“God is Dead”: Nietzsche, the Death of all ‘Gods’, and the Birth of the Postmodern

A few months back I completed a graduate course examining 19th-Century thinkers and writers. As part of the course work I wrote a research paper and  presented a brief presentation on corresponding to the topic of that research project. In other words, this was a wonderful opportunity to continue my ever-present exploration into the work of Nietzsche. Here, I focused primarily upon his concept of the Death of God, attempting to ground the idea contextually and attempting to explore the idea’s implications by offering a kind of close reading of Nietzsche’s parable of the madmen. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to leave a comment. Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube if you’d like to see more of these.

Nietzsche, Gender, and Morality

Understanding Nietzsche’s categorizations of Master and Slave morality is a cumbersome endeavor. Nietzsche’s literary inclination towards an aphoristic styling makes his work and thought anything but clear cut and straight forward. His philosophy is marked by nuance, subtlety, and complexity. While it would be easy to look upon Nietzsche, the self-described ‘immoralist’, and his concepts of Master and Slave morality unfavorably, this may be more indicative of a mis-interpretative reading of his work. In this regard, it is not so much that Nietzsche is im-moral so much as he is, what Kathryn Pyne Addelson describes as a “moral revolutionary” (303).

Here, one must recognize that Nietzsche’s aim or goal in describing  the moralities of master and slave is not rooted in socio-political or socio-economic classes but, rather the orientation of one’s subjective pyscological inwardness or internality. As such, Nietzsche, himself, suggests that master and slave moralities can exist “in the same man, within one soul” (289). Here, we must ask what the master is a master of and what the slave is a slave to. For Nietzsche, a master cannot be solely defined by his mastery over the slave as this would empower the slave with more definitive authority than the master. This would in all actuality make the master a slave to the slave for attaining his self-identity. As such, a master need not be the lord of a slave and a slave need not be chained to a master. A Master is a master of himself, a master of his destiny, a master of his coarse, a master of his values, a master of hist values. A Slave, on the other hand, is a slave to his values and a slave to his morals. Masters “are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (Oaklander, 85). Masters are ‘value-creative’ (Nietzsche, 115). A master’s efforts are bent towards self-transcendence, self-conquering, and self-determination (Hayman, 35). Thus, the master’s ‘will to power’ is not marked by oppression or exploitation, as “the state in which we hurt others…is a sign that we are still lacking power” (Nietzsche, 108). The master’s will to power is ” a will to perfection, a striving for distinction” (Oaklander, 82).
Whereas master morality directs its attention and focus inwardly, slave morality inverts the will to power through its focus upon externality, that is, the slave directs his view “outward instead of back to oneself” (Nietzsche, 117). In other words, rather than focusing upon empowering himself the slave focuses only upon dis-empowering the master. Slave morality is an “imaginary revenge…fuelled by the ressentiment of those of who are incapable of taking action” (Hayman, 41). Slave morality is “a resentment of excellence, achievement, individuality, and power” (Oaklander, 86). Here, one could reasonably suggest that when Nietzsche criticizes traits such as sympathy, kindness, and the desire for the common good, it is not the characteristics in and of themselves he rejects but, rather the slave’s usage of them as a means to negate the value-creating actions of moral revolutionaries. In other words, the slave’s expressed idealization and idolization of sympathy, kindness, and the common good is disingenuine and  inauthentic. It is not real sympathy, real kindness, or real concern for the common good. It is a passive-aggressive expression of deception and manipulation, as it is only intended to vilify those who achieved the strength of will to strive for personal excellence.
One could propose that the master’s morality is genuinely sympathic and genuinely concerned with the common good. Addelson writes to this effect saying that “It is not the aim of the moral revolutionary to become the ‘sovereign individual’ when this brings with it the isolation of uniqueness” (303). Instead, Addelson goes on to say, the moral revolutionary “must begin to create himself as the ‘first of his kind'” (303). Thus, Addelson concludes that “it is part of his task as a revolutionary of the people to help them to overcome themselves, to help each create himself as a new kind of individual” (303).
Obviously, feminist critiques of Nietzsche and his concepts of master and slave morality abound. The primary criticism being that those traits that Nietzsche declares to be indicative of slave morality are often those qualities that are most closely associated with femininity, in which case it would seem or appear as though, according to Nietzsche’s categorizations, women, by their very ‘nature’ and by the mere facticity of their gender, would be considered a weak, inferior, and subservient class of ‘slave’s simply by default. However, this, too, is more representative of a misreading and a misunderstanding of Nietzsche’s project. As Addelson points out, Niezsche is no moral reformer aiming only to revise the present structures of ethicality but, instead is found boldly to be a moral revolutionary that seeks to overturn, overthrow, and ultimately revolutionize the entire system of morality itself, creating space to ‘create’ values (293). In this regard, according to Addelson, one could say that part of what Nietzsche intends to overthrow in his moral revolution is the very sociological structures that have ideologically assigned slavish characteristics to women in the first place (294). In many ways, then, because Nietzsche’s focus remains entirely upon the individual’s subjective ability to create and devise their own set revolutionary morals, Nietzsche’s master morality is, in effect, gender neutral. It is asexual. It knows no gender. It is present to all those who are capable and determined enough to become moral revolutionaries, conquering themselves, creating their own values, living in accordance with them, and helping others to do the same.
Addelson, Kathryn Pyne. “Nietzsche and Moral Change.” In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 293-305. Print.
Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 107-109. Print.
—. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 115-116. Print.
—. From On the Genealogy of Morals. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 117-121. Print.
—. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 281-293. Print.
Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Print.

