Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Superman & The Eternal Return_The Great Unlearning of Morality


~by David Aiken~


§ Preface

There is soon set to open its doors in Monflanquin, France a philo-café, associated with Phrontisterion, called L’Eternel Retour. The Eternal Return is a symbol perhaps better known in the West by one of its earliest images, the ancient Egyptian ouroboros, or the serpent that eats its own tail; a wiki source claims that this symbol “is often interpreted as a symbol for eternal cyclic renewal or a cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

The artist’s logo for this philo-café, which was designed by Esfaindyar, has the ceaselessly winding serpent encircling Friedrich Nietzsche’s head, because in the history of Western philosophy, Nietzsche is the philosopher of the eternal return, and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra the prophet of the »ewigen Wiederkunft«.

In the Ecce Homo (§ 3), Nietzsche writes, “Die Lehre von der »ewigen Wiederkunft«, das heisst vom unbedingten und unendlich wiederholten Kreislauf aller Dinge – diese Lehre Zarathustra's könnte zuletzt auch schon von Heraklit gelehrt worden sein,” which is to say: “The teaching about the "Eternal Recurrence"—that is to say, of the unconditional and endlessly recurrent cycle of all things—this teaching of Zarathustra's could unquestionably have been taught by Heraclitus.” In a less didactic moment, where Nietzsche is able to provide a much more interesting, dramatic amplification of the idea of the Eternal Return, he famously describes in the Gay Savoir the moment when one becomes aware of the reality of recurrence:

The Heaviest Burden.—What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: "This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence—and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and thou with it, thou speck of dust!"—Wouldst thou not throw thyself down and gnash thy teeth, and curse the demon that so spake? Or hast thou once experienced a tremendous moment in which thou wouldst answer him: "Thou art a God, and never did I hear aught more divine!" If that thought acquired power over thee, as thou art, it would transform thee, and perhaps crush thee; the question with regard to all and everything: "Dost thou want this once more, and also for innumerable times?" would lie as the heaviest burden upon thy activity! Or, how wouldst thou have to become favourably inclined to thyself and to life, so as to long for nothing more ardently than for this last eternal sanctioning and sealing?—


So, this is a reprised reflection, and the celebration of an idea in which we join together these three seemingly disparate players: an eponymous philo-café in France called L’Eternel Retour; an ouroboric serpent latched eternally on to its own tail; and a strange German philosopher with enormous moustaches and eye-brows, whose prophetic Zarathustra continues to teach us about a new man for a new age of the world.


§ The Superman & The Eternal Return_The Great Unlearning of Morality

Much has been written, much mused, and much else assumed about Nietzsche’s notion of the Übermensch, culminating in what is perhaps the notion’s most inappropriate, because malapropic contemporary avatar: ‘It’s a bird…It’s a plane… It’s Superman.’ It just seems so irresistibly facile in this latest translation-adaptation of the Übermensch idea, to imagine our red-becaped Superman, accessorized with his fire-engine red, spandex jockey shorts on full display, arriving on the scene of some paralyzing human drama and pronouncing in the mellifluous intonations of the very-French, love-crazed skunk of cartoon-dom, Pépé le Pew: “I am ze Übermensch, mon amour .”

In order to speak seriously about Nietzsche’s notion of the Übermensch, we must first return to Roman antiquity, to the Stoic philosopher Seneca, to revisit his aphorism that “quae philosophia fuit facta philologia est” (“What was philosophy is now become philology”). In 1869, as the new professor of philology at the University of Basel, Nietzsche delivered his inaugural address, which he entitled ‘Homer and Classical Philology’, in which he playfully inverted Seneca’s aphorism to say, “What was philology is now become philosophy.” Today we must hark back to Seneca’s original statement, because it would seem that mainstream opinions about Nietzsche’s Übermensch are primarily concerned with the possible meanings of the actual word, Übermensch, rather than in the philosophico-psychological concept the word is intended to express.

There are reasons for this, however. The Übermensch idea remains elusive at least in part due to the prepositional prefix –über (‘over’, ‘beyond’, and even ‘super’—if  dragged kicking and screaming through a layer of Latin) attached to the word –mensch (person), and it has been translated into English diversely—as ‘Beyond-Man’, ‘Superman’, and ‘Overman’. None of these are particularly felicitous translations, however, because they remain burdened by the compulsion for a one-word for one-word literalism that sometimes—actually many if not most times—just does not work well between languages.


§ The Zeitgeist of the 19th Century

It is banal to say that Nietzsche’s Übermensch was conceived in an 18th-19th century thought-world defined by the two influences of Hebraism, which is to say the Judeo-Christian religious heritage of western civilization, and Hellenism, or the vigorous resurgence of Greek cultural ideas through Anglo-German poetry and scholarship.

            Matthew Arnold published Culture and Anarchy (1869) in the UK to mixed, or mostly negative reviews. The title of perhaps the most famous chapter in Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy is “Hebraism and Hellenism,” which suggests a certain opposition of ideas. In a 2016 review published by the Washington Examiner, a noted American historian calls this antithesis unambiguous:

The governing idea of Hellenism is spontaneity of consciousness; that of Hebraism, strictness of conscience. The uppermost idea with Hellenism is to see things as they really are; the uppermost idea with Hebraism is conduct and obedience. The Greek quarrel with the body and its desires is that they hinder right thinking; the Hebrew quarrel with them is that they hinder right acting. Hellenism is comfortable in the “pursuit or attainment of perfection”; Hebraism, obsessed with sin, sees only “the difficulties which oppose themselves” to perfection.


