Abbreviations of Cited Works:
BGE – Beyond Good and Evil
CN – A Companion to Nietzsche
GM – On the Genealogy of Morals
GS – The Gay Science
LSN – Leo Strauss and Nietzsche
MS – The Myth of Sisyphus
NT – Nietzsche’s Task
TI – Twilight of the Idols
TSZ – Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
WP – Will to Power
Characters in the Dialogue:
Narrator: A Modern European Nihilist.
Respondents: A General, an Artist, a Philosopher of the Future.
Chapter Three of Beyond Good and Evil, titled What is Religious, acquaints the reader with one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s most important concepts, that of the Eternal Recurrence. This complex and controversial concept has occupied many readers of Nietzsche in the past, for it gradually appears in the later part of Nietzsche’s writing career and thus plays an exceptionally important role in his philosophy. It is in aphorism 56 that the reader is introduced to the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy of the future, a philosophy that would push man to embrace life to the fullest possible extent:
‘Whoever has endeavoured with some enigmatic longing, as I have, to think pessimism through to its depths and to liberate it from the half-Christian, half-German narrowness and simplicity in which it has finally presented itself to our century, namely, in the form of Schopenhauer’s philosophy; whoever has really, with an Asiatic and supra-Asiatic eye, looked into, down in the most world-denying of all possible ways of thinking – beyond good and evil and no longer, like the Buddha and Schopenhauer under the spell and delusion of morality – may just thereby, without really meaning to do so, have opened his eyes to the opposite ideal: the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being who has not only come to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have what and is repeated into all eternity, shouting insatiably da capo – not only to himself but to the whole play and spectacle, and not only to a spectacle but at bottom to him who needs precisely this spectacle – and who makes it necessary because again and again he needs himself – and makes himself necessary – What? And this wouldn’t be – circulus vitiosus deus?’ (BGE 56).
In this aphorism Nietzsche affirms life and suggests that it is essential to affirm it, given the absence of God and the acknowledgment of life as meaningless. What man needs, argues Nietzsche, is the appearance of a thinker who will be able to examine ‘pessimism through to its depths’ and propagate the liberation of man from the chains of the religious urge to find purpose in a purposeless universe (GS 109). Such condition would allow man to begin his journey on the path to the future and will give rise to a new sort of philosophers, the philosophers of the future. Nietzsche declares that such perspective can be comprehended only by ‘the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being’ (BGE, 56), who understands that the ‘world as it is eternally return just as it is’ (NT, 118). Nietzsche truly believed that his discovery of the eternal recurrence was a discovery of a new fundamental and universal truth that was comparable to the cosmological theories of the ancient Greeks:
‘The doctrine of “eternal recurrence”, that is to say, of the unconditional and endlessly repeated circular course of all things – this doctrine of Zarathustra could possibly already have been taught by Hercalitus. At least the Stoa, which inherited almost all its fundamental ideas from Hercalitus, shows traces of it’. (EH, BT, 3 as quoted in CN 171).
It is, therefore, one of the most telling aphorisms in the book while at the same time it leaves the reader dumbfounded by the confrontation with a completely new perspective on the essence of life, which can be summed up with the argument that to live truthfully one ought to posses the will to life.
The eternal recurrence is a crucial component in Nietzsche’s overarching theory but it appears to the readers only once in Beyond Good and Evil. Hence, the readers are encouraged to either do without aphorism 56 or to frame the entire discussion in the book under the category of the eternal recurrence. While the rationale for the first option is natural – there are other works in which Nietzsche devoted his time to expand on this principle – the rationale for the second option is rather odd. However, it is odd only when one dismisses the possibility that Nietzsche’s project is an attempt to drive human beings to affirm life, through the prism of the eternal recurrence, by accepting as a given that life is everlastingly as it is. Hence, if Nietzsche wishes to drive man to affirm life than the eternal recurrence is the only remedy he offers to those who struggle with accepting the meaningless of man’s existence.
Following this phase, in which one will be able to comprehend how to affirm and love life despite its meaningless through the prism of the eternal recurrence, it would be the task of the very spirited people to create values for a society that fear not reality. It is man, admittedly a very spirited man, who is given the power of God to create values and oversee the transformation of society from a stagnating Platonic-Christian collective to the society of the future. In such society, a society organised by an order of rank that posits the very free spirited (philosophers of the future) at the top, followed by the free spirited (e.g. artists) and the herd animals (the rest), the eternity of God is replaced by the eternity of man. Thus, the philosophers of the future are given an enormous task of discovering the new essence of life (eternal recurrence) and of creating new values for the society. However, they are also positioned in a much favourable place for they are able to create values, the highest and most rewarding form of creativity, while others are left to embrace the rule of the philosophers and the principle of the eternal recurrence. That shall be possible only when the others will subscribe themselves to a new ethos, religion and tradition, crafted by the philosopher’s hand as “means of education and cultivation” (BGE 62). It is the creation of a new religion, with the philosopher of the future as the creator and at the core of the supposed religion, that shall bring about the acceptance of the eternal recurrence:
‘To ordinary human beings, finally – the vast majority who exist for service and the general advantage, and who may exist only for that – religion gives an inestimable contentment with their situation and type, manifold peace of the heart, an ennobling of obedience, one further happiness and sorrow with their peers and something transfiguring and beautifying, something of a justification for the whole everyday character, the whole lowliness, the whole half-brutish poverty of their soul.’ (BGE 61).
The dialogue below attempts to discuss the aforesaid themes – that of nihilism, pessimism, the creation of values, the eternal recurrence and the society of the future – in the spirit of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. The dialogue is preceded by the narrator’s, a Modern European Nihilist, monologue, in which he introduces the readers to the existential questions he faces. He admits the fact that his knowledge of Nietzsche and his teaching is superficial and derives from arbitrary quotes he was able to gather and absorb throughout his life. He contemplates the question of suicide and it is Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus that drives him to jump to his death. However, the narrator does not depart from the living and instead enters his subconscious, his own kingdom, in which light can be found only in a small piece of land. Only three characters seem to live in his land – a General, an Artist and the Philosopher of the Future.
The dialogue begins with a discussion on the reason behind the absence of light in the internal kingdom of the Modern European Nihilist. The General and the Artist pose different rationales, attempting to attribute the absence of light to notions they acquired by practicing their profession. It is only the Philosopher of the Future who attempts to frame the discussion differently and suggests that the absence of light in the kingdom was caused due to the narrator’s absence of direction and miscomprehension of what is there in life. The discussion that followed introduced the reader to a new philosophy, the philosophy of the future, and featured the themes of creativity, the differences between societal creators, the role of the philosophers of the future in the society of man, and the principle that shall help man to overcome modernity, and especially the modern idea of nihilism, the principle of the eternal recurrence.
An Overture to the Year Zero:
It was, as discovered and affirmed centuries later, in the year Zero, the first year in history to be referred to as such, that an emotional storm of divine proportions made me create in my mind the perfect setting for a discussion that was to influence not only my understanding of the world but, arguably, the understanding of the world of itself. For it is this storm, one that derived from my misery, that established the crucial condition for the inception of the year Zero and the implementation of the philosophy of the future. Such philosophy was essential to mankind for it was able to teach man to embrace and affirm life by rejecting other detrimental concepts, such as the one of God, of tradition, and of nihilism. It was a philosophy that derived from the manuscripts of the late Friedrich Nietzsche, whose philosophical teaching was known to me until the first night of the year Zero in the most superficial level; through a series of non-contextualised and unrelated quotes. However, most importantly, it was a philosophy that was able to prove itself as a philosophy that can modelled in the present as much as one can aspire to it in the future (LSN 205). My task was not to bring about the future, the year Zero, but to understand and comprehend how to accept and embrace the philosophy of the future before it emerges, in order to survive and live to see it. It was my responsibility, therefore, to ‘hope that man on this earth will in this respect follow the sun’s example’, that is, hope that humanity will follow the sun that ‘is swiftly moving toward the constellation of Hercules’ (BGE 243). I was to become a new person, who might not be a very free spirited individual, but be able to comprehend how can one assist the very free spirited and acknowledge their role as the legislators and commanders of tomorrow. I was to experience how it feels to live in the year Zero even if others will need to wait many years, decades or centuries before society as a whole shall proclaim that humanity, indeed, reached the year Zero.
It was in the previous year that I, a modern European by all standards and accounts, lost the passion to live for I discovered the meaningless of life and, therefore, decided to end it and renounce my affinity with the human race. I came to believe that the world has been created for no reason and purpose and that God, as Nietzsche put it, was dead: ‘New battles. – After Buddha was dead, they still showed his shadow in a cave for centuries – a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way people are, there may still for millennia be caves in which they show his shadow. –And we – we must still defeat his shadow as well!’ (GS, 108) Nietzsche attempted to reframe life and the understanding of the universe, and thus enlist new individuals to his battle against the rejection of pessimism and the negation of religious and philosophical dogmas (BGE Preface, 1-32). I, however, chose to read carefully only the part in which Nietzsche pronounced the death of God, and concluded that with the absence of God there cannot be any meaning or purpose. And if the only noble activity one can engage in is the final defeat of God, I have no reason to partake in such tiring project. I was fool then to think that the proclamation of God’s death was a proclamation that pertains only to the religious element of this statement. If I were to be a devoted and able reader of Nietzsche at the time, I would have understood that the death of God was also the death of the absolute truth, that is, the divine truth that the modern man – let him be a philosopher, a scientist, a general or a shepherd (or perhaps merely a sheep?) – relied on even if he rejected the notion of God. It is the concept of an absolute justification, absolute morality, and absolute truth that lead the modern Western man; all of these concepts are rooted in the divine idea.