Love and the Will to Power: Between Nietzsche and Jung

Carl Jung writes, though I have been unable to locate precisely where, that “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking.” It is immensely difficult for any interpreter to attempt to accurately convey the hermeneutical or exegetical meaning of an isolated passage that has been ripped from its full context. Endeavors to do so are far more likely to be examples of eisegesis, positing one’s own meaning into or upon the text, rather than an actual example of exegesis, that is, a “critical interpretation” of the text (Merriam-Webster, my emphasis added). This is not to say that each and every act of ‘interpretation’ is utterly objective, unbiased, and free of agenda and personal view. Indeed, every exegetical escapade contains within it the seed or kernel of eisegesis. This is to say that when one seeks to interpret the thought permeating behind a single passage outside of its context, one’s interpretive and hermeneutical resources are limited almost only to one’s subjectively biased view of its meaning. So it is that this paper proceeds with caution, hesitancy, and trepidation at the analysis of Jung’s statement. This paper must advance in a manner that is phenomenlogically provisional. It will progress as-if it’s current understanding of Jung’s quote is correct. In this regard, the thesis of this paper surmises to show that what Nietzsche and Jung each respectively mean by ‘power’ is diametrically opposed.

Jung seems to be suggesting that love and power are absolutely antithetical forces, polar opposites, and ends that can never meet. The acceptance of one is immediately and necessarily the rejection, the negation, and the subversion of the other. To love is to forego power and to attain power is to vanquish love. Here, Jung seems to equate ‘power’ with domination, specifically the domination of another. This is the active subordination of another into the position of subservience, i.e. a master and a slave. Jung implies that this is the “will to power”. Yet, is this what Nietzsche has in mind when he speaks of power? Is this the kind of power that is being sought at the heart of Nietzsche’s Will to Power? Is love nothing more than powerlessness? Is power only representative of dominion? This essay aims to show that Jung’s interpretation of the ‘will to power’ could not be more of a misinterpretation.

Nietzsche’s work is unavoidably shrouded in mystery, ambivalence, and ambiguity. Travis Elborough states plainly that Nietzsche’s writing “resists literal readings” (7). As such, his thought is marked by an elusive impenetrability. His meaning and aims will not be found at the surface. One must probe deeply, beyond the appearance or the peripheral understanding of the words themselves. A cursory reading will simply not do.

Many have interpreted Nietzsche’s Will to Power as being congruent with what Jung alludes to as the will to dominate. This seems especially so in that Nietzsche seems to propose that what gives apt expression to the Will to Power is found within his categorizations of Master and Slave Morality. Although this would appear to give testimony to Nietzsche’s supposed adherence to a suppressive supremacy and although it is a common conception to view Nietzsche’s Will to Power as a kind of tyrannical oppression, it is above all a common mis-conception. So what is it that Nietzsche means by Will to Power? What does he mean by Master and Slave morality? How do these conceptions diverge from what Jung implies? To understand this more lucidly one must turn to what is in entailed within Nietzsche’s propositions of Master and Slave morality.

