Beyond Good And Evil / Friedrich Nietzsche

This review appeared on my previous blog, Rat's Reading.

Nietzsche is certainly dense reading. I can agree with the conservatives who put this work on their list of most harmful works, simply because it is painful to read. I guess his 7th grade teacher didn’t value brevity and clarity like mine did. I highly recommend reading SparkNotes study guide to Beyond Good and Evil to help make sense of it. I did find that I needed to refer to the study guide less in the later chapters. I just got plain old lost though in the early chapters as to what the hell he was talking about.

Cover of Beyond Good And Evil

And after having read the book, I can certainly see why wouldn’t like it.

An oft-scribbled bit of college-campus graffiti says: “‘God is dead’–Nietzsche” followed by “‘Nietzsche is dead’–God.” Nietzsche’s profession that “God is dead” appeared in his 1882 book, The Gay Science, but under-girded the basic theme of Beyond Good and Evil, which was published four years later. Here Nietzsche argued that men are driven by an amoral “Will to Power,” and that superior men will sweep aside religiously inspired moral rules, which he deemed as artificial as any other moral rules, to craft whatever rules would help them dominate the world around them. “Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation,” he wrote. The Nazis loved Nietzsche.

They are right about this work of Nietzsche’s. I wouldn’t claim it harmful for the same reason. Most of the time conservatives are up in arms about replacing Christian morals with moral relativism. But Nietzsche advocates a particular lack of morals at all. In other words, great men make their own rules, and no further justification is needed. They need not concern themselves with others, except insofar as their equals’ good view of them helps them. But for concern with lesser men? Not only is it not necessary, Nietzsche looked askance at anything but using them. It’s might makes right with a philosophical bent.

Still, I don’t think anyone will be convinced by Nietzsche except those who were already predisposed to thinking this way in the first place.

On The Prejudices Of Philosophers

Not much here except that Nietzsche writes obliquely that he doesn’t believe in absolute truth or dogma. He believed in looking at things from a number of different angles and coming to an overall understanding of matters without necessarily pinning down any unalterable theorems. Though considering how absolute he sounds in later chapters I kind of wonder.

An auspicious beginning.

The Free Spirit

Here Nietzsche expands on his thoughts about lack of absolute truth, including his contention that all moral systems have no basis in truth. He believed that philosophers were really working backward from their existing prejudices to create the moral rules that embody their already existing prejudices. He might have a point. Including his own moral rules, though he doesn’t really mentiont that.

Anyway, he also thinks that we ought to dispense with moral systems completely and simply base morals on our individual emotional or instinctual drives. He believed the first and foremose of those was the will to power. The power to control one’s own life, and as much of the world around us as practical. Whatever fits with that, I guess, is moral.

What is Religious

Nietzsche identifies most religions, particularly Christianity with asceticism. The denial of self. Although it has a certain power to it, he still thinks it is a religion where the weak have managed to rule the strong, but convincing the strong that they need to give up everything that makes themselves strong. In other words, the weak have levelled the playing field, and gotten the strong to do it voluntarily.

Epigrams and Interludes

A lot of short pithy sayings, invented by Nietzsche. Read the ones having to do with women. Here is where he started to fall down in my eyes. Where his general philosophy of no absolute truth started to veer into some pretty wacky stuff.

Natural History of Morals

Everything is geared toward herd morality. What is good for the herd isn’t necessarily good for the individual. And Nietzsche doesn’t have much love for the herd. Mixing races just breeds out the best qualities in each, according to him! One big European herd.

We Scholars

This is gangsta philosophy! Nietzsche makes himself a gansta rap album basically. Yo, Kant! You ain’t shit! Schopenhauer, you can’t bring it!.

Also, lots of stereotyping of the various European nationalities.

Oh, the people that overlook Nietzsche’s faults won’t see all this crap in there. They’ll see the parts where Nietzsche extols the virtues of a kind of skepticism that creates rather than tears down. Blah blah blah. Kind of obvious. Hey, good philosophers use constructive criticism. Who needs that wrapped up in all the Nietzschiean crap?

Our Virtues

Morals and virtues have rank. Rather than base morality on general principles, morality is created by individuals. Of course, better men have better moralities. How one tells who is better or not is simply whether or not the man has subjugated the reality around him or not.

And then Nietzsche goes into a rather long rant about women. Gee, what a way to prove that you have absolutely no insight into ranking things than by ranking half of the species at the very bottom and pretty completely attributing no good qualities to them other than their looks.

Peoples and Fatherlands

Here Nietzsche really gets into stereotyping the various nationalities of Europe. English bad. German, dull but good. Romans, good. While Nietzsche thinks mixing of races will produce a great herd, he does also believe it will give rise to lots of opportunity for great people to take over. However, he doesn’t have a lot of use for nationalistic chest-thumping.

What is Noble

Aristocracy is the crowning achievement of human society, according to Nietzsche. To make mankind better, we need to create better men who will rule over us. By separating from the slaves into an aristocratic class, the charactistics of greatness will be even further embedded in the class. The class will adapt to greatness by Lamarckian type of evolution of abilities.

In one sense, Nietzsche gives his opponents so very little to argue against him. His morality is self-justifying logically. At best, one can say that’s stupid to some of his philosophy.

But in other respects, he gives a lot of ammunition. He bases a lot of his philosophy on stereotypes and very bad theories of social development. If those don’t hold up, a lot of his philosophy doesn’t hold up. And since they don’t, his doesn’t.

Wenzel Hablik - Der Weg des Genius

I really like the artwork that Penguin chose to grace the cover, so I include here the piece The Path of Genius, by Wenzel Hablik. The version on the cover is but a small piece of the painting though.

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