This Reflection is a continuation of the philosophical underpinnings of our Great American Republic. We have discussed in the past contributions of Aristotle, Socrates and recently Plato. I have chosen Dr. Friedrich Nietzsche whose political philosophy, though often maligned, eventually gave rise to the most American of political philosophies, Pragmatic Existentialism. His contribution was one of opposition rather than affirmation of his beliefs.
He was a German philosopher who became one of the most influential of all modern thinkers. He is noted for his challenges to traditional Western religion, morality and philosophy. He turned out to be the cause of many beliefs held in contradiction and opposition to his beliefs. I have chosen only a few topics which seem to surface as the most challenging.
After great distillation process, I suggest that Nietzsche is better known for his writings on the concepts of good and evil, the end of religion in modern society and the concept of a “super-man” (not a Superman made of steel, faster than a speeding bullet fighting for truth and justice but a “super” man, a man of self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-control.). His philosophical principles and arguments are not easily challenged or brushed aside. He was a person of great influence in the nineteenth century giving rise to many experimental governments which eventually failed. I am referring to Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and North Korea, Middle Eastern dictatorships, African tribalism and the old Soviet Union. All this will lead to a greater understanding of the American Way based on Existentialism and Representative Democracy. If you have a year or so free to read a book, try “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzsche.
His argument regarding good and evil goes like this. They are opposites but neither are possible if one or the other does not exist. For the good to exist, he would say “whatever is, just is”. His reason for the non-existence of evil is that an Omni-powerful God, an Omniscient God and a God that is involved in human affairs would never permit evil to exist. Rather one might say that evil is simply the absence of good in any given situation. However, he felt even God was powerless to create such a good. Unfortunately, this led to the belief that he is most well known for: the concept that “God is Dead!” Nietzsche, however, was not anti-religion. He adopted the analysis of religion as an intellectual construction that addresses the existential problems of pain and death and gives authority to religious leaders in creating a ethical moral code. In other worded religion is a “human” construct and not a mandate from God. The “authority” for religious belief is not God, but truth and logic, very human constructs. He made this conclusion after observing hundreds of religious organizations which exist worldwide. Here, you may insert the First (and for many, the Primary) amendment to our Constitution which codifies freedom of religion, speech, and peaceful assembly. In a way, Nietzsche is the father of our First Amendment as a proclamation opposite to his theory of God and religion.
Nietzsche did not believe in free will. Nor did he believe in predetermination of outcomes. What he did believe in is the power of the will. The power of determination of one’s current choices and future events. He thus abandoned historical and cultural superstitions and necessities in favor of the use of the will to determine choices. In other words, one did not act because one always acted that way, one acted after considerations presented to the will which made the choices. We should think of our concepts of personal freedom, lack of prejudice, delinquent behavior, aberrant and destructive crowd behavior and riots. This is not the exercise of free will or freedom we as Americans believe in. Apparently, certain “freedom loving” individuals acting as a crowd were exercising their free will by looting, rioting and destroying property and lives in the name of Anti-fascism and white prejudice and a rich-poor caste system. Nietzsche would give the power of will to make men great by willing the choices one makes. (I know this is difficult to conceive, but this teaching is the basis for all “law and order” beliefs.)
Leaving this to you study and thought, I would like to list a few of the tenants of Existentialism which grew out of the Nihilism of Dr. Nietzsche.
*a practical philosophy which centers on the lived experience of the thinking, feeling and acting individual (as opposed to the crowd, community or gang).
*the most important consideration for individuals is that they are individuals, acting independently to create their own values, consciousness of good and evil and meaning which defines them as a person.
*Nothing fixes our purpose but we ourselves. We are free to choose the will to succeed
*We, as free persons, have the power to reject the absurd and the absurdity of concepts. (Beyond mathematical absurdity, to religious teachings and precepts.) or to embrace it as an acceptance by faith.
*The most important tool and possession of the political person is the vote. It should have weight, meaning and used after careful thought regarding free choices, as in an election.
*The power of government derives from the consent of the citizens.
Concepts such as these pervade our Constitution which in turn is a rejection of many teachings of Dr. Frederich Nietzsche.