Friday, 17 July 2009

Book Review: Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One by Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche has a bad reputation. He's considered at best a selfish amoralist, at worst a harbinger of Nazism. But actually engaging with Nietzsche's ideas counteracts the above to some extent. Reading 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' is no exception, although much of his philosophy and tone of language is unsettling to liberals and left-wingers. It's not a work of philosophy as such but a mock biblical prose poem outlining Nietzsche's message to humanity, represented by the figure of the prophet Zarathustra. God is dead and Christian (slave) morality's foundation in the passive resentment of the poor and the weak exposed. Zarathustra proclaims the coming of the Superman; someone who has overcome weakness (physical, spiritual and psychological) and individually encapsulates the powerful life-forces of creativity, non-conformity and the will to power-a celebrant of life affirmation in all its aspects. Transformed by stifling religious piety and the ressentiment of the conforming 'herd,' the values of the Superman are twisted into European civilization's concept of evil-selfishness, lust and greed, etc.

The proclamations of Zarathustra (Nietzsche) in this gloriously excessive and grandiose book are not even remotely socialist. He castigates all forms of collective endeavour and philosophies of egalitarianism and idealises the almost pathological self-sufficiency of the extreme solitary. Furthermore, although not directly stated, an aura of social Darwinism pervades throughout. This as well as praise for masculine warrior virtues, alongside an utter disdain for women, suited only for the breeding of children, does indeed give an impression of fascism. So why have I, a socialist and ardent anti-fascist, found 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra ' an inspiration?

Firstly to say Nietzsche was a fascist is an outrageous over-simplification. He despised German nationalism and racialism, admired the Jews and advocated miscegenation. Hitler and the Nazis would have been deeply repugnant to him. Fascism is probably the ultimate political ideology encapsulating conformity and the herd mentality, singly based on hatred (ressentiment) of the outsider. Secondly I'm not only a socialist but also a libertarian. It's clear Nietzsche's Superman is a vision of a liberating and creative individuality, in opposition to authoritarian (religious) morality and the state, not an Aryan master race. Many liberals and left-wingers (now made up today almost exclusivily of the white middle-classes) have embraced a guilt inducing 'hand wringing' pity for those considered beneath them on one hand and a stereotyping of the working-class, the poor and oppressed on the other, as mere victims in need of salvation, rather then potentially active agents in their own lives, seeking their own individuality and liberation. (Of course this can only be achieved working with others in an egalitarian fashion and is the reason why I describe myself as a socialist.)

But I need living companions who follow me because they want to follow themselves-and who want to go where I want to go.

A light has dawned for me: Zarathustra shall not speak to the people but to companions! Zarathustra shall not be herdsman and dog to the herd!

To lure many away from the herd-that is why I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me: the herdsmen shall call Zarathustra a robber.

I say herdsmen, but they call themselves the good and the just. I say herdsmen: but they call themselves the faithful of the true faith.

Behold the good and the just! Whom do they hate most? Him who smashes their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker-but he is the creator.

Behold the faithful of all faiths! Whom do they hate the most? Him who smashes their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker-but he is the creator.

The creator seeks companions, not corpses or herds or believers. The creator seeks fellow-creators, those who inscribe new values on new tables.

Further reading: An interesting article on Nietzsche and his influence on ararchists and anarchism by Spencer Sunshine.

No comments: