Friday, June 5, 2009

St. Nietzsche III: How does one get more life?

How do we get more life? In many ways the answer is likely very particular for each of us. The things that you want, beyond the basics, are not likely to overlap much with my wants. But even in the particulars where we are more at variance than alike, we share an abstract commonality: we want power. We all want the power to get the things we want. True, a person can want something, but not enough to do what it takes to get it, but in that case, all things considered, she doesn't really want it.

In the last couple posts we looked at an argument inspired by a comment of Nietzsche's that entails--on my interpretation at least--that the moral law can be a way for the "little man" who envy's "the great man" to gain power over him. This point of view is destabalizing for morality, since it means that it does not necessarily "right" anything when it protects the little man from the great. It just churns the wheels of power without making any real change in the character of the person wielding it. Of course, for Nietzsche, the problem is much worse: The moral law is counter to nature in its protecting the little man from the dominance of the great.

The surprising point in the last post is that Nietzsche and Christianity agree on this: The moral law does not make us better; it does not improve humanity when it turns the tables on a powerful person by subjecting her to its sanctions. The history of the Jewish nation, in Paul's writings, teach us that: it was our "tutor" to bring us to the understanding that "If a law had been given which had power to bestows life, then indeed righteousness would have come from keeping the law. But Scripture has declared the whole world to be prisoners in subjection to sin..." (Galations 3:21-2) In effect, Paul makes the underlying complaint of Nietzsche--that the law teaches us that human nature makes the law a sham--into a fundamental doctrine of the faith. It's interesting when Christ and Antichrist find a point of agreement. To me, that's a place where we just might learn something important.

Last week, I stated that I would critique Nietzsche's argument (or the argument implicit in my interpretation of him). In looking more closely, I found THREE. My approach is still informal and tentative, but the value of thinking this through can hardly be overstated: We are considering two very different views of how to approach life, and we have found a common point of departure. What we learn about these basic and antithetical approaches to life almost can't fail to be important. Today I will critique just the first of the three distinct arguments.


Justice, as an end that many people want, entails wanting the power to achieve it.

But justice can be approached from two very different starting points: A. People should get what they earn or otherwise deserve, and B. People should all be given an equal opportunity to pursue the goods they want.

Crucially, if everyone is given an equal opportunity to pursue the goods they want, it will be the "great" who are successful.

Therefore, justice should not overturn the natural order in which the strong or "great" win and the weak or "small" lose. Let's just say it: Justice should be--and by nature is--elitist. In fact, if it really were, Nietzsche would have, I believe, endorsed it.

But under the spell of Christianity's transvaluation of values, we have unnaturally learned to love the weak and value mercy. Therefore "justice" has become unjust. The great of humanity should be above it: hence, the uber-mensch.


This will be short. Obviously no human greatness is achieved without great nurture. Greatness follows on a patience with weakness and smallness that takes decades and even scores of years to achieve. The idea that a "great man" like Nietzsche can look back at the people and tradition that raised him and scorn it for indulging weakness and smallness is not just bad manners, but ludicrous inconsistency. It is crucial to human greatness that we love the weak.

Nevertheless, there are also crucial lessons to be learned from Nietzsche's critique, lessons connected with the point of departure he shares with Paul. We will turn to lessons after considering the other two arguments. And remember; we are thinking about how to approach life to get what we want from it--to get the most out of it.

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