Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Friedrich Nietzsche tends to be considered the philosopher who culturally poisoned the German people. However, the truth is biased as people twisted his legacy according to the predominant political forces of his era.
Classical authors such as Aristotle, Plato, or Epicurus most likely come to your mind when you think about philosophy. However, there are many modern philosophers. In fact, Friedrich Nietzsche is a popular one.
Nietzsche was deeply interested in three themes he developed extensively throughout his work:
- The concept of a superman (not Clark Kent).
- The end of religious values as a model for modern society.
- His reflections on good and evil.
His influence reached many other thinkers, writers, and influential figures of the 20th century. In fact, the Nazis used a random reinterpretation of some parts of his writings as justification for many of their actions in the 1930s. Nietzsche’s ideas were revolutionary and a sort of perfect influence for Nazism, which twisted them into their ideology.
Friedrich published many of his writings and considerably contributed to the field of philosophy. They make exceptional reads despite them dealing with philosophical questions. Also, they sort of blur the thin line between the literary world and the philosophical one.
During the last stage of his life, the writer became mentally ill. Thus, he stopped writing. This article is a review of his life and work.
Nietzsche is one of the most revolutionary authors in the history of philosophy. His ideas revolutionized the field and drastically stepped away from the previous mode of thinking.
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
The early life of Friedrich Nietzsche
He was born in the village of Röcken bei Lützen, Prussia, on October 15, 1844. The son of a Lutheran preacher, he learned unconditional love for God and religious life from his father. Sadly, his father died amid immense suffering and deep sorrow when Friedrich was only four years old.
This apparently made a big impression on the boy and he never quite healed. The immense love he felt for his father, whom he considered a good person, and the suffering sent by God so early in his life, shook his foundations. Thus, he entered a state of deep cognitive dissonance from a rather early age.
This is because he never understood how a loving God could send such torment to someone who served him as his father did.
Later on, he double-majored in literature and linguistics and history at Leipzig University. He met Richard Wagner during his time there and developed a deep admiration for him. Similarly, he was also a fan of the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer.
Wagner and Nietzsche shared a passion for Schopenhauer; although, paradoxically, it would be part of the reasons that led to the demise of their friendship.
The works of Friedrich Nietzsche
He became a professor of philology in Basel after finishing his studies and began to distance himself from Schopenhauer’s thought. In fact, his first book focused on the new values of modern society.
Then, his friendship with Wagner also began to deteriorate as the composer’s ideas turned to the moral process that redeems the human being from life.
Wagner was openly anti-Semitic and tremendously self-centered. It seems Nietzsche ended up considering his friend’s ideas as a betrayal of the principle of aesthetics that exalts life above all.
Nietzsche went through a nervous breakdown that forced him to isolate himself completely for a long time during the 1880s. This period of isolation was rather fruitful. This is because it led to the development of the key points of the foundation of his philosophical thought.
His most famous statements began to take shape during this stage. “God is dead, god is still dead, and we have killed him,” for instance. His famous nihilism began and reinforced his rejection of Christianity and its values as a significant force in society.
Why the nihilism? How did his god die?
It isn’t that his god was dead in the strictest sense of the word, only that there was nothing left to believe for Nietzsche. In other words, the universality of moral values was no longer present for him.
Subsequently, Friedrich began to go against ancient values, authority, and the submission of the “sheep”. He built his idea of a superman, of the will to power, and the creation and destruction of values.
Nietzsche departed from traditional philosophy. Actually, he spoke of the idea of the eternal return and places willpower beyond good and evil. Thus, the style of a figure who’s contributed so much to contemporary philosophy began.
During this period, Friedrich wrote some of his most recognized works: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, and Twilight of the Idols: or How to Philosophize with a Hammer.
The first book mentioned in the above paragraph poses ideas about the concept of a superman. That is, the individual who strives to exist beyond what humans consider good and evil. Then, he continued to mention it in other works and sort of finished his idea in The Antichrist. His absolute rejection of being a part of the sheep became even more evident in it.
Friedrich Nietzsche – last years and illness
The philosopher suffered a nervous breakdown that mentally disabled him in 1889. Some claim that his mental illness was undiagnosed at the time. However, many authors attributed it to hereditary causes. It was, perhaps, a brain tumor, syphilis, or even the excessive use of sedatives.
He was locked up due to his mental illness and isolated in the family home he shared with his sister in Weimar, Germany. It happened just around the time when the Nazi party was beginning to create sympathizers in Germany. Nietzsche’s sister was one of the most fervent supporters of their new ideas.
Thus, it seems that it was she who, taking advantage of her brother’s deteriorating mental faculties, gave much of his work to her friends in the Nazi party. Some even believe she organized visits to her house in order to show the pitiful state of her brother. It was some kind of macabre spectacle for them. Friedrich Nietzsche never recovered and finally died on August 25, 1900.
Influence and legacy
Nietzsche is one of the most influential characters in 20th-century philosophy. His concept of the meaning of existence, morality, and individuality of people significantly influenced the work of other influential thinkers of the 20th century: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Michel Foucault.
The Nazi party used some of his work during the years immediately following his death. They took it out of context and twisted his most important ideas.
It’s true that the controversial idea of a superman can be used in a negative way and interpreted as the superiority of some over others in the wrong hands. Yes, Nietzsche was critical of the sheep but his ideas were far removed from Nazi thought.
Moreover, Friedrich contributed a lot to the world with his interpretation of the Apollonian and Dionysian, applying it to the various arts.
Was Nietzsche insane? No, he was more than that; he’s one of those authors who combined reason and unreason and blurred the concepts of good and evil.
One could write an endless number of pages about him and his contributions to philosophy. However, there’s no better way to get into his than through Nietzsche himself. That is to say, you need to immerse yourself in his writings to understand his fundamental legacy.