11
Oct
10

Nietzsche: Nazi, Nihilist, or None of the Above?

“The most valuable insights are the last to be discovered.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ

Friedrich Nietzsche often gets a bad rap.  A pioneer German philosopher and poet, Nietzsche is often accused posthumously of being a Nazi or Nihilist by modern day students and professors alike.  Alternatively, I have found Nietzsche’s work to be enjoyable and enlightening.  However, I am not one to use my opinion alone to defend an ideology.  Many times, I do not find that others share these same restrictions.  Often, I find myself in conversations that go like this:

“Oh, I don’t like Nietzsche.”

“Really?” I respond.  “Is it because of something you’ve read by him in particular?”

“Oh, he was a Nazi.”

“Oh, that’s interesting.  You know, he died in 1900, when Adolf Hitler was only 1 year old.  What did you read by him that made you feel like he was a Nazi??”

“Oh, well, he was a nihilist.”

“Okay.  Did you read anything by him in particular that made you feel that way?”

“Oh, I heard he said God was dead.”

“Well, yes, he said God was dead, and he said we killed God, which was just his philosophical commentary on society.”

It becomes apparent to me at this time that not very many people have actually read Nietzsche and taken the time to attempt to understand him.  He is really hard not to like if one invests the time to read just a few of his books.  With this in mind, let us consider one of his most popular and most controversial books, Beyond Good and Evil.  Just the title may make some conservative souls cringe.  This literary gem is a collection of thoughts based around erasing the line of demarcation between good and evil to consider life and society from an objective standpoint.  Nietzsche sums up his own approach to truth-seeking within the text with the line, “Cynicism is the only form in which base souls approach honesty.” (Neitzsche, 1966) Taking into consideration that Nietzsche equated cynicism with honesty, one can better understand his often perceived as ‘nihilist’ approach to philosophy.  However, there exists a definitional fallacy here.  A nihilist is generally defined as one who rejects all theories of morality or religious belief.  One who is committed to seeking truth cannot logically be defined as rejecting morality; therefore, cannot be defined as a nihilist.  Though the way some may look at it, claiming to traverse beyond the perceived ‘moral’ boundaries of good and evil is in itself ‘immoral’.

Erasing mental boundaries such as these is essential to journeying to the core of any field of study.  Imagine, historians straying away from reporting the facts of indigenous religions because the religions are ‘evil’, yet lauding pedophile or philanderer priests, pastors, or politicians as ‘good’.  Unfortunately, this type of practice has happened many times in history, anthropology, sociology, and any field subject to investigation by humankind.  We can all take a lesson from Nietzsche in our studies and negate the illusion of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

References:

Neitzsche, F. (1966). Beyond good and evil. New York, NY: Random House.

 

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