Friedrich Nietzsche

(1844 - 1900), German

Friedrich Nietzsche exposed the hypocrisy and degeneracy behind key concepts in western morality and propagated a reevaluation of these values towards a more intellectually-honest, life-affirming basis. He propagated novel theories like the idea of eternal recurrence and the Will to Power and offered new ways of seeing things and living life to ward of nihilism and disaster for the human race. Although they were hardly popular during his time, Nietzsche’s books later forced their way into the public consciousness.

Nietzsche was admired as strongly as he was condemned, and was notoriously misunderstood most of the time. His legacy has gone through circles of highs and lows over the years as different people interpreted his works the way they deemed fit. Nietzsche would gain and lose a remarkable professorship at the University of Basel, serve in the army for just a fortnight, propose multiple times unsuccessfully to an intelligent and beautiful love interest, get mad and die, and, afterwards, become the subject of Adolph Hitler’s admiration through his sister’s efforts. In the end, his influence today spreads far and wide from philosophy to literature.


Life Facts

  • Nietzsche was not commercially and critically successful as a philosopher during his lifetime
  • In 1869, Nietzche became a professor of classical philology at 24 at the University of Basel without ever completing a dissertation. He remains among the youngest persons to have achieved such a feat to date.
  • In 1886, Nietzsche broke with his publisher Ernst Schmeitzner and started publishing his books himself because he was disgusted by Schmeitzner’s antisemitic opinions.
  • Paul Rée and Nietzsche and Andrea as-Salomé traveled through Italy in 1882 in search of a location to establish an educational commune between themselves. However, Ree and Andrea as-Salomé abandoned Nietzsche due to complications from Rée’s and Nietzsche’s mutual romantic interest in Andrea as-Salomé.
  • Nietzsche enlisted as a medical orderly during the Franco-Prussian war but was forced out of service after contracting diphtheria and dysentery in the course of attending to infected soldiers.
  • Nietzsche lost both his father and brother before his 6th birthday. He was left with just his mother and sister for much of his life.
  • Although Nietzsche suffered from serious migraine and insomnia almost throughout his adult life, he still managed to have a prolific writing career.

Interesting Facts

  • Nietzsche had his German citizenship officially revoked on 17 April 1869, consequently becoming stateless for the rest of his life.
  • Before venturing into philosophy, Nietzsche had wanted to be a music composer. However, he abandons interest here due to bad reviews.
  • Despite being born a Prussian, Nietzsche came to believe that his ancestors were Polish. To emphasize this polish heritage, he wore a signet ring bearing the Radwan coat of arms, traceable back to the Polish nobility of medieval times.
  • Nietzche competed with his friend, Paul Ree, for the romantic attentions of the beautiful and brilliant Lou Salomé. He unsuccessfully proposed to her multiple times.
  • Nietzsche was known to regularly visit brothels although he remained unmarried throughout his life..


Famous Books by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Birth of Tragedy was published in 1872 during his time as an associate professor at the University of Basel. His first book offered a speculative take on the nature and theory of Greek tragedy. The book was unfavourably received because it did not follow conventions for scholarly writing that demanded extensive use of references and footnotes. Nietzsche argues that the tragedy of Ancient Greece was the highest form of art due to its intermixture of both Apollonian and Dionysian spiritual sensibilities into one seamless whole, allowing the spectator to experience the full spectrum of the human condition.

Daybreak was Published in 1881 and features Nietzsche’s first extended critique of Christianity. A predecessor to the more extended and focused critique that we were to find in the Antichrist, Daybreak sought to uncover unsavoury and hideous motivations within seemingly noble and virtuous Christian values.

Thus, Spake Zarathustra is Nietzsche’s most famous work. A work of great philosophical insight and literary excellence, it features a prophet who announces the tragic news of the demise of Christian morality in the face of scientific advancement. This event, the prophet decrees, would eventually lead to nihilism if nothing is done. In place of hopelessness, Zarathustra champions a reaching out for perfection in the form of the Ubermensch.

Beyond Good and Evil was published in 1886 and attacks the dogmatism that had plagued moral philosophy. Nietzsche sees this philosophical outlook as arising from the prejudice of the philosophers. He called for philosophers who would create new values through open-minded experimentation. The philosopher, accordingly, has a significant political role, directing cultural development. Nietzsche urges philosophers to articulate an outlook that is beyond the simplistic, judgmental moral categories employed within the Christian and contemporary moral worldview.

The Genealogy of Morals seeks to trace the origin of contemporary morality within three extensive critiques. First Nietzche explained the emergence of Slave and master morality before moving on to disentangle the complex motivations behind bad conscience. Afterwards, he deconstructs how ascetic ideals developed among people. Nietzsche offers an analysis that turns conventional understanding of otherwise seemingly noble concepts and ideals on its head and reveals the unpleasant, cruel and resentful motivations behind them.


Early Life

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on the 5th October 1844 in the tiny Prussian village of Röcken in the province of Saxony. Born in a devout protestant home with a Lutheran pastor for a father, he was raised in a seminary where he acquired a reputation as a pious youth. Nietzsche’s father died just five years after his birth and as a result, his mother moved him and his sister together with some extended relations to Naumburg.

In 1858 Nietzsche was admitted into the illustrious Pforta boarding school of the Saale valley and during his six years there, would develop a love for writers and poets such as Friedrich Hölderlin and Lord Byron and would also compose his first essay in classical Philology, as well as philosophical musings on abstract concepts like Fate and history.

