1. Read the introductory pages: The Influence of Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was notoriously unread and uninfluential during
his own lifetime, and his works suffered considerable distortion in the hands of his sister Elisabeth, who managed his literary
estate and twisted his philosophy into a set of ideas supporting Hitler and Nazism (Hitler had Thus Spoke Zarathustra
issued to every soldier in the German army). By far his most often quoted utterance--seldom understood--is "God is dead,"
which placed his thought beyond the pale for many readers.
But Nietzsche's influence has been much
richer and varied than these simple stereotypes suggest. It is not surprising that an author who embraced such contradictions
should have influenced thinkers of an extraordinary variety.
The only philosopher to feel his influence
while he could be aware of it was the Danish critic and philosopher Georg Brandes (1842-1927), who in the late 1880s developed
a philosophy which he called "aristocratic radicalism" inspired by Nietzsche's notion of the "overman." Nietzsche's insistence
that the decay of religion (the "death of God") requires that humanity take responsibility for setting its own moral standards
inspired existentialists from Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) to Albert Camus (1913-1960).
Nietzsche's relativism has had a powerful
influence on two of the most important modern French Deconstructionist philosophers, Jacques Derrida (b. 1930) and Michel
Oddly enough, he has also been a powerful
influence on certain theologians, notably Paul Tillich (1886-1965), who developed an Existentialist, human-centered theology
which tried to salvage elements of traditional faith while drawing on rationalism. Thomas Altizer (b.1927) created a sensation
(and found himself on the cover of Time) in the 1960s by helping to create the oxymoronically named "death of God theology"
together with a number of other theologians who argued for religion without God. Their constant use of Nietzsche's catch phrase
is a reminder of their indebtedness to him. Although the direct influence of this school hardly lasted out the decade, other
theologians used Nietzsche's thought as well, notably embracing his idea that human values should be based not on denial ("thou
shalt not") but on affirmation ("thou shalt"). The Jewish theologian Martin Buber (1878-1965)--also a great influence on Christian
theology--translated part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra into Polish. He read Nietzsche's works very early, beginning in
1892. His emphasis on process in theology resembles some of Nietzsche's ideas.
Although he did not draw directly on
Nietzsche's work, the notions of "creative evolution" espoused by Henri Bergson (1859-1941) had a powerful influence on the
Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1885-1957), who combined his studies under Bergson with his reading of Nietzsche to produce
a version of what is known as "process theology" which is most readily studied in the little book The Saviors of God
and is also expressed in his most popular novel, Zorba the Greek. According to Kazantzakis, God is the result of whatever
the most energetic and heroic people value and create. This is clearly very similar to Nietzsche's ideas about the sources
of religion. Nietzsche's notion of heroes as creators is at the heart of Kazantzakis' philosophy.
The two grandfathers of modern psychology,
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Carl Jung (1875-1961), both had a deep admiration for Nietzsche and credited him with many insights
into the human character.
Alfred Adler (1870-1937) developed an
"individual psychology" which argues that each individual strives for what he called "superiority," but is more commonly referred
to today as "self-realization" or "self-actualization," and which was profoundly influenced by Nietzsche's notions of striving
and self-creation. The entire "human potential movement" and humanistic psychology (Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May,
etc.) owes a great debt to this line of thought. Even pop psychologists of "self-esteem" preach a gospel little different
from that of Zarathustra. The ruthless, self-assertive "objectivism" of Ayn Rand (1905-1982) is difficult to imagine without
the influence of Nietzsche.
Besides Kanzantzakis, many novelists
have drawn on Nietzsche. Thomas Mann (1875-1955) wrote repeatedly about him and his characters are often engaged in struggles
to define their ideas in a world in which old philosophies are decaying, like Nietzsche, torn between romanticism and rationalism
(notably in The Magic Mountain). Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) similarly explored the necessity for the individuals to
overcome their social training and traditional ideas to seek their own way (Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game).
Many other famous writers influenced
by Nietzsche include André Malraux (1901-1976), André Gide (1869-1951), and Knut Hamsun (1859-1952).
Given the poetic style in which he wrote,
it is not surprising that numerous poets have been drawn to Nietzsche, including Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). He, like
many writers influenced by Nietzsche, rejected the kind of traditional Christian dualism which sorts existence into good and
evil with the physical and earthly being regarded as a source of evil and goodness identified with pure spirit and the life
after death. His celebration of mortal life as a sort of religion is extremely Nietzschean. He was also became lover of Lou
Andreas-Salomé, a woman who ten years earlier Nietzsche loved unrequitedly.
Among many others, one can find strong
Nietzschean themes in the works of Beat Generation poets such as Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) and Gary Snyder (b. 1930), who
were drawn to the vitalistic, anti-dualistic themes also earlier expressed in the English and American traditions by William
Blake and Walt Whitman. Blake, Whitman and Nietzsche form a sort of triumvirate whose influence runs through large swaths
of modern literature in their rejection of dualism and embrace of the body as good. Like many other poets, William Butler
Yeats (1865-1939) combined an admiration for Blake with interest in Nietzsche.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) expressed
his version of Nietzsche's struggle for power in his play Man and Superman, and more than one character in the plays
of Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) is under Nietzsche's spell.
If there are few names from the second
half of the 20th century cited above it is not because Nietzsche's influence has dwindled. Rather it so pervades modern culture
that many who have never read him are influenced by his thought indirectly. Consider the following ideas circulating in American
culture today, all of them traceable at least in part to Nietzsche, although many of them are much simpler than similar ideas
held by him:
The goal of life should be to find yourself. True maturity means discovering or creating an identity for yourself.
The highest virtue is to be true to yourself (consider these song titles from a generation ago: "I Gotta Be Me,"
"I Did It My Way").
When you fall ill, your body is trying to tell you something; listen to the wisdom of your body.
People who hate their bodies or are in tension with them need to learn how to accept and integrate their physical
selves with their minds instead of seeing them as in tension with each other. The mind and body make up a single whole.
Athletes, musicians, etc. especially need to become so attuned to their bodies that their skills proceed spontaneously
from the knowledge stored in their muscles and are not frustrated by an excess of conscious rational thought. (The influence
of Zen Buddhism on this sort of thinking is also very strong.)
Sexuality is not the opposite of virtue, but a natural gift that needs to be developed and integrated into a
healthy, rounded life.
Many people suffer from impaired self-esteem; they need to work on being proud of themselves.
Knowledge and strength are greater virtues than humility and submission.
Overcoming feelings of guilt is an important step to mental health.
You can't love someone else if you don't love yourself.
Life is short; experience it as intensely as you can or it is wasted.
People's values are shaped by the cultures they live in; as society changes we need changed values.
Challenge yourself; don't live passively.
It is notable that none of these ideas
flows from the traditional Judeo-Christian culture which dominated Europe for a thousand years. Many of them have their roots
in Romanticism, with Nietzsche merely articulating impulses that others shared; but he is a major transmitter of them to the