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Basic Writings of Nietzsche

by Friedrich Nietzsche

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People are always rushing to defend Friedrich Nietzsche, for the very good reason that his philosophical “system” is so easily criticized. If your own worldview causes you to be sympathetic to Nietzsche, it unfortunately guarantees that you’ll expend a lot of intellectual energy trying to cast him in a softer light.

Walter Kaufmann, the editor of this volume, has wasted a good deal of his life in this fruitless pursuit. To cite just one example, Kaufmann here dismisses people who suggest that Nietzsche’s philosophy played an important role in the rise of Nazism: “[A]ll serious interpreters of Nietzsche, no matter how much they may disagree on other points, agree that this absurdity can be supported only by either rank ignorance of his works . . . or an incredible lack of intellectual integrity (common to a few Nazi hacks).”

Methinks he doth protest too much. Still, it’s hard to get angry at Kaufmann. He sympathizes with Nietzsche, he knows that the Third Reich was an abomination—he would like to have his cake and eat it, too. But to make such an unqualified assertion, while surely being aware of some exceptions, seems disingenuous at best.

The last line of defense for Nietzsche sympathizers is, not surprisingly, the last line of defense for Darwin lovers: the old claim that their man is just too brilliant—that common folks like you and me just aren’t subtle enough to plumb his depths.

But the fact remains that you can read Nietzsche and you can understand him, at least to the extent that he manifests enough coherence to be understood. And once you’ve read him, you’ll realize that all his melodrama and all his blowing was summed up neatly by G.K. Chesterton long ago:

“Fastidiousness is the most pardonable of vices; but it is the most unpardonable of virtues. Nietzsche, who represents most prominently this pretentious claim of the fastidious, has a description somewhere—a very powerful description in the purely literary sense—of the disgust and disdain which consume him at the sight of the common people with their common faces, their common voices, and their common minds. As I have said, this attitude is almost beautiful if we may regard it as pathetic. Nietzsche’s aristocracy has about it all the sacredness that belongs to the weak. When he makes us feel that he cannot endure the innumerable faces, the incessant voices, the overpowering omnipresence which belongs to the mob, he will have the sympathy of anybody who has ever been sick on a steamer or tired in a crowded omnibus. Every man has hated mankind when he was less than a man. Every man has had humanity in his eyes like a blinding fog, humanity in his nostrils like a suffocating smell. But when Nietzsche has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us to believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or an aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth. It is an aristocracy of weak nerves.”

by Jeff Baldwin