Friedrich Nietzsche

Dafato Team | Jun 8, 2022

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Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (Röcken, Oct. 15, 1844 - Weimar, Aug. 25, 1900) was a German philosopher, aphorist, poet, essayist, composer and philologist.He was a Prussian citizen until 1869, then stateless (he did, however, participate in the Franco-Prussian War as a nurse Considered among the greatest philosophers and writers of all time, whose work influenced ethical, literary, religious, political, psychological and epistemological thought in the Western world in the 20th century. His philosophy, partly traceable to the strand of the philosophies of life, was considered by some to be a watershed between traditional philosophy and a new, informal and provocative model of thinking. In any case, he is a unique thinker who exerted an enormous influence on Western culture.

He wrote various essays and aphoristic works on morality, religion (particularly Christian religion), modern society, and science, imbued with a profound lucidity and aversion to metaphysics and by a strong critical charge, always on the edge of irony and parody with a pronounced stylistic appeal derived from French moralists and Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire. An early "Wagnerian" phase stands out in his philosophy, including The Birth of Tragedy and the Inactual Considerations, in which the philosopher fights alongside Richard Wagner for a "mythical reform" of German culture.

This phase would later be abandoned and disavowed with the publication of Human, Too Human-in the so-called "Enlightenment" season of his thought-to finally culminate, a few years before the nervous breakdown of 1889 and the progressive paralysis that would end his activity in a third phase dedicated to the transvaluation of values and active nihilism, characterized by the concepts of beyond man, eternal return and will to power, a phase that has its climax (and beginning) with the publication of the seminal work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, followed by other important works such as Beyond Good and Evil, The Antichrist and The Twilight of the Idols. He died of pneumonia in 1900, after eleven and a half years of infirmity, paralyzed and in the grip of vascular dementia after suffering numerous strokes.

Youthful years

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in Röcken, a village in southern Prussia (he was named after King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia who turned forty-nine on the very day Nietzsche was born. The philosopher later dropped his middle name "Wilhelm." The first name, Friedrich, was also a tribute to his grandfather Friedrich August Nietzsche, who died in 1826.

He belonged to the line of Protestant priests, the eldest son of Karl Ludwig Nietzsche, a former mentor of reactionary monarchism at the Altenburg court, and Franziska Olle, daughter of a Lutheran priest. Two more children were born in 1846 and 1848, Elisabeth and Joseph (the latter died in 1850 from a sudden, unspecified brain fever).

On July 27, 1849, his father died, after a year of "cerebral apathy" (according to Elisabeth due to a fall, according to others probably a brain tumor, stroke, temporal lobe epilepsy or the same brain disease that would later affect his son, the first signs of which had appeared two years earlier). Following these misfortunes, the family moved to nearby Naumburg where they lived with Nietzsche's maternal grandmother and two unmarried sisters of his father. After the grandmother's death in 1856, the family moved to their own house, now Nietzsche-Haus, a museum and study center.

Here Friedrich began his studies in classical literature and religion; he attended the boys' public school and then later a private school, where he befriended Gustav Krug and Wilhelm Pinder, his first friends each of whom came from respectable families. At home he learned music and singing. He engages in vocal and instrumental musical compositions, composes poetry, and reads Goethe and Byron.

In 1854 he began attending the Domgymnasium in Naumburg, but already distinguished for his uncommon intellectual gifts, having shown particular talents in both music and language, he was admitted as a student at Schulpforta, an internationally recognized collegiate complex. He thus began attending the high school (Gymnasium) Landesschule in Pforta as an internal recipient of an ecclesiastical scholarship. Here he studied between 1858-1864, experiencing for the first time distance from his familiar surroundings, first becoming friends with Paul Deussen (he would also find time to work on his first original poetic and musical compositions.

In 1860, together with his friends Krug and Pinder, who had joined him to also study at Pforta, he founded the Germania Association, through which he set out to develop his literary and musical interests. For this association he wrote a number of essays, such as Fate and Will and Freedom of Will and Fate, visibly inspired by his reading of Fate and other essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, especially those included in Conduct of Life (1860), a work that has recently been considered fundamental in the genesis of Nietzsche's thought. During this period Nietzsche began to suffer from an ailment that would torment him all his life, migraine.

He also hangs out with the old bohemian poet Ernst Ortlepp, a former student of Pforta's who now lives wandering around. Together with Ortlepp, who is eccentric, profane and often drunk, he becomes acquainted with the work of the then almost unknown poet Friedrich Hölderlin, who will soon be considered the boy's favorite; indeed, he composes an essay in which he writes that the mad poet has raised his consciousness to the most sublime ideality: the teacher who corrected his paper, while giving him a good grade, however, strongly advises him to deal in the future with healthier, more lucid, ultimately "more German" writers. Ortlepp will eventually be found dead in a ditch, where he had probably fallen, in a drunken state, hitting his head.

The particularly careful study conducted here of the classical languages and ancient Hebrew put him in a position to read important primary sources; after the final examinations the now nineteen-year-old is given a final certificate awarding him an excellent grade in religion, German and Latin, a good in Greek and a sufficient in French, and instead a poor one in Hebrew, mathematics and drawing; in the faculty's concluding remarks it is stated: "the board of examiners has issued him, now that he is leaving the royal territorial school to study philology and theology at the University of Bonn, the certificate of maturity and dismisses him in the hope that one day applying himself always with seriousness and conscientiousness he may achieve good results in his profession."

Having completed his secondary education in 1864, he began studies in the theological faculty at the University of Bonn at his mother's behest, studies which he held for just one session, after which he enrolled with his friend and fellow student Deussen in the Burschenschaft (student guild) of Franconia. It is the latter who reports on the famous episode at the "house of mischief" in Cologne as a "contribution to the understanding of Nietzsche's way of thinking." In February 1865, the philosopher told him about being surreptitiously led there by his local guide and, embarrassed, ran away after playing the piano a bit to demean himself in front of "half a dozen apparitions in sequins and veils." Already in his essays on fate in the immediately preceding years he argued that historical research has now discredited the central teachings of religion. At the same time he read David Friedrich Strauß's Life of Jesus, which seems to have had a profound effect on the young man. Writing a letter to his deeply devout sister about his own loss of faith, he says, "If you want to strive for peace of soul, you must believe; but if you want to be a devotee of truth, then you must question."

In 1865 he enrolled at the University of Leipzig to continue taking classes in classical philology from Friedrich Ritschl, already his teacher in Bonn. He studied Theognides and the Suida, but was most fascinated by Plato and especially Ralph Waldo Emerson and Arthur Schopenhauer, who were to influence all his output. Especially the latter, with his work The World as Will and Representation was to awaken a passionate and enduring philosophical interest.

In 1866 he also read Friedrich Albert Lange's History of Materialism; here the descriptions of Immanuel Kant's anti-materialistic philosophy, the rise of materialism on the European continent, the growing concern about Darwin's evolutionism, and finally the general atmosphere of rebellion against traditional authority greatly intrigued Nietzsche. He met Erwin Rohde, future author of Psyche, in 1867, and in the meantime deepened his study of the work of Diogenes Laertius, Homer, Democritus, and the aforementioned Kant, while an essay of his on Theognides appeared in the philological journal Rheinisches Museum, edited by Ritschl.

On October 9 he began military service, having signed up for a year as a volunteer, in the Prussian Army's horse artillery regiment stationed in Naumburg. In March of the following year he seriously injured his sternum; while sending his horse galloping he struck the saddle pommel violently with his chest, tearing two muscles in his left side: after six months spent immobilized, he took early discharge in October. Back in Leipzig, the University rewarded him for his essay on the sources of Diogenes Laertius and hired him as a private teacher. On November 8, 1868, he met Richard Wagner at the home of the Orientalist Hermann Brockhaus.

