book review

Beyond Good and Evil
Friedrich Nietzsche
Reviewed By

I n Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche sees the primary motivation of human beings, whether philosophers, scientists, religious leaders or ordinary people, to be the drive for power and control: the "will to power." Especially for philosophers, who claim to value "knowledge for its own sake," it is this will to power, not the drive for truth, that really drives them. For those unable to think for themselves, the will to power is manifested by the herd mentality, where the power is in numbers alone. Philosophy from Plato to Schopenhauer to Descartes, says Nietzsche, had heretofore failed to distinguish between objective reality and wishful thinking. This book is Nietzsche's manifesto calling on the intellectual leaders to adopt a more rigorous and honest approach.

Although some, especially many Christians, regard Nietzsche as almost an anti-Christ, as a proponent of bloody amorality and nihilism, in so doing they deeply misunderstand him. Granted, publishing a book with the title "The Antichrist" and writing about various deities being "dead" probably didn't help here. But Nietzsche approached religion from a spirit of psychological inquiry. Indeed, at least in Beyond Good and Evil, he has good words for the Old Testament and Christianity in general: "One stands with fear and reverence before those stupendous remains of what man was formerly ... There is perhaps nothing so admirable in Christianity and Buddhism as their art of teaching even the lowest to elevate themselves by piety to a seemingly higher order of things." Yet, he wittily points out, judging from the Bible's often obscure writing style, God "seems incapable of communicating himself clearly."

For an atheist like Nietzsche, a statement like 'God is dead', which he famously wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra and elsewhere, would be meaningless. So when Nietzsche says it, what he really means is that religion can no longer be thought of as a defining force for human thinking. We must find something else, says Nietzsche, by facing whatever harsh realities might really exist. Indeed, he says, the harsher the reality, the more likely it is to be true and the stronger we have to be to face it. His writing is brash and harsh to encourage us to build a new, more courageous philosophy divorced from linguistic artifacts.

Ironically, it is this brash and lively writing that causes people to misunderstand him. Some modern readers dislike Nietzsche, finding him elitist and politically incorrect--"offensive," as they so often and so annoyingly put it, to their highly-developed facility of grievance-mongering. Feminists in particular seem to have great difficulty understanding this work. Other readers have falsely tried to link Nietzsche's ideas to Hitler. Nietzsche would have regarded all of these as yet more examples of the herd mentality of the inferior mind. While postmodernists claim Nietzsche as their intellectual godfather, Nietzsche would also have been one of their harshest critics: those who are "ludicrously superficial, especially in their innate partiality for seeing the cause of almost all human misery and failure in the old forms in which society has hitherto existed--a notion which happily inverts the truth entirely!" are merely seeking refuge in the happiness of the herd.

Much of this book consists of criticism of his fellow Europeans. "Morality in Europe at present is herding-animal morality," says Nietzsche. In other words, its utilitarian function is to pacify the masses to keep them in check. The mission of Socialism, says Nietzsche, is to dwarf man to a gregarious pygmy.

I recommend everyone to read Nietzsche. It won't kill you. It might even make you stronger.