The first of two autumn 2019 ‘Tetley Talks’ examining the ideas of two controversial thinkers – one past, one present
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of most influential post-Enlightenment Western philosophers, whose writings have had a lasting and controversial legacy. Among those who have found inspiration in his works include: fascists, anarchists, nihilists, socialists, feminists, artists, devotees of physical culture, and arch-conservatives.
Yet his philosophy has sometimes been described as “vague”, and even “self-contradictory”. For example, often considered the godfather of post-modernism, Nietzsche argued that there are no “eternal facts” or “absolute truths”, Yet he also believed that truth mattered so dearly that it “has to be fought for every step of the way”.
He was an atheist who loathed the smallness of man promoted by Christianity, but feared that “the death of God” would lead to a moral vacuum and pessimistic nihilism. He believed that humanity was a collection of drives, yet championed radical individual liberty, and argued that man should reach above himself and aspire to “greatness”. He loathed nationalism, militarism and anti-Semitism, but also railed against democracy, egalitarianism, and almost every aspect of contemporary civilisation.
But then, for Nietzsche, the world itself was in perpetual state of flux, life was recurring struggle and overcoming, and everything was up for question. And such adversity was to be embraced. Life for Nietzsche was to be lived “dangerously” and creatively. He urged us all to become “artists of life”.
So, what did Nietzsche think, and what is the legacy and relevance of his ideas today?