Professor in Basel

Thanks to Ritschl's support, on Feb. 13, 1869, he was awarded the chair of Greek language and literature at the University of Basel as a classical philologist, although he had not yet completed either his doctorate or received any teaching certificate; on May 28 he delivered the inaugural lecture on Homer and classical philology, and the University of Leipzig granted him a degree on the basis of his publications in the Rheinisches Museum. At the age of 25, Nietzsche applied for the cancellation of his former Prussian citizenship and became stateless: he would officially remain so for the rest of his days.

Since May 17 he had begun to frequent, at the villa in Tribschen, on Lake Lucerne near Lucerne, Richard and Cosima Wagner, being greatly impressed: "What I learn there, what I see and hear and understand, is indescribable. Schopenhauer, Goethe, Aeschylus and Pindar still live." In the period between 1869 and 1870 he collaborated, as a proofreader (and more generally as an informal secretary-factotum), in the drafting of an autobiography of Wagner, destined not to see the light of day before 1911, but to whose knowledge the philosopher openly, and ironically, alludes in a writing of the 1880s:

Even after his ideological break with Wagner, he will always hold Cosima in high esteem, considering her, among his acquaintances, to be the only person on the same intellectual level as himself.In early 1870 Nietzsche gave a number of lectures in Basel ("The Greek Musical Drama," "Socrates and Tragedy"), which anticipated his first volume, The Birth of Tragedy (1872). In Basel he met the already famous historian Jacob Burckhardt and befriended his neighbor at the boarding house where he resided, the theology professor Franz Camille Overbeck, who remained close to him until his death and was a great admirer of his works, although his academic position made this somewhat awkward, given Nietzsche's views on religion. He also became acquainted with the work of Afrikan Špir and was deeply influenced by it.

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) he asked to be temporarily excused from teaching in order to participate, as a nurse assigned to transport the wounded, in the war. After just two weeks spent at the front, however, he contracted diphtheria and a principle of dysentery, so that he in turn had to be treated and was therefore discharged on October 21. He observes with quiet skepticism and a certain detachment the birth of the German Empire by Otto von Bismarck.

In his polemical response entitled Philology of the Future, the then still young but already established Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff strongly criticizes the lack of academic methodology used by Nietzsche in writing the Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, to instead follow a much more speculative approach; only Rohde, formerly a teacher in Kiel, and Wagner defend the form by siding with him; observing the deep isolation in which he found himself on this occasion within the philological community, he tries unsuccessfully to switch positions as a professor of philosophy.

In the meantime he wrote The Dionysian Vision of the World, sketched out The Tragedy and Free Spirits and a drama entitled Empedocles, in which many of the themes that would later be taken up in the works of his maturity are very clearly anticipated. Between 1873 and 1876 he wrote the four Inactual Considerations, which represent an orientation increasingly toward a strong cultural critique of his time: "David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer"; On the Usefulness and Harm of History for Life; "Schopenhauer as Educator" and finally "Richard Wagner at Bayreuth." In 1873 he also began to accumulate the notes that would be published posthumously under the title of Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks.

The Inactuals challenges the then-developing German culture in the wake of the example given and the lines suggested by Schopenhauer and Wagner; he met at this time Malwida von Meysenbug and Hans von Bülow, and also began a close friendship and collaboration with Paul Rée, a scholar of philosophy of Jewish origin who from 1876 onwards positively influenced him in rejecting the tragic pessimism that pervaded his early writings, and thus directed him toward an "enlightenment" phase.

Deeply disappointed by the Bayreuth Festival of 1876, where the banality of the performances and the vileness of the audience intimately repelled him, Nietzsche began to distance himself more and more from his old master Wagner, although the official break would not occur until the publication of Human, Too Human ("A Book for Free Spirits").

I work as an independent philosopher

For health reasons (frequent migraines and eye pain, possible symptoms of the illness that would strike him later), but also undoubtedly in order to devote himself with uninterrupted assiduity to his philosophical work, Nietzsche at the age of 34 (about the same age at which his father was stricken by his own illness, something that distressed Nietzsche) gave up teaching. He is granted a modest pension that will constitute, from then on, his only income. He begins his existence as a perfect stateless person, with his pilgrimages as a wayfarer without home or country.

Nietzsche often moved from place to place to find climates that might be more favorable for his ailing health and thus lived until 1889 as an independent author in several cities. He spends many summers in mountain or spa resorts, especially in Sils Maria (where his home, the so-called Nietzsche House, is open for visits and stays), and in the Upper Engadine in Switzerland. Instead, he preferably spends his winters in Italian cities, on the Ligurian Riviera in Genoa and Rapallo, and finally in Turin. His other frequent and beloved destinations are Venice and the French city of Nice.

In 1881, when France occupied Tunisia, he had intended to travel to Tunis to see Europe from the outside, but shortly thereafter he abandoned such an idea, probably for health reasons. He occasionally returned to Naumburg to visit his family, and, especially during this period, he and his sister continued to have periods of conflict and repeated reconciliations. During a short ferry trip to Messina and Taormina he attended the local "Arcadia" and began writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

During Easter 1882, through mutual friend and noted feminist writer Malwida von Meysenbug, he meets in Rome Lou von Salomé, a young Russian student on an educational trip through Europe. They meet at St. Peter's Basilica, and Nietzsche greets her with these words, "From what stars have we fallen to meet here?" In May, during a trip to Lake Orta he spends a few intimate hours with this "highly intelligent" 21-year-old girl. Afterwards, Salome did not remember whether she had kissed the philosopher, whose marriage proposal she nevertheless refused (as did that of the friend of both of them, Paul Rée, who had introduced her to Nietzsche and with whom a kind of triadic philosophical-sentimental relationship had been formed).

This meeting, which then continued through two years of intense emotional and cultural exchanges, is very special in that it is one of Nietzsche's rare sentimental-affectionate experiences with a woman of which we have knowledge. Nietzsche then continued to associate with the two friends, reiterating marriage proposals to Salome and kissing her twice in a row in public, which provoked the jealousy of his sister Elisabeth and the disappointment of his mother Franziska, who considered Lou a frivolous and unsuitable woman. She later became estranged from Nietzsche and Ree, ending this sort of platonic love, later marrying Carl Andreas and having numerous affairs, such as with Freud and Rainer Maria Rilke. This disappointment prompted Nietzsche to continue briskly with his work on Zarathustra, which he completed in 1885.

Last period and mental collapse

In 1888, already having many publications behind him, Nietzsche moved to Turin, a city he particularly appreciated, and where he wrote The Antichrist, The Twilight of the Idols and Ecce Homo (published posthumously).

Finally, in 1889 Nietzsche's famous mental breakdown occurred, probably the effect of a neurological disorder: his first public bout of madness is dated Jan. 3, 1889; while standing in Piazza Carignano, near his Turin home, seeing the horse used to pull a carriage being flogged to death by the coachman, he embraced the animal, wept, and ended up kissing it; he later fell to the ground screaming in spasms. For many, this is a legendary episode, and Nietzsche would rather have confined himself to making conspicuous remonstrances and cackling for which he was stopped and admonished by the municipal police. In light of the accounts reported by Davide Fino, the owner of the lodging Nietzsche rented, to Karl Strecker (in late 1888) and the philosopher's sister Elisabeth (in 1889), one should distinguish the alleged "horse" episode from Nietzsche's "breakdown." The former would date back to late '88, while the latter would consist of the fall from the steps of Piazza Carlo Alberto, after which he was escorted home and "lay two days on the couch, always talking concisely to himself or writing."

