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June 26, 2008


Filed under: Composts — webmaster @ 6:28 pm

  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) gained notoriety during the late 20th century for his views on compassion and the role of his œbermensch hierarchy in modern society.  As an author, Nietzsche is very accessible.  His 1882 book The Gay Science (politically correct translation being The Joyous Wisdom) is a relatively easy read and contains Nietzsche’s first reference to God is dead. 

In 1883, Nietzsche wrote his self-proclaimed best work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which reveals his view of compassion.  Nietzsche’s opinion is that pity is a self-indulgence of the weak and he asserts that where society distinguishes between love and pity, Christianity does not.  Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) is an ancient Iranian prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism, the national religion of the Sassanid Empire of Persia (226-651 CE).  A somewhat mythical figure (his existence is estimated to be between 10000 BCE and 1000 BCE), he was possibly the first Gnostic to utilize ‘revealed’ scripture (i.e. his own revelations).  In Nietzsche’s book, Zarathustra is driven to rise above the final sin of pity.

Nietzsche’s middle period writings are most practical and, although not joyous, he seems hopeful and cautiously skeptical.  The œbermensch or Super Human is a standard which great men are born to achieve and it is this theme of constant self-examination and reverence-for-self that became the center of his life’s work.  Nietzsche despised the weak and felt that concepts such as the meek shall inherit the earth were excuses to do and achieve nothing.  His opinion of nihilism is somewhat confusing as he feels that it is bad for humanity yet necessary and good for the few higher men to rise above and create new suns (sources of value).

Nietzsche may be the most misquoted philosopher of all time.  In spite of his well documented displeasure with German society and a very vocal campaign against anti-Semitism, the Nazi party chose him as their philosophic inspiration.  His famous quote ‘God is dead’ is an over-simplification of his view on the importance of a self-centered existence and is less of a declaration than a comment regarding the liberating effect of independence.  His written displeasure of Richard Wagner downplayed his overwhelming commitment to music and art.  (The musical work Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss – later used in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – was inspired by Nietzsche.)  A misogynistic introvert, but somewhat less extreme later in life, his writings regarding women are horribly insulting, usually requiring a Henny-Youngman-style rim shot to salvage their awkward delivery.

Although his general philosophy discourages democracy, Nietzsche’s writings on personal self-development (knowledge, creativity, the arts) set standards and goals which many feel a progressive and democratic society can support.

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