Friday, August 6, 2010

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: A dark, abstruse, sometimes impenetrable, but always whining diatribe

Beyond Good and Evil

The following review is based on the Penguin Classics 2003 edition:

Nietzsche opens his work by criticizing philosophers for their dogmatism, which conceals a series of personal prejudices and beliefs that can only be uncovered by peeling away layers of social conditioning. Nietzsche contrasts the dogmatism of modern philosophy with "the free spirit" of a philosophical methodology that is not bound by inherited past truths, but rather, pushes the way forward by true philosophers that are not afraid of experimenting in unpioneered ground.
Nietzsche then devotes a chapter to religion, which he accuses of leading to the "sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation" (p. 71). He examines the natural history of morals, stating that "Every morality is, as opposed to laisser aller, a piece of tyranny against `nature', likewise against `reason'" (p. 110). He bemoans both the "commanders" of society, who "pose as executors of more ancient or higher commands" as well as the "herd-man in Europe," who glorifies "public spirit, benevolence, consideration, industriousness, moderation, modesty, forbearance, pity" (p. 121). Against this backdrop, Nietzsche praises Napoleon: "the history of the effect of Napoleon is almost the history of the higher happiness this entire century has attained in its most valuable men and moments" (p. 121).
The societal critique does not spare the scholars from piercing criticism. Nietzsche criticizes the "self-glorification and presumption of the scholars" and the herd-morality that has infused modern scholarship (p. 129). Nietzsche's ideal philosopher, in contrast, is not trapped in a system of rigid "truth" that holds to absolute, unchanging values. This rejection of absolute values carries into the chapter on virtue: Nietzsche rejects those values that have been inherited by the past and he instead defines virtue according to people's inclinations: "if we are to have virtues we shall presumably have only such virtues as have learned to get along with our most secret and heartfelt inclinations" (p. 147).
Nietzsche concludes with a chapter entitled "What is Noble?," where he affirms that there will be a few noble men in the future who will invent their own system of morality and rise to a place far above the herd and its slave morality, but this will be a lonely, solitary place.
Nietzsche's work is a sharp attack on traditional morality, on religion, and in particular, on Christianity. Nietzsche complains whiningly of the inherited ideas of the past but he fails to provide answers to his complaints. He suggests that every man be freed from slave morality and define his own system of truth, but he fails to explain to what end such inventions would serve. The book reads like a long, angry tirade that is occasionally confused and almost always abstruse or impenetrable. One is left wondering where Nietzsche was going with some of his passages and whether some of them were intended to have no meaning at all, thus exemplifying Nietzsche's thesis that all is meaningless.
As the first page of the book explains, Nietzsche "became insane in 1889 and remained in a condition of mental and physical paralysis until his death in 1900." I wonder whether Nietzsche's final collapse was the inevitable result of his thinking, that is, whether rejecting Christ and His teaching inevitably leads to such a state of complete and utter isolation from both God and man. This dark, godless state is one into which I descended prior to my encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ, who renewed and set me free.

No comments:

Post a Comment