The causes have never been clarified with certainty, but several possibilities have been speculated such as MELAS or a meningioma: neurosyphilis, a diagnosis of the time; manic-depressive psychosis and chronic mercury poisoning (a series of strokes with paralysis and vascular dementia: e.g., genetic cerebral arteriopathy, or CADASIL, an inherited dementia caused by multiple subcortical brain micro-infarcts.

CADASIL is considered the accepted hypothesis because it is an inherited syndrome only through the paternal route, and it should be remembered that the maternal family was healthy, while both Nietzsche's father and grandfather died of an unidentified brain disease.

According to some, in a less medical and more philosophical vein, the concomitant cause of his collapse was the enormous creative effort he underwent in the preceding years, despite his deteriorating health.

Also during the same period, Nietzsche wrote letters to friends and acquaintances that are usually classified under the name Notes of Madness: in them his mental crisis now appears to be in an advanced state, although the style is not at all different from the classical one. One of the notes is addressed to the King of Italy Umberto I of Savoy, his contemporary (they will die the same year) whom Nietzsche apostrophizes as "my son," perhaps because of a slight physical resemblance.

He is admitted by his friend Franz Camille Overbeck, a Protestant theologian and his former teacher, because of his altered state, which went from moments of exaltation to profound sadness, first to a psychiatric clinic in Basel, Switzerland, under the care of Dr. Wille, who diagnosed him with "progressive paralysis" of uncertain origin and first hypothesized syphilis on the basis of probably erroneous anamnesic data (the confused Nietzsche's claim that he had contracted lue "twice" in 1866 probably confusing it with cholera, which he believed years earlier to have contracted precisely twice, and the pupillary anisocoria inherited from his mother and present since childhood, which doctors mistook for the syphilitic neurological sign called Argyll Robertson's pupil); he was then transferred by his mother to Naumburg (Hesse, Germany), then to Jena, to the clinic of Dr. Otto Binswanger (an expert on paralysis and dementia, who confirmed Wille's diagnosis) and to his mother's home (1890), to be cared for by herself and two nurses. His sister Elisabeth would later attempt to conceal the hypothesized diagnosis in the asylum by attributing the madness to use of sleeping pills and other drugs, such as morphine, opium, and chloral hydrate taken for migraines in earlier years.

In the early days he seems quite lucid, but irritable and no longer interested in philosophy and writing, which he seems not to understand. After her husband's suicide (June 1889), his sister Elisabeth Förster Nietzsche returns from Paraguay in 1893 and decides to take care of her brother and his work. As early as 1892 Nietzsche gradually loses his memory, and does not recognize people, except for certain moments of lucidity.

Nietzsche spends his time in almost total muteness, walking with friends or playing the piano, until his physical condition worsens (numerous paralysis, perhaps exacerbated by excessive doses of drugs to keep attacks of madness under control); he sometimes talks to guests, but is absent and his reasoning often confused. In 1893 he lost the use of his legs, and was forced to get around in a wheelchair, while from 1894 he suffered from loss of speech, indications of widespread brain and spinal damage, although Sax tells of a visit by a friend to Nietzsche in 1899 in which, according to the testimony, the philosopher was still able to communicate at certain times and was not unconscious, though unresponsive, at least until the last year of his life (albeit unaware of the great debate his writings were beginning to stir in Europe). After 1895 he lived in a semi-catatonic state, responding only when urged by his sister or family members. In 1897 his mother died of cancer, and in 1898 and 1899 he was struck by strokes again, as he had been years before.

Rudolf Steiner describes in My Life an encounter with the philosopher that took place in 1896 and was described by him as "obtuse." In that meeting he claimed to have been able to perceive "clairvoyantly," according to his later anthroposophical-theosophical theories, the etheric body partially detached from the physical body in the head area.

Having moved in 1897 together with Elisabeth to the house in Weimar (Thuringia, Germany), where his sister founded the Nietzsche-Archiv (in which a young Rudolf Steiner collaborated), he died there of pneumonia on August 25, 1900. Despite his avowed and profound atheism, at the behest of relatives and friends he was buried in a religious ceremony in Röcken Cemetery.

How much illness influenced Nietzsche's philosophical thought has been a matter of debate among scholars since time immemorial. The nature of his madness still remains partially a mystery, given the plausibility of all hypotheses. In the fragments he theorized self-destruction of reputation through voluntary madness as a form of higher asceticism. As many have speculated, the cause of the nervous collapse, as also mentioned earlier, was perhaps the enormous strain, unbearable for his mind, due to the creative and philosophical effort made in the preceding years, as he himself mentions in a famous aphorism:

Nietzsche's philosophy takes its starting point from his complex cultural background, especially as a classical philologist, an admirer of Greek tragedy and later an enthusiastic admirer of Wagner's new post-Romantic music, of which he became a promoter on the aesthetic and philosophical level, seeing in it a drive for the rebirth of the German spirit. Closely connected to this is an intense study of the pre-Socratic philosophies, for example that of Heraclitus, and an affirmation of them over the traditional hegemony of the Socratic-Platonic system.

Fundamental to the young Nietzsche's education is also his reading in 1866-67 of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, an encounter the philosopher called a "divine case." Thus, in a reflection recorded in an autobiographical page, Nietzsche recalls his first reading of the Schopenhauerian masterpiece:

Tragic and Wagnerian phase

In his first real work on a philosophical subject, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Greek tragedy is seen as the highest expression of the vital impulse or "Dionysian spirit," which is instinctive and irrational and at the same time is combined with and opposed to the Apollonian spirit, which represents order and rationality. Apollonian and Dionysian thought are thus defined:

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche first identifies Socrates as the corrupter of Attic tragedy, and in his influence on the tragedian Euripides the origin of the prevalence of the Apollonian spirit over the Dionysian spirit, expressed in the old tragedy of Sophocles and Aeschylus. The corruption of the tragic spirit is regarded by Nietzsche as the original decadence to which an abstract and intellectualizing view of life and morality, determined by Socratic "ethical intellectualism," is due.

Equally strong is Nietzsche's aversion to Plato, whom he considers the author of a worldview based on metaphysical ideality and contempt for tangible reality. From Plato he believes that the ideological continuity that binds Parmenides to Plato and then Plotinus, Christianity (referred to as "Platonism for the people") to nineteenth-century German idealism was born.

Nietzsche thus attacks the traditional fundamental values of society (of metaphysics, Christianity, democracy, nationalism, and Socialism), arguing for the merely metaphorical and perspectival nature of any transcendent principle and of morality itself, as well as of any traditional conception. His aim was to expose the falsehood and hypocrisy of the cultural system on which the Europe of his time and particularly the Germanic world was based, but the whole history of the West is seen as a long process of man's decadence, as a denial of life, when instead the affirmation of freedom should have been man's destiny.

The great values of Western culture, such as truth, science, progress, religion, are thus to be unmasked in their lack of foundation and in their nature as mere fiction. There is in man a substantial fear toward the creativity of life and the will to power, which produces collective values under whose jurisdiction life is disciplined, regulated, schematized.

Such a nihilism is, however, subject in Nietzsche's works to a deeper and more problematic characterization, which he comes to outline in two fundamental aspects. The first form of nihilism, passive nihilism (an example of which is discerned in Schopenhauer) coincides with European man's loss of confidence in the values of his own civilization; it coincides with "vital diminution," characterized differently as a perversion of the will to power. By active nihilism, on the other hand, Nietzsche means the attitude that, having made itself strong by a demolition of the metaphysical constraints that suppressed the vital force, proposes itself as the creator of new tables of values through their transvaluation.