By October 1864, Nietzsche commenced his undergraduate studies in theology and classical Philology at Bonn university, having abandoned pursuit of music in favor of an “inordinate desire for knowledge and universal enlightenment”. However, by the next year, Nietzsche followed his favorite teacher Friedreich Ritschl to Leipzig to study just Classical Philology. In his second year, he discovered and fell in love with the works of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer as well as that of Friedrich Albert Lange’s History of Materialism.

By his third year, war broke out and Nietzsche enlisted as a medical orderly and was wounded during a riding accident. In early 1869, he was appointed as the extraordinary professor of classical Philology in Basel university at the age of 24 and without ever completing his dissertation or Postgraduate thesis.

By this time, Nietzsche had already made acquaintances and become friends with the legendary German composer, Richard Wagner. Their friendship was powered by a mutual admiration of each other’s work, with Nietzsche believing Wagner to be not just a genius, but one of Germany’s greatest ever artists. Wagner would have some of Nietzsche’s work devoted to himself and would influence the direction of Nietzsche’s works for a time until they broke apart and became something like enemies.


Philosophical Career

Nietzsche’s lectures on the cultural temperament guiding ancient Greek society would form the basis of his first book, “The Birth of Tragedy” However, the Franco-Prussian war broke out and Nietzsche was enlisted and later discharged after contradicting dysentery and diphtheria within a fortnight. While on convalescent leave from the University in 1871, he was able to write most of the “Birth of Tragedy” and published in 1872. Nietzsche’s mapped out two different dominant but complementary instincts in the cultural expression of the ancient Greeks- the moderate Dionysian and the passionate Apollonian- and through it engaged in a historical and philological search for knowledge on the union between the two artistic expressions and its impact on the origin of Greek tragedy.

The book was ill-received in the academic community, however. By 1878, Nietzsche published his second major work, “Human, all too human“, which officially marked his break with Richard Wagner as the composer could not tolerate Nietzsche’s new pro-science, anti-Christian philosophical outlook.  By 1879 however, Nietzsche had to resign his position at Basel university due to Ill health. He spent the next ten years traveling around Europe in search of good health. The period was a prolific one dominated by writing. He published “Daybreak” in 1881 and followed it with “The Gay Science” in 1882. In 1882 he met and proposed twice unsuccessfully to Lou Andreas-Salome and in 1883 began work on what would become his most popular work, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.

During this period, he endured a difficult relationship with his sister, her anti-Semitism a cause of tension between them both. In 1886, Nietzsche published “Beyond Good and Evil” and began working on a major work that was to include four volumes and which was to be titled “The Will to Power: A Transvaluation of all Values’ ‘. He took a break from this project to work on and published “A Genealogy of Morals” in 1887.

By the next year, he was beginning to gain public recognition and acclaim for his works following reviews and public lectures on his work given by renowned critics and professors. This same year he completed in quick succession “Twilight of the Idols, or How to Philosophize with a Hammer” (first published 1889), “The Antichrist: Curse on Christianity” (first published 1895), Ecce Homo, or “How to Become What You Are” (first published 1908), “Nietzsche contra Wagner: Documents of a Psychologist” (first published 1895), and “Dionysus Dithyrambs” (first published 1892).

On October 15, 1888, Nietzsche began work on his autobiography, “Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is”, a work that many commentators believe to show signs of his impending madness due to its stupendously immodest tone. Nietzsche filled the books with chapters like “Why I am so wise”, “Why I am so smart”, etc.


Madness and Death

After sending the finished manuscript for “Ecce Homo” to his publishers in December, Nietzsche was observed dancing naked in his room by his landlady. On the morning of January 3, 1889, he was walking through the streets of Turin in Italy when he witnessed a carriage driver beating a horse. In an effort to protect the horse, he tries to embrace it but collapses and loses consciousness while in the act.

That would begin his steep descent into madness which was detected after he sent a series of strange letters to a couple of friends. His friend, Overbeck, traveled to Turin and took Nietzsche to a nursing home in Basel where he was diagnosed with progressive paralysis. Nietzsche was then taken to a psychiatric clinic in Jena, and after a year was discharged into the care of his mother as a psychological incompetent who needed care.

After his mother passed away in 1897, he passed into the care of his sister, Elizabeth, who brought her brother to the Villa Silberblick in Weimar and forthwith instituted a cult in his name. Nietzsche would live for another decade as an object for public display until his death on August 25, 1900.


Legacy

Nietzsche’s unique criticism of religion, philosophy, and morality would begin what became known as a philosophy of suspicion where seemingly noble or harmless societal or cultural institutions and values become the subject of critical investigations that often reveals nefarious motivations and harmful consequences. His original ideas on the theory of perspectivism, the will to power, eternal recurrence, and Superman, have commanded large-scale attention.

The commandeering of Nietzsche’s writings by his sister, Elizabeth Forster, had led to a careless and propagandist use of his half-formed notes edited and arranged in such a way as to signal Nietzsche’s solidarity with fascist causes and this had affected Nietzsche’s legacy at different points in time. However studious scholars have been able to separate Nietzsche’s original thoughts from the fabrications and censure of his sister and were able to clean up his legacy from accusations of fascism.

Nietzsche has an immense contribution to the history of philosophy, theology, and psychology since the early 20th century. His influence extended to prominent European philosophers like Max Scheler, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault. Nietzsche is credited with kick-starting the important philosophical movement of existentialism and deconstructionism.

His influence also extended to theology and psychology and deeply influenced the likes of Martin Buber, Thomas Altizer, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung. Nietzsche’s influence was also felt in literature where he is recognized as one of the most brilliant prose writers in the German language.

He inspired writers like Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, André Malraux, André Gide, and John Gardner. He also inspired poets and playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George, and William Butler Yeats, among others.


Literature by Friedrich Nietzsche

Explore literature by Friedrich Nietzsche below, created by the team at Book Analysis.