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Molly Falck

Dr. W. Kesler Jackson

HIST 1110

22 November 2017

The Recurrence of Influence

As a society we are influenced by what events and people came before us. Our history

determines our culture, our politics, or even our geography. All throughout history there have

been influential thinkers of the time who drastically challenged and changed the philosophies of

their day. One of these major thinkers was Friedrich Nietzsche. There are important historical

events that occurred in history that prepared the European world for the radical philosophies of

Friedrich Nietzsche, but to understand how he was influenced by those events, it is important to

understand how the philosopher and his ideas came to be.

Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844 in Rcken, Saxony, Prussia. He grew

up as a passionately pious boy in a strong Christian household. When he was two years old his

sister Elisabeth was born, and a year later their family was welcome by his youngest brother,

Joseph. Nietzsche lived a humble life with his father who was a Lutheran minister. However, in

1848, when Friedrich was only four years old, his father became mentally ill. He was diagnosed

with a terminal brain disease, and this illness brought on a tortuous decline as he became blind

and bedridden (Cox). In 1849 his father passed away, and his autopsy showed that a quarter of

brain was missing. This horrific end for his father scarred Friedrich for life. It was this

experience that later caused Nietzsche to pose the question: why had this God, whom his father
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had loved and dedicated his life to, punish a good man with such torment? This was only the

beginning of a journey into doubt that would define Nietzsches philosophical life.

In 1864 Nietzsche arrived in Bonn to study at the university. At the age of twenty-one, he

planned to study theology in hopes of becoming a Lutheran pastor. However, while attending

university he discovered a new and controversial method of studying the bible: biblical criticism.

This method suggested that the bible was a myth, rather than a historical text, it radically

undermined the authenticity of the scriptures (Cox). With the emotional doubt of God brought

upon by his fathers death, this new way of analyzing the sacred text of Christianity may have

given Nietzsche the base of constructing his intellectual doubt of God.

Nietzsche did not simply reject God, rather, he began to challenge the concepts of

Christianity. He theorized that because Christianity focused heavily on the joys of the afterlife, it

was a pernicious influence that encouraged an unhealthy disengagement of the world because

it taught that we must suffer and repent through this life to enjoy the next (Cox). In 1865 he

wrote a letter to his sister Elisabeth that stated, If you wish to seek peace of mind and happiness,

then believe. If you wish to be a disciple of truth, then investigate (Kaufmann).

Living in an age dominated by science, Nietzsche sought for the truth. With his growing

ideas that rejected the traditional values and the concept of salvation after death that pertained to

Christianity, he sought to find a new meaning in a godless universe. At the age of twenty-one he

became a student of philology, meaning he studied ancient civilizations and the philosophies of

Greece and Rome. One day while browsing a bookshop he came across a work titled The World

as Will and Idea by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer was an atheist,

and his pessimistic views on the meaning of life did not sit well with Nietzsche. Schopenhauer
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argued that it would have been better if humans had never been born at all, that they are in a

constant state of desire, and that fulfillment was impossible. He concluded that the happiest man

is the one who goes through life with the minimum of pain (Cox). Schopenhauer said, If the

immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering then our existence is the most ill-

adapted to its purpose in the world. Nietzsche agreed with his idea that life was only a cycle of

suffering, but he disagreed with Schopenhauers nihilistic conclusions, and instead sought out to

affirm existence in spite of pain.

In 1869 Nietzsche became a professor of philology in Basel, Switzerland at the age of

twenty-four. It was during this time that he also wrote his first book: The Birth of Tragedy from

the Spirit of Music in 1872. It was a controversial polemic combining speculations about the

collapse of the tragic culture of fifth century Athens with a proposal that Wagnerian music-

drama might become the source of a renewed tragic culture for contemporary Germany

(Anderson). He was beginning to be known as a radical thinker as his writing dealt with

suffering in a world devoid of God. He theorized that without the comfort of religion, happiness

could be found through the transformative power of the aesthetic. His ideas were inspired by

classical Greek tragedies and the composer, Richard Wagner. Nietzsche met Wagner when he

was only a student, and he was immediately infatuated by his work. The Birth of Tragedy was

inspired by Wagners compositions as Nietzsche was developing a revolutionary theory of art

where art could transform society. In Greek tragedy, he found a model for that form of thinking.