It must be kept in mind that the determinations that lead Nietzsche to nihilism derive from the belief in the necessity of object and relational detachment that lead on the one hand to the affirmation not of a determined value but of flowing values that are the basis of transvaluation and that on the other hand allow in the analysis of objectivity to disentangle the object and the other but at the same time to enclose thought in itself to realize precisely through such detachment the will to power.

It is through such closure of thought within itself that Nietzsche's nihilism is also determined as constituting the splitting of the inner from the outer and through which the possibility of grasping the dichotomous opposition in thought between the rational as systematic and the irrational as nihilistic and destructive is realized, with respect to which dynamic a perspective of the distinction and equal operativism of outer nihilism and inner nihilism is grasped, a process in which the inner nihilism related, through the Dionysian, to instinct i.e., satisfaction posits at the same time the relation to the will to power factors in the exaltation of the Dionysian as irrational also as an uncompressible factor and thus fully enucleating the possibility of realizing the will to power.

From such a fundamental aspect of Nietzsche connoting object detachment and relation to the other also derives his appreciation, on the one hand, of the characteristic of the absence of compassion, which is one of the foundations underlying transvaluation and which if not so grounded would contradict his nihilism, and on the other hand his appreciation for the biblical passages and Judaism that are based on divine justice and in particular on the law of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" to which is joined precisely that detachment at the basis of which is an absence of affectivity that allows the affirmation of the value of the moment in response to the will to power and the necessity of existence of the outside even as an other-subject.

Man, for Nietzsche, has had to delude himself in order to make sense of existence, as he has been afraid of the truth, having been unable to accept the idea that "life has no meaning," that there is no "beyond" it and that it is to be lived with desire and free abandon full of "physicality." If the world made sense and if it was constructed according to criteria of rationality, justice and beauty, man would not need to self-delude in order to survive by constructing metaphysics, religions and morals. Western mankind, having passed through Christianity, now perceives a sense of emptiness, finds that "God is dead," that is, that all metaphysical construction fails before the discovery that the world is an irrational chaos. Until the Beyond Man arises, that is, a man capable of bearing the idea that the Universe has no meaning, humanity will continue to seek absolute values that can replace the old god (understood as any kind of otherworldly reality and not as a mere entity such as the Christian God might be); idolatrous substitutes such as, for example, the state, science and money.

The lack, however, of a metaphysical sense of life and the universe keeps man in passive nihilism, or nihilistic despair. It is possible, however, to emerge from such nihilism by understanding this view and recognizing that man himself is the source of all values and virtues of the will to power (active nihilism). Man, rising above the chaos of life, can generate his own meanings and impose his own will. The one who succeeds in this feat is the Over-Man, that is, the man who has realized that it is he himself who gives meaning to life. Through the three metamorphoses of the spirit, which he discusses in the first discourse of the text Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche shows how the motto "You must" is to be transformed first into the "I will," and finally into a sacred "Say yes," expressed by the figure of the playful child.

Obviously, active nihilism does not justify the value models proposed over the centuries to make sense of reality, since these are nothing more than the fruit of the Apollonian spirit and, therefore, do not correspond to the actual essence of man, who is Dionysian, that is, inseparably bound to those "values" (vitality, power) intrinsic to his earthly nature:

In Nietzsche's first philosophical text The Birth of Tragedy of 1872, which is also a focus on his classical culture and Greek mythology, he focuses his attention on the origins of theater in ancient Greece. He therefore uses and theorizes about two concepts-basics, which would later become "ideological" for the author himself and bear numerous values-the Dionysian spirit and the Apollonian spirit. The Dionysian (from the god Dionysus) as "intoxication" represents the element of life-affirmation, spontaneity, human instinct, playfulness and will depict in later works the will to power. It is the impulse that expresses the life force proper to the overman in his total freedom, the intoxication that finds its most accomplished manifestation in music and dance.

The "Dionysian" plays dialectically with its counterpart, the "Apollonian," or the harmony of forms and living. When Dionysus lives it is Apollo who sleeps, conversely when Apollo represents himself and is on the surface, Dionysus is "underground." The Dionysian is a continuous "life-death-life" cycle through which all arts were created and changed. The Apollonian is daylight rationalized in the plastic art of the sculptors of the classical era. The "Apollonian" also represents the human rationale that brings balance to man, which is capable of conceiving the essence of the world as order and which drives him to produce reassuringly rational harmonious forms. Without it, there would be an explosion of uncontrolled emotions in man in need of control.

Very complex is philologist Nietzsche's study of the Greek arts and tragedy in particular. Inherent in the "dithyramb" of the Greek tragic chorus was the Dionysian spirit (Nietzsche calls it precisely the "Dionysian dithyramb"). In the word as always Nietzsche seeks the key to the interpretation of reality and to bring to light what concepts have arcane within them. As a philologist, even before a philosopher, it is always the "word" that is his first love. From the dithyramb, which is the nucleus of the "chorus," to the poetic text in which the drama is written, the continuous alternation of the two Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus unfolds, until the supreme and sublime harmony.

The analysis of the origins of Greek tragedy, runs through the Nietzschean text traversing the entire history of this long journey, from Archilocus to Euripides, through Aeschylus and Sophocles to its very end: the death of tragedy came at the hands of Socrates or what the philosopher represented for Greekness and its artistic expressions.

But as tragedy originated from music, Nietzsche hopes that in the same way it can be reborn. Hence the deep and heartfelt criticism of "Opera" as an artistic genre in which irreconcilable aesthetic and philosophical contradictions live on. Strong is the philosopher's exhortation to the musician Richard Wagner - to whom the opera was dedicated - and other unspecified contemporary artists to rediscover and revive the Dionysian intoxication inherent in music and upon it, together with the tragic myth, usher in a new tragic age:

Enlightenment phase

According to Nietzsche, decadence is the rejection of the love of life and creativity, of the spontaneity of natural and at the same time "tragic" living, thus of the Dionysian spirit. For him the one who first negatively conditioned Western civilization toward this annulment of life was Socrates: the error of Socrates is to have substituted thinking for life, and the consequence of this is non-living.

Socrates believes that reason is the essence of man and that the passions, a residue of animality, can and should be dominated. For Socrates, a life based on reason is a happy life, while a life dominated by the passions is destined for painful conflicts and disturbances. Plato, too, directed life toward an abstract and unreal world, and into this process of decadence then comes Christianity. The latter produced a model of a sick and repressed man, in the grip of constant guilt that poisons his existence, dictated by the Christian motto of continual repentance and pleading for salvation and forgiveness.

Therefore, the Christian man, beyond his mask of serenity, is psychically tormented, hides within himself an angry aggression against life and is animated by resentment against his neighbor. Nietzsche creates in this period the metaphors of the warrior and the priest: the former represents the manifestation of the will to power, while the latter, fearful of his own means, constitutes the "submissive" who, to a morality of the strong, places before a morality of the weak, easily accessible, which constitutes the outright denial of the unconditional joy of life.

More than with the figure of Jesus (toward whom he shows sympathy, considering him an "anarchic saint, albeit a bit of an idiot") Nietzsche is polemical against Christianity, as a religion of the "poor in spirit," founded on resentment and bad conscience. Christ's idiocy, however, should not be charged with only one negative meaning: "idiot" is the individual who does not participate in collectivity, in the shared modus intellegendi, and shifts his attention to his own interiority, abandoning reality. The philosopher accuses the Christian religion of creating this misunderstanding and of being a pseudo-humanism, guilty of "acting pitifully toward all the unfortunate and weak." Objecting to true philanthropy and the natural aggressiveness of the struggle for existence, "The weak and the unfortunate must perish, this is the principle of our love for men." He especially challenges the fact that "the individual was regarded by Christianity as so important, placed so absolutely, that he could no longer be sacrificed, but the species subsists only through human sacrifices." In this connection he also states that ""Man is evil," so speak the wisest to my comfort. Ah if it were also true today! Since evil is man's best energy." In spite of this, Nietzsche declares the concepts of good and evil to be relative and false, which will have to be overcome, since "what is done out of love is always beyond good and evil."

