"Wherefore We must interrupt a silence which it would be criminal to prolong, that We may point out...as they really are, men who are badly disguised." Pope St. Pius X, September 8, 1907, Pascendi Dominici Gregis


Friday, April 8, 2011

Nietzsche is Dead

As the free time before I start my new job draws to a close, my window of opportunity to read the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche grows smaller. Having made it clear that I have not read his works and only heard what others have said about them, I will make some comments on what I have surmised about at least one aspect of Nietzschean thought.

Nietzsche is well known for his admonition that "God is dead." Fair enough, but how does he justify this statement? From what I can gather - and do correct me if I am wrong - Nietzsche argues that Christian morals and values are equivalent to slave morals or values. That is to say, they are the types of values, supposedly such as humility, mercy, charity and forgiveness, that would appeal to slaves or other under-classlings in their relations vis-a-vis their superiors. In other words, slaves would create these morals and values and try to foist them upon their apparent masters because if successful, they would materially gain. The smart thing for those who are intellectually or otherwise superior to do would be to pursue their self-interest ruthlessly and through continued domination of the underlings. Nietzsche argues that insofar as the world comes to this realization, "God is dead."

While this argument has a certain plausibility, I think one can only justify it rather superficially. To begin with, it is not clear that in all cases those who hold apparent positions of authority are the smarter, better, stronger entities. Indeed, in innumerable cases, the opposite has proven to be true. Spartacus, William Tell, the American revolutionaries, and Jesus Christ himself can all be called upon as a few of a multitude of examples, wherein the person of the "lower" status proves themselves ultimately more intelligent and of a higher nature than those who apparently exercised power over them.

Ironically, it may be those of a truly lower status or intelligence, undeserving of their current position of power, who would most rely on the superficial Nietzschean argument. They could argue their current possession of an office or status of power is prima facie evidence of their superiority. But because it is not ultimately true that they are the person of the higher intellect, they must maintain their position through violence as their betters pursue rational means by which to unseat them.

And we can take this one step further by looking at the very nature of the values Nietzsche would have us adopt in place of the Christian values. History has shown that the most stable and greatest wealth and power relationships are established not by outright domination but by cooperation.

Cooperation, however, is very difficult to establish, relative to strife and division, because the short-term benefits of noncooperation can often be very high, even if it leads to long-term ruin. While the long term benefits of cooperation are far higher than the short term benefits of noncooperation, long term cooperation often requires significant sacrifices in the short term. (Oh no, it's "slave morality!")

It is as if we are presented with the prisoner's dilemma; Nietzsche argued that we should both rat each other out, while Jesus Christ argued that we ought to both keep quiet. Strictly speaking, who's advice would you rather follow?

As far as I can tell, the preponderance of evidence suggests that Nietzsche, not God, is dead.

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