Greek tragedies were about an individual suffering in this world, yet it was the dominant genre

of thinking about the glory of Greece. It was about the human being suffering, finding meaning

in life, and then finding the truth. In the Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche demonstrates this concept by
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utilizing two Greek gods: Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo stood for the light and truth of logic and

control, whereas Dionysus stood for the ecstatic group activity, chaos, and visceral feelings.

Nietzsche decided to focus on Dionysus, therefore standing against the traditional forms of

philosophy that focused on Apollo. Traditional Greek tragedies focused on the individual

transcending himself through his own suffering, a very Christian message. Nietzsche on the other

hand, theorized that the individual found meaning through losing himself in the great, ecstatic,

collective experience in the masses. This is what he saw in Wagners music and in the Tragedy


While teaching in Basel, Nietzsche began to doubt his philosophy on the transformation

on the masses, and instead theorized that it was the flourishing individual who brought meaning

to life. He believed that being constrained in his teaching profession stopped him from reaching

his full potential, he called this baselophobia, and he longed to break free from traditional

education. He said, the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the

greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! (Nietzsche). Due to severe health problems in 1876,

he took leave from Basel and took the time to explore a broadly naturalistic critique of

traditional morality and culture (Anderson). During this time, he continued his efforts to

influence the broader direction of German intellectual culture, publishing essays intended for a

wide public on David Friedrich Strauss, on Schopenhauer, and on Wagner. This collection of

essays is known as Untimely Meditations. His book titled Human, All-too-human was published

in 1878 and it introduced his readers to the corrosive attacks on conventional pieties, for which

he became famous. His health did not improve, and on May 2, 1879 he was forced to resign his

professorship in Basel. While traveling, Nietzsche was told by a passenger on a train that the
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climate in Sils Maria would aid his health. It was in Sils Maria where Nietzsche developed a

sense of philosophical style that suited him.

Nietzsche challenged the popular philosophies of his day, including Darwinism, idealism,

irrationalism, vitalism, Marxism, socialism, and positivism. There are specific major events in

history that prepared the Western Civilization and allowed Nietzsche to develop his

philosophies. The Enlightenment set the stage for Nietzsches challenging forms of thought. The

spread of this movement to a wider European public was possible due to new techniques of

printing and book-making, popular press, and a host of scientific societies. By the year 1700,

math and science had become popular topics in high society, and lectures on this material would

be held to spread the new and evolving ideas. This movement produced many new writers and

philosophers who were heavily influenced by the new science. In fact, many proposed that the

scientific method was the solution for virtually all social problems. European Enlightenment

thinkers shared this belief in the power of knowledge to transform human society, and much of

Enlightenment thinking was directed against the superstition, ignorance, and corruption of

established religion, more specifically, Christianity.

The developing ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers focused mainly on human

reason. They believed that human beings could apply a critical, reasoning spirit to every

problem. In contrast to the old form of thought that only applied to the physical universe, this

new approach to knowledge rooted in human reason and skepticism of authority, and expressed

in natural laws, was now applied to human affairs. The Enlightenment brought about thinkers

who were focused on developing a system in which mankind can live and prosper efficiently, If

human reason could discover the laws that governed the universe, surely it could uncover ways
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in which humankind might govern itself more effectively (Strayer). The focus of the

Enlightenment was progress, and this meant that human society was not set in stone by tradition

or a divine rule. Rather, humankind could be changed, improved, and molded by human action

guided by reason, (just as Nietzsche theorized that the traditional Christian values must be

changed). This encouraged philosophers to look to foreign ways of thought to discover a new

system of government that isnt influenced by the supernatural religions of the West. For

example, Confucianism encouraged Enlightenment thinkers to imagine a future for European

civilization that focused on ethical teachings not influenced by a divine being.

