Daimon Publishers

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond the Values of His Time
Liliane Frey-Rohn



Whoever involves himself with Nietzsche finds himself both forced into a dialogue with this fervent spirit and compelled to take sides over his biting criticism of culture. Hardly any other thinker of the previous century has been the subject of so many contradictory assessments, with unconditional veneration standing alongside brusque rejection. Condemned by some as a precursor of National Socialism and praised by others as the creator of a new vision of life, Nietzsche's reputation is such that no one can remain indifferent to him. The clashing evaluations of his personality are evidence enough of the profundity of his world of ideas, which always went directly to the central human core. It was the extent to which the individual felt addressed by him that determined his (mis)understanding of Nietzsche, and it was mainly Nietzsche himself who was responsible for such a clash of interpretations. He wrenched men out of their comfortable self-satisfaction not only through the radically new direction of his thought, but also by virtue of the untimeliness of his concerns, whether they dealt with the demise of the Christian God, the 'will to power' or the inevitable nature of evil. These comments of mine are not intended to lessen the standing of Nietzsche. On the contrary, I am interested in shedding light on the exceptional greatness of this thinker who, haunted by prophetic misgivings, anticipated the nihilistic chaos of the future; who, profoundly moved by his conception of the 'great man,' regarded it his mission to perform a universal act of world-historical liberation that would ultimately prove his downfall.

Various phases may be determined in the reception of Nietzsche's ideas that correspond to the high demands set by his writings. After a period in which he was almost totally ignored, Nietzsche's tragic breakdown brought him into the public eye. It was amongst the youth of Germany in particular that a veritable storm of enthusiasm broke out. Constricted by the rigidity of the bourgeois moral code prevalent at the end of the 19th century, they saw Nietzsche as the man who would free them from the pressure of the family home and a traditional morality still influenced by the Victorian era. They were fascinated by the freedom of the individual and affirmation of life embodied by the 'overman' - though it must be added that they only seemed to grasp the deeper meaning of his work insofar as it coincided with the excesses of the movement they represented. We will only briefly mention the fact that similarly strong movements existed in France, Italy and Latin America, albeit in more moderate forms.

Although critical voices - among them Gerhart Hauptmann's - were raised in all quarters, the enthusiastic response to Nietzsche's writing lasted on into the 1930s. However, as his distressing fate grew more distant and forgotten with the passing of time, and with political events in Germany beginning to take a striking turn, the waves of excitement died down considerably.

Lou Salomé was the first to give an objective insight into Nietzsche's work and personality in Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken [Friedrich Nietzsche in his Works] (1894), a study based on her real-life experience of the man. Significant exponents of the reader-response approach to Nietzsche's work were Heinrich Mann and, more importantly, his brother Thomas, who attempted to grasp the import of Nietzsche as a philosopher and cultural critic. For the latter, Nietzsche embodied a lifelong and highly valued spiritual phenomenon that was principally related to those of his early ideas influenced by Schopenhauer and Wagner. He became more moderate in his enthusiasm as a result of the atrocities perpetrated during the Hitler era and began to emphasize the dangers of interpreting Nietzsche too literally. In Doctor Faustus, he created an unforgettable monument to Nietzsche's "awe-inspiring fate."

Gottfried Benn, another admirer of Nietzsche's writings, wrote retrospectively of him: "In my time he was the earthquake that shook the epoch," the "greatest shock Germany had ever had." He was particularly concerned to prove that Nietzsche had nothing to do with the catastrophe of National Socialism, a defence that confronted many a charge levelled against Nietzsche after the Second World War.

In this respect, Ernst Bertram assumed a curious position. On the one hand, he praised the mystical ascension of Nietzsche's madness, which he compared to the crucifixion of Christ, while on the other, he made insinuations about the ambiguity of his philosophical views that made an issue of Nietzsche's reputation amongst the National Socialists. He thus establishes a link with notions of the dubious role Nietzsche was rumored to have played as a pioneer of this movement. Nietzsche's sister, Frau Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, also had a hand in suggesting such supposed connections. By means of clever deceptions, she clearly intended that her brother should emerge as one sympathetic to anti-semitism and the National Socialist cause in order to increase the prestige of her husband, himself an inveterate anti-semite. Among other things, the quite tendentious and arbitrary assembly of parts of his literary bequest and their publication in the one-volume Will to Power was an aspect of this intention, and produced an entirely distorted picture of Nietzsche. The various falsifications, suppressions and omissions made in the first editions of his works, and later uncovered by Schlechta and Podach, were similarly designed to serve this end. It was substitutions such as these that formed the basis of the so-called legend of Nietzsche pieced together by Bäumler, a writer and philosopher in the service of National Socialism.

In truth and deed, Nietzsche fought against both anti-semitism and German nationalism, not least as embodied by the whole Bismarckian era. He had already described nationalism as "the malady of the century" at the time of his professorship in Basle, and it was a thought as alien to him as racism. Yet it cannot be denied that Nietzsche's glorifications of power and strength easily lent themselves to certain misinterpretations of him as a harbinger of National Socialism. So much for the initial reception of Nietzsche's work in Germany, which tended to be a confusion of disparate interpretations derived from a lack of reliable information, a situation that was only remedied with the publication of Curt F. Janz's biography of Nietzsche some 80 years after his death.

Janz's three-volume work is extremely reliable and as such immeasurable valuable in filling a crucial gap in our knowledge of the life and work of Nietzsche. Equally helpful is the critical edition of his works brought out by Colli and Montinari, who follow a strictly chronological order in the publication of the literary bequest and thus facilitate an historical understanding of Nietzsche's gradual development and of the specific motivation behind the isolated and often disconnected aphorisms scattered throughout the works.

My own interest in Nietzsche, the human being, stretches back to my high school days. An early fascination on my part for Richard Wagner inevitably spilled over to the figure of his sometime friend Nietzsche. My thesis on Wilhelm Dilthey then brought me into contact with Nietzsche's philosophy of life. Some years later, I deepened my psychological understanding of him by attending a seminar, held for many years by C.G. Jung, on the work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I shall never forget Jung's illuminating comments on Nietzsche's sufferings of the spirit, which he experienced both as a cruel hammer and a tortured anvil. When I was later occupied with the psychology of evil, Nietzsche's 'revaluation of values' once more proved invaluable. Last but not least, throughout those years I was also able to recognize that his aphorisms on self-deception and the untruthfulness of morality reflected my own pain when moral values were corrupted.

The more I became involved with Nietzsche's personality, the more intense my desire grew to understand - as far as one may understand a creative figure at all - the work and fate of this thinker who stands at a turning point in the history of western culture. My study on the gradual formation of his world of ideas limits itself to the presentation of a picture of Nietzsche based on my experiences in the field of psychology.

I remained uncertain for a long time whether to opt for a systematic or a chronological method of presentation. Being principally concerned with tracing the process of development and change undergone by Nietzsche, I decided on the latter. The division of my work into the periods before, during and after Thus Spoke Zarathustra is the result of the special position occupied by that work, which I regard as the most valuable document for a plotting of his inner development. Here we see spontaneous experience erupting forth directly from the unconscious and revealing an inner path of rare and inexhaustible richness to the student of psychology.

Before proceeding to this inner process and turning my attention to how Nietzsche's life is reflected in his works, I would like to supplement this with a look at Nietzsche's external development, at the Nietzsche who emerges from such biographical data as his profession, his friendships and his illness.

As a psychologist I have had to forgo an assessment of his historical and philosophical significance in order to get close to what finally turned out to be the unfathomable mystery of his influential power. I sought to close my study with a comprehensive critical appreciation in the form of an epilogue.

I would like to extend warmest thanks to my friend, Aniela Jaffé, for her invaluable encouragement throughout the course of my work. I am equally indebted to Dr. Helmut Barz, President of the C.G. Jung Institute, for kindly revising my manuscript and for his many fruitful comments. I would like to thank the Psychological Club of Zürich, the Linda Fierz Foundation and the C.G. Jung Institute of Zürich for their financial support of the original German edition of this book, and the latter for renewed assistance with the present edition.

I am also grateful to Lela Fischli for her invaluable suggestions in working on the original manuscript, to Dr. Gary Massey for his faithful translation, index and general assistance with this English edition, and to Dr. Robert Hinshaw, the publisher, for his many contributions and unflagging support of this project from the very beginning.

Last but not least, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my revered teacher, C.G. Jung, for opening my eyes to the hidden secrets of the soul.

Zürich, April 1988 L.F.-R.

"You sought the heaviest burden

and you found yourself -

it is a burden you cannot throw off..."



Friedrich Nietzsche represents a complex and contradictory figure who may be counted as one of the turn of the century's most controversial thinkers. After an initial period of almost total obscurity for a number of years, he was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century and since the Second World War has undergone something of a renaissance. Even today, no one seeking out his work remains unaffected by it. His writings exert a fascination that arrests and captivates.

