Saturday, July 12, 2008

The problem of history

I've commented before on how Nietzsche's intellectualisation of ideas such as redemption have had a tendency to dehumanise his thinking. He becomes too abstract. He removes himself too far to the sidelines from which to view humanity and, in the process, seems to lose sight of them.

As a result of this, his thinking started to drift into morally difficult areas. This is not to say that he himself believed in totalitarian solutions, such as those espoused by Hitler (and, indeed, which the Nazis proclaimed to have come from Nietzsche's writing). Nietzsche would have been horrified by Nazism. But it is the logical consequence of his thought. Ansell-Pearson writes:

Nietzsche’s attempt to solve the problem of history leads him to embrace a Machiavellian-inspired immoral politics, which recognizes no limits, and which believes it is able to justify its own despotism through the cultivation of a higher and nobler humanity which, in the creative hammer it will bring to bear on mankind, will redeem the whole past of humanity.


Nietzsche sees his hammer as being the way to drive man over the bridge, to become the Overman. Be hard, he says. It is a noble and worthy cause: Nietzsche wants us to redeem ourselves by overcoming resentment, by seeking an accommodation with the past - good and bad - and in this way reach towards a better future. That is right. it is humane, deeply humane. But in striving for such humaneness, he adopts an approach of such hardness that humanity wilts beneath it.

It's the age old question: does the end justify the means? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. With Nietzsche, the answer is sliding towards no.

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