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  • Writer's pictureKurt Keefner

Nietzsche and Me

Nietzsche has a terrible reputation among some people. To some extent he provoked this reaction by using titles like Beyond Good and Evil and The Antichrist. But he would have been horrified at being associated with the Nazis, for he was no statist and no anti-Semite and, he would have thought Hitler to be an “Underman” (i.e. a troll) rather than an “Overman.”

But even if you discount the association with the Nazis, Nietzsche is still wrong about most things. He is wrong that entities don’t exist except as linguistic fictions. He is wrong to challenge the idea of cause and effect. He is wrong in his rejection of free will. He is wrong to reduce the idea of good and evil to slave morality. He is wrong that some kind of “will to power” is the force behind inanimate and animate beings. He's an outrageous sexist.

"You go to women? Do not forget the whip!" ~Thus Spoke Zarathustra

So why do I like Nietzsche so much when he's wrong so often? First of all, he’s right about many things: he’s right about atheism. He’s right in rejecting mind-body dualism. He’s right in rejecting Christian-altruist morality. He’s right about the importance of physical and psychological health (although he thinks some of the most interesting specimens are half-sick ones like himself). He’s right in rejecting Kant’s idea of the noumenal vs the phenomenal. And Nietzsche is nothing if not provocative. He says things that just might be true, such as his thoughts on the origins of Christianity.

But perhaps the most important thing about Nietzsche to me is that he is concerned with greatness. We see this in the idea of the Overman. The Overman is frequently construed as the next step in human evolution, but that is not correct, because Nietzsche did not agree with Darwinian evolution. Nietzsche to the best of my knowledge does not name any historical figure as an overman, but presumably Goethe, as poet, scientist, and statesman, would make the cut. Another possible candidate might be Leonardo da Vinci.

The Overman is the fully-realized individual. His “will to power” does not consist in the domination of others but in the actualization of his potential. He does not “master” himself but regards great tasks as play. Nietzsche conceives of greatness as health, and his many insights into health and sickness are fascinating.

Nietzsche’s vision of greatness, along with the many gems of wisdom scattered among his strings of aphorisms, keep me interested in this always problematic thinker. He got me to read and think when I was younger. He got me to think when I fell under his spell as a teenager, and he got me to think when I rejected him later. If noting else, he's fun to debate. I believe he would have wanted it that way.

If you enjoyed this little rumination, you might like my collection of essays on authenticity, Killing Cool: Fantasy vs Reality in American Life.

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