Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul – Leslie Thiele

In my opinion this is the best introduction to Nietzsche’s thought, as it provides a sweeping analysis of many of his key themes, and explains Nietzsche’s fundamental life-purpose: to instil a passion for greatness in a world where religious ideals were beginning to crumble. This book is great for both those brand new to Nietzsche, as well as for those who are familiar with his ideas but could benefit from a structured and coherent analysis of his philosophy as a whole.

Key Passages

God had died in Nietzsche’s world. Nietzsche did not claim responsibility for the killing, but he was enthusiastic about celebrating the wake. Yet the modern world was also inhospitable to heroes, the half gods and godlike men who might redeem life through their greatness. This was Nietzsche’s concern. For nihilism, the bane of modern life, was just such a denial of the heroic, the denial of all greatness, the depreciation of all striving. The Nietzschean project, in short, was is to instill a passion for greatness in a world without gods. (Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul, Leslie Thiele)

The philosophy of individualism only applies to those who, in Nietzsche’s evaluation, are capable of becoming individuals – and that excludes the majority. Ironically, then, the worthy recipients of Nietzsche’s individualistic philosophy are those who would approach it critically. They would, at best, adapt it to their personalized needs, refusing to accept it in toto.(Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul, Leslie Thiele)

The modern hero is destined for an alienated existence. His determination to celebrate the tragedy of individuation means that the social and political battles that rage about him are viewed as so many distractions. Human relations in general are seen as a threat to his allotted task: “The objective of all human arrangements is through distracting one’s thoughts to cease to be aware of life. Why does [the great man] desire the opposite – to be aware precisely of life, that is to say to suffer from life – so strongly? Because he realizes that he is in danger of being cheated out of himself, and that a kind of agreement exists to kidnap him out of his own cave. Then he stirs himself, pricks up his ears, and results: “I will remain my own!” (UM 154). Only the few are capable of such resolve. The majority remain happy in their masquerade, fulfilling their social roles and playing the part assigned to them in the “theater of politics.” Indeed, they become these roles. Their “puppet play” “disperses the individual to the four winds” and serves as the testimony that the player “has not understood the lesson set him by existence.” (Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul, Leslie Thiele)

The great man remains essentially a creative force. But before his genius may manifest itself in an enduring work, the existing structures – be they constitutive of aesthetic, ethical, or political regime – must be demolished and the rubble cleared: “If a temple is to be erected a temple must be destroyed: that is the law – let anyone who can show me a case in which it is not fulfilled!” [GM 95]. The temple Nietzsche set out to destroy was that of morality. The Nietzschean hero, like his classical counterparts, is a breaker of taboos and custom. Like the proud Oedipus, the hero kills his father and sleeps with his mother. He blasphemes, he violates, and he destroys. Out of the ashes emerges a new regime. Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” had the destruction of morality as its precondition. (Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul, Leslie Thiele)

 

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