And yet the framing of Arnold’s book not only anticipates, but resembles comme deux gouttes d’eau the framing of Nietzsche’s own thinking: the same themes that wander around in the writings of Matthew Arnold will also inform Nietzsche’s thinking, from the works of his youth, such as Die Kindheit der Völker (1861), which Nietzsche composed as a 15-year old student, through his first scholarly book, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), and into the Genealogy of Morality (1887), which goes to show that this “framing” for his ideas will remain significant to Nietzsche throughout his thinking and writing life.


So, both Arnold and Nietzsche are ‘prophets of culture’ who are working within very similar zeitgeistige framings, yet they draw strikingly dissimilar conclusions from their thinking. For Arnold, “The two [principles of Hebraism and Hellenism] are not so much opposed, … as “divergent,” animated by “different principles” but having the “same goal” and “aiming at a like final result.” Both are “contributions to human development—august contributions, invaluable contributions.” Both “arise out of the wants of human nature, and address themselves to satisfying those wants.”

            For Nietzsche, on the other hand, as the Genealogy of Morality makes unambiguously clear, the creation of ‘Morality’ is an anti-life evolution of thought, a nihilism that kills the naturally ‘Good’ wherever it comes into existence. For Arnold, it is truly “Hebraism and Hellenism,” whereas for Nietzsche it is “Hebraism vs. Hellenism.” So, while there are many similarities clearly showing that Matthew Arnold and Friedrich Nietzsche come from the same thought-world, which suggests a more general philosophical arena for these framings and these thoughts, there is absolutely no traceable, direct contact between these two thinkers. Nietzsche does not seem to have specific personal knowledge about Matthew Arnold, nor are there any of Arnold’s writings in Nietzsche’s personal library.


§ Undermen as Overmen—a ‘History’ of False Starts

Famous, but alas all too typical of the Übermensch idea in normal and uninformed parlance, is the “Leopold and Loeb” case in Chicago of the 1920s. In the Wiki-telling: L&L are two students who, becoming friends at the University of Chicago and having a shared interest in committing the ‘perfect crime’, dusted off their portable Nietzsche and convinced themselves that they were resplendent examples of the Übermensch idea “— transcendent individuals, possessing extraordinary and unusual capabilities, whose superior intellects allowed them to rise above the laws and rules that bound the unimportant, average populace. …[B]y [Leopold’s] interpretation of Nietzsche's doctrines, he was not bound by any of society's normal ethics or rules. Before long he had convinced Loeb that he, too, was an Übermensch. In a letter to Loeb, Leopold wrote, "A superman ... is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do."

            L&L did not succeed in committing the perfect crime; so Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame (1925) and otherwise champion of scientifically minded rationalism, was engaged to defend the two men. Darrow succeeded in accomplishing two things in the defense of his two clients. First, it would seem that he probably saved Leopold and Loeb from being executed by the state of Illinois for the murder of Robert Franks, because both were only sentenced to life imprisonment, which seemed to buck the trend at the time. Second, Darrow succeeded in transforming Nietzsche and his notion of the Übermensch into the stooge for human arrogance, a sense of social entitlement and superiority, and evil intent. In Darrow’s version of the facts-and-only-the-facts, L&L were just two normal lads who turned bad because they had had the misfortune of reading too much philosophy, and specifically, of reading too much Nietzsche in their youth. It remains undecided whether philosophy in America has ever really shaken this guilt by association.


Some, such as a writer for Philosophy Now, see some kind of connection between Nietzsche’s Übermensch and the Over-soul of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American transcendentalist, who published “The Over-soul” as Essay IX in his Essays: First Series in 1841. In PN’s article, entitled “Nietzsche’s Übermensch: A Hero of Our Time?,” we read that,

The term Übermensch, often translated as Superman or Overman, was not invented by Nietzsche. The concept of hyperanthropos can be found in the ancient writings of Lucian. In German, the word had already been used by Müller, Herder, Novalis, Heine, and most importantly by Goethe in relation to Faust (in Faust, Part I, line 490). In America Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of the Oversoul, and, perhaps with the exception of Goethe’s Faust, his aristocratic, self-reliant ‘Beyond-man’ was probably the greatest contributor to Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch.


It is indisputable that Emerson greatly impressed Nietzsche, an interest and an affinity that spanned Nietzsche’s entire life. Unfortunately, while there does seem to be a demonstrable connection between Carlyle, Goethe, Emerson, William James, and Nietzsche, on the notion of the Great Man, that connection does not seem, in addition, to contribute discernably to or to inform our interpretation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

            The PN author also draws upon a Fordham University article, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Parodic Style: On Lucian’s Hyperanthropos and Nietzsche’s Übermensch, to establish some kind of philologists’ “must-have-been” connection between Nietzsche’s Übermensch and the Greek term coined by the 2nd century AD satirist, Lucian of Samosata. Unfortunately, while it is certainly accurate to say that the term hyperanthropos is found in the writings of Lucian, it is equally accurate to say that any reference to Lucian in Nietzsche’s corpus is entirely tangential, as opposed to substantial, and that hyperanthropos never occurs in his work.

            Furthermore, the hapax usage of hyperanthropos in Lucian (in The Downward Journey, sec. 16; Loeb, vol. 2, 1999) is an ab ovo misdirection, because it is employed by a neighbor of the tyrant Megapenthes, whose name is Micyllus, and who says that the tyrant,

appeared to me a super-man, thrice-blessed, better looking and a full royal cubit taller than almost anyone else; for he was uplifted by his good fortune, walked with a majestic gait, carried his head high and dazzled all he met. But when he was dead, not only did he cut an utterly ridiculous figure in my eyes on being stripped of his pomp, but I laughed at myself even more than at him because I had marveled at such a worthless creature, inferring his happiness from the savour of his kitchen and counting him lucky because of his purple derived from the blood of mussels in  the Laconian Sea. 


