law from himself, in accordance with a new higher freedom.
Here we must note the clean line of demarcation that exists between Nietzsche as “destroyer,” the smasher of idols, and “immoralist” (this latter designation which he often claimed, but only to cause a sensation: because his disdain only concerned “petty morality” and “herd morality”), and that “revolution of nothing” [i.e., 1968], that anarchism from below which the profound crisis of the modern world is bringing about. It is as significant, as it is natural, that Nietzsche is absolutely unknown by the so-called “protest” movements of today, while he was the first and the greatest of rebels. There is no correspondence in the human subject, the true elective affinities—i.e., the plebian—of such current movements is revealed in their frequent collusion with Marxism and its offshoots, and with every social and racial slum near to the violent and destructive surface of the purely subpersonal and naturalistic strata of being.
The words of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra are current and pertinent, in this regard, when he asks who strives to loosen himself from every chain: “You call yourself free, but that does not matter to me—I ask you: free for what?,” remembering that there are cases in which the only value that he possessed was thrown away together with the chain. This is a clear warning for those who today only know how to speak of “repressions” and who feed a hysterical intolerance for every type of authority—and they feed such an intolerance—just for this reason: because they do not have in themselves a higher principle that commands.
Now the Nietzschean type, who has put “nihilism behind him,” who, in fact, “knows how to obtain a healthy remedy from such poison,” is the one who instead possesses that principle, and who therefore also knows how to give himself a law. Reininger, in this regard, is correct in seeing in Nietzsche the affirmer of an “absolute” morality like Kant’s, and certain connections could even be established with ancient Stoic ethics, which likewise advocated an interior sovereignty.
Certainly, the multiplicity of dramatically changing positions, sometimes even contradictory, among which Nietzsche sought to find his own way, can lead toward a quite different direction: for example, when Nietzsche promotes the exaltation of “life” or when he invokes the “fidelity to the Earth.” Fidelity also to oneself: to be and to will to be what one is, sometimes this is proposed as the only possible and valid standard in the “desert that grows.” The adequate, but dangerous, standard, known even in classical antiquity before any “existentialism.”
The fundamental problem, of the greatest importance for what today the best of Nietzsche can offer, entails this danger. After what has been said, at this point, that one must be one’s own law to oneself, it is a question of seeing what the individual finds in himself and accepting the limit reached by the multiple processes of spiritual dissolution that have acted in recent times: to see if, in oneself, one finds that natural disgust for vulgarity and for every base interest, that will for a voluntary, clear discipline, that ability to freely establish “values” and to achieve them without giving up whatever the cost, those values that in Nietzsche define the “Overcomer” (Ueberwinder), the man not broken among so many things that are broken today.
Source: Roma, July 28, 1971; http://www.gornahoor.net/?p=5535
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Heidegger’s History of Metaphysics, Part Ten: Kant & the Metaphysics of Presence
Withnail & I Viewed From the Right
Heidegger’s History of Metaphysics, Part Eight: Kant, Heidegger, & the Critique of Metaphysics
James O’Meara’s Passing the Buck
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(May 19, 1898–June 11, 1974)