by Emrys Westacott
Friedrich Nietzsche is my “desert island philosopher.” Guests, or “castaways” on BBC Radio 4’s long running program “Desert Island Discs” are allowed to take to their desert island, in addition to eight pieces of music, a text of religious or philosophical significance. Many accept the bible as the default option. For me, the choice is a no brainer: I’d take the works of Nietzsche.
But why? It certainly isn’t because he’s the thinker I agree with most. In fact there are many aspects of his thought that are silly, hopelessly outmoded, or morally objectionable. Some of his observations about women, about racial types, about democracy, and about liberal values in general, for instance, are about as misguided as its possible to be––at least from the standpoint of anyone who endorses said liberal values. His unabashed elitism, and occasional apparent indifference to the suffering so often inflicted on the many by the powerful few, would be almost laughable if it weren’t for the fact that we still live in a world were such suffering abounds.
Finding examples in Nietzsche’s writings of propositions that are awful-going-on-horrible is like looking for a needle in a tin of needles. On women, for instance:
When a woman has scholarly intentions there is usually something wrong with her sexually.
On how the ruling class may and should treat those beneath them:
The essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy …is that it experiences itself not as a function (whether of the monarchy or the commonwealth) but as their meaning and highest justification–that it therefore accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments.
Or on what constitutes progress:
The magnitude of an “advance” can… be measured by the mass of things that had to be sacrificed to it; mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man–that would be an advance.
Given such sentiments, why on earth do I like Nietzsche so much? After all, I like most of Nietzsche readers–and today he is probably the most popular of the “great” philosophers–would almost certainly be judged by him to be “herd” or “rabble,” self-interestedly promoting the values of what he calls “the last man”–viz. safety, comfort, contentment, and mediocrity. Read more »