DR. HENRY CAMPBELL m.a., Ph.D., a.c.p., f.r.s.a.
THE RELATIONSHIP between the writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and Nationalist political thought has frequently been the subject of heated controversy.
In this article Dr Campbell explains some of Nietzsche's basic objectives and concepts, and clarifies some of the misconceptions about Nietzsche.
Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1901
MOST English thinkers will Invariably, automatically and largely justifiably, associate the name of Nietzsche with the intellectualism of the Third Reich, and the doctrine of Superman. In this short article I propose to correct this spurious conception of the great philosopher and draw attention to the genius and dynamic structure of his work that makes it so vital and appropriate to the era in which we are living.
No philosophical doctrine exists in isolation; it is an evolved process parallel with biological evolution. If Descartes can be said to have been the first of the 'Modem Philosophers' (because he was the first to doubt the rigidly held views of the Christian Scholastics) and Kant was the greatest of the 'Modem Philosophers' (because he was the first to basically critically analyse the processes of reason) then Nietzsche stands supremely above all his predecessors (and his followers) in the uncompromising clarity of thought in which he saw that we have to 'revalue' all of our existing values.
One could say that he took as his basic premise the concept that 'man' should not be dependent on any transcendental power or being. Man is man in his own right; the dignity of man is something that we have in ourselves, not something that we have to grovel before a 'Supreme Being' to be given to us. Nietzsche said the greatness of ourselves is in ourselves, and so his Superman (Ubermensch) was the superman that we can be ourselves by the practice of self-control, and that is what he meant by 'The Will to Power'; the will, on our part, to achieve supreme self-control. To become, in fact, the 'Superman' by a great inward struggle of the self.
It is easy to see how from this idealistic and personal concept of Superman could come the more physical manifestation of sheer external power. Nietzsche, in fact, thought that having participated in the great struggle of self-control, then the resultant victor, the Superman, would have a greater and deeper understanding of those who had not achieved the same success.
In brief, his teaching of Superman is that Superman is ourselves if we have the fortitude and courage to achieve the mastery of self-control. It is a ruthless and destructive doctrine, and a doctrine demanding far more perseverance and courage than that of the Christian and Religious ascetics because here there is to be no help from any outside source; man has to stand on his own feet. Nietzsche said that if our whole edifice of idealism and religious values were false (and he argued that they were) then they had to be thrown over and replaced by new values; and central to this revaluation of values was the positive doctrine of 'Be Yourself. Don't 'Know Yourself' but 'Make Yourself'.
Here is the Will to Power, the supremacy of self-assertion. It has often been erroneously said that Nietzsche despised pity. He did; but not in the strong person. He despised such attitudes when they sought succour from outside themselves. Over and over again his teaching is that the 'Will to Power' is the source of man's strength; this turning inward to destroy all that is weak. It might be called 'keeping oneself up to the mark', and the mark being set by yourself.
Academic philosophers will argue over this or that reference in Nietzsche; his attitude towards causality, his concept of 'Will' (taken from Schopenhauer and, in a sense, reversed) but the basic clarion call that echoes throughout his work is that you can create yourself; and that you have to create yourself because there is no outside help that you can depend on. And this self creation is the Superman, the person who has conquered self by sheer self-discipline; a person living life to the full; unrepressed because all false values have been cast out.
There are other doctrines attributed to Nietzsche, for example, the doctrine of Eternal Recurrence in Time; possibly the most difficult of his doctrines to get to grips with. One finds frequent references in his writings to Buddhism so he would have been well aware of the Buddhist doctrine of Transmigration.
But these are not serious aspects of Nietzsche's thinking. He was a great experimentator. Always prepared to try out a new line of thought - how else can one revalue values? Perhaps this can be related to Kant's Categorical Imperatives; 'Act now as if your action will become a Universal Law.' Nietzsche's idea was that your actions should be of such a superior kind that you would not be ashamed to commit them over and over, again and again, ad nauseam ad infinitum.
It is to be seen not so much as a theory of being, or as a theory of the Cosmos; but as a moral theory. Regarded as such it can be steered clear of the awkwardness of any metempsychotic theory and directly related to the 'Will to Power'; the Will (self-assertion and self-dominance) to the supreme power contained in self-control.
Nietzsche argues then that the Superman, the free and untrammelled spirit would become by its very nature anti-evil. In the secure knowledge of its power of self-control it would become a generous spirit, a spirit unplagued by jealously. This, he says, is the Superman, a man accepting the supreme loneliness of his position and rising above the cringing whinings of self-pity and the absurd reliance on the Deus ex Machina that can never be.
Nietzsche does not offer us a panacea, a ready-made solution to life's problems. His doctrines do, in effect, fit but rather awkwardly into a societal structure because the main thrust of his teaching was to 'create yourself. It was a personal creed directly opposed to any form of weakness. It was a creed that could have begun with the incantation 'I believe in myself. Not, be it noted, the self that is the product of a thousand imposed false values of superstitution and ignorance, but the self that has been created from a structure of true values.
From a Revaluation of Values, by the Will to Power is created superman; not the Superman of a ficticious myth, but the Superman who has mastered the hardest task of all; self-control.
By far the best direct introduction are the two volumes Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Will to Power. Both are obtainable in paperback. Nietzsche's writing style, even in translation, is aphoristic, often melodramatic, but essentially masterfully beautiful and very readable.
'It is the table of the self-imposed commands, which have turned the herd and rabble into a nation. Primitive aggression has been directed back upon itself, sublimated into self-control. When the same thing happens in an individual, when he imposes commands upon himself, and obeys them, so that he too as it were changes from a rabble into a nation, the result is the Superman. The man who is master of himself.'