This damnable Lifeguard and his memes. So here’s my response to his second tag, to list seven facts about a favorite historical figure. Well fine, I of course pick Nietzsche. I love Nietzsche for his balls out attacks on virtually everything, his ceaseless questioning, his radical ideas and his astute psychological observations of humanity. I feel a kindred spirit with the man, and like him I feel I’m often misunderstood. Below I will point out some details about the man and, I hope, try to dispel or explain some of the major misconceptions about him and his philosophy.

• The Nietzsche family had produced a proud line of ministers prior to Friedrich’s birth in 1844 that stretched back to the early 17th century and his mother’s side had many as well. The irony that from such an illustrious christian heritage the man who would proclaim “god is dead”, rail against christianity for most of his life, proclaim himself antichrist and the god Dionysus I find to be delicious irony.

• Many feel Nietzsche had syphilis, either congenital or by way of a prostitute. Either way, he was plagued most of his life with ill health, sometimes relying on friends to take dictation or willfully struggling through his pains to write for moments at a time. It is with this knowledge that it is in part clear to see inspiration for his fierce ideas of the power of will and overcoming. His eventual mental collapse is another thing many take as evidence for his syphilis.


• The concept of the Ubermensch (often referred to as either the Overman or the Superman) was not a supremacist validation for subjugating others or a brutish affirmation of “survival of the fittest”. It was an ideal, a goal to strive for as an individual and on the whole by society. The concept, central to Nietzsche’s philosophy and apparent in every aspect of it, was one of perpetual growth and improvement, or in his words “renewal”. Never at any time did he claim to be a superman nor label any person, nation or race as such. He spoke of being a bridge to the Ubermensch.

This goes hand in hand with misunderstanding his Will to Power as being a might makes right justification to impose your will over others, essentially enslaving the weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Nietzche saw this as actually a retarded will, one of immense inadequacies by which one attempts to compensate for failing to lord over oneself by lording over others. This retarded will he often called “resentiment”, a key component of “slave morality”, the morality of both the weak (defined as those who lack strength of will) and those who seek to weaken. He found religions, especially christianity, to be prime examples of slave morality.

• In an almost feverish final burst of genius before he went mad in 1889, from 1886-1888 he consolidated his thought and cranked out part V of The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, The Antichrist, The Twilight of the Idols, Ecce Homo, and Dionysus Dithyrambs, with the last five all written in 1888! He also started but never finished The Will to Power: Attempt at a Transvaluation of All Values.


• Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth was an anti-semetic cunt. She married a powerful anti-semite named Bernhard Förster in 1886(a wedding Freidrich didn’t attend because he opposed the marriage due to Forster’s anti-semeticism) who founded a colony in Paraguay which failed miserably. There were comments made by Forster revealing how dominating Elizabeth was and after the failure of the colony and the pressure and demands from Elizabeth, he committed suicide. Elizabeth also conspired to keep Freidrich from a young Russian aristocrat named Lou Salomâ, who he awkwardly proposed to and was in competition with Paul Rhee over her affections. It was Elizabeth who, once Freidrich went mad, gained sole possession of all of his works, including the unfinished Will To Power, and “cared” for him by propping him in a chair and selling tickets to come see him. It is in this state, dirty, unkept and with wild hair and mustache, that we mostly know of him today. For decades she edited and misinterpreted his works and released this trash loaded with her ignorant ideas and anti-semeticism to the world as his which the German nationals of WWI loved, namely one pathetic failed artist serving as a corporal named Adolph Hitler, whose Nazis later made this false Nietzsche their patron saint.

• Nietzsche had nothing but contempt for German nationalism and was not only not anti-semetic but in fact often praised the Jews for their contributions to the cultures they become a part of and considered those cultures most fortunate. He also broke with his editor Schmeitzner in 1886 over his anti-semetism.

• Of course much of the blame for Nietzsche being misunderstood is actually Nietzsche himself. First, as a lover of poetry and literature, he simply writes too creatively. His clever sarcasm, his flowery language, metaphors, turns of phrase, and general free flowing prose is a large departure from most philosophical writings which are dry, analytical and read like technical manuals. To make matters worse, Nietzsche was wildly opposed to systems of any kind. He felt that once one commits to a system, they are then enslaved by it. His criticism of other philosophers and intellectuals was that once establishing a system of thought, they can no longer question it and if they do, can’t reject it or else lose everything they’ve built. In sharp contrast to this, Nietzsche may turn on his own opinions from book to book. Partly this was to challenge their validity, partly it was because he honestly may have changed his mind. Personally, I also feel he may have done this simply to be cheeky. He often deliberately challenged what was most popular, and did not exempt himself.

Here is part 1 of an interesting BBC documentary of Nietzsche. I like very much what Will Self says about him, that “his philosophy was not to think like him, but to think for yourself”.

Oh I forgot to add that when you choose to read Nietzsche (which should be like right now) only read a Walter Kaufman translation.

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19 Responses to “Man Not of History But of Modernity: Friedrich Nietzsche”

  1. Dude, that was both awesome and informative.

    I had no idea you were that into philosophy, but when I look back on stuff you’ve written here and in comments I guess I do see some of that Nietsche coming out. Personally, I’ve never read any of his stuff although I’ve read a little bit about him.

    For some reason I thought Ubermensch could also be loosely translated into “Aquaman,” but I may be mistaken.

    In any event, I think as atheists we focus a lot on science and skepticism without dwelling much on existential issues. After reading The Plague I told myself I’d try to start posting on some of those issues, but I just haven’t had it in me.