It finally came to pass on New Year’s Eve that I felt as if I reached a point in which I found no reason to continue functioning as a living being because, as Nietzsche noted, ‘Let us beware of saying that death is opposed to life. The living is only a form of what is dead, and a very rare form’ (GS 109). Life is not a universally accepted state or condition that ruled the universe but rather an exception that one can either choose to embrace or forego. Moreover, both choices imply that one was able to reach an exceptionally high level of life affirming life. However, while the former is able to embrace life the latter sinks into depression, pessimism or disillusionment and thus cannot bear to face the fact of existence. Existence, for the one who embraces and the one who rejects, is merely an illusion of truths because one must realise that ‘what things are called is unspeakably more important than what they are’ (GS 58) and if that is the case than everything could be called, theoretically, anything which entails everything’s name or title has, essentially, no true value. Nietzsche, as I understood later on, did not mean exactly what I extrapolated here but that our realities are constructed by linguistic tools and that it is in the power of man to create and destroy worlds by utilising those very tools.
Ironically, it was only after I finished reading Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, which was recommended to me by an acquaintance who noticed my agony, that I realised why life is no longer worth living and experiencing. Camus argues that life has no intrinsic meaning but that one can find the appeal to live for ‘what counts is not the best living but the most living’ (MS 541). Camus concludes his argument by discussing the faith of Sisyphus and equating it to the faith of the average working man. I thought of it before but unlike Camus I chose to see the negative aspect of the argument. If life has no meaning and the majority of those who live look at the mirror and see the reflection of Sisyphus (however, the majority of us do not understand that it is Sisyphus, who is reflected to us), then why should one choose such absurd life over a rational termination of one’s contract with the universe? ‘The thought of suicide is a powerful comfort: it helps one through many a dreadful night’ (BGE 157). Yet what about those who think about the thought of suicide? Their experience is different for they are unable to find true comfort. The discussion in their head does not rationalise why they wish to commit suicide or what the possible outcome might be but rather speculate on the meaning behind the thought process of thinking about ending one’s life. And if the process is what comes to mind, rather than the substance of the action, then can one argue that one is more likely to take action?
I thought I was rejecting Camus’ conclusions by affirming the bundle of Nietzschean quotes that were stored in my imagination: ‘Death freely chosen, death at the right time, brightly and cheerfully accomplished amid children and witnesses: then a real farewell is still possible, as the one who is taking leave is still there’ (TI, Skirmishes of an Untimely Man, 36). I believed that my right to leave has been taken from me and thus was determined to sentence myself to death. I did not realise, however, that I was not leaving life in a joyful manner but rather leaving life with a bitter smile. It is for that reason, perhaps, that my right to life was not taken from me. I survived not due to physicians and machinations but due to the fact I never truly learned to love life and desire a ‘free, conscious, without accident, without ambush’ death (TI, Skirmishes of an Untimely Man, 36). I jumped as the clock hit midnight and the Romanze, the second movement in Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, ended. Although I never listened to the third movement, Vivace, what I experienced thereafter was indeed a lively experience.
Darkness covered the land but a small swath of land. There appeared in front of me three figures who sat next to a minimal bonfire, humming the second movement of the Eroica by Ludwig van Beethoven, a befitting movement for what seemed to me a mournful scene. I was grappling with my state of mind, realising that I may have not died; I have entered my subconscious and yet was completely consciousness about it. I concluded that I was dying, and that this grotesque experience was a product of a unique sleep. Thus I was possibly enjoying one of my last dreams.
I approached the bonfire and it was then that the men stopped humming and slowly turned their head. In front of me sat, as aforementioned, three figures of unique style, dress and appearance. On the left sat a man who appeared to be an old General. He wore imperial German military uniform and had a long and thick moustache. His face was wrinkled and he had only one hand, which looked especially soft, almost untouched by the horrors of time and war. On the right sat a man who appeared to be an Artist. He had a pipe in his pocket and a French beret on his head. He, too, looked rather old and held a piece of paper in his hand. Between the General to my left and the Artists to my right stood what appeared to be a younger figure. His body was wrapped by a purple cloak and his face was somewhat covered as well. He was shaking and looked rather ill but yet handled his body in a clam and reserved fashion. He was referred to by his companions as the Philosopher of the Future.
