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Lingering Questions regarding Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ

I had hoped when I finished reading Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ that I would be able to answer some of the worries that I raised in previous two posts on the book. In the end, however, I am only left with more questions, and so my summation post will be less conclusion than confusion, less closure than an opening of unresolved issues. But perhaps there is something Nietzschean in this all the same.

First question: As with most of these questions, this one turns on an ambiguity in Nietzsche’s text (in this case, it reaches out to others of his books), one that makes it seem as if Nietzsche is going to catch himself in his own critique. In §8, Nietzsche critiques everything that looks down, that elevates the spirit to a plane of self-sufficiency over against the body. But what does Nietzsche say of his higher types: that they are distant, far, remote, that they look down, that they inhabit mountains. Hence the question: How does the looking down of the higher type differ from the pseudo-self-sufficiency of spirit that is nothing more than illusion?

Second question: This question concerns the relationship between naturalness and value. Nietzsche at various points in the text seems to conflate being natural with worth: he loves what is instinctual, what is of the body. Yet his project in relation to Christianity substantially consists in showing how Christianity stems from a certain sort of instinct (as of course he must). Moreover, in his praise of scientific intellectual methods, he frequently remarks on how these have to fight against nothing other than our natural human tendencies, and thus how they are attained only through great struggle. Nietzsche seems to want to have it both ways: to affirm what is natural against what is Christian and to naturalize Christianity. In doing so he seems to fall into that most elementary of circles: to use what is “natural” as the benchmark of what is “good”, but only by defining what is “natural” with reference to what is “good”. Hence the question: To what extent does Nietzsche’s project get caught up in this circle, and to what extent can his critique escape it? Is this mere carelessness of expression, or does it signify a deeper carelessness of thought?

Third question: Now for a question about metaphysics. Nietzsche at various points seems to take a realist stance about causality (§49) and laws of nature (§43). In the latter he seems to take the view of laws of nature that makes of them little gods, to be obeyed. In the former, he critiques Christianity and its moral notions as having warped the “causal sense” of man. But in The Gay Science (§112) Nietzsche critiques the very notion of cause and effect as misguided: what we take to be causal explanation is really just description with added, unreal elements. Hence the question: Is Nietzsche rejecting his earlier critique, or is he merely expressing himself too hastily? Does Christianity warp our sense of cause and effect or only our sense of description? Can his point survive if we “revise” it in light of his earlier critique?

Fourth question: Nietzsche offers as a critique of Christianity the way in which it valorizes suffering. Pity for those who suffer, Nietzsche argues (§7), works as a “multiplier of misery.” In summing up his critique (§62), Nietzsche condemns Christianity in part for creating states of distress in order to “eternalize itself.” Nietzsche sees Christianity as itself arising from a suffering from reality. And yet Nietzsche critiques as “funny” those freethinkers who have not suffered from Christianity (§8), and much of Nietzsche’s philosophy outside of this text critiques the idea of abolishing suffering. Hence the question: Does Nietzsche want to have it both ways? Or is there a more complex means of differentiating Christianity’s relationship to suffering from the ways he values? If it is the latter, as I suspect it is, where is this to be found in The Anti-Christ?

Fifth question: In §3, Nietzsche clarifies the problem of the work: not what should succeed mankind, but what sort of man should be willed. As part of this, Nietzsche states, “the human being is a conclusion.” Yet Nietzsche wants to show how humans, as a species and as individuals, are the results of untold numbers of accidents and coincidences, that there is no special reason for mankind, etc. Again and again, he critiques teleological thinking—precisely the sort of thinking where the notion that humanity is a conclusion is most likely to arise. Hence the question: If this is so, how can the human being be a conclusion? If it is a conclusion, who is making the argument?

Sixth question: In The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche has a fruitfully and frustratingly ambiguous relationship toward the notion of God(s). In §16, Nietzsche discusses the ways in which peoples create their own gods, national gods, and compares this to Christianity’s cosmopolitan God. Later, in §47, Nietzsche critiques Christianity not on the basis of its belief in God, but on the grounds that it has created a God that is not at all “godlike”: “If this God of the Christians were proved to us to exist, we should know even less how to believe in him.” All of this points to Nietzsche leaving space for a positive use of God, a role for the creation of Gods. But thereupon we find the question: Just what is this positive use of God, which Nietzsche never fully makes clear? How is a God to be created: in what way, to what end?

