Friedrich Nietzschze 1844-1900
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher, society and cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history.
Born on 15 October 1844, to Carl Ludwig and Franziska Nietzsche, Nietzsche grew up in the small town of Röcken, near Leipzig, in Prussian Saxony. His father was a Lutheran pastor and former teacher. Friedrich had a sister, Elizabeth, born in 1846 and a brother who died young . When Nietzsche’ father died, the family moved to Naumburg, where they lived with Nietzsche’s maternal grandmother and his father’s two unmarried sisters. After the death of Nietzsche’s grandmother in 1856, the family moved into their own house.
Nietzsche attended a boys’ school and then a private school, where he became friends with the sons of highly respected local families.
In 1854, he attended Domgymnasium in Naumburg. Because his father had worked for the state as a pastor, Nietzsche was offered a scholarship to study at the internationally recognized Schulpforta from 1858 to 1864 where he received an important grounding in languages—Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and French,essential for studying primary sources. For the first time ,he also experienced freedom from his family life in a small-town conservative environment and Neitzsche found time to work on poems and musical composition and led a music and literature club, during his summers in Naumburg. After graduation in September 1864, Nietzsche commenced studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn with hope of becoming a minister, but after one semester he stopped his theological studies as he had lost his faith. In 1865/6, Nietzsche thoroughly studied the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and read Friedrich Lange’s ‘History of Materialism’ and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The general widening of thought and intellectual rebellion against tradition and authority intrigued Nietzsche greatly.
In 1867, Nietzsche signed up for one year of voluntary service with the Prussian artillery division in Naumburg. but he was injured and returned to his studies again, completing them in 1868 and meeting with Richard Wagner for the first time later that year.
In part because of Professor Friedrich Ritschl, whom he had followed to the University of Leipzig, Nietzsche received a remarkable offer in 1869 -to become professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He was only 24 years old and had neither completed his doctorate nor received a teaching certificate, but was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Leipzig, again with Ritschl’s support.
Since his childhood, various disruptive illnesses had plagued him, including moments of short-sightedness that left him nearly blind, migraine headaches and violent indigestion. These persistent conditions continued to affect him through his years at Basel, forcing him to take longer and longer holidays until regular work became impractical.
Living off his pension from Basel and aid from friends, Nietzsche travelled frequently to find climates more conducive to his health and lived, as an independent author in different cities until 1889.
In 1882, Nietzsche published the first part of ‘The Gay Science’ and in that year he also met Lou Andreas-Salomé and Paul Rée both of whom would affect his wandering life over the next year.
At a literary salon in Rome, the young Salomé had met Paul Rée who proposed marriage to her, but instead she suggested that they should live and study together as ‘brother and sister’, along with another man for company, so that they could establish an academic commune. Rée accepted the idea and suggested his friend Nietzsche who, on their first meeting, is believed to have instantly fallen in love with Salome, as Rée had done.
Though Lou Salome had rejected offers of marriage from both of them, Nietzsche was content to join them, touring through Switzerland and Italy together, to find a home for their commune idea. Nietzsche occasionally returned to Naumburg to visit his family, but he had repeated periods of conflict and reconciliation with his mother and sister regarding Salomé. Nietzsche then fled to Rapallo, where amidst renewed bouts of illness and living in near-isolation, he wrote the first part of ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ in only ten days.
After severing his philosophical ties with Schopenhauer and his social ties with Wagner, Nietzsche had few remaining friends. Now, with the new, and to some, shocking views of ‘Zarathustra’, his work became even more alienating. In 1883 he tried and failed to obtain a lecturing post at the University of Leipzig and it was made clear to him that, in view of his attitude towards Christianity and his concept of God, he had become effectively unemployable by any German university.
In 1886, his sister Elisabeth married the antisemite Bernhard Förster and travelled to Paraguay to found ‘Nueva Germania’, a ‘Germanic’ colony’—a plan Nietzsche responded to with mocking laughter
His health seemed to improve, and he spent the summer of 1888 in high spirits. In the autumn, his writings and letters began to reveal a confident view of his own intellectual status and ‘fate’, but on 3 January 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown and was moved to various clinics by his friends and family seeking a cure. In 1893, Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, returned from ‘Nueva Germania’ in Paraguay following the suicide of her husband. She read and studied Nietzsche’s works and piece by piece, took control of them and their publication. In 1897, Nietzsche lived in Weimar, where Elisabeth cared for him and allowed visitors to meet her uncommunicative brother. Elisabeth at one point went so far as to employ Rudolph Steiner as a tutor to help her to understand her brother’s philosophy. Steiner abandoned the attempt after only a few months, declaring that it was impossible to teach her anything about philosophy.
In 1898 and 1899, Nietzsche suffered at least two strokes. This partially paralyzed him, leaving him unable to speak or walk. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900, he had another stroke and died on 25 August. He is buried beside his father at the church in Röcken bei Lützen.
After his death, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche became the curator and editor of her brother’s manuscripts, reworking Nietzsche’s unpublished writings to fit her own German nationalist ideology while often contradicting or obfuscating his stated opinions, which were opposed to antisemitism and nationalism. 20th century scholars contested this interpretation of his work and corrected editions of his writings were soon made available.
In his many writings Nietzsche explored many new and at the time disturbing philosophical theories. He held a pessimistic view on modern society and culture and was against the concept of popular culture. He believed the press and mass culture led to conformity and brought about mediocrity. Nietzsche saw a lack of intellectual progress leading to the decline of the human species. He believed that powerful and selected individuals were needed to overcome this form of mass culture.
The statement ‘God is dead’, occurring in several of Nietzsche’s works (notably in ‘The Gay Science’), has become one of his best-known remarks. Nietzsche claimed the death of God may lead to outright nihilism, the belief that nothing has any inherent importance and that life lacks purpose
In his most famous – and infamous book, ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, Nietzsche proclaims that a table of values hangs above every great person. He points out that what is common among different peoples is the act of esteeming, of creating values, even if the values are different from one people to the next. Nietzsche asserts that what made people great was not the content of their beliefs, but the act of valuing and the collective will to see those values come to pass. Zarathustra presents the ‘overman’ (hence ‘Superman’) as the creator of new values and he appears as a solution to the problem of the death of God and nihilism. The ‘overman’ does not follow morality of common people since that favours mediocrity, but instead rises above the notion of good and evil and above the ‘herd’.
In ‘Beyond Good and Evil ‘and ‘On the Genealogy of Morality’, Nietzsche sees the slave-morality as a source of the nihilism that has overtaken Europe. Modern Europe and Christianity exist in a hypocritical state due to a tension between master and slave morality
A basic element in Nietzsche’s philosophical outlook is the ‘will to power’ (der Wille zur Macht), which he maintained provides a basis for understanding human behaviour. More often than not, self-conservation is but a consequence of a creature’s will to exert its strength on the outside world.
Another position is the “Eternal return”, a hypothetical concept that proposes that the universe has been recurring and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form, for an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. It is a purely physical concept, involving no supernatural reincarnation, but the return of beings in the same bodies.
Nietzsche’s growing prominence suffered a severe setback when his works became closely associated with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich , who adopted selected theories out of context to suit their own supremacist racist agenda. After the second world war, modern philosophers rehabilitated aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy, especially his ideas of the ‘self ‘and his relation to society, which run through much of late-twentieth and early twenty-first century philosophical thought.
His nineteen published works and other papers and correspondence enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1960’s and his ideas have since had a profound impact on 20th and early 21st century thinkers.