As a satiric description attached to the somewhat ludicrous, I-wish-I-weren’t-so-dead tyrant Megapenthes who is busily attempting to negotiate his way out of Hades, this irony-laden connection seems an obscurantist and erudite non-starter as far as the history of Nietzsche’s idea might be concerned.


Other ‘literature’ on the question of the Übermensch is polyphonic and both predictably and unhelpfully inconclusive, although the populist consensus seems determined to associate the concept with eugenics and the creation of a higher biological type. Some, such as Safranski (Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, p. 365), arguing a variation on the biologism theme, think that, “Nietzsche intended the ultra-aristocratic figure of the Übermensch to serve as a Machiavellian bogeyman of the modern Western middle class and its pseudo-Christian egalitarian value system.” This interpretative trend was certainly also evident in Nazi thought, which used Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch to articulate a particular national version of the Aryan master race.

            Popular culture, as well, has certainly had a wonderful time fussing with Übermensch-type personae, from Siegel’s first villainesque Superman, to G.B. Shaw, and James Joyce. In a more philosophically interesting treatment, of course, there is always Ayn Rand’s transmogrification of the Übermensch into her radically individualistic and supra-moral Supra-Men characters. Likewise, in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, a four-act drama written in 1903, there is the famous act called Don Juan in Hell (Act 3, Scene 2), which is often produced as a stand-alone piece. It consists of a dream-act debate concerning the advantages of Hell, which, in quintessentially übermenschlicher style reminiscent of Faust’s Mephistopheles narrative, include the more emotive topics of art and beauty and love and pleasure, whereas Heaven will only celebrate rational discourse and the dissemination of the Life Force. The Devil defends such hedonistic amenities, whereas Juan wants none of them and heads for a thinker's Heaven. There is a theater review here, and a YouTube version of Don Juan in Hell here.


§ I Thought I saw an Übermensch… I Did, I Did.

There is every sort and variety of opinion ‘out there’ about the Übermensch; and they occupy whatever thought-terrain is fertile enough to sustain them. However, all the above opinions about Nietzsche’s Übermensch are simply wrong and wrong-headed—they have nothing to do with Nietzsche’s thinking. So, who is or might conceivably be, an Übermensch? Who exactly are ‘those who have gone beyond’? And, if this is indeed a philosophical model of some sort, or a political model, or a heroic model, what is the exact profile?

There are some Nietzsche scholars who are actually subtle enough in their thinking to understand that Übermensch is not a state of ontology, but rather a state of mind. Nietzsche is not proposing an Antichrist, or a Führer, or a Carlylean Great Man with this concept; rather, he is proposing to his readers something much more akin to a philo-psychological adjustment, such as taught by Epictetus in the Enchiridion: e.g., “Of things that can happen to us in a lifetime, there are some that we can control [are dependent upon us], and some that we cannot control [are not dependent upon us].” Corrections in our thinking of this type, says Nietzsche, will transform us into freie Denker, free thinkers, and ultimately, into free minds.

            There is evidence that some contemporary scholarship is starting to read Nietzsche psychologically, such as in the essay entitled ‘Nietzsche and the Greeks’ published recently (2013) in the The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche. There we read that, “Nietzsche was generally more interested in the psychological consequences of philosophical doctrines than in their content.” There is also a 2010 book, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy, which challenges “various traditional views of Nietzsche, taking him at his word when he says that his writing can best be understood as a kind of psychology.”

            At this point, it might be helpful to recall our Western intellectual history—that psychology as a discipline is only a very young blossom on the western vine of knowledge, and only began separating itself from philosophy after the 1850s. So it would seem reasonable, given the time frame, that Nietzsche should in fact consider himself a psychologist; and in fact, the self-identification as psychologist permeates Nietzsche’s writing, and especially the Twilight of the Idols [1888]:

·      Beyond Good and Evil [1886: 76, 20]: “Der neue Psycholog bereitet dem Aberglauben ein Ende, der bisher um die Seelen-Vorstellung wuchterte.”

·      Twilight of the Idols [77, 343]: “Aus meinen Schriften redet ein Psychologe.”

·      Twilight of the Idols [77, 405]: “Es gab vor mir noch gar keine Psychologie.”


Finally, among his aphorisms from Idols is number 35: “Es giebt Fälle, wo wir wie Pferde sind, wir Psychologen, und in Unruhe gerathen: wir sehen unsren eignen Schatten vor uns auf und niederschwanken. Der Psychologe muss von sich absehn, um überhaupt zu sehn.”


So, Nietzsche the psychologist continually reminds us that it is a misdirection to seek for models and profiles of what the Übermensch can be… For it is not about some particular model of a more-than-human, such as a Caesar or a Napoleon, but rather about the mental context and framing of an übermenschlich state of mind.

            As a psychological moment, the Übermensch-realization is actually a fusion of two distinct insight-events. Aristotle, in the Poetics [1452a&b], refers to the first insight-event as a discovery [anagnorisis], as the recognition of the moment of “seeing” something, of grasping the truth about something, of the ah-ha moment when we ‘get it’. It is that very private moment in the life of our mind when, finally, the light bulb goes on and we realize that… for example, our partner does not love us, or that someone has been cheating on us, or that our boss has been defrauding the company, or, or, or…

            Obviously, there are untold examples of this insight-event in literature, but it is important for Nietzsche that these moments should be philo-psychologically correct, that they should correspond to the actually lived human condition of mind, and that they should take us beyond ourselves into a different sphere of knowing.

Aristotle himself thinks that Sophocles’ depiction of this moment in the life of Oedipus is superb—the moment when Oedipus, cast down under the weight of his misery and shame, stabs out his eyes, finally realizing that blind, he would see no worse than with his eyes wide open.

            There are also other great and moving insight-events in literature, such as when Ajax falls upon his sword after finally realizing that Athena has deceived him, blinding him to truth through folly. Or when Viktor Frankenstein realizes that the creature he has made is no man, but a monster. Or when Milton’s Satan [Book 9; lns. 458-466], standing before Eve and contemplating even then the enormity of the evil he was going to bring into her life in Paradise, is struck dumb before her loveliness.

                        Her heavenly form

Angelic, but more soft, and feminine,

Her graceful innocence, her every air

Of gesture, or least action, overawed

His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved

His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought:

That space the Evil-one abstracted stood

From his own evil, and for the time remained

Stupidly good; of enmity disarmed,

Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge:


Now however humanly touching these illustrations may be, none of these particular insight-events actually captures entirely what Nietzsche intends with his Übermensch-realization, which is an insight-event actually quite limited in scope. For in addition to the insight-event as a psychological event, Nietzsche’s Übermensch-realization is also about a second, very specific type of realization. It is about the insight that dawns on us when we finally grasp that everything we have “believed” about Value, about morality and moral thinking, about right and wrong and good and evil, and about human destiny, is philo-theological misdirection.  It is a layer of fiction applied to a world of fact—an unhappy because antagonistic joining if ever there was.

            Through his Zarathustra, Nietzsche has undertaken the task of radically rethinking the foundations of morality, and of imagining the psychological and emotional consequences of that rethinking in the normal course of a life. Just imagine the psychic wreckage and emotional damage! Just imagine the courage needed, the daring, to overcome our own private foundation myths, which whisper quietly to us from the stillness of our souls, of right and wrong, good and evil. And then imagine the courage needed, and the discipline of mind, to rebirth ourselves in innocence, and to create in our innermost selves a willingness to throw ourselves, body and soul, into a life that is to be newly created and defined each and every day, entirely by us.

            Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is the story of such a mental and emotional journey, which has three quite distinct segments. As the journey begins, (and we have to remember that this is a journey possible to each one of us through the thinking and imagining mind), Zarathustra has to imagine first that he is a camel. The camel is the perfect Beast of Burden; it is an animal that carries, almost as if by second nature, burdens that are not his own. The first leg of Zarathustra’s journey, then, is to become aware that he also, like the camel, carries a burden that is not properly his own—the burden of ideas and values and beliefs—of Culture writ large, that are inherited through the mother milk of World that surrounds us, beliefs which grow up inside us as we grow up, almost as a second skeleton, and which become so fundamental to our psyche that they organizes all the spaces of our minds into our own private character.

            The lion characterizes the second segment of Zarathustra’s journey of the mind. This segment of the journey, which demands all the courage of the lion, happens only in the solitary wastelands of the mind, where we give battle to the fiction of inherited morality, where we finally push it away from our minds and dare to stand alone in human history, finally.

            The child embodies the third and final segment of Zarathustra’s journey of the imagination. What happens to us, emotionally, when we finally dare to step out of an abusive or horrible situation? There is a sense of relief, certainly; but there is also a sense of being overwhelmed because we have to start everything all over again. So, says Nietzsche, we have to put on the mind of the child – to accept in all innocence the new-Beginning of the world that stands before us; and we have to go on to create anew our life, not just physically, but also and especially psychically.


Thus spoke Zarathustra.


§ Eternally Returning  Windmills In Your Mind.

According to Nietzsche, a fundamental element of the Übermensch life of the mind is the recognition of the Eternal Return of the Same, or Eternal Recurrence. As an idea, and for the mental image, this certainly brings back to mind the 1960s Noel Harrison tube, “The Windmills of Your Mind.”

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!

Nietzsche’s thinking about the Übermensch is framed in the zeitgeist of his century, which tended to separate time into sacred or divine history [e.g., Hebraism; Heilsgeschichte] and human empirical time [Hellenism; Geschichte]. This is a distinction, just for the example, that will also be much and usefully exploited by the philosopher and historian of religion, Mircea Eliade.


First in Nietzsche’s thinking about the eternal return, is the idea that divine or Christian history is a linear conception of time that does not recur. This is to say that we humans enter into the sacred flowing at some point, and the current takes us unidirectionally toward the culmination of time in the Parousia of God. This linear notion of history, or divine history, reasons Nietzsche, usurped at some remote time the Greek or natural pagan notion of history, which saw time as a series of recurring revolutions or cycles in the ‘great clock of being’ (Zarathustra). For Nietzsche, the Übermensch stands before a choice—to live out his life through unidirectional divine time, which is the destruction of fully human time and, thus, a nihilism, or to cast himself into the multi-faceted organization of the world’s, and so into man’s, natural time: “…it is the world which redeems our contingent existence, reintegrating the Christian ego into the order of cosmic necessity, i.e., into the eternal recurrence of the same” [Gay Savoir § 341-342, under “the heaviest burden” and “the death of God” § 343]. Clifford Geertz, the American anthropologist, will translate an idea much like this into the following: ‘One of the most significant facts about us may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived one.’

            Natural cyclical time, where we enter and re-enter into the full stream of a fully human experience and creation of time, is an ancient concept found not only in the philosophies of India and Egypt, but also in Greek antiquity, and notably among the Stoics and Pythagoreans. Nietzsche encapsulates this idea in a very Epictetian or Stoic value: Amor fati, a Latin expression about ‘embracing one’s fate’ because it is one’s own. In his book Meaning in History, Karl Löwith reminds us on this point (p. 216) that Nietzsche introduces this idea, “not as a metaphysical doctrine but as an ethical imperative: to live as if “the eternal hourglass of existence” will continually be turned, in order to impress on each of our actions the weight of an inescapable responsibility.”

            Among the Greeks the notion of Eternal Recurrence was normative, and included 1) living a life “in harmony with nature” (Plato’s Philebus); and 2) the idea of circularity (of lives, the process of generation and creation, orbit of planets, etc.) – Heraclitus, Empedocles, Pythagoras, Plato (cf. esp. Timaeus, The Statesman, and The Republic), Aristotle, Eudemos of Rhodes, the Stoics, and the Hellenistic astronomer Hipparchus, who will contribute the idea of the equinox precession (the slow spin of the earth) to Plato’s Great Year, which idea will recur later in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum.

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find in
The windmills of your mind!


Further Phrontisterion reading:-

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.com/2020/08/nietzsche-eichmann-and-heideggerrub-dub.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.com/2019/12/nietzsches-prophecy-great-unlearning-of.html

·      https://nonimprimatur.blogspot.com/2019/09/great-unlearning-i-elvis-has-left.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.com/2019/04/dead-gods-wandering-around-lost-in.html



·      https://sites.google.com/site/ictgrupo12bachnietszche/home/theories/calendar

·      For the first known ouroboros, found in one of the shrines of Tutankhamun: Image by Unknown author - Chrysopoea of Cleopatra (Codex Marcianus graecus 299 fol. 188v), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36915535


(Reprised from December & January’s 2014/2015 Essay_The Superman & The Eternal Return_The Great Unlearning II)









Saturday, August 1, 2020

Nietzsche, Eichmann, and Heidegger—Rub-a-dub-dub.

~by David Aiken~


In the hallways of history there happened a meeting of minds between a philosophically illuminated poet, a toadying technocrat, and a mystical philosopher given to the arcane. A meeting that gave birth to a catastrophe of all too human proportions.

Nietzsche, in soul and in spirit, is brother in arms to Milton’s Moloc:

                                                            Scepter'd King
Stood up, the strongest and the fiercest Spirit
That fought in Heav'n; now fiercer by despair:
His trust was with th' Eternal to be deem'd
Equal in strength, and rather then be less
Care'd not to be at all; with that care lost
Went all his fear: of God, or Hell, or worse
He reck'd not….”

The poet-philosopher gave prophetic voice to a foundation myth about the supposed origins, and especially the decline, of morality in the west. Bespeaking an obviously accurate psychological insight, or perhaps it was more truly a philosophical intuition, about the invention and breakdown of morality, Nietzsche’s genealogical myth would subsequently inspire certain knavish and benighted folks who, some 30 years after his death in 1900, would use his philosophical framings as political stage directions for the creation of the German state under the Nazis.


Eichmann, on the other hand, as more recent history seems clearly to be attesting, might appear on the world-stage as the incarnation of Milton’s Belial:

                                                            he seemd
For dignity compos'd and high exploit:
But all was false and hollow; though his Tongue
Dropt Manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
Maturest Counsels: for his thoughts were low;
To vice industrious, but to Nobler deeds
Timorous and slothful: yet he pleas'd the ear,”


Eichmann, a servile architect of a state designed according to Nazi ideology, laboured at a particular period in the history of the German people to create a very specific application for Nietzsche’s mytho-philosophical insight, an application whose composition and legacy was the realization of human engineered death on a mass scale.


The last of the protagonists in our all-too-human drama from the hallways of History, Heidegger, the mystical voice of philosophical anti-rationalism and unenlightenment, or obscurantism, continued mulishly to trace his career path within the framework of this technocratic ideology, unhindered. In this, Heidegger the Accommodator is like Milton’s Mammon:

                                                “Let us not then pursue
By force impossible, by leave obtain'd
Unacceptable, though in Heav'n, our state
Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek
Our own good from our selves, and from our own
Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,
Free, and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easie yoke
Of servile Pomp. Our greatness will appeer
Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,
Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse
We can create, and in what place so e're
Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain
Through labour and indurance.”


We backward-viewers of this dramatic meeting of minds can at least be certain about this, however—which is that Friedrich Nietzsche is in no way responsible for, or causally linked to, Adolf Eichmann’s ideological repurposing of his philosopher’s mytho-poetic explanatory fantasy; nor for another philosopher’s, Martin Heidegger’s, tailspin into a German nationalistic mysticism. Nor would the holocaust of the German period have been avoided had Nietzsche never articulated or published his philo-genealogizing myth.

            From the perspective of Nietzsche’s definition of morality, this latter realization would also seem to suggest for our contemporary consideration that, in a world becoming progressively post-“moral,” the reinvention of a supposed Greek ideal/idyll, which occurred at the historico-philosophical juncture of our three actors, is perhaps not only impossible, but also ultimately undesirable. For in the face of those like Eichmann and Heidegger and other ideologues who appear regularly on the world’s stages, and who seek to embody Nation and Race as material and therefore intuitively “natural” moral values, perhaps, when all the cosmic dust has settled, we may be looking at the true face of Nietzsche’s natural, Zarathustrian Man—the fully human animal.



            On the Genealogy of Morality is a philosophical myth, and neither a critical philosophical analysis nor an argument of any reasoned sort. It is a retroscopic myth, much like Plato’s Republic, which harks back to the putative roots of moral ideas and moral idea-traditions; and the purpose of this myth is to provide a perhaps more than true explanation, albeit of a once-upon-a-time sort, about how western “morality” came into existence. Mythopoetically, Nietzsche conceives of Morality negatively, as a wrong-headed celebration of the values espoused by a priestly caste: of weakness and vulnerability, of other-worldliness, and of the hatred of the body and the this-worldly body-life, such as in Jesus’ “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”

            In Nietzsche’s myth, these mentally and physically feeble, priestly-minded ones, who were natural-born “outsiders” to the heroic warrior nobility celebrated and valued by the Greeks (think: Homer and the Heroic Code), achieved ascendancy first by separating themselves from the naturally “good” nobility of the Greeks, then by conflating the value of the naturally good, which espoused this-Life with gusto, with the value of the unnaturally “moral,” which, not measuring up to the challenges of this-Life, championed the life to come hereafter—the after-Life.

            On this telling there were, once upon a time, The Greeks, an ancient people of Virtue who were ethical (good) in the most natural and innocent sense of that term; they were good and noble; a warrior caste in which one man’s worth, in terms of strength or of intelligence or of oration, was always measured over and against another man’s or a god’s. This was in the pre-moral age of the West. Then, at a certain point in the history of Western Man, the Religious Man, the Priest, the weaker, went to war against the naturally Virtuous Man. Out of a sense of outrage and a desire for revenge (Nietzsche’s ressentiment), the Priest and those inspired by the Priest waged war upon the strong and able. The priestly had understood that not all men are excellent warriors, or cunning, or highly valued contenders on the stage of humanly conceived time; and they understood that they themselves were lacking in these natural qualities. These priestly “others,” who fell outside the natural Greek world of values, were the non-contenders, the vulnerable, the meek, the herd; they are, says Nietzsche, the spiritual ancestors of Western Jewish and Christian thought, and therefore the original nihilists – the naysayers of the vigorous Life.

            Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals is a pseudo-historical reconstruction myth. It is not a philosophy argument “in favour of” the breakdown of moral thought, but rather, a philosophical reflection on the birth of “morals” as a nihilistic redefinition of “virtue”; it is a retelling of a changeling myth, where an after-Life replaces a here-and-now Life, an ex-change that went unnoticed for some 2,000 years until its true character began to tell in this, the period of its final disintegration into an existence tale.

            According to the Nietzschean myth, the moralistic nihilism or other-than-this-Life sentiment at the heart of religious thinking, stands in opposition to an entirely human ethic of natural virtue as goodness, as, for example, was articulated in the Greece of antiquity. And Nietzsche prophesies for us in his existential myth a future breakdown of this naysayer “morality.” Nietzsche’s rumination is not an attempt at an applied ethic of any sort; rather, it is the mythical theory of an historical rise, and then the modern fall, of a “moral” system that for lo these many long Christian centuries has been articulating a parallel world that is no world of or for natural men.



            Now, what if one were to conceive of the possibility that Nietzsche’s philosophical myth was actually a reasonably plausible genealogical accounting, and that some version of a changeling event occurred in the history of western ideas; and what if one were also to accept the obvious Nietzschean conclusion that the creation of a fully human ethic grounded in the this-worldly experience of the human animal is the future job of men, and that this must especially be a work for philosophers?

            Would it not also be conceivable to envision the possible historical rise of a Nazi political ethic, of the sort articulated by Eichmann in Jerusalem—a wedding between an evolutionary—‘struggle for the survival of the most ‘fit’’—worldview as the frame for human action, on the one hand, and the cogency of a prophetic myth, on the other hand, wherein the religious mythological framing for human value is perceived as ultimately unmenschlich because it is decidedly anti-Life? But then comes the Crito moment of incomprehension. Because although the world listened attentively to this wedded philosophical concoction that Eichmann argued for at his trial, that audience slowly came to the realization that Eichmann was no Socratic man of wisdom, for he arrived at conclusions diametrically opposed to those drawn by Socrates in Plato’s philosophical drama, Crito.

            Plato’s Crito is about the death of Socrates. Just before drinking the hemlock, Socrates is engaged in conversation with his long-time friend, Crito, who tries to persuade Socrates that he must not allow the state to put him to death, that he must live. Crito argues for the survival in the here and now of a valuable human’s life (such as Socrates’ life), while Socrates quietly reminds his friend that the physical life of the body is of little worth when measured against the good life, which is the life lived honourably and justly. And it is on this philosophical question that Eichmann sided with Crito against Socrates. Eichmann argued not only that the physical life of a valuable group—the German nation, is a grounded and worthwhile value, but also that the survival of the preferred group is justified, when historical manifest destiny requires it, by the death of another (in)valuable group—the Jews.

            Truly a concatenation of ideas to die for…


But is it really such a stretch to imagine a translation of a philosophical or prophetic myth into a political reality? Is this in fact not absolutely inevitable at some point, and therefore predictable? The “argument” of the Crito is represented by a drama in which Socrates makes the case for the just and honourable life, which is the life of philosophical virtue, but where Crito makes the case simply for the material life of the body. Plato certainly expects his audience to side with Socrates’ reasoning against Crito. But then, enter Eichmann.


In her recent book Eichmann Before Jerusalem [Knopf, 2014; original German 2011], the German historian Bettina Stangneth performs two public services. First, she provides a rectification for the myth created by Hanna Arendt concerning the perceived mousy or underwhelming personality of the man Eichmann, by opening up for public perusal all the most recent archives concerning the historical Eichmann and his very personal monument to Nazi thought – the holocaust. And while her historical overhaul of Eichmann does not pose any direct challenge to Arendt’s theoretical notion that evil may be banal in its manifestations, it certainly does abrogate the specific use of Eichmann as an embodiment of that theory. Second, she lays out “in his own words” Eichmann’s philosophical apologia sua vita, which reveals an Eichmann/Crito of horrifyingly insightful philosophical clarity.