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra he declares instead:

Hence Nietzsche's proposal for a transmutation or reversal of values. He himself proclaims himself the "first immoralist" in history; however, he does not intend to propose the abolition of all values or the affirmation of a type of man prey to the unrestrained play of instincts, but contrasts the antivital values of traditional pessimistic morality with a new table of values to suit man's earthly character. For Nietzsche, man was born to live on Earth; his existence is entirely body, sensible reality. In fact Zarathustra states, I am whole body and nothing else. The soul, according to Nietzsche, is only a metaphorical and simplistic image of the very rich variety of desires, inclinations, and sensations that run through the body at every moment: this vindication of man's earthly nature is implicit in the total acceptance of life that is proper to the Dionysian spirit and the image of the otherworldly man. Earth is no longer man's exile and desert, but his joyful abode.

According to Eugen Fink, who first spoke of "Nietzsche's Enlightenment," this path, which begins with Human, Too Human (1878-1880), coincides with the advent of aphoristic writing, and is characterized by the repudiation of the old masters, such as Schopenhauer and, in particular, Wagner. Nietzsche repudiates the esteem and personal friendship with the musician, whose The Ring of the Nibelung and Tristan and Isolde he had so much admired, as symbols of the human struggle in the attempt to live with one's impulses by annihilating oneself in matter, outside of any religious concept. Now he accuses him of becoming a typical decadent, who with Parsifal falls back into the most boorish Christian mysticism, as a ridiculous representation of a phony and imaginary world.

In this period, the philosopher abandons the "metaphysics of the artist" (also a definition of the aforementioned Fink), in favor of science. He will regard art as the remnant of a mythical culture. The redeemer of culture will no longer be the artist or the genius (as Wagner thought) but the philosopher educated "in the school of science." He will be Enlightenment in the sense that he will be engaged in the work of critiquing culture through science, which he believes is a method of thinking, rather than a collection of all the particular sciences. A critical method of a historical and genealogical kind, because there are no immutable and static realities, but everything is the outcome of a process that must be reconstructed.

The basic concepts of this period are the free spirit and the philosophy of the morning. The free spirit is identified with the wayfarer, that is, the one who, thanks to science, is able to emancipate himself from the darkness of the past, ushering in a philosophy of the morning that is based on the conception of life as transience and as free experimentation without pre-established certainties.

Nihilistic phase

The last phase is characterized by the most famous concepts of his philosophy: active nihilism, relativism, beyond man, transvaluation of values, eternal return and will to power.

The affirmation of freedom and spontaneity presupposes overcoming conditioning, rules, and obligations arising from religious beliefs or otherwise from reference to metaphysical entities. But it also entails a consequence that few have sufficient strength to face: taking full and final responsibility for every decision, every action. All behavior is subject to individual decision-making since there are no longer transcendent values on which to conformistically flatten oneself. Nietzsche's contemporaries demonstrate in a thousand circumstances that they are no longer guided by faith as it might have been for the men of the Middle Ages but, lest they be forced to face up to their responsibilities, they do not want to acknowledge this even before themselves.

Famous is the figure of the "mad man" ("der tolle Mensch") in The Gaiety of Science, who walks around in broad daylight with a lighted lantern, shouting "I seek God!", thus attracting the derision of those present. When asked for an explanation, the man claims that God is dead, meaning that no one really believes anymore. But in the very act of making this assertion he is faced with skepticism and indifference, when not derision. He himself describes himself as the "witness" to a murder carried out by all of humanity. Then, "I come too soon," he admits, for men are not yet ready to accept this momentous change. Traditional values are growing paler and paler, more and more alien to consciousness, but the new values, those of joyful acceptance of life and fidelity to the earth, are still beyond the horizon: "This enormous event is still on its way and making its way."

The proclamation of the death of God has an extraordinary rhetorical effectiveness and perhaps this is also why it has not always been fully understood: some interpreters have merely read it as yet another attack on Christianity and have failed to perceive its depth and complexity. In fact, Nietzsche intends by this statement to announce the end of all transcendent reality, regardless of the cult that preaches that reality. He sees this as the fulfillment of a necessary nihilistic process, the roots of which can be found in the act of omission and oblivion of the Dionysian, which allowed the Apollonian, in the course of secularization, to find reasonable metaphysical models capable of justifying the "meaning of being," but which sooner or later, according to the German author, would have to come to terms with the true vital essence of human nature, which, precisely, is the Dionysian, that is, what binds to the earth and to life.

Nietzsche is also regarded, and not without good reason, as one of the forerunners of modern atheistic existentialism because of certain ethical elements that anticipate it, however much the latter is characterized by aspects of existential pessimism that are largely absent in Nietzsche.

Nietzsche, radicalizing the Emersonian "plus man" and the Emersonian critique of Carlyle's hero-worship, but also drawing inspiration from Kierkegaard's Single and Max Stirner's Unique, advocates the advent of a new kind of man, individualistic and capable of freeing himself from prejudices and old patterns, of unmasking by the genealogical method the all-too-human human origin of values, as well as of making himself a conscious creator of new values: the over-man. It would not be correct to call such a man a superman: super means above, so "superman" means "he who is above men" and crushes them. According to Gianni Vattimo's interpretation, introduced in his text The Subject and the Mask, the term beyond-man, "he who has surpassed man and gone beyond his condition," better reflects the concept expressed by the Röcken philosopher, as well as being the literal translation of the German Übermensch, while super-man should be translated as Oben-Mensch.

Gianni Vattimo's interpretation, however, is challenged by philosopher Domenico Losurdo, who challenges Nietzsche by explicitly claiming that he supported a slave society commanded by the aristocratic Superman, sometimes arguing that slaves were treated better than modern workers and also accusing him of supporting eugenics. Instead, this aristocratic morality in the writings of his later years, credited especially by Nazism, is often regarded by most commentators as a metaphor for the superiority of the man-philosopher over the common man, rather than as a real proposal for traditional society, as understood by both left-wing philosophers, such as Losurdo himself, and far-right thinkers such as Julius Evola and Alfred Baeumler, as well as critical intellectuals such as Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who interpret Nietzsche literally. On the other hand, the literal interpretation of texts that make such extensive use of metaphors, such as Nietzsche's defense of slavery, has been challenged by many scholars and thinkers who have called themselves "Nietzschean," such as Michel Onfray. Rather than a forerunner of Nazism and advocate of a society that subjugates the weak, he is instead seen by many critics as an indifferent, aristocratic elitist.

The beyond-man, according to the common interpretation (Vattimo, Colli, Montinari), does not instead crush others but proceeds beyond the conventions and prejudices that grip man. It has values that are different from those of the mass of men, that mass which has adhered to the philosophy of priests and barkers in order to make itself a slave to them. He alone is able not to replace the old idols with new ones, but to found the new world, and the present man is nothing but "a rope stretched between the ape and the overman" himself, in Nietzsche's words. The overman is the one who has realized that he himself gives meaning to life and makes his own the so-called "aristocratic morality" that "says yes" to life and the world. The overman is a disciple of Dionysus because he accepts life in all its manifestations, in the pleasure of becoming understood as the alternation of life and death, joy and sorrow. He faces life with "courageous pessimism," combines fatalism (amor fati) with confidence, and has freed himself from the worn-out concepts of good and evil through an elitist indifference to ethical values he considers dead.