It seems obvious that Master morality is indicative of “the powerful and strong willed” (Oaklander, 85). It also seems to go without saying that Slave morality is representative of “those people who are weak willed, uncertain of themselves, oppressed, and abused” (85). While such an understanding is easily discernible what seems less obvious is what exactly the ‘master’ has mastered and what the enslaved is enslaved to. While the natural conclusion or assumption would be that the master is master over a slave and that a slave is enslaved to a master, and although this would seem to be the relationship Jung is describing, this would not be entirely conducive to what Nietzsche is aiming towards.

In Nietzsche’s mind a master is not necessarily the master of a slave and a slave is not necessarily one who is enslaved or subservient to a master. Nietzsche’s classifications are not representing a socioeconomic framework but rather the orientation of a psychological internality. In this regard, one need not be a master of a slave to exhibit master morality and one need not be a slave to someone to demonstrate slave morality. A captive can be the epitome of master morality and a lord can all too easily exemplify slave morality. In fact, Nietzsche would specify that one whose status as a master defined only by one’s dominance over another is not actually a master, as this would actually be an indication of weakness rather than power. In this scenario the master is truly a slave to the slave. Here, the master’s ‘power’ is absolutely externalized and completely contingent upon the presence of the slave. The slave is the necessary predicate of not only the master’s power but, also the master’s standing as a master. This kind of power is nothing more than a disguised impotency lusting after power through the use of control, manipulation, and resentment. Nietzsche himself writes that “the state in which we hurt others…is a sign that we are still lacking power” (108). This would then be slave morality.

L. Nathan Oaklander explains that “The strong willed are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (85). A master is a creative force, one who is ultimately “value-creating” and one who has the ‘powerful’ determination to direct their lives in a manner consistent with the values they have created (Nietzsche, 115). Master morality is the full acceptance of one’s responsibility for their existence as an individual. A true master is marked by their ability to ‘conquer’ themselves, to transcend themselves, to determine themselves, to master themselves (Hayman, 35). This is the master’s Will to Power, “a will to perfection, a striving for distinction” (Oaklander, 82).

In this regard, the slave is the antithesis of the master. The slave is one who lacks self-mastery and the strength of will to be creative and self-determinative. The slave is enslaved to normativity, convention, society, tradition, conformity, and mediocrity. The slave lives in complete compliance to external dictates, resenting those who have striven for excellence and attained freedom. The slave exercises their will to power through implicit domination and forced coercion, vilifying those who have achieved power and individuality and branding them as ‘evil’ (Oaklander, 86). This, then, is an “inversion” of the Will to Power, which “directs one’s view outward instead of back to oneself” (Nietzsche, 117). This is not an expression of true power but, only the desirous drive for the feeling of power which arises from an impotent lack of power. In this sense, it is true that “where [this kind of] power predominates, love is lacking”.

But, what does all this have to do with love? What does it say about the compatibility of love and the Will to Power? Love is a dangerous endeavor. Love, as an event, entails a “radical break with the existing state of affairs” (Van Onzen). Love is marked by risk. Alain Badiou explains that “love involves a separation or disjuncture based on the simple difference between the two people and their infinite subjectivities” (27). Love, too, itself, is a ‘value-creating’ force. Love requires a “commitment to create something unique that does not rely on…social conventions” and persevering determination to live in accordance with what has been created (Van Onzen). Love is not for the faint of heart but, the strong-willed, those who have the strength to be self-transcendent. Perhaps, then, not only can love exist alongside the Will to Power; perhaps love is the Will to Power.

There may be many who will see the proposals of this paper as obtuse and incoherent. Some may suggest that the thesis here within grossly and inaccurately misinterprets not only Nietzsche and Jung but, also Love and the Will to Power. This is certainly plausible as the writer of this essay is neither a Nietzschean scholar nor a Jungian scholar. This written work may be little more than the personal view of the author’s subjective bias. This writing took place without the proper context of Jung’s citation and remains primarily unlearned of the entirety of Nietzsche’s corpus. However, what this paper has demonstrated is that the reading of Nietzsche’s Will to Power as presented here is readily available within Nietzsche’s work and within the work of Nietzsche’s most adherent interpreters.