Point One in Eichmann’s apology: innocence before the Law, God, and Men (p. 216). “’Without making any kind of Pilate-like gesture, I find that I am not guilty before the law, and before my own conscience; and with me the people who were my subordinates during the war. For we were all… little cogs in the machine of the Head Office for Reich Security, and thus, during the war, little cogs in the great drivetrain of the murdering motor: war.” The oath of allegiance that bound everyone, ‘friend and foe,’ was the ‘highest obligation that a person can enter into,’ and everyone had to obey it. Across the world, leaders had really only given a single order: ‘the destruction of the enemy.’ For Eichmann, the idea that the war had been total and global, in which the goal was to eliminate the enemy, was a simple statement of fact. His radical biologism led to the belief that a ‘final victory’ was imperative: the unavoidable war between the races would leave only one remaining.”

Point Two in Eichmann’s apology: general morality is on Eichmann’s side (pp. 216-217). So ‘What about morality?’ asks Eichmann. […] “’There are a number of moralities: a Christian morality, a morality of ethical values, a morality of war, a morality of battle. Which will it be?’ The leadership of the nation, Eichmann goes on to explain, has always stood above the thought of individuals. To illustrate, he brings in the Old Testament and also modern science: the church, too, recognizes the power of the state as the highest guiding principle on earth….”

Point Three in Eichmann’s apology: Moral thinking in the West leads to the conclusion that the individual must be obedient to authority (p. 217). “…’inner morality’ is all well and good, but the most important thing is always the will of the nation’s leaders—not simply because they have the power to force people to obey, but because they act only on behalf of the people. THEREFORE [emphasis mine] a person should not allow his inner morality to conflict with his orders; he should see that these orders are for the good of the people and carry them out with conviction. […] I found my parallels quite plainly and simply in nature. […] [T]he more I listened to the natural world, whether microcosm or macrocosm, the less injustice I found, not only in the demands made by the government of my people, to which I belong, but … also in the goals of our enemies’ governments and leaders. Everyone was in the right, when seen from his own standpoint.’ In other words: everyone wanted total war, and that fact provided the legitimation of everyone to wage it, using every means necessary, both ‘conventional and unconventional.’”

Point Four in Eichmann’s apology: evolutionary theory as the basis for ethical theory (p. 218-219). ‘Eichmann completely rejected traditional ideas of morality, in favour of the no-holds-barred struggle for survival that nature demanded. […] The struggle among the races was in essence a struggle for resources—a basic idea familiar to many people concerned about future wars over oil and drinking water today. […] The only thing that mattered was one’s own people. […] Philosophy in the classical sense, as the search for transcultural categories and a global orientation, was an error, because it sought universals and did not accept dependence on ethnicity. … As such philosophy has no homeland, but—and it is crucial to realize this connection—to the purveyors of Nazi ideology, philosophy had a people. According to Nazi ideology and Hitler’s tirades, there was one ‘race’ that, having no homeland, had an international bent and revered the unbounded freedom of the mind: the Jews.’”

Point Five in Eichmann’s apology: conclusions about national character (p. 219). ‘Only an ethnic thought makes it possible to build a national character, and humanitarian talk only allows this character to become confused and weakened. In an ideology that sees reconnecting with ‘blood and soil’ as the only means of survival, any international outlook mutates into the ultimate threat. This threat must be destroyed before a global morality destroys concepts of the German ethnic morality and undermines German defences. Or as the head of the NSDAP Head Office for Racial Politics clearly stated in 1939: ‘There can be no possible agreement with systems of thoughts of an international nature, because at bottom these are not truth and not honest, but based on a monstrous lie, namely the lie of the equality of all human beings.”’


According to Stangneth (p. 220), Hannah Arendt, who was a classically trained philosopher, was only able to see an Eichmann who used philosophy as a blunt tool without being guided by its undergirding of moral intentionality; thus the imprudent analysis one finds in her Eichmann in Jerusalem. But what one discovers in Eichmann’s apologia is a surprisingly well-informed “Nietzschean” analysis of his historical circumstances.

            As we see in the Crito, there are two sides to the Platonic equation. Heads: Socrates; tales: Crito. So, at the end of the day, Eichmann simply disagreed with Plato’s pro-Socratic conclusion, valuing Crito’s thinking about the life of ‘the good’, instead of Socrates’ dogmatic assertion that “the just life” is better than just life itself.


In his “A Message to the 21st Century,” Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote: “[Heinrich Heine] predicted that the armed disciples of the German philosophers—Fichte, Schelling, and the other fathers of German nationalism—would one day destroy the great monuments of Western Europe in a wave of fanatical destruction before which the French Revolution would seem child’s play. This may have been unfair to the German metaphysicians, yet Heine’s central idea seems to me valid: in a debased form, the Nazi ideology did have roots in German anti-Enlightenment thought. There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached.”

            Isaiah Berlin’s dying dilemma, of course, also hems us Western thinkers in on every side: “So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future?”

And that very wise Oxford philosopher could only offer this consolation: “I am afraid I have no dramatic answer to offer: only that if these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen.”



            Ruin bubbled up out of this historical meeting of minds—a meeting at which an illuminated German poet-philosopher, Nietzsche, fantasized about an alleged moral battle of ideas in our Western historical past, and then prophesied about a free-thinking future for those with the courage of their philosophical insight. At that same historical meeting of minds was a toadying technocrat, Eichmann, who had delusions of philosophy designing and engineering a eugenic future for the German state, who added his own special ingredient of materialism and tunnel-visioned nationalism to the idea of a state liberated from future morality. And then there was Heidegger—a mystical philosopher given to obfuscation and linguistic camouflage, who pursued his pedantic work of “making straight the way” for the future spiritual and intellectual potential of a very material incarnation of the German people.