Hence Nietzsche's admiration both for Greek tragedy (particularly Aeschylus) as an educational medium for the heroic tragicity of life, and for the Promethean instinct of Renaissance man (the universal man), which in its theoretical and practical completeness knew how to strive beyond the "human too human"; with a creative magnificence, cultural and political, that that vital impulse, "beyond good and evil," entails. For him, and in his time, still embodied in particular by Napoleon and Goethe.

For the overman, each instant is the center of his time in which he is always the protagonist. Eternal return, that is, eternal repetition, is the doctrine Nietzsche puts at the head of the new worldview and human action. For Nietzsche, every moment of time, i.e., the present moment, is to be experienced spontaneously, without continuity with past and future, because past and future are illusory: in fact, every moment repeats itself identically in the past and future, like a die that, thrown infinitely (since time is infinite), will give an infinite number of times the same numbers, since its choices are a finite number. The true overman is, in conclusion, the one who dances -- no longer in chains -- freely and gracefully; he is the free spirit tout court.

Nietzsche elaborates his own way of understanding time by freeing it from the transcendent and thus from trust in the future. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra (in the chapter Of Vision and Enigma, §2), Zarathustra (the work's protagonist) relates that he had a vision while climbing a mountain. The eternal return of the same, more often called just eternal return, means that the universe is reborn and remembers according to fixed and necessary cycles of time, eternally repeating a certain course and always remaining itself.

In a more specific sense, eternal return is one of the cornerstones of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy. The reasoning behind Nietzsche's simple -- but often misunderstood -- concept is as follows: in a finite system with infinite time, each combination will necessarily repeat itself infinite times. For example, by rolling three six-sided dice infinite times, each of the 216 combinations will appear infinite times. While it is explained in poetic terms in The Gaiety of Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he explains it in quasi-scientific terms in the posthumous Fragments, and this formulation has fascinated many later physicists and mathematicians:

In the chapter of Zarathustra entitled The Vision and the Enigma, Nietzsche introduces in the form of a myth the thought of the eternal return of the same (already evoked in the chapter Of Redemption, when Zarathustra refuses to enunciate what he teaches the will, that is, backward will), through the dialogue between the prophet and the dwarf, the personification of the spirit of gravity: "All straight things lie. All truth is curved, time itself is a circle" is the dwarf's opinion. However, this first interpretation is judged as too superficial ("You, spirit of gravity! - indeed retort Zarathustra-don't take it too lightly!") and the bearer of a generic profession of faith in the circularity and meaninglessness of everything (passive nihilism). In the second part, however, Zarathustra expounds his counterinterpretation of the vision of the "carriage gate"-from which the two "infinite roads," that of the past and that of the future, branch off-that adds essential characters to the first interpretation of the dwarf. The novelty of this counterinterpretation lies in the fact that Zarathustra goes deep and touches on the decisive argument that sets the turning point from passive nihilism to active nihilism. Not only must everything that becomes have already been experienced, but above all the door itself, the present moment, must already have been in the past. Thus the plane of transition from passive nihilism to active nihilism has been reached, thus from eternal return as paralyzing thought, to eternal return as liberation from the symbolic (the first interpretation of the dwarf is refuted in part). The moment is included in the eternal circle of past and future.

Next, Zarathustra is as if awakened by the howl of a dog that allows him to change the scene. He sees the dog almost calling for help next to a shepherd, who is as if suffocated by a snake, whose head comes out of its mouth. The snake, specifically, indicates the eternal return, and it is as if the shepherd is suffocated by this conception of the eternal circle of time. A key gesture, it brings a smile back to the shepherd's lips, now no longer in pain ("never before in the world had a man laughed, as he laughed!"): for the latter had bitten off and severed the serpent's head, thus allegorically indicating acceptance of the eternal return. Importantly, the acceptance of the eternal return is due to a decision of the shepherd: if he had never bitten the head off the serpent, he would never have been able to accept and institute it. There is thus a moment in which the shepherd institutes, that is, wants, the eternal repetition of life and the moment.

Only if the moment that man experiences is immense, that is, it encompasses all its meaning, can one want it again and again. The man who can will the eternal return is a happy man, to whom life gives "immense" moments as a full witness of existence and meaning. In this work it is possible to see Nietzsche's role as a "defender" of a qualitative time, qualified in its density by lived content. Famous is Nietzsche's definition of the "categorical imperative": "to live in such a way that one can wish to relive this same life in eternal repetition." Related to the theme of eternal return and thus to the principle of movement is the transvaluation of values, which has been understood by some as the reversal of values.

Reversal carries within it the affirmation of further value. While transvaluation is related to the flow of value itself without pre-eminence of any one in particular, and thus to the overcoming of value. Picking up on Nietzsche when he speaks of Heraclitus, the only philosopher to whom he feels connected, he states that movement carries within itself the possibility of annihilation. Translated into philosophical terms and linked this concept to that dear to Nietzsche of transvaluation, there can be no morality or absolute value but instinctual values that are annihilated in movement. If this were not so, one would consider Nietzsche a moralist or an idealist.

The particularity of Nietzsche's thought, his uniqueness, has always generated questions in criticism. One of the questions in the history of Nietzsche criticism is the consideration of what is the "real" Nietzsche i.e., what was his real intent and what did he want to communicate in his works i.e., how much of what he left behind is filterable in a lucid way by separating it from the downward parable of his mental illness.

His philosophy, in fact, is poised between the total negation of Western culture and thought (see his critique of rationalism, which is very important in Western philosophy) and the creation of a new value system, centered on the figure of the Overman, the eternal return and the will to power. Nietzsche, in fact, undoubtedly wanted to clear the field of all "myths," whether they belonged to religious morality (which he called "morality of the vanquished") or philosophy, with the secular myths of progress, rationalism, positivism and idealism. However, it is questionable whether this destructive will to values is only an end in itself, the result of a nihilistic orientation, or is it the necessary basis from which to start the creation of a new value system.

Nietzsche's philosophy offers considerable food for thought, which in part explains the author's difficulty in being fully understood in his time in the nineteenth century and his subsequent rediscovery in the twentieth century. It is worth mentioning that the twentieth century saw the arrival in the limelight of an existentialism far removed from Kierkegaard's, and that in many respects Nietzsche is an anti-Kierkegaard in open competition with his worldview. The Kierkegaardian "checkmate" for Nietzsche becomes the pretext for a path to a victory over destiny of which the Overman makes himself a prophet.

While Nietzsche's thought is a negation of those currents of thought based on the metaphysical and deterministic optimism of Hegelian idealism, it is also against scientistic optimism. It was carried by positivism, with its idea of the continuity of progress. Focusing the former on "all is well" because "so it must be" necessarily, the latter's ideal of progress sounds naive and false to him.

In another respect, although The World as Will and Representation is one of the key texts for Nietzsche's formation, he has little of the simple pessimistic consideration of reality characteristic of Schopenhauer. In fact, his philosophy rejects any passive acceptance of reality, whether in the sense of the Hegelian "all is good" or that of the positivistic "all progresses" or even the "all is suffering," of Schopenhauer. It, rather reveals a kind of romantic titanism, but in a new Weltanschauung (Worldview) that is post-romantic.

In Italy

Of considerable importance to Nietzsche was his contact with Italian culture and environment, which on more than one occasion acted as a stimulus for his philosophical reflections. Nietzsche loved to sojourn in Italy, where he often went to cure his ailments and where he claimed to restore himself. He described the Italic character as "the finest" because of its ability to express itself wittily and with paradoxes, "the richest" because of the creativity and variety of urban settings, and "the freest" from metaphysical and religious conditioning. In Italy God was dead earlier and more definitively than elsewhere. Of the Italic genius he said:

Nietzsche contrasted Italian culture in particular with German culture, seeing in the latter an obscurantism and moralism that, arising with Martin Luther and permeating the modern age with itself, had eventually prevailed over Rome.

Nietzsche therefore believed that Protestant theology was worse than Catholic theology, detecting in the mentality of the southern peoples, with their essentially Hellenic roots, a greater aptitude for idleness, an open-mindedness to aphorisms and paradoxes, and an indulgence in passions and instincts. In Naples he experienced how beauty does not "fascinate all at once, but exerts a hold that creeps in slowly"; Genoa gave him "a melancholy happiness living in the midst of this confusion of narrow streets, of voices: an intoxication of life." Venice so induced him to pine for the music of Richard Wagner that "when I look for another word for music, I always find only the word Venice." In Rome he identified with the giving gesture, sad and unfulfilled, of the Triton statue. In Florence he noted how the "grand style" of the Pitti Palace would remain unmatched by the later eras of the Counter-Reformation, while of Turin he weaved praise for urban planning and the emerging new style of architecture.

Nietzsche also met, in Basel during a trip in 1871, Giuseppe Mazzini, the leader of the Italian republicans, who made an excellent impression on him. His admiration for Niccolo Machiavelli and his Prince was also well known. Significantly, the last creative Nietzsche, before his illness, would work in Turin until his crisis, which would seize him in the Piedmontese city in January 1889, when he was returned to Germany (a plaque commemorating the philosopher's stay in a house downtown during the writing of Ecce Homo is still visible in Turin).


Although basically uninterested in politics, Nietzsche also expressed views concerning the management of the state and society. Nietzsche often defends pagan-aristocratic values against Christian-democratic values, as for him Christian values reflect a false and nihilistic view of life that leads to the corruption and breakdown of society. Thus he has sometimes been approached with nostalgic reactionary thinking. However, the fact that he detests all modern state organization, as well as his rejection of authority, has made him considered an anti-political philosopher. Nietzsche rather than becoming political denounces all political ideals of his time. He has also often been associated with anarchist and individualist thought.

Although the German philosopher criticized anarchism, his thought proved influential for many thinkers within what can be defined as the anarchist movement. "There were many things that attracted anarchists to Nietzsche: his hatred of the state, his distaste for the irrational social conduct of the "herd," his anti-Christianity, his distrust of the effect of the market and the state on cultural production, and his superhumanist desire, that is, the desire for a new human being who was to be neither master nor slave and the bearer of new values. This could be the result of the association in this period between the philosopher's ideas and those of Max Stirner. The association between Nietzsche and anarchy endures to this day in some philosophical circles, for example in Michel Onfray.

Much discussed, as mentioned above, is the use made of Nietzsche's writings by Fascism and Nazism, based on the interpolations and works edited by his sister, a staunch Nazi and anti-Semite. Nietzsche was the only true philosopher whom Benito Mussolini studied in depth, remaining strongly captivated by him (as well as Stirner) in his youth. From his doctrine of the superman he drew the meaning to be given to the "fascist revolution" he was shortly to undertake. Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, often visited the Weimar museum dedicated to Nietzsche, and had himself photographed flaunting contemplation of the philosopher's bust and, in 1943, gave Mussolini a deluxe complete edition of Nietzsche's complete works.

In the period between the two World Wars, some Nazis intensively employed various devices to promote their ideology, most notably Alfred Baeumler in his interpretation of The Will to Power.

Nietzsche's wide popularity among the Nazis stemmed in part from the deliberate efforts of Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, the philosopher's sister who edited his publications after his psychic breakdown, and moreover became at one point an open sympathizer of the National Socialist Party (so much so that when he died in 1935, the Führer attended his funeral).

What's more, Mazzino Montinari, in the course of publishing Nietzsche's posthumous works during the 1960s, discovered that Elisabeth, "creating" - so to speak - The Will to Power through the activity of editorial revision of posthumous fragments, had cut excerpts from them, changed the order, added titles of her own invention, inserted passages by other authors copied from Nietzsche as if they had been written by Nietzsche himself, and so on.

Ultimately, Nietzsche's true thought can be said to regard the state as a substitute idol for the old God (which is why he does not formulate his own political proposal for his contemporaries, as Karl Marx did), therefore to be killed as well, so that the beyond man may finally arise. Because of the association between Nazism and Nietzsche (also stemming from some passages in The Antichrist in which he exalts the strong over the weak), his works would be effectively banned in East Germany under the communist regime (1949-1990) and the philosopher's tomb abandoned and forgotten, until later restoration.

Nietzsche challenged the philosophical concept of free will and the reeducative function of punishment, considering the death of the criminal as the only act that restores dignity to his act (like suicide in Greco-Roman morality), absolving him of guilt and freeing him from the humiliation of repentance, imposed by Christian morality:

In the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche argued that the value of punishment should not be to arouse guilt nor to re-educate the criminal, but only to punish in an extramoral key "a causer of harm, an irresponsible fragment of fatality." Clearly separating law from morality, and reversing Cesare Beccaria's perspective in a diametrically opposite key, Nietzsche viewed positively the situation in which the criminal feels morally relieved of his deed when he finds himself "in the impossibility of perceiving his action, the species of his act in itself, as reprehensible: he sees in fact exercised in the service of justice exactly the same species of acts and therefore approved, exercised with quiet conscience."

However, at the moment of passing judgment on the practical application of capital punishment in the world contemporary to him, he seems to take sides against it, attacking what is not an indication of the spiritual energy of the overman, but a cold ritual of the bourgeois state, which he judges more culpable than the murderer himself:


For Hegel there is History, for Nietzsche there is genealogy. In Nietzsche's thought, although his confrontation with Hegel is rarely made explicit in the works, a radical contestation of Hegelism prevails: the most relevant points of distance between the two German philosophers can be identified in the different attitude toward dialectics, the object of aggressive criticism by Nietzsche, being seen by him as a claim of thought to reduce the chaotic nature of life and the world within fixed and stable categories, and especially in a systematic view of philosophy, which was instead a central feature of Hegel's work.

In his second inactual consideration, Nietzsche explicitly refers to Hegelian philosophy as the major cause of widespread idolatry of fact in German culture. For Nietzsche, in fact, the attempt to categorize and at the same time deify the historical process annihilates the life force proper to every man and conveys an epigonal and justificatory conception of history. Hegel's philosophy is deemed by Nietzsche a betrayal to the detriment of life, as an attempt to stop what cannot be stopped (life, dynamic par excellence) in a system of thought.

Similar is his judgment of positivists: guilty of explaining reality by fixed mechanistic laws, they remain afflicted by the same error as Hegel and epigones. Nietzsche is also distant from Hegel's thought with regard to the Hegelian assumption that there is a merely rational force manifesting itself in history, which would treat humans as trivial instruments of its own cunning.

Nietzsche repudiates the "tyranny of reason over men" (to use his words), for which he blames Socrates, Plato, Descartes, the Enlightenment and even the positivists of his time. This attitude of profound questioning of the rationalistic-idealistic strand that flowed into Hegel and Immanuel Kant (idealism, which for Nietzsche also includes Christianity) of Western philosophy entails at the same time a total re-discussion of the metaphysical tradition, of which Hegel considers himself the last elaborator instead.

There are nevertheless certain similarities with some aspects of the Enlightenment. Despite his clear anti-rationalist orientation, it is possible to liken Nietzsche's thought to some Enlightenment authors - as well as to observe a deep rationalist, or rather rationalist, background in some of his beliefs and reasoning - with regard to the general rejection of metaphysics and asceticism; it is, among other things, significant that he dedicated his work Human, Too Human to Voltaire. The ascetic ideal in particular is seen by Nietzsche as a threat to man's inherent life force. Rather than a rejection of rationalism, there is thus a rejection of idealism.