As far as Jung is concerned, this writer cannot counter the objection that the quote presented is taken out of context. It is true that it is. However, in this point some may still persist that there is nothing but incongruence between love and power. The simple rebuttal that this author can offer is the brute fact that love is, in fact, a ‘powerful’ force. This is undeniably seen throughout the pages of history. Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr., self-empowered, strong-willed self-determined people, marked by self-mastery who through great acts of love had the power to impact the world. They are individuals who have not only directed themselves but, who directed the course of history itself. These are people of supreme courage, able to transcend themselves, overcoming and withstanding the abusive violence of societal norms and conventions, carving out and creating whole new ways of understanding what it means to be human. These figures demonstrate that love is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. They reveal that it takes great power to bear the weighted risk of love and there is great power gained in taking the risk of loving.

Nietzsche’s master morality enables one to see that within the Will to Power there is the active creation of strength, excellence, determination, and value, as well as the commitment, responsibility, and courage to live in alignment with the constructions of one’s creation. In this regard, contrary to what Jung seems to suggest, the Will to Power does not close out the possibility of love but, rather widely throws open the doors to welcome love in. Love is power. Where love rules, there is the true Will to Power, and where this power predominates, love is never lacking.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. In Praise of Love. New York: Serpent’s Tail, 2012. Print.

Elborough, Travis. The Pocket Essential Nietzsche. North Promfret: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2001. Print.

“exegesis.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 115-116. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From On the Genealogy of Morals. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 117-121. Print.

Van Onzen, Fabian. Review of In Praise of Love. Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. Marx & Philosophy Society, 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Master & Slave Morality Part 2

Last week I wrote a post highlighting some of the nuances of Nietzsche’s idea of Master and Slave morality, you can read it here. This is a continuation of that discussion.

L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) writes that “Master morality begins with an affirmation, with what is good and what is worthwhile” (p. 85). Oaklander (1996) goes on to say that “The strong willed are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (p. 85). The strength expressed in Master morality is affirmative and ultimately creative, as a master is one who has the strength to be self-determinative, creating his own morals, values, and guidelines particular only to himself. Nietzsche (1996) makes this clear writing,

The noble type of man experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval; it judges, “what is harmful to me is harmful in itself”; it knows itself to be that which first accords to things; it is value-creating (p. 115).

A master displays and exercises his Will to Power through his ability create values and to live only in accordance with his own codes of morality. In this regard, a master is not only the master of himself; he is also the master of his morals.

Slave Morality, on the other hand, is weak because it lacks the capacity to create its own values and morals and has not the strength of will to be self-determined. L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) writes that “Slave morality,” contrarily, “begins in negation: a resentment of excellence, achievement, individuality, and power” (p. 86). Slave Morality is reactive, prohibitive, and wholly objective. Slave Morality stunts and impedes the growth and becoming of the individual. Slave Morality is oppressive in and of itself, in that it universally imposes itself upon all of humanity, forcing all of mankind into conformity and compliance with its dictates. The morality of the slave is completely external to him, coming from outside himself, it is absolutely authoritative. Slave Morality is top down, coming from above. In this regard, the slave is not so much a slave to a master but, is instead a slave to Morality, a slave to objective values.

Since the slave does not have the strength or power to master himself or his morals he expresses his Will to Power through the negation of power and the powerful. The slave cannot become powerful upon his own efforts and so instead seeks to garner power through dis-empowering the empowered, calling all the virtues of the powerful “evil” and naming those attributes associated to weakness “good”. Slave Morality says “if I cannot have power then no one can,” and thus, seeks to make ‘power’ itself utterly unethical. Slave Morality is then, a perversion of the Will to Power and offers only an illusory meekness and a false humility through its vilification of the empowered. Slave Morality is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, power mongering cloaked in sackcloth and ashes. Nietzsche (1996), himself, explains that

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values:…While every noble morality develops from triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye – this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself – is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile world; it needs physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all – its action is fundamentally reaction (p. 117).

Lacking the strength of will and determination to fully take responsibility for its own destiny, Slave Morality seeks to bring down those who have through an expression of ethical enmity. Thus, even when Slave Morality seeks to cunningly, deceptively, and coercively attain some sense of power, it does so externally rather than from within itself.

