Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Nietzsche and Nihilism

Nietzsche believed that nihilism is a widespread phenomenon in European culture—he offers his diagnosis of European nihilism in his book The Will to Power.

But was Nietzsche a nihilist? He held that the world is what we make it to be, and that there is no fundamental basis to the traditional social, political, moral, and religious values held by mankind. He announced that God is dead, arguing that God is no longer a source of moral and spiritual values, and is irrelevant to modern culture.

In The Will to Power, (Notes from Spring-Fall1887), Nietzsche writes:
What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; "why?" finds no answer. 
In Notes from November 1887-March 1888, titled “Decline of Cosmological Values,” he says:
Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a "meaning" in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the "in vain," insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure—being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long…
Nietzsche realized that people around him were nihilists, but he was not a nihilist (or an advocate of nihilism). He likened the “death of God” to a slave revolt against the master morality of antiquity. He believed that the nihilism that followed the death of God will lead to a drastic fall in moral standards which in turn will undermine civilization. But he welcomed the nihilist force because he believed that it would sweep away the traditional culture and make room for the emergence of a super-race of human beings. Nietzsche’s Overman is not the cause of nihilism; he is its solution.

Michael Allen Gillespie, in his book Nihilism Before Nietzsche disagrees with Nietzsche’s pessimism about modern culture. In the Introduction to his book, he says:
Nietzsche’s account of the origin and nature of nihilism has led us wrongly to devalue the modern world, especially in implicating liberalism in nihilism. In his view, liberalism is the final triumph of slave morality and destroys the last remnants of the old hierarchical order. It thus produces the banal last man, and it is the last man whose weakness finally destroys God. Liberalism, for Nietzsche, thus plays an important role in the nihilistic destruction of traditional values… 
Nihilism is not the result of liberalism but of a strain of modern thought that is largely at odds with liberalism, which sees man not as a limited and imperfect being who “muddles through,” but as a superhuman being who can create the world anew through the application of his infinite will. While liberalism may end in relativism, it rejects such Promethean visions; and while it may in some instances produce banality and boredom, it does not produce a politics of terror and destruction. Indeed, despite the fact that liberalism has in many respects embraced relativism, it has shown great resilience in the face of terroristic regimes.

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