THE NIETZSCHE CONNECTION
It is here, beneath this tripod of scientific concepts relating to the human central nervous system that the major fault line in western thought finds its epicenter. It is here that Friedrich Nietzsche identified the need for the Übermensch [overman] and recognized the unfathomable logic of the eternal recurrence. According to Walter Kaufmann, "Nietzsche's books are easier to read but harder to understand than those of almost any other thinker. . . . As soon as one attempts to penetrate beyond the clever epigrams and well turned insults to grasp their consequences, and to coordinate them, one is troubled.”1 Paul Strathern writes in Nietzsche in 90 Minutes, “Nietzsche’s philosophy was written mainly in aphorisms and is not methodical. His attitude remains largely consistent, but his thought is constantly developing in different directions. . . . His was a philosophy of penetrating insights, not a system. Yet certain words and concepts recur again and again in his work. In these, the elements of a system are detectable.”2
At its core true existence was, according to Nietzsche, a "terrible ‘witch’s brew’ of lust and cruelty."3 He felt “compelled to make the metaphysical assumption that the truly existent, the primal Oneness, eternally suffering and contradictory, also needs the delightful vision, the pleasurable illusion for its constant redemption: an illusion that we . . . are required to see as empirical reality."4 Nietzsche maintained, this frightful condition was not limited to nineteenth-century European culture; indeed, the ancient Apollonian Greeks, according to Nietzsche, "were forced to feel . . . : their entire existence, with all its beauty and moderation, was based on a veiled substratum of suffering and knowledge, . . ."5 According to Nietzsche, by the end of his life even Socrates revealed his pessimism with regard to human existence. Nietzsche wrote, concerning Socrates “Is it possible that a man like him, who had lived cheerfully and like a soldier in the sight of everyone should have been a pessimist? He had merely kept a cheerful mien while concealing all his life long his ultimate judgment, his inmost feeling. Socrates, Socrates suffered life! . . . Did his over-rich virtue lack an ounce of magnanimity? Alas, my friends, we must overcome even the Greeks!"6 “Nietzsche's philosophy of power,” according to Walter Kaufmann, “culminates in the dual vision of the overman [Übermensch] and the eternal recurrence.”7 For Nietzsche only beings who overcome their nature—individuals who can overcome themselves—those Übermensch could endure an eternal return to their same life—their same pain—their same fears. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche challenges his readers:
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence . . . . The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and everything, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?8
“When the Übermensch is thus understood,” writes Kaufmann, “the conception not only does not conflict with the doctrine of eternal recurrence, but the essential connection between the two ideas becomes clear."9
For Nietzsche the archetypal overman was his fictitious character, Zarathustra. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the forever-misogynistic Nietzsche has Zarathustra explain, "Man is a rope tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss. . . . What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: . . ."10 More generally what can be loved in a human being is that he or she has potential to be an overture to greatness—an overture to the Übermensch. Dispossessed, life is a meaningless accident of nature—an accident that can only be redeemed by embracing an eternal recurrence of that life. By their 'will' individuals can display an inner courage, a courage that says, “Was that life? Well then!
Once more!”11 By doing this, Nietzsche believes that individuals can affirm their lives. By this affirmation, individuals can give their lives an eternal meaning and transform themselves into the Übermensch. "Only where there is life", Nietzsche has Zarathustra say, "is there also will: not will to life but—thus I teach you—will to power."12 The will to power is central to Nietzsche's philosophy and while paramount in significance, it still is limited in its freedom of action. The 'will', Nietzsche explains is still a prisoner:
But now learn this too; the will itself is still a prisoner. . . . Powerless against what has been done, he is an angry spectator of all that is past. The will cannot will backwards; and that he cannot break time and time's covetousness, that is the will's loneliest melancholy.13
For Nietzsche the inability of the 'will' to break free from time is a folly that has cursed everything human. As a transfiguration of this great folly, the spirit of revenge permeates human nature:
Thus the will, the liberator, took to hurting; and on all who can suffer he wreaks revenge for his inability to go backwards. This, indeed this alone is what revenge is: the will's ill will against time and its 'it was.' . . .
"Because there is suffering in those who will, inasmuch as they cannot will backwards, willing itself and all life were supposed to be—a punishment. . . . 'Everything passes away; therefore everything deserves to pass away. And this too is justice, this law of time that it must devour its children.' . . .
"'Can there be redemption if there is eternal justice? Alas, the stone It was cannot be moved: all punishments must be eternal too.' . . .
“No deed can" be annihilated: how could it be undone by punishment? This, this is what is eternal in the punishment called existence, that existence must eternally become deed and guilt again. Unless the will should at last redeem himself, and willing should become not willing.' . . .
. . . , 'The will is a creator.' All 'it was' is a fragment, a riddle, a dreadful accident—until the creative will says to it, 'But thus I willed it.' Until the creative will says to it, 'But thus I will it; thus shall I will it.'14
According to Nietzsche, only in a universe that repeats itself eternally can the will to power provide an individual the opportunity to repossess his or her life. "To accept oneself as a fate, [or a destiny] not to desire oneself 'different'—in such conditions this is great rationality itself."15 Only in an eternally recurring universe can individuals give meaning to their lives—to achieve greatness as Übermensch and thus rectify their human nature. As Zarathustra explains:
To redeem those who lived in the past and to recreate all 'it was' into a 'thus I willed it'—that alone should I call redemption. Will—that is the name of the liberator and joy-bringer; thus I taught you, my friends.16
With regard to his philosophy, the most significant concept for establishing a two thousand year connection to western thought could be Nietzsche's idea of an eternal recurrence. Although "his notion of the Eternal Return (according to which no event is unique) is pagan, cyclical, and basically ahistorical"17 Nietzsche surely regarded it as a most important concept. In Ecce Homo he writes, “I shall now tell the story of Zarathustra. The basic conception of the work, the idea of eternal recurrence, the highest formula of affirmation that can possibly be attained . . .”:18
The first inference of this idea appears in the prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. When descending from the mountains Zarathustra meets an old man. "No stranger to me is this wanderer": says the old man, "many years ago he passed this way. Zarathustra he was called, but he has changed. At that time you carried your ashes to the mountains; would you now carry your fire into the valleys?”19
The inference remains implicit, but more so in the second part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra when after not eating or drinking for three days Zarathustra falls into a deep sleep and dreams about the delivery of his ashes to the mountains. Upon awaking from his slumber, Zarathustra reports the contents of his dream to his disciples:
Thus time passed and crawled, if time still existed—how should I know? But eventually that happened which awakened me. Thrice, strokes struck at the gate like thunder; the vaults echoed and howled thrice; then I went to the gate. 'Alpa' I cried, 'who is carrying his ashes up the mountain? . . . And I pressed the key, tried to lift the gate, and exerted myself; but still it did not give an inch. Then a roaring wind tore its wings apart; whistling, shrilling, and piercing, it cast up a black coffin before me.20
After hearing of his dream, Zarathustra's disciples interpreted it for him:
Your life itself interprets this dream for us, O Zarathustra. Are you not yourself the wind with the shrill whistling that tears open the gates of the castles of death? Are you not yourself the coffin full of colorful sarcasms and angelic grimaces of life? Verily, like a thousand children's laughter Zarathustra enters all death chambers, laughing at all the night watchmen and guardians of tombs and at whoever else is rattling with gloomy keys. . . . And even when the long twilight and the weariness of death come, you will not set in our sky, you advocate of life. . . . Henceforth children's laughter will well forth from all coffins; henceforth a strong wind will come triumphantly to all weariness of death: of this you yourself are our surety and soothsayer.21
From this interpretation, emerges Nietzsche's vision of resurrection. A synergetic combination of the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the Übermensch enable humanity to overcome even death. It might be for this reason that Nietzsche declared, "My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fait: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity. Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity, still less to dissemble it . . . but to love it."22 "Here is thunder enough to make even tombs learn to listen. And wipe sleep and all that is purblind and blind out of your eyes! Listen to me even with your eyes: my voice cures even those born blind. And once you are awake, you shall remain awake eternally."23 "Behold this moment! From this gateway, Moment, a long, eternal lane leads backward: behind us lies an eternity. Must not whatever can walk have walked on this lane before? Must not whatever can happen have happened, have been done, have passed by before? . . . For whatever can walk—in this long lane out there too, it must walk once more."24 By this point, the Eternal Return has become explicit in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of being. Everything dies, everything blossoms again; eternally runs the year of being. Everything breaks, everything is joined anew; eternally the same house of being is built. Everything parts, everything greets every other thing again; eternally the ring of being remains faithful to itself. In every Now, being begins; round every Here rolls the sphere There. The center is everywhere. Bent is the path of eternity (emphasis mine).25
In fulfilling his destiny as "the teacher of the eternal recurrence",26 Zarathustra further elucidates Nietzsche’s concept of resurrection and clarifies his belief in recurrence:
Now I die and vanish, you would say, and all at once I am nothing. The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again. I myself belong to the causes of the eternal recurrence. I come again, with this sun, with this earth, with this eagle, with this serpent—not to a new life or a better life or a similar life: I come back eternally to this same, selfsame life, in what is greatest as in what is smallest, to teach again the eternal recurrence of all things, to speak again the word of the great noon of earth and man, to proclaim the overman again to men.27
In the years following the completion of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, it remained uncertain whether Zarathustra would ever have any disciples other than his two animals. From 1885 until the time of his mental breakdown and subsequent insanity in January 1889, Nietzsche himself never witnessed the success of his book.28 However, during the last ten years of Nietzsche’s life, 1889 to 1900, a new generation was born; a generation that would grow to embrace Zarathustra as their prophet. In fact on Easter Sunday of the same year that Nietzsche suffered his mental collapse a boy was born in a small Austrian town about 200 miles away. This boy would become a living disciple of Zarathustra. In his efforts to experience the overman, Adolf Hitler would change the world and presage a new era for civilization.
The next chapter will explore a possible connection between Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Adolf Hitler. The goal will be to identify any relationship between Hitler’s actions and the three fundamental concepts of Nietzsche’s philosophy as expressed in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra: the Übermensch, the Will to Power, and the Eternal Recurrence. When combined with the Scientific and Nietzsche connections, previously discussed, this Hitler connection will yield a theory of human history that has profound implications for understanding the role of human consciousness in the universe.
1. Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, First Princeton Paperback, 1974), 72.
2. Paul Strathern, Nietzsche in 90 Minutes, read by Robert Whitfield, Blackstone Audiobooks, 2003, cassette.
3. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, ed. Michael Tanner, trans. Shaun Whiteside (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 20.
4. Ibid., 25.
5. Ibid., 26.
6. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1974), 272.
7. Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, 307.
8. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 273.
9. Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, 316.
10. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for None and All, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), 15.
11. Ibid., 157.
12. Ibid., 115.
13. Ibid., 139.
14. Ibid., 140-1.
15. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 1979), 16.
16. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 139.
17. Geoffrey Clive, The Philosophy of Nietzsche (New York: Meridian, 1996), xxv.
18. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 69.
19. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 10.
20. Ibid., 135.
21. Ibid., 135-136.
22. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 37.
23. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 215.
24. Ibid., 158.
25. Ibid., 217-218.
26. Ibid., 220.
27. Ibid., 221.
28. Ibid., xiii.