Martin Heidegger is the mystical voice of philosophical anti-rationalism and unenlightenment; and in at least one respect he is like Milton’s Mammon – that he picked his tedious way along the woodsy paths and by-ways of his thinking entirely occupied with his own affairs, while the Nazi state was busy erecting a nation of corpses around him. It is obvious that Heidegger is Nietzsche’s post-cursor in terms of method and style; because in an attempt to discover a language vehicle appropriate to articulating un- or anti-rational thought, this thinker who “declare[s] war on rationalism right through to the bitter end,” thought to fuse poetry and philosophy to create a new abode for Thinking.


There are interesting ‘intersections of ideas’ between Eichmann and Heidegger, which may have been indicative of a discourse wafting on l’air du temp as elements of a nationalist zeitgeist, as they may also be intersections of a truer, deeper philosophical persuasion. For Eichmann, this type of thinking seems clearly to be politico-philosophical. For Heidegger, however, whose reflections on the questions of Volk and Nation become progressively more poignant as the war against Germany begins working toward its dénouement, there is a marked numinous quality that shades his words throughout.

Heidegger on total war: 18.05.1940 (p. 167)—“…our enemies, even though they have their aircraft & armored cars, still think along the old lines & have to rethink matters from one day to the next. With us, however, the complete mastery of technology has in advance produced a quite different kind of strategic thought. In addition, the invasions are sufficiently well rehearsed. Now we will see how a breakthrough of this new sort can also be secured & its consequences turned to account differently from 1917 &’18. The ruthless ‘operation’ is in itself also an unconditional commitment to the inner lawfulness of the unconditional mechanization of warfare. The single person disappears as an individual, but at the same time he has the opportunity to be informed of how the whole thing stands in the quickest possible way at any day & any time.”

Heidegger on the deliberate hiddenness of his philo-poetic writings—22.05.1940 (p. 168)—“There’s no knowing when the time will come for my work to have an ‘effect’. But I believe that in the steps it takes & through the realms it enters, it will –one day in the future when ‘philosophy’ is essential again—have an effect, simply in the way ‘philosophy’ does have an effect, invisibly & indirectly;”

Heidegger on das Volk, not necessarily as a literal people, but as a spiritual assembly—9.06.1942 (p. 132)–in the context of German nationalists: “…we want to try to bring together the people who share an inner bond-”

Heidegger on das Volk as a clearly material or essentialist entity—02.02.1945 (p. 185)—“Yet what really wears one down is the fate of this people, especially when thinking beholds it in its western essence & with a destiny such as this.”

Heidegger on das Volk—17.02.1945 (p. 186) –“Over everything there now lies a rubble of incongruity and strangeness, which is all the more disconcerting because it was heaped by one’s own people over the hidden striving of its own essence to grope its way to the truth.”

Heidegger on the Nation—08.4.1946 (pp. 197-198)– “In everything dark & confused about the path a providence is concealed. The unthinkable destiny of our fatherland & the fate still in store for it is where we belong, in the most secret of workshops, gaining ever fresh heart from the growing knowledge.”

Heidegger also leaves us with his version of a veiled NotaBene—When one is anchored into the world-geist, which is the primordial Seyn of the world, then the only means of abiding in that world-geist is through poetry, because it is both essential [radical]—flowing from the wellsprings of the real self, and creative.


It would seem that, at least on one level, the problem with Men and their Ideas and their Technologies, is that Human History is the playground for each and every human experiment, good and bad, right and wrong. History is replete with Frankenstein-type stories—The Garden of Eden, Pandora’s Box, Caligula, Faust, MacBeth, Frankenstein—stories where the kernel revolves around the notion of knowledge gone too far afield too quickly. And Man has not ever demonstrated that he has the spiritual or emotional maturity to keep pace with his knowledge and linked technology.

            But then the problem of knowledge has never been whether man should possess tools or processes & methods that allow him to delve into the unknown. Rather, it has always been about spoilage by misapplication – the slow process of taking one ‘piece’ of information and consistently stretching it by application and misapplication until it becomes a knowing of different things entirely, and for different reasons, and for different ends. Knowledge in the hands of Socrates, framed through his vision of the just man, will thrive differently than knowledge in the hands of Crito, who is ready to do just about everything to keep the physical body alive in the world for just a little while longer.

            For better and for worse, the ideas of philosophy have never been the problem. Rather, we Men do not seem to have the type of Will to Goodness and Justice, the Character of Virtue, to wrap ourselves around the ideas of the world in a way that consistently yields either Beauty or Kindness.


(Reprised from a blog version posted November 1, 2014)


Phrontisterion on Heidegger:

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-naked-messiah-martin-heidegger.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.com/2018/01/charlie-hebdos-great-heidegger-debate.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2016/02/heidegger-treacherous-millesime.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2017/04/heideggers-greek-inversions-reversals.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2017/11/my-nights-without-heidegger-editorial.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2016/04/martin-heideggeris-lady-philosophys.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2012/08/martin-heidegger-state.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2017/02/potpourri-from-charlie-hebdo-november.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2014/08/august-septembers-essayvoices-on.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2014/11/novembers-essaynietzsche-eichmann-and.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/p/blog-page_24.html


Resources and Further Reading:

·      Isaiah Berlin, “A Message to the 21st Century,” in The New York Review of Books; http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/oct/23/message-21st-century/?insrc=hpma

·      Bettina Stangneth, Eichmann Before Jerusalem, Knopf, 2014; original German 2011

·      Martin Heidegger; Gertrud Heidegger, Letters to his wife, 1915-1979, Polity Press, 2010.

·      David Aiken, “Praxis and Technology. Or, The Stalemate Between Knowing and Doing,” Panel Discussion; 1997.

·      http://triggs.djvu.org/djvu-editions.com/MILTON/LOST/Download.pdf