It was then that the General and Artist stood up, joined the Philosopher of the Future, and that our dialogue had begun:
‘Who are you? Have you come here in order to indulge yourself in the only patch of light left on earth?’ said the General.
‘No’, I replied, ‘the reason behind my arrival to this place is unknown to me for I landed here, in what appears to be my subconscious, as a result of my decision to depart from the world of living. However, I did not imagine that I shall survive a jump that was to liberate me from the stone I had to carry to the top of a high mountain every morning. I chose not to be inflicted by a Sisyphean task. I am merely a modern European who lost his ability to bear the burden of life and thus chose to become a modern European Nihilist and reject the modern Sisyphean life’.
‘If you chose to liberate yourself from the chains of your existence’, the General uttered, ‘then why did you choose to land in a world that lost its light to an unknown darkness, a darkness of nothingness?’
‘It was not a conscious choice but an unfortunate reflection of my real being’, I answered.
‘Has your real being lost its light?’ interrupted the Artist with a question.
‘Yes, one can argue so’.
‘If you are who you say you are’, declared the Artist, ‘then one can only deduce that you are the culprit. It was you, therefore, who deprived us from the essence of life, light. No creation can be made when one source of light is left in the entire world; no creation can be made when one cannot see and thus cannot describe’.
‘I concur but do allow me to add that what matters more is that no territory can be reclaimed back for no territory can be seen; no enemy can be fought against for no longer an enemy exists; no national regime can be formed for the nation disappeared’, added the General.
The Philosopher of the Future spoke for the first time: ‘Here, once again, you both make the crucial mistake in believing that an enemy is an enemy and that art must describe what man sees and not what is unseen to our eyes but very much real in the eyes of the world. We are deprived of light not because we are able to see so little but because we believe we are able to see so much. The Modern European Nihilist who stands in front of us believes that he saw too much and, therefore, he is here. Now he must confront his own belief’.
‘Is it because I saw nothingness that very little light remained in my subconscious?’ I asked.
‘Indeed. Since you believed you saw nothingness then very little light remained in this patch of land, a land that is not less real than any other land in which you dwelled for it is in this land that you are able to thoroughly explore your own self. You are the master of this land but at the same time it is this land, constructed by the tradition of your ancestors and the nihilist rejection of this tradition, that chained you in the first place to the belief in nothingness, represented by the darkness that surrounds us. However, it is this patch of light that may give you, and the dwellers of this land, hope and affirmation’ replied the Philosopher of the Future.
‘Nonsense’, attacked the General, ‘it is his lack of courage to find meaning in life that brought this land to such disarray. It is he who chose not to look towards finding meaning in the progression of man and him who was determined to neglect the exhilaration one can find by participating in the activities of his community. He chose to turn away when he was called to serve the fatherland, on behalf of the fatherland and in assistance of the fatherland. For that reason no light was left in this patch of land’.
‘Nonsense I say to both of you’, said the Artist, ‘nonsense. It was his inability to detect the masterfulness and importance of art, as an observer, that led to his failure in creating art in his own kingdom’.
The Philosopher of the Future uttered the following in response: ‘It is not art or service to his imagined national community that he lacks; it is a sense of direction, an aim that shall motivate him to embrace life as it is and not as he wished life were to be. It is only after one accepts and embraces life that he then can proceed to occupy himself with the work of art, whether in writing poems or fighting wars, two forms of art that will forever remain secondary by being merely a form of art. The art of poetry and the art of war both derive from a different kind of creativity’.
‘And what sort of creativity are you talking about?’ I enquired.
‘It is the creativity bestowed upon a very selective group’, said the Philosopher of the Future, ‘individuals who have proven themselves as very free spirited. The future of your subconscious and the future of the entire world are in their hands. “Toward new philosophers; there is no choice; toward spirits strong and original enough to provide the stimuli for opposite valuations and to revalue and invert “eternal values” toward forerunners, toward men of the future who in the present tie the knot and constraint that forces the will of millennia upon new tracks. To teach man the future of man as his will, as dependent on a human will, and to prepare great ventures and over-all attempts of discipline and cultivation by way of putting an end to that gruesome dominion of nonsense and accident that has so far been called ‘history’” (BGE 203).
‘They were given the role of constructing a new reality, the reality of the future, in which new values will rise to defeat old ones. They possess the highest form of creativity for they were given the power to create values to a society that suffers from all the possible illnesses the modern world was able to inflict upon its dwellers’.