An important figure that emerged from the Enlightenment period, who also happened to

influence Friedrich Nietzsche, was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). He specifically asked the

question, What is Enlightenment? to which his answer was, It is mans emergence from his

self-imposedinability to use ones own understanding without anothers guidance. Dare to

know! Have the courage to use your own understanding is therefore the motto of the

enlightenment (Kant). This relates to Nietzsche's idea of the bermensch, or superhuman.

An bermensch is someone who is no longer reliant on inauthentic external goals society gives

him, or her, it is someone who is able to commit to goals that you set for yourself (Cox). His

idea of the bermensch comes from his book titled Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This book is almost

a parody of the bible. It is a parable on the importance of self-overcoming. The character,

Zarathustra, is a prophet who teaches the people that God is dead, and the morals of Christianity

are no longer authentic. It is up to the people to become an bermensch, but Nietzsche describes

that this is a difficult taskthere are no universal guidelines that explain how to achieve this.
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This journey to become an bermensch is individual. He believed that creating a meaningful life

does not rely in God, but in oneself.

Another great thinker of the Enlightenment period was Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), a

French Huguenot refugee from Louis XIVs persecutions. Bayle launched campaign against

religious intolerance that was internationally influential. In 1684 he published News from the

Republic of Letters that criticized the policies of Louis XIV, including his anti-Protestant

policies. These letters were quickly banned in Paris and condemned in Rome. However, in 1697

Bayle publish his Historical and Critical Dictionary, which cited all the errors and delusions that

he could find in past and present writers of all religions. He persisted in the idea that even

religion must meet the test of reasonableness:

Any particular dogma, whatever it may be, whether it is advanced on the authority

of the Scriptures, or whatever else may be its origins, is to be regarded as false if

it clashes with the clear and definite conclusions of the natural understanding

[reason] (Hunt, 556).

As this quote states, reason is again the focus of intellectual thought. With focusing on the

power of reason, Bayles ideas challenged the authority of faith, especially in Christianity. He,

along with other Enlightenment thinkers, influenced other scholars to even challenge the

authority of the Bible by claiming historical inaccuracies, (just as Nietzsche used biblical

criticism to study the Bible). For example, early eighteenth century discoveries in geology

showed that marine fossils dated further back than the biblical flood story suggested.
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Although these new forms of scientific and rational thought were gaining popularity,

Traditionalists that were firm in the faith persisted. Defenders of the church and state published

books that warned of the new skepticism dangers. The bishop Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, the

spokesman for Louis XIVs absolutism, warned that reason is the guide of their choice, but

reason only brings them face to face with vague conjectures and baffling perplexities. In other

words, human beings were simply incapable of subjecting everything to reason, especially when

considering the territory of religion. This relates to how Nietzsche believed that intellectual

thought on its own does not provide the path to a meaningful life, but that immersing oneself in

the aesthetics is just, if not more, important.

Francois-Marie Arouet, or more commonly known Voltaire (1694-1778), is considered

the most influential writer of the early Enlightenment period. Much of his inspiration was

influenced by Bayle, he even describes Bayle as, so intolerably intelligible, that he leads people

of only ordinary common sense to judge and even to doubt (Hunt). In 1733 Voltaire published

his Letters Concerning the English Nation, in which featured several chapters to the scientist

Isaac Newton and philosopher John Locke. Using the dominant British virtues that were

influenced by these two men, Voltaire attacks the Catholic bigotry and government rigidity that

was present in France, and in 1738 he also popularized Newtons scientific discoveries in

Elements of the Philosophy of Newton. The French state and many European theologians

considered Newtonianism threatening because it exalted the human mind above the Divine, and

seemed to reduce God to an abstract, external, and rationalistic force.

From this era developed the prominence of two different believers, Deists and

Pantheists. Deists believed in an abstract and distant Deity who had created the world rather
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than a personal God who intervened in history or interfered with the natural law. Pantheists on

the other hand believed that God and nature were virtually the same concept. Their God was

devoid of mystery, revelation, ritual, and spiritual practice, which went against Christian beliefs.

Rather, their conception of religion was shaped by the new outlook of science that developed

during the Enlightenment movement, proclaiming that a God could be proven by human

rationality, logic, and the techniques of scientific inquiry. These differing views of God relates to

Nietzsches philosophy of Perspectivism, which denies the possibility of an all-inclusive

perspective, meaning there are no essential truths or a universal morality, as Christianity

suggests (Magnus). The fact that the perception of a God is being challenged is monumental in

the evolution of Western intellectual thought.

Following the Enlightenment was the Romantic movement. This movement appealed to

human emotion, intuition, passion, and imagination that was represented through the eras art

and literature. Romanticism was almost a retaliation against the cold reason and scientific ideas

that were developed and glorified during the Enlightenment period. Jean-Jacques Rousseau

(1712-1778) is commonly known as the father of Romanticism. One of his most radical ideas

was how he minimized the importance of book learning in children, and instead encouraged the

immersion of the child into nature to teach self-reliance and generosity. He believed that our

structured system of society is what restrained human beings from tapping in on their full

physical freedom, however, society also provided new and higher freedoms to enrich our moral

and rational selves. These ideas will later influence Nietzsches philosophy on The Will to

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Modern science in the nineteenth century began to undermine some of the assumptions of

the Enlightenment that considered human inquiry as it considered the creation of man, the

Enlightenment image of the thoughtful, rational, and independent individual was fading.

Individuals were now viewed as enmeshed in vast systems of biological, economic, and social

conflict (Strayer). The book On the Origin of Species was published in 1859 by Charles

Darwin, an English naturalist, biologist, and geologist, and it brought about the philosophy

known as Darwinism. Darwinism suggests the theory of evolution of species by natural

selection, which is the most critical mechanism of evolutionary change (Jurmain). This

challenged the original idea of the fixity of species, meaning once a species is created, it can

never change. This new form of thought challenged the Christian belief that humanity was a

unique creation of a God.

This philosophy, or scientific theory, was a popular form of thought during Nietzsches

time in the post-Darwinian world of the 1870s and 1880s. However, he did not agree with the

concept in its entirety. Nietzsche is considered to be, the first major philosopher who felt the

need for a dialogue with Darwin (Pence). The aspect that he did agree with when it came to

Darwinism is the idea that, God is no longer necessary to account for either the existence of this

universe or the emergence of our species from prehistoric animals (Birx). However, he found

fault in Darwin having drained life out of an essential component of the human experience:

aesthetic value. Darwinism explains the will to survive, which goes against Nietzsches idea of

the will to power, meaning, evolving life is not merely the Spencerian/Darwinian struggle for

existence but, more importantly, it is the ongoing striving toward ever-greater complexity,

diversity, multiplicity and creativity (Birx). Nietzsche found Darwins theory to be false as it
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appeared to be too intellectual, searching for rules and regulations, and establishing uniformity in

a realm where none of these should exist. The Will to Power, Nietzsche believed, was more than

preserving oneself, as Darwinism suggests. The Will to Power encourages the individual not

only to survive, but to accomplish great things for a meaningful life. In fact, it may include a lack

of human preservation.

In 1887, at the age of forty-four, Nietzsche was declared clinically insane. He spent the

rest of his days living in his sister Elizabeth's home, and died of a stroke in the year 1900.

Elisabeth collected his writings, his unpublished masterworks, and notebooks he never intended

the world to see. The Will to Power was a concept the was written within these notebooks, and

Nietzsche never intended for the world to understand this concept. The Will to Power went

against what Nietzsche ultimately believed as it attempted to reduce the world to one single

principle. In fact, it is clear that he disregarded this philosophy as one can view a shopping list

written over the page in his notebook that describes the Will to Power.

