chapter  II
20 Pages

Friedrich Nietzsche

NIETZSCHE and Kierkegaard are as divided as the poles and as close as twins. Nietzsche cast his supreme choice upon the finite world which Kierkegaard rejected and resigned. Kierkegaard wrote in flesh and blood his epigram, Nietzsche his rhapsody. For both, their drama moved to its inevitable catastrophe: Kierkegaard precipitated himself into the irrevocable either-or of his final unforgivable attack on the Church, Nietzsche into his dionysian nihilism, his euphoria and eventual madness. Both are impossible, mutilated, pitiable; both are formidable and command respect. Both opposed themselves to the culture of the day and returned to the Greeks. Kierkegaard cast himself for the role of Socrates for the salvation of the age; Nietzsche denounced the role of Socrates as the ruin of the age. Both are solitaries, self-driven into desolating isolation. Both are existentialists. For existentialism is not concerned with points of school doctrine but with the recall of philosophy to the existing individual striving to live in the light of reflection, as these preeminently did. Nietzsche the existentialist is not the teacher of the Will to Power, Superman, Eternal Recurrence; it is Nietzsche the artist-philosopher and psychologist and critic of culture, above all, Nietzsche the thinker grappling with his own fate. (‘It makes the most material difference whether a thinker stands personally related to his problems, having his fate, his need, and even his highest

happiness therein; or merely impersonally, that is to say, if he can only feel and grasp them with the tentacles of cold, prying thought.’)

The roots of Nietzsche’s thinking remain in the Protestant Christianity in which he was bred (‘I am the descendant of whole genealogies of Christian clergymen’), in the philosophy of Schopenhauer whom in adolescence he chose for his master, and in the Greek studies in which he was engaged by choice and by profession. However the tree is riven, blasted, and bent, it feeds from these soils and is anchored there. His declaration that God is dead, his reversal of Schopenhauer’s ethical judgement, his denunciation of Greek rationalism, these rejections did not separate him from the influences which made him. Thus he posed and lived a problem he could not himself solve. The problem was to overcome scepticism, pessimism, and nihilism; after the undermining of all certainty in respect of knowledge, the lapse of all impulse and goal in respect of will, the extinction of all emotion, to recover intellectual assurance, emotional response, and commanding aims, that was for him the problem of philosophy-joyful wisdom. ‘Always, I have written my works with my whole body and life, I do not know what is meant by intellectual problems.’ The general disease of nihilism, the mal de siècle, the maiming of reason by itself and of will by the Christian ethic, was aggravated in him by the insecure organic basis on which his life rested: hence the desperate push for the sun and the ecstatic vital equilibrium of the dance. ‘Out of my will to be in good health, out of my will to live, I have made my philosophy…. Self-preservation forbade me to practise a philosophy of wretchedness and discouragement.’