  2. My introduction to Nietzsche was actually by way of his worst book, The Birth of Tragedy, which was his first major work. Cumbersome and without his later flair, it still had sparks of great genius and thankfully I had quite a strange professor for that class (Aesthetics) who, incidentally, used to be a Philly cabby (the professor, not Nietzsche). I quickly absorbed more and more afterwards.

    My roommate and I in college joined this little study group on Nietzsche (fuck, I was a nerd). Man, the obnoxious asshats in that group. I fucking hate intelligent people so enamored with their intelligence that they have this overbearing arrogance and then use Nietzsche to support and defend their superior attitudes. The irony that by citing him that way they deny their own intelligence by clearly not comprehending the man is delicious, yet lost on them. Obnoxiously smug asshats who use Nietzsche to justify their smug asshattery are trumped only by obnoxiously smug asshats who use religion to justify their smug asshattery (for an example of the later, check out hughvic on SI’s blog).

    I by no means claim a vast philosophical knowledge. There are many big names I have yet to get around to studying, but Nietzsche just struck a chord with me, especially with Zarathustra.

  3. I’m not at all surprised by your choice. Nevertheless, it’s a great post. Thanks for clarifying some of the distinctions between what Nietzsche said and believed and what others said Nietzsche said and believed.

  4. Good educational post.I just found out that H.L. Mencken translated The Antichrist, and I did a very cursory comparison of his version and Kaufmann's. I don't speak German, so it's impossible for me to know which is truer to the original, but offhand — again, based on only the most superficial look-see — the Mencken seems more poetic to me. (Mencken is one of my literary heroes, so I may be just a little biased.)But I'll defer to your expertise on this. Why is the Kaufmann translation better than any others?

  5. Kaufman (I think) was the first to make translations from Nietzsche’s original works rather than any bastardized versions from his sister. He also pieced together his own version of The Will To Power. The final thing is he’s taken far more time doing the translations than others. As I mentioned, Nietzsche was rather creative in his writing so that a straight word for word translation simply can’t do him justice.

    When I was in college, every professor swore by Kaufman. Some time after college I picked up a copy of Twilight of the Idols that wasn’t a Kaufman translation and it felt wrong right away. Not just the poetic, but more importantly the meaning was off. I think it was Hollingdale. So I’d say there may be proper translations out there, but there’s little doubt a Kaufman translation will be correct, so it’s best to go with Kaufman.

    Another thing about Kaufman is he’s spent a great deal of his life researching Nietzsche, so he brings that to the table as well which is a great help in deciphering. Another thing I like about Kaufman is he’ll usually load you up with footnotes, especially where there was a particularly tricky word or phrase that’s either hard to translate or the joke is lost when you translate and he’ll include the original and explain why (and often explain how everyone else translates it incorrectly).

  6. Phillychief- I have awarded you! pick it up at my blog – or if you don’t want to- just to let you know yours is one of the blogs I HAVE to read :)

  7. I’m honored, and pressured. I mean, if you HAVE to read it, then I HAVE to keep posting things worth reading.

  8. I mean, if you HAVE to read it, then I HAVE to keep posting things worth reading.

    Well … WE make you say it, right?

  9. touche´

  10. I think I’ll stay out of this fight lol- but yes- you HAVE to ;)

  11. Excellent post… and very accurate.

  12. Philly.. totally off topic..but thought you might enjoy some humor.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/ikester7579

    bigthirsty

  13. Speak of the devil, I saw his name with a list of other funny christian quotes today on someone’s blog! Spooky, dude. You’re creeping me out with the coinky-dink. LOL!

    Thanks for the link

  14. Then you’ll enjoy this too..

    internet bitch slap..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoCr3kSMd3w

    I picture Ikester sitting on is 1994 Compaq eatin Cheetos and drinking YooHoos. I can’t get that out of my head..

    bigthirsty

  15. Want some more funny-funny???

    Now, make sure you TAKE YOUR MEDS and HEAR THE FIFE PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND AS YOU READ THIS,and 76 trombones with fairy voices and Jesus telling you to “KILL! KILL! KILL!!”

    http://ikester.blogtownhall.com/2008/04/11/isnt_it_about_time_a_call_to_arms!_2.thtml

    **nickname**

  16. Thanks for the link

  17. GOOD GRIEF
    http://ikester.blogtownhall.com/2008/04/11/i_dont_live_by_faith,_i_live_by_what_i_see!.thtml

    I thought I’d seen everything, but this is a real face-melter.

    < <"I truley belive Ikester’s blogs are above and beyond the kind of hatfull harrassment and slanderation that exibited here and be allowed.

    I personaly attended one of Dr. Bourne’s more stirring lectures: **“HOW ALL THE ATHIEST HATE GOD’S WORD AND HOW I LOVE HIM”** at the Detroit Silverdome with 15,000 other atendees, including FAMOUS ATHIEST RICHARD DAWSON who cursed and swore he would kill Dr Bourne and dastroy his Ministry!!

    Professor Bourne litterally BROKE DOWN at the podium, weeping , squealling like a pig and began PUNCHING HIMSELF IN THE FACE OVER AND OVER AND OVER!!!

    I’LL TELL YOU DR. BOURNE WOULD GLADLY LAY DOWN HIS LIFE THIS VERY MINUTE, AND BE TORN ASUNDER,GUTS AND ALL, TO PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN AS HE SAID IN HIS BLOG – YES,I BELIEVE THAT!!

    I THANK YOU VERY MUCH.”>>

    **nickname**

  18. Richard Dawson? That guy was great on “The Feud”. Survey Says…

  19. This is amazing to read your article about Nietzsche. It is so informative and the ideas you are trying to share in your this writing is so informative. I read a bit about Nietzsche, but your this detail is so awesome.

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