What I am repeatedly impressed by in Nietzsche is the inexorability of his struggle with existence, a struggle conducted, despite early physical weaknesses and a confusing multiplicity of talents, with admirable heroism to the very point of his breakdown. Compelled from within to confront his daimon and find expression for his plight, he allowed his urgent inner need largely to take control of him.

Nietzsche's unswerving loyalty to his own experience of life and to himself is moving. Following his emotions without prejudice, he only felt obliged to recognize what he had wrested from life. It is an attitude that does not shy away from anything novel or unfamiliar, that is able to cast doubt on previous judgments, and that can unflinchingly sacrifice cherished values. The liveliness of his thought process unavoidably draws the reader into his questioning and enables him to become involved with problems no serious-minded person of today can afford to neglect or set aside. What occupied Nietzsche was fundamental to the culture of his age, and included such questions as: Why is there so much untruthfulness? What is genuine culture? What are the real motives behind human actions? What is good, what is evil? And finally: Is there a divine power beyond man and the human ego - beyond tradition and morality?

What distinguished his questioning was its untimely character; indeed, in Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche described himself as untimely. The more he matured, the closer he came to his true self, the more he set himself against the values of his times. With a fanatical devotion to truth that became increasingly obvious, he denounced both the untruthful and spurious attitude and writing of his day and the erroneousness of traditional idealistic and metaphysical constructions - in short all those intellectual illusions he felt called upon to challenge and do battle with over and over again.

Quite apart from his bold venture to overthrow moral values and establish something beyond good and evil, he stood out by virtue of the unusual rigor of his ethical strength. His consciousness of having a mission to fulfil, the conviction that he had an inner vocation to complete a great work, represented the immutable constant in his restless existence and helped him overcome the many adverse blows of fate suffered in the course of his life. In his art of self-overcoming, he attained the near unattainable; it enabled him to subordinate everything to the pursuit of the self and of God, which were always deemed the higher goals.

Nietzsche fascinates his reader not only through his many-sided and multi-layered questioning, but also through the unique charm of his language. He knew how to breathe life into the long ineffable in the most subtle of ways, an ability he owed to the direct contact he possessed with the inner depths of his own nature.

His open-mindedness found further expression in the extreme sensitivity of his perceptions, his seismographic awareness, so to speak, of the dark and obscure sides of the unconscious processes at work in him and others. We must therefore not be surprised that such an inwardly open and vibrant personality should have been subject to changes of mood that ranged from devoted adoration to hate-filled loathing, from states of depressions to suicidal urges. Again and again his sensitivity formed the battleground of the contrasting tendencies within himself, a struggle made manifest in the form of a painful conflict between a pronounced 'Yes' and an equally pronounced 'No.' His receptivity to the tensions of his epoch was also due to his intense sensitivity, enabling him to be dimly conscious of, and anticipate, future happenings that were already taking shape - a gift of the gods that turned out to be more of a burden! And because his intuitions were always interwoven with his personal sorrow at contemporary events, it was not rare for the path of his own suffering to accord with his presentiment of the future.

Irrespective of the tension of opposites inherent in his nature, a tension that always pressed him into taking up the very opinion he was calling into question, one may discern in his work a unifying thread. Nietzsche doggedly followed a path he regarded as fateful right from the early work Fate and History, through to The Antichrist and Ecce homo. In his very contradictions he remained, to the end, and despite becoming progressively more aggressive in tone, true to himself.

In view of the revolutionary content of his world of ideas Nietzsche was largely misunderstood and even ignored by his contemporaries and this was what caused him the most suffering; it was far more painful than the torture of his painful illness. Thanks to the unbending strength of his self-discipline, he managed to find in both his physical pain and the suffering caused by his increasing isolation from the world the inspiration for a deepening and intensification of his personality. It is therefore not surprising that the saying: "Profound suffering makes noble: it separates" should come from him.

It was, of course, inevitable that his growing alienation from friends and contemporaries would loosen his grip on external reality to a degree that rendered his writings increasingly subjective and strained, and the rift between life and work wider and wider. Although right up to his mental breakdown, his intellect lost virtually none of its clarity or acuteness, the hectic tone of his language and the pathos of his self-expression in later works - above all the tendency towards excessive self-glorification and near idolization - openly display the shadow of his mental illness.


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