Seventh question: Finally, I want to look at the most interesting and most difficult section of The Anti-Christ, §57, which will bring me back to the preoccupation of my first two posts: the relation Nietzsche takes to the various peoples he invokes in the book. In this section, Nietzsche discusses the manner in which law books establish a tripartite caste system: first is the spiritual type, second is the muscular type, and third is the mediocre type. Nietzsche’s description of this function of law books, and of the spiritual type, is thoroughly ambiguous. Nietzsche introduces the law books by discussing how they summarize the “experimental morality of long centuries”: they create nothing new themselves, but simply harvest the fruits of past experiments and, consequently, serve to prevent “the continuation of experimenting, the perpetuation in infinitum of the fluid condition of values, tests, choices, criticizing of values.” This is clearly a negative description, for Nietzsche clearly values this experimentation above just about everything. Yet he soon switches to showing how these law-books establish a caste system that is thoroughly natural (used in—I think—precisely the normatively loaded sense addressed in my second question), a caste system to be found in “every healthy society.” Moreover, in describing the spiritual type, Nietzsche’s tone is glowing: they find their happiness “in severity towards themselves and others, in attempting.” Furthermore, “they rule not because they want to but because they are,”—he explicitly calls them “the most venerable kind of human being.” At the same time, he says of them that asceticism is an instinct for them—and Nietzsche’s critique of asceticism is famous (though thoroughly ambiguous). Furthermore, he says of them that they find the distance between man and man as something beneath them—though just 14 sections earlier (§43), Nietzsche critiques Christianity for having “waged a war to the death against every feeling of reverence and distance between man and man, against, that is, the precondition of every elevation, every increase in culture.” Thus, at the same time that Nietzsche showers this caste with praise, he seems to bring it under his earlier critiques. This ambiguity can perhaps be understood if we look at what Nietzsche calls this “highest caste” (back to §57 now): “I call it the very few.” Here we must recall the foreword of the book, which begins: “This book belongs to the very few.” Thus Nietzsche addresses himself as talking to this highest caste. But now we seem to run into a block. Nietzsche has said that the higher type of man arises only by chance, has never been willed before, represents a lucky hit (§3, §4)—yet it is supposed to characterize every healthy society not as a product of chance but as a flourishing (if small) caste. Furthermore, the book is also addressed to the Hyperboreans, who are not obviously the same as this higher caste (though perhaps they are): they are apart, remote; they are physicians who are to breed this higher type—is it then to breed itself? Nietzsche is frustratingly indirect on these points, and so my initial question, the question underlying my first two posts, returns with a vengeance. We must ask: To whom is Nietzsche talking? To whom is his book addressed?

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  1. 2013/08/09 at 15:08

    You ask many questions, dyssebeia! I read your second article and wondered about the free spirit and the Hyperboreans. I often find it helpful to look into Greek mythology, because Nietzsche obviously writes for philologists or at the very least gymnasium-educated students. They would be thoroughly familiar with the Greeks. I think Nietzsche often expected an image, an idea, to pop up in the head of his readers. Of course we can only guess what he would have meant to allude to, but still…
    Pindar writes about the Hyperboreans: “Illness and wasting old age visit not this hallowed race, but far from toil and battle they dwell secure from fate’s remorseless vengeance.”
    They were a different race, living in a place that no ordinary Greek mortal could hope to visit. Interestingly enough, they sent some of their own maidens to Delos, bearing gifts. Those Hyperboreans didn’t return, so they decided to have their gifts relayed in future.
    It made me wonder how a Nietzschean Hyperborean would be received by the people of his day and I suspect Nietzsche has thought about those questions ever since he read Schopenhauer as an ‘untimely philosopher’.
    Reading all three articles also made me think of Richard Schacht’s approach to Nietzsche. I have so far only read his “Making Sense of Nietzsche” but he remarks that Nietzsche often uses one word in many different ways, without any explanation or definition and he “touches upon [matters] and returns to them on many different occasions, seldom if ever setting down anything that might be considered his definitive position concerning any of them.”
    Schacht says that to understand Nietzsche on should draw the many strands together and attempt to discern what they add up to. (This reminds me of your earlier articles about the ways one might read a work.)
    Many of Schacht’s articles use this approach and I find them interesting. He doesn’t only use the published works and some other philosophers are critical of this approach, but I don’t see it as a problem. The reader can draw her own conclusions about the sources used.
    I do wonder if “Making sense of Nietzsche” would ever lead to finding Nietzsche’s answers, or even finding your own. Still, it doesn’t always have to be about the answers, does it? 😉

    PS: Apart from agreeing with you that Emerson goes well with Nietzsche, I’m also considering Kierkegaard. Have you read him?

    • 2013/08/13 at 16:49

      Thanks for the comment, pipteinpteron! Schacht’s points about Nietzsche seem right—every commentator on Nietzsche that I’ve come across (at least those who say anything interesting) seem to read him in a different way. I’m currently reading Staten’s Nietzsche’s Voice, which traces out the “libidinal” flow of energy in his texts, and uses it to understand/trace out some apparent (and some real!) contradictions and tensions in Nietzsche’s work. (Unfortunately, it’s not written as clearly as it might be, but it has still taught me a good deal about how Nietzsche might fruitfully be read.)

      Your comments about the Hyperboreans are helpful. The question that I really want to get at, and that I’m not sure how to answer, is who Nietzsche is addressing in The Anti-Christ, and just what he wants them to do. He addresses three different groups as if they were one, even though each is distinct. As a result, I’m not fully sure who the Hyperboreans are for Nietzsche. But for that I surely need to know who they are for the Greeks.

      I haven’t read a lot of Kierkegaard—a bit in college (selections for an Existentialism class), then the first part of Either/Or after college (and a bit of the second half)—but in my experience he does go well with Nietzsche.

  1. 2013/08/21 at 10:46
  2. 2013/09/07 at 16:38

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