So it is that Nietzsche remains skeptical, suspicious, and critical of the Judeo-Christian grounding of traditional morality, which he sees as the fullest expression of Slave Morality. L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) proposes that “the chief proposition of common morality is that to be moral is to act in accordance with custom where ‘custom’ is the traditional way of behaving and evaluating” (p. 88). Oaklander (1996) continues saying that “Traditional morality forces the individual to give up the power or the freedom to depend upon oneself to determine one’s own actions” (p. 88). Nietzsche challenges the individual to be dependent on neither the demands of the divine nor the dictates of another but solely upon themselves.  Nietzsche beckons the individual to abandon traditional Morality and objective values, to be grounded not to tradition or custom but only to one’s self, to be strong, self-determined, empowered, independent, and utterly im-Moral.

Oaklander, L. N. (1996). Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Nietzsche, F. (1996). From Beyond good and evil. In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.115-116). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Nietzsche, F. (1996). From On the genealogy of morals. In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.117-121). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Master & Slave Morality

 

Nietzsche devotes himself to the philosophical, anthropological, and, perhaps one could even say, the archaeological, uncovering of the nature and roots of morality. Nietzsche centers his writings upon studying the origination morals, or, put in Nietzschean terms, the genealogy of morals.

As Nietzsche traces back the foundations of morality he makes several important distinctions. Perhaps the most important distinction to the structure of his critique and analysis is his contrasting of various or varying ‘morality’ or moralities with the singular particularity of Morality (Solomon & Higgins, 2000, p. 103). In the first usage, ‘morality’ has a waft of relativism. Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins (2000) explain that “Every culture, no matter how cosmopolitan or ‘primitive,’ no matter how single-minded or multicultural, has its values, its ideals, its taboos, its practical guidelines, its rules” (p. 104). The values of ‘morality’, as H.L. Mencken (2003) explains, is “nothing more than a system of customs, laws, and ideas which had its origin in the instinctive desire of some definite race to live under conditions which best subserved its own welfare” (p. 44). In this sense ‘morality’ is specific only in its applicability to a specific and particular culture and context. In any wider or more general appeal or usage ‘morality’ is non-specific and non-descript, “containing no specific values, no concrete rules or prohibitions, no particular guidelines or philosophical orientation” (Solomon & Higgins, 2000, p. 104). Here, ‘morality’ is subjective and is found as the vague values underpinning a particular culture and society.

On the other hand, Morality (capital M) is extremely specific, descriptive, and proscriptive, both in its generalizable appeal and application, as well as in the particularities of its specific values, rules, prohibitions, and guidelines. In this sense, Morality is marked by its objectivity, its authoritative nature, and its universality. Morality, used in this way, is best exemplified by the Ten Commandments and Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and is most closely associated to the traditional and utilitarian values of modern bourgeois society (Solomon & Higgins, 2000, p. 103). Morality, in contrast to ‘morality’, entails specific actions that are intended to be specific to all cultures and societies.

It is from this distinction between ‘morality’ and Morality that Nietzsche reveals his infamous distinction between Master Morality and Slave Morality. As the names imply, Master Morality is associated to “the powerful and the strong willed,” whereas, Slave Morality is the morality of the “herd,” it is “a morality common to those people who are weak willed, uncertain of themselves, oppressed, and abused” (Oaklander, 1996, p. 85). Although it may seem obvious that the marks of Master Morality are strength and power and those of Slave Morality are weakness and subservience, what is less clear is precisely who or what the master is the master of, and who or what the slave is a slave to.

While one may instinctively be inclined to assume that the master is the master of the slave and the slave is the slave of the master, and although Nietzsche does trace the origins of Slave Morality as arising from the psychology of people actually enslaved to a master class, this is not necessarily what Nietzsche means by these categorizations in their present forms. The occurrence of Slave Morality may be an outcome of the “imaginary revenge” and the “ethical revolution…fuelled by the ressentiment of those of who are incapable of taking action,” yet, Nietzsche has something more subtle in mind when discussing the modern incarnations of the two (Hayman, 1999, p. 41). Nietzsche uses ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ to highlight the orientation of a psychological inwardness rather than as a social or economic status.

