“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Friedrich Nietzsche is probably one of the most influential and misunderstood philosophers in history. And sadly, he didn’t even attract much fame until the part of his life where he started to lose his mental faculties and go insane.
In this post I will not cover the entire history of Nietzche or his writings. But I would like to explain one of his most famous concepts, a conception that revolutionized thought on philosophy, religion and politics — his “will to power.”
The will to power describes what Nietzche believed was the main driving force of human life. He did not believe it was a struggle for survival, as philosophers posited in the past. He believed it was the struggle for power — achievement, ambition, and the striving to reach the highest possible position in life. It can be argued that human beings do not wage war or create art or write books merely so they can survive, but the greater reason, is so they can gain and enforce their own power. And this is not only just a struggle in human life, but it is the perennial struggle of nature itself.
Part of the reason why Nietzche is so important, when it comes to the history of thought in Western civilization, is because his works urge people to question what was the accepted morality of the time. Of what actually is morally true, and of what actually is a good pursuit in life.
Master Morality vs. Slave Morality: A key concept in the works of Nietzche is slave morality and master morality (On the Genealogy of Morality). Master morality values pride and power, while slave morality values things like meekness and humility. Master morality weighs actions on good or bad consequences (i. e., classical virtues and vices, consequentialism), unlike slave morality, which weighs actions on a scale of good or evil intentions (e. g, Christian virtues and vices, Kantian deontology).
Controversy: Friedrich Nietzsche is controversial because the Nazis were great fans of his work. But would he actually have supported them if he was alive in the 1930s?
The exact ideology of Friedrich Nietzsche is difficult at times to pin down. But in the context of the time he was alive, Nietzsche was not an anti-semite. According to Robert Holub, in Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem, Nietzsche recoiled from the crude excesses of Richard Wagner’s antisemitism and even had extremely positive remarks about the Jewish community that would probably be characterized as a form of racism in modern times (for the use of stereotyping), but would have been considered pro-Jewish at the time.
When Nietzsche referred to the “blond beast at the core of all noble races,” many people believe he was actually talking about lions rather than fair-haired Europeans. After all, check out this quote:
“One cannot fail to see at the bottom of all these noble races the beast of prey, the splendid blond beast, prowling about avidly in search of spoil and victory; this hidden core needs to erupt from time to time, the animal has to get out again and go back to the wilderness: the Roman, Arabian, Germanic, Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings–they all shared this need.”
There’s not many blond Arab or Japanese folk — so I think it’s pretty evident he was talking about lions.
One of the reasons why Nietzsche came to be associated with Nazis is because his sister, unlike him, was a protonazi. They even grew apart when she married a former high school teacher who had become a prominent German nationalist and antisemite. Yet in the years when Friedrich Nietzsche started to lose his sanity, his sister became his caretaker, curator and the editor of his manuscripts. She reworked his unpublished writings to fit her own ideology, often in ways contrary to her brother’s stated opinions. And when she died in 1935, Adolf Hitler attended her funeral.
Nietzsche and Black Power? While many people associate Nietzsche with Hitler, there are very few who would associate him with the Black Power movement in America. Yet Huey P. Newton, one of the key founders of the Black Panther Party, was an avid fan of Nietzsche. He found his writings, The Will to Power and Beyond Good and Evil, especially influential.
Elaine Brown writes that, at Huey’s behest, the Party established a school for party leadership to attempt to acquaint them with broad philosophical ideas:
Now they were wondering about his ideological institute. I saw the questions as the local leadership cadres came trooping to Oakland from as far away as Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago for bi-monthly, two-day learning sessions led by Huey. Where was the stuff about the pigs, they seemed to ask, as we studied with not only Mao and Marx but Aristotle and Plato. Where was the stuff about urban guerrilla warfare? Their expressions conveyed, as Huey led us in discussions of the philosophies of Rousseau and Kant, [sic] Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, about existentialism and determinism and free will. I saw their faces when we examined and questioned the theories of capitalism and socialism and communism. Huey asking whether our systematic use of the tests of dialectical materialism meant anything. If, under a dialectical materialist analysis, nothing “stood outside” of the process, did that negate the process itself, he asked? (Brown 255-56)
The idea of the Will to Power is evident in the Newton’s article “Black capitalist”
When we coined the expression “All power to the people”, we had in mind emphasizing the word “power” for we recognize that the will to power is the basic drive of man. But it is incorrect to seek power over people. We have been subjected to the dehumanizing power of exploitation and racism for hundreds of years; and the Black community has its will to power also. What we seek, however, is not power over people, but the power of control of our own destiny. (Newton 227)
As a Nietzschean, Newton knew that only power could influence change, and direct it along its desired course.
Nietzsche also played a critical role in getting people to question the established norms and morality of their time. In America, when Africans were brought here and enslaved, they were taught Christian morality, and taught to embrace the meekness, humility and pacifism encouraged by what Nietzsche saw as a “slave morality.” Via the Black Power movement, many African Americans started to question those values, and see the pursuit of power as a road to real change.
Importance in the Pagan Community: The ideas of Nietzsche are obviously of great import to the modern pagan community. He questioned the Judeo-Christian morals of good versus evil that came to define the West. Paganism — in my opinion — is a religion and set of values less concerned with good and evil, and more concerned with virtues like courage, honesty, integrity and the ability to hone one’s inner power though magic or ritual.
Nietzsche is a fascinating character supported by movements on both the left and the right. You can love him or hate him, but you cannot deny the importance of his writings and their effect on history.
To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
Without music, life would be a mistake.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
“Thou great star! What would be thy happiness if thou hadst not those for whom you shine!
For ten years hast thou climbed hither to my cave: you would your light and of the journey have become sick without me, mine eagle and my serpent.
But we awaited thee every morning, took from you your overflow and blessed thee for it.
See! I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee, the honey has collected too much, I need hands outstretched to take it.
I want to give away and austheilen, until the wise among the people of their folly, and the poor of their wealth are once again become happy.
For this I must get into the deep: as thou doest in the evening, when you go behind the sea and even the underworld bring light, you over-rich star!
(Quote Source: Thus Spoke Zarathustra)