Nietzsche Transformed: from Philologist to Philosopher

Nietzschecontrawagner.cov2Chad Wellmon at The Hedgehog Review:

In his Basel lectures, we can begin to see how Nietzsche the philologist became Nietzsche the philosopher, the moral psychologist who would go on to diagnose the ills of modernity. He would have his readers believe that his observations were untimely, indeed timeless, but they were only partly so. Even as a young, increasingly disaffected professor of classics, Nietzsche assumed a prophetic voice, but his prophecies were woven out of the particularities of late nineteenth-century German culture in transition.

Nietzsche arrived in Basel in 1869, just two years before the Prussian victory over Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War and the declaration of the German Kaiserreich. He was a keen observer of Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf—the decades-long conflict between the Catholic Church and a Protestant-dominated German state. Bismarck’s battle to secularize the German state was waged through bureaucratic chicanery, but Nietzsche saw it as a mere skirmish in the larger battle to define Germany’s religious and cultural future. Writing to a friend in 1870, shortly before Prussia’s military triumph, Nietzsche cautioned that “we must be philosophers enough to remain sober in the universal ecstasy so that the thief does not come and steal or diminish something to which—for me—all the greatest military deeds, even all national uprisings, cannot compare. For the coming period of culture, fighters will be needed. We must save ourselves for this.”1 For Nietzsche, the confessional conflict of the new German empire portended a larger and more significant struggle for culture. And like many of his contemporaries, he doubted that political unity would easily translate into cultural and spiritual unity.

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