Elisabeth, however, continued to publish Nietzsches works after his death. She altered

and misinterpreted his ideas as she worked with other publishers to share his work to suit her

own political ends (Cox). She was a supporter of the Nazis, and in 1934 Adolf Hitler visited her

house. Elisabeth was such an outstanding promoter of Nietzsche and his work, that by the end of

the 1930s, Nietzschean thought and themes pervaded German Society (Cox). This can most

evidently be seen in the 1934 Nazi propaganda film produced by Hitler himself, called Triumph

of the Will. This film reflected Nietzsches Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as Hitler descended to the

earth in an airplane, just as Zarathustra descended from the clouds, prepared to share his new

concept of morality to the herd. Hitler was portrayed as an bermensch offering a system of
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morality in which traditional Christian values are to be inverted (Cox). Alfred Baeumler, an

influential Socialist thinker of the time, stated, When we call out hail Hitler, we greet with the

same cry, Friedrich Nietzsche. As stated in the biographical documentary Genius of the Modern


His bermensch wasn't a master of eugenics. He was a symbol of man's potential.

His will to power was not a call to nationalism, which he despised, but a

recognition of our drive to overcome our limitations. And he was vocally opposed

to anti-Semitism. The Nietzsche of the Nazis was a hideous parody.

Though Nietzsche never lived to see the rise of Hitler, his works and ideas lived on without his

consent. They were interpreted in ways that would have disgusted Nietzsche. He stated himself

in Ecce Homo that bad would be done in his name:

I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of

something tremendous a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound

collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that

had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.

Even in our day his ideas are interpreted and manipulated to suit the ideals of a rising

retaliation against traditional Western Christian philosophy. The history of Western thought

developed from a set of moral principles demanded by a divine being, to a sense of individual

thought. In other words, Western philosophy is ever changing, and it takes individuals like

Friedrich Nietzsche who influence and encourage individuals to challenge the current philosophy
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of their era, to further interpret age-old questions and attempt to understand the rules and

meaning of life in order to advance an evolving society.

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Works Cited:

1. Anderson, R. Lanier. Friedrich Nietzsche. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Stanford University, 17 Mar. 2017,


2. Magnus, Bernd. Friedrich Nietzsche. Encyclopdia Britannica, Encyclopdia

Britannica, inc., 14 June 2017, www.britannica.com/biography/Friedrich-Nietzsche.

3. Pence, Charles. Nietzsche's Aesthetic Critique of Darwin. History and Philosophy

of the Life Sciences 33(2):165-190,


4. Birx, James H. Nietzsche & Evolution. Philosophy Now: a magazine of ideas,

2000, philosophynow.org/issues/29/Nietzsche_and_Evolution.

5. Strayer, Robert W., and Eric Nelson. Ways of the world: a brief global history with

sources. Bedford/St. Martins, A Macmillan Education Imprint, 2016.

6. Hunt, Lynn, et al. The making of the West: peoples and cultures: a concise history. I,

Bedford/St. Martins, 2013.

7. Jurmain, Robert, et al. Essentials of Physical Anthropology Virtual Lab for Physical

Anthropology Mindtap Anthropology, 6-Month Access. 10th ed., Wadsworth Pub Co,


8. Cox, Anna. Genius of the Modern World. Narrated by Bettany Hughes, 2016.
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9. Kaufmann, Walter, and STANLEY CORNGOLD. The Faith of a Heretic, REV -

Revised ed., Princeton University Press, PRINCETON; OXFORD, 2015. JSTOR

10. Nietzsche, Friedrich, and Bernard Williams. The Gay Science: with a prelude in

German rhymes and an appendix of songs. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

11. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, et al. On the genealogy of morals: Ecce homo. Vintage,


12. Magnus, Bernd. Perspectivism. Encyclopdia Britannica, Encyclopdia

Britannica, inc., 14 June 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/perspectivism.

13. Schopenhauer, Arthur. On the Suffering of the World. Penguin, 2004.