Nietzsche can be likened to Søren Kierkegaard: both have a purely existential orientation and both are considered forerunners of twentieth-century existentialism. Nietzsche, however, disagrees with the cynicism of life that inevitably leads to despair and prevents man from joyfully accepting existence, as well as disagreeing with Kierkegaard's Christian beliefs.

Relationships with other authors

On the ut supra basis is centered the polemic against religion in general and Christianity in particular: these instances also deny the innate life force in each person. The condemnation also affects Arthur Schopenhauer, though admired in his youth by Nietzsche. The latter blames his old master for generating yet another morality, based on piety and, ultimately, asceticism.

Nietzsche, at any rate, is influenced by some of Schopenhauer's concepts: he admits the idea of an irrational force, rejecting the sinister notion of it that Schopenhauer had envisaged, and renames it the will to power, enumerating it as a benevolent force, exemplified essentially by his famous beyond-man. The strong youthful interest in Schopenhauer, led Nietzsche to read the latter's disciples, namely Eduard von Hartmann, Julius Bahnsen and Philipp Mainländer.

He, however, did not think that, these authors, were authentic prosecutors of the Schopenhauerian message. In fact, he speaks of Mainländer, after stating in a youthful writing, "It is time to rediscover him!" in The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft), in the following way: "Would it be possible to consider Mainländer, dilettante and precociously senile, sentimental thurifer and apostle of virginity, as a genuine German!!! Neither Bahnsen, nor Mainländer, nor, in particular, Eduard von Hartmann, give any certainty in the matter of handling the question whether Schopenhauer's pessimism, his horror of looking at a private, stupid, blind, insane God and a questionable World, in short his honest look of horror, was not only an exceptional case among Germans, but can be, rather, regarded as a generally German theme" (§ 357).

However, it should be noted that Nietzsche himself borrowed precisely from Mainländer, the famous expression "God is dead" (albeit with different intentions, meaning the death of God for Nietzsche a surplus of immanent vitalism): the progressive death of God-from the "unitary superessence" to the "phenomenal essence in the manifold," present in the present world, to the "nullifying dissolution"-is, in fact, at the heart of Mainländer's own philosophy. Of particular importance then was Nietzsche's discovery of Stendhal and Dostoevsky (the latter described, in The Twilight of the Idols, as "the only psychologist from whom I would have something to learn"). In a letter addressed to Franz Overbeck (February 1887) he writes:

The last Nietzsche, before his illness, was moreover fond of the Tolstoy of "conversion" (the same Tolstoy who called him "a lively German possessed by delusions of grandeur, with limited ideas, insane"). Nietzsche "read and compulsive him avidly, recognizing in him the same myth to which he too felt forced: the consummation of the boundary between 'art' and 'life,' between 'will' and 'reality.'" Other influences of Nietzsche were the aforementioned Ralph Waldo Emerson, Voltaire, Stirner. Nietzsche also read and esteemed the pessimistic and nihilistic poetry and philosophy of Giacomo Leopardi, who, like him, saw, at least in part, in the illusions of art and myths the means to escape a life of pain and the gray present.

Nietzsche, who may well claim to be an opponent of positivism, is partially in tune with Darwinism and more specifically with the categories of "struggle for life," "natural selection," and "survival of the fittest." However, he expands this assumption beyond mere survival: according to Nietzsche, there is a selective "Darwinism" in human society as well: individuals aim to achieve dominance and supremacy, under the stimulus of the "will to power." Darwin will, moreover, be sharply criticized by Nietzsche for his progressive optimism. Moreover, Nietzsche criticizes Darwin for the preponderance he gives to the external environment as the cause of evolution and to survival as the fundamental vital instinct;- Mr. Spencer's "bargaining philosophy: absolute lack of an ideal, outside that of the average man." His other criticism of Darwin was on the concepts of "individual" and "species" as they were believed: "The concepts of 'individual' and 'species' are equally false and due to first impression. "'Species' expresses only the fact that a quantity of similar beings occur at the same time, and that the rate of further growth and change is for a long time slowed down, so that small continuations and growths in fact do not come into much consideration (a stage of development, in which development does not become visible, so that it appears that an equilibrium has been reached, and the false representation is made possible that a purpose has been achieved here-and that there has been a purpose in development...)."

In his critique of idealism and Kant, alleged "metaphysical fantasies," the "immorality" of morality and academic philosophical rhetoric, Nietzsche can be considered the most influential forerunner of ethology, evolutionary epistemology, as well as psychoanalysis, and his work helped to make it later possible.Nietzsche produced influences of absolute importance in a variety of circles and on numerous personalities in literature and politics of the 20th century. It is inevitable, in this regard, to refer to Stefan George, as well as in Italy to Gabriele D'Annunzio, who in his work showed that he manifestly received the myth of the beyond man, with the consequent exaltation, bordering on titanism, of pride and will. Nietzsche was sometimes considered among the precursors of National Socialism, although the interpretation of his thought provided by the Nazi philosopher Alfred Baeumler was a work of shrewd sectarian distortion perpetrated in order to support the ideology of the National Socialist party, accomplished by adulterating and instrumentalizing the intellectual's work.

As a result of the considerable ambiguity and lack of explicit content in his writings, Nietzsche's views were and still are interpreted with the intention of positing the intellectual now as a reactionary, conservative and elitist, and now as a progressive, non-conformist and individualist dedicated to the crushing of all mass culture. Among the various attempts to make use of the writings of the intellectual, who in his lifetime never sided with any political ideology, the interpretation of scholar Georges Bataille, who disavowed any association of the writer's intellectual legacy with Nazi ideology, is and should be mentioned. Evident influences of Nietzsche's thought can also be found in the original concrete metaphysics of Pavel Aleksandrovič Florensky; in the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and that of Carl Gustav Jung (in the "Heraclitean" philosophy of Alfred Baeumler, as well as more generally in the so-called Konservative Revolution of the German cultural sphere between the wars, through, among others, Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, Thomas Mann, and Martin Heidegger himself; or even in Italian futurism, modern individualism, the objectivism of the Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand, and more recently in transhumanism and critical postmodernism.

Contemporary authors who openly claim their Nietzschean filiation include Guillaume Faye, Alain de Benoist (founder of the Nouvelle Droite) and the anarcho-hedonist Michel Onfray, among others. It should be recalled, moreover, the well-known spiritual affinity that linked the painter Giorgio de Chirico to the thinker commented on here. Nietzsche also influenced Romanian writer Emil Cioran, who took his pessimism and nihilism from him, radicalizing them.

Other criticisms of Nietzsche's thought

Criticism of Nietzsche's thought will come from the existentialist current of the twentieth century, particularly Martin Heidegger for whom the center of philosophical reflection is a new metaphysical course on the meaning of being. In particular, Heidegger will criticize the concepts of will to power and beyond-man as a loss of fundamental values by the individual; nevertheless, Heidegger will take some ideas from Nietzsche, such as the analysis of nihilism.

Strong criticisms of Nietzsche will be uttered by spiritualist, idealist and religious currents, for example by the Catholic Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who will also argue the non-newness of Nietzsche's ideas in harsh stances:


Conducted on the critical edition of the original texts established by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari:

The following volumes are published in the Adelphi series, Milan, with yellow covers (series no. in parentheses):

Nietzsche radicalizes the concept of fate from fatalist philosophies such as Stoicism and theorizes the absence of free will.


  1. Friedrich Nietzsche
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche

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