Much in the same way as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche concerns himself with subjectivity and most importantly the individual, or the becoming of the individual. In this way, Master Morality derives not from slave mastery but, is indicative of self-mastery. A master is not a slave master, that is, he is not the master of or over another but, is instead, a master of himself. Master Morality represents a kind of self-conquest or self-transcendence (Hayman, 1999, p. 35). The master’s power is exerted, first and foremost, over himself.

To be continued…

 

Hayman, R. (1999). Nietzsche. New York, NY: Routledge.

Menchen, H. L. (2003). The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press.

Oaklander, L. N. (1996). Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Solomon, R. C. & Higgins, K. M. (2000). What Nietzsche really said. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Domestication…

 

To call the taming of an animal its “improvement” sounds almost like a joke to our ears. Whoever knows what is going on in menageries doubts that the beasts are “improved” there. They are weakened, they are made less harmful, and through the depressive effect of fear; through pain, through wounds, and through hunger they become sickly beasts… Physiologically speaking; in the struggle with beasts, to make them sick may be the only means of making them weak. This is the Church understood: it ruined man, it weakened him – but it claimed to have “improved” him.

Nietzsche, From The Twilight of the Idols.

Nietzsche: An Affirmation of Life After the Death of God

What follows is an excerpt from a recent paper composed for an Undergraduate course in Religious Existentialism. I would just like to emphasize my status as an undergraduate student and one who is, to a large extent, philosophically inept and unlearned. With that being said, and now with the bar set bearably low, please read on. Feel free to comment. I welcome your thoughts and critiques.

 

L. Nathan Oaklander prescribes that “Nietzsche’s famous slogan that ‘God is dead’ means, first and foremost, that there are no objective values.”[1] It seems that as Travis Elborough describes, “Without God, Nietzsche argued, there was no point clinging to old morality.”[2] Thus, “Nietzsche’s main concern in this parable is with suggesting the nature of a world that is, in effect, now meaningless.”[3]

Oaklander goes on to elucidates,

 In asserting that ‘God is dead,’ Nietzsche is not merely claiming that we cannot know which value judgments are true. He is making the more radical claim that we must reject the very idea of a World in itself that could serve as the ultimate standard or foundation for the truth of any value judgment.[4]

“There was no ultimate meaning or value,” as Karen Armstrong illustrates, “and human beings had no business offering an indulgent alternative in ‘God.’”[5] Alone amidst a vast and endless expanse, set adrift on a horizonless sea of infinitude, the individual is lost without compass or guide. As the author of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”[6]

Though the death of God is marked by anguish, it is not ultimately a nihilistic proclamation. This is a moment of clarity, traumatically joyous, tragically celebratory, and tumultuously liberating. “If…God is dead, the effect is exhilarating.”[7] We see here, as Karen Armstrong displays, “Nietzsche’s madman insisted that the death of God would bring about a newer, higher phase of human history.”[8] The moment of awakening that occurs as a result of the death of God may be frighteningly terrifying but, it brings with it the priceless gifts of freedom, possibility, and the knowledge that the individual alone holds the responsibility of existential decision. “We can become legislators of our own values…we can become masters of ourselves.”[9] We are our own makers, and none other.

“[Nietzsche] believes that by creating our own values the world can have meaning. It is just a case of casting aside the stodgy intellectual hunt for truth and embracing a better, in the sense of life-affirming, wisdom.”[10] The meaningless world is not an abysmal void of barrenness, utterly absent of substance but, rather Nothingness pregnant with everything, a clean slate, a blank canvas, marble yet to sculpted, clay yet to be fashioned, an empty page upon which is yet to be written. “The free-spirit is creating, shaping, changing power whose tireless process of recreation resists the temptation to rest on one’s laurels or to be an imitator or parasite of others.”[11] Above us only sky, below us only earth, God is dead and we have only just begun to live.


[1] L. Nathan Oaklander, Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1996), 77.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Oaklander, Existentialist Philosophy…, 77.

[5] Armstrong, A History of God…, 357.

[6] Ecclesiastes 1:2 (New International Version)

[7] Oaklander, Existentialist Philosophy, 77.

[8] Armstrong, A History of God…, 356.

[9] Oaklander, Existentialist Philosophy…, 77.

[11] Oaklander, Existentialist Philosophy…, 83.