Since I’ve read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil a couple of times I allow myself the liberty of dipping back into it at random every now and then when I have some free minutes. Here are some reactions from a random sampling from June 2020:
1. Nietzsche as Frenchman
The opening of the Preface:
Supposing truth is a woman— what then? Are there not grounds for suspecting that all philosophers, insofar as they have been dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? That the gruesome seriousness and clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman’s heart? What is certain is that she has not allowed herself to be won— and today every kind of dogma is left standing dispirited and discouraged. If it is left standing at all!
My first reaction: Interesting opening. Unfortunately the book does not consistently live up to this opening, though it has its moments.
My second reaction: How very French! If you didn’t know N. was German, you’d probably guess that was written by a Frenchman. You can see why post-moderns like Nietzsche: For stylistic as well as substantive reasons.
Also, note the red pill knowledge here: The gruesome seriousness and clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman’s heart. Indeed. The essence of seduction is obliqueness.
Speaking of French sensibilities, try this from Section 1:
The will to truth, which will still tempt us to many a hazardous venture, the famous truthfulness of which all philosophers have hitherto spoken with respect— what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! It is already a long story— yet it seems as if it had hardly begun. Is it any wonder if we at last grow distrustful, lose patience, and turn impatiently away? That we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”?
Indeed we made a long halt at the question about the cause of this will—until at last we came to a complete stop before a yet more fundamental question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want the truth: Why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance?
The problem of the value of truth came before us—or was it we who came before the problem? Which of us is the Oedipus here? Which the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks.
Not sure what the hell all that means, but it sure sounds profound if you don’t think about it too carefully. And oh so French.
This part again: The problem of the value of truth came before us—or was it we who came before the problem? That sounds like a low-brow person’s stereotypical image of “intellectual bullshit spewed by ivory tower eggheads.” Nietzsche’s not doing intellectuals any favors here.
Nietzsche employed his style… or did his style employ Nietzsche? Which is the artist here, and which the art? Or is this questionable question too dangerous to ask? Perhaps it will take harder men, sterner philosophers of the future, to look this question in the eye and (blah blah).
I had a friend who maintained that N. took himself way too seriously. I think not even N’s fiercest partisans can deny his guilt on that count. Here is a relatively mild sampling, from the end of the same section:
It almost seems to us as if the problem [of the desirability of truth] had never been put so far— as if we were the first to see it, fix it with our eyes, and risk it.
2. Nietzsche as Stereotypical “Nietzschean”
The first sentence of Section 29:
Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong.
That sounds like something that stereotypical Nietzsche would say. There actually is a lot of justice in Nietzsche’s popular reputation. What people like Otto from A Fish Called Wanda miss is that N’s interest in strength and independence were primarily about emotional and intellectual virtues.
3. Nietzsche as Post-Modernist
From Section 38:
The French Revolution… noble and enthusiastic spectators all over Europe have contemplated it from a distance and interpreted it according to their own indignations and enthusiasms for so long, and so passionately, that the text finally disappeared under the interpretation. So a noble posterity might once more misunderstand the whole of the past, and in that way alone make it tolerable to look at.
Or rather, isn’t this what has already happened? Have not we ourselves been that “noble posterity”? And isn’t now precisely the moment when, insofar as we comprehend this, it is all over?
In this passage, especially the emphasized part— the emphasis is in the original— one again can see why the post-moderns liked N.
4. Nietzsche as (Possible) Social Darwinist
From Section 62:
The hitherto paramount religions… are among the principal causes which have kept the type of “man” upon a lower level: they have preserved too much that which should have perished… when they had given comfort to the sufferers, courage to the oppressed and despairing, a staff and support to the helpless, and when they had allured from society into convents and spiritual penitentiaries the broken-hearted and distracted: what else had they to do in order to work systematically in that fashion, and with a good conscience, for the preservation of all the sick and suffering, which means, in deed and in truth, to work for the deterioration of the European race?
It’s not clear to me whether N. is actually talking about genetics here or purely cultural effects. But he is obviously saying that coddling the weak is bad.
5. Nietzsche as Intellectual and Would-Be Prophet
From Section 212:
The philosopher, being of necessity a man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, has ever found himself, and had to find himself, in contradiction to his today: his enemy was ever the ideal of today.
A fun perspective on intellectuality… but it has been the source of much mischief in the last 100 years. Think of Marxism, for example, with its hordes of genocidal disciples convinced they were leading humanity into the future.
Also, this quote exemplifies a hilarious theme in Nietzsche’s thought: he’s a real believer in progress! This from the guy who sees himself as a provocative Loki, running around questioning everything, kicking out the legs from the sanctified beliefs of his day by means of radical skepticism! In the passage I quoted from Section 1 he even goes so far as to question whether truth is valuable. Yet he believes it’s possible to anticipate the future’s major beliefs. (Or perhaps he saw himself as creating those beliefs.) The guy who sees himself as a sort of epater le bourgeois crusader, attacking with glee the cherished beliefs of his day as the horrified gentility look on— that guy couldn’t even see through the 19th century belief in Progress! My God, that is funny! That. Is. Hilarious.
N’s belief in progress is in fact a major theme of all his writing, manifest in his constant talk about new philosophers coming up. E.g. the end of Section 2: “One must await the advent of a new order of philosophers, such as will have other tastes and inclinations, the reverse of those hitherto prevalent—philosophers of the dangerous ‘maybe’ in every sense of the term. And to speak in all seriousness: I see such new philosophers beginning to appear.”
6. Nietzsche as Actual Prophet
Nietzsche, writing in the 1880s, looks forward to the twentieth century:
From Section 251:
I have never yet met a German who was favorably inclined to the Jews; and however decided the repudiation of actual anti-Semitism may be on the part of all prudent and political men, this prudence and policy is not perhaps directed against the nature of the sentiment itself, but only against its dangerous excess… That Germany has amply enough Jews, that the German stomach, the German blood, has difficulty (and will long have difficulty) in digesting even this quantum of “Jew” …is the unmistakable declaration and language of a general instinct, to which one must listen… “Let no more Jews come in!” …thus commands the instinct of a people…
A thinker who has the future of Europe at heart, in all his perspectives concerning the future, will figure the Jews, as the Russians, as above all the surest and likeliest factors in the great play and battle of forces.
Well! After World War II and the Cold War, that seems pretty damn prescient!
From Section 208:
I do not say this as one who desires it, in my heart I should rather prefer the contrary—I mean such an increase in the threatening attitude of Russia, that Europe would have to make up its mind to become equally threatening—namely, to acquire one will, by means of a new caste to rule over the Continent, a persistent, dreadful will of its own, that can set its aims thousands of years ahead; so that the long spun-out comedy of its petty-statism, and its dynastic as well as its democratic many-willed-ness, might finally be brought to a close. The time for petty politics is past; the next century will bring the struggle for the dominion of the world—the compulsion to large-scale politics.
This passage prefigures the Cold War and the European Union project!
One could also do a section on “Red Pill Nietzsche” or “Nietzsche on Women” or something, but that topic deserves its own blog post.