‘They were given or are to be given?’ I contemplated loudly.
‘That would depend on the outcome of this experiment but they are destined to rule this land and your land as well. “I see such new philosophers coming up” (BGE 2), replied the Philosopher of the Future.
‘No group of people’, said the General, ‘let alone an individual, can survive without security and a community that shares the same destiny, heritage and culture. For that reason, if we suppose that the very free spirited ones do exist in some form or another, then they will not be able to achieve much without the power to conquer and rule. They may be able to legislate but without force that shall not be able to command. And it is force that has the power to create as much as it has the power to destroy. The art of war is, therefore, a vital, if not superior, form of creativity that leads the individual to perform other sorts of creativity’.
‘And for what do those who engage themselves in the art of war fight, my dear old General? Do they fight for the sake of fighting or for the sake of the values they chose to follow?’ asked the Philosopher of the Future.
‘It is violence, Philosopher; it is violence and the outcome of war that lead to the creation of new values. With no confrontation, societies will not evolve; with no art of war, societies will stagnate and refuse innovation and renewal; with no battlefields, there shall be no other fields’.
‘Can’t new values precede new wars’? I asked the General.
‘Old values may lead man to war, boy, but new values derive from the war that was fought. It is, therefore, an everlasting cycle. It is the everlasting overture of war that brings about an epic finale, the finale of new values’, he responded.
‘Did Napoleon fight for old values or did he fight for new values against those who held the belief that the old values were, in fact, far superior?’ posed the Philosopher of the Future.
I felt that the General was not pleased with the rhetorical question that refuted, to some extent, his argument. He grumbled for few seconds and poured himself a drink. He offered me a drink as well but I declined politely and so he decided to sit down and disengage himself from the conversation.
‘Dear General, I am not here to say that wars are not a tool to the introduction of new values – the tragic joy includes, among the rest, the joy in destruction because such joy leads to the joy in creating (TI, What I Owe to the Ancients, 5) – for “war itself (including the warlike sacrificial cult) has provided the forms that punishment has assumed throughout history”, including punishments against those who refused or embraced new values (GM II 9). However, the art of war and the creativity war may inspire, as exemplified by Homer, are merely the method or the means to revaluate all values. “War has always been the great wisdom of all spirits who have become too introspective, too profound; even in a wound there is the power to heal” (TI Preface). The philosophy of the future shall wage a war, spiritual, physical or both, against the philosophy of the presence and the philosophy of yesterday, and for that it needs the best generals and the most loyal soldiers. Yet, those who shall direct the war, will give it spirit and values, shall be those who will reign the earth on the morrow; the philosophers of the future are the ones who will give the wars of the future the necessary meaning and direction by creating new values. It is only under such framework that the art of war can be exercised’ replied the Philosophy of the Future to appease the General but to no avail; the General was determined to resign himself from the conversation.
‘What does creating values entail? Why can’t all man endeavours in creating new values?’ I asked the Philosopher of the Future.
The Philosopher of the Future looked at me and replied: ‘only the very spirited ones were given the ability and the right to create values; others must either attach themselves to the creators by supplementing the creation of values with other forms of creativity – artistic, economic, political, and military – or simply follow and obey like herd animals. This is not to say that these are not important components of the system but to argue that one must acknowledge their inferiority and inability to break from their own chains. They are simply incapable of defying their own gods and seek the greatest form of life affirmation. It is then…’
The Artist interrupted violently: ‘How can you dare say such a thing? Who but the artist is capable of defying the gods? Who but the artist is able and motivated to work against the dogmas and prejudices of others? Who but the artist is known to have the creativity to make reality a grotesque and make the grotesque a reality in order to depict to himself, but also to the public, the boundaries one should cross in order to liberate himself? Who but the artist can propagate the implementation of new societal values?’
‘It is not a question of who but; it is a question of who is. The very free spirited ones are the answer,’ answered calmly the Philosopher of the Future.
‘No, here lies your mistake. It is the artist who is able to convey to others what direction should a society take and which new values it should adopt. From time immemorial man communicated his abstract ideas through art and crafted these abstract ideas into practical ideas by interpreting the arts. It is the artist who was given the creative forces to illustrate the manner by which society has wronged against itself and against others and it is the artist who is able to demonstrate to others how can society change, evolve and better itself’ replied the Artist.
The General mumbled few words – I believe he implied in his words that it is war that pushes artists to examine their limits and not the artists themselves – and returned to his drink. The Philosopher of the Future, on the other hand, chose to respond with clear and sound words: ‘Don’t misunderstand me. I place art in high regards, as one of the highest possