Courage Style Aristocracy
Michael Walker undertakes a reckoning with Nietzsche
I shall start in good religious tone, as befits this subject, with a confession, and a dramatic one at that. My first reading of Nietzsche, when I was at university, fatally determined the course my life was to take. I was not to take the normal career to be expected of one of my background and education. I voluntarily entered a kind of bohemian pilgrimage for twenty years, and, to coin a phrase apt for this essay, my tragedy was born of the spirit of Nietzsche’s music. Reading Nietzsche-first Beyond Good and Evil, later Thus Spoke Zarathustra and then Twilight of the Idols, The Anti-Christ and Ecce Homo - in the Penguin classic editions, depressed and exhilarated me. In the latter edition I had written in a poor hand, "M Esdaile Walker ’74 Courage, Style aristocratic" which last three words indeed could be used to summarise the most important qualities in Nietzsche’s view, of human life.
It seemed impossible to me after reading Nietzsche, to take seriously the course of career, success and well-being in a world teeming with the "last man" predicted in Also sprach Zarathustra and marked by the facile acceptance of the now Godless world as it is. The future should not be separated from the past. Thoughtless careers for money, petty fame and security were ambitions I disdained, as Nietzsche disdained them and inspired me to disdain them. Nietzsche was and is for me and despite his own disdain for the movement to which we give the name, a thorough romantic. To an extent, this magazine has been conceived and continued in Nietzsche’s shadow. To be a romantic is to be "half in love with easeful death" and in the spirits of the past.. Now, nel mezzo cammin di nostra vita, it is time for my reckoning with Friedrich Nietzsche. Summarised, Nietzsche is associated with a number of key radical philosophical positions. These positions are frequently extreme. They provoke and because they provoke, compel the reader to take a stand, to answer Nietzsche with either a yea or nay. God was dead and along with God the metaphysics of good and evil which Christian theology had constructed around the concept "God"- Inequality and hierarchy belonged to the natural order of the cosmos and was ordered through the exercise of the will. The superior human is right to crush the inferior. The justification of life is found in aesthetics, in art. Man is only justified in life in his highest types. The highest level of culture was reached by the Ancient Hellenes and their twin Gods of form and intoxication, Apollo and Dionysus. Evil is necessary to the vitality of life. A new man is coming whom Nietzsche dubbed the Übermensch, (superman, overman, higher man) who will give the earth a new meaning and create new values. Nietzsche, like de Sade, whom in some ways he resembles, poses the reality of radical positions and invites us to accept them if we are not afraid of where the truth will take us. Time is not linear but circular. Life consists in becoming through a striving of the will to conquer, so that conquering and life are indistinguishable. War forges great men. Women are the enemies of human progress because by their nature they make peace with pertaining reality and prefer security to seeking to change an existing order. Style is more important in human life than happiness...
The opposition to Platonism is the basis of Nietzsche’s phenomenology; the opposition to Christianity leads to the Übermensch; opposition to Kant’s categorical imperative and English utilitarianism leads to an aristocratic imperative, in the assertion that the purpose of human development is the raising of humanity in its highest types; his opposition to conservatism leads to his exaltation of the creative force of the destructive will; his opposition to religious eschatology leads to his discovery of the ring of eternal recurrence. His opposition to nationalism leads to his imperialism, with Napoleon as the ideal, who willed the unity of Europe. Napoleon saw in the emerging world of capitalism "something like a personal enemy" he was "organized violence of the first order", the "contrary of Rousseau". Out of opposition springs affirmation and by the by one more paradox: this resembles Hegel or Marx’s dialectic.
Much of Nietzsche’s writing can be understood as violent rejection and reaction, and principally to four figures, namely Plato, St. Paul, Rousseau and Hegel. The basis of Nietzsche’s rejection of metaphysics is an attack on Plato and the notion that our world is a shadow world, our existence corruptible contrasted with an incorruptible after-life. St. Paul, not Christ, was the person Nietzsche held personally responsible for turning Christianity into an instrument of Sklavenmoral. Hegel believed that history is a rational story which is moving inexorably onwards to a prescribed, pre-scripted end. Nietzsche insisted that this was an illusion. Finally, Nietzsche rejected Rousseau, whom he regarded as a hateful post-Christian moralist, with his belief that civilization was responsible for social evils. But once again there is a contradiction: Nietzsche, like Rousseau, praised the natural, the instinctive, against the enlightened and civilized and traditional. [The remainder of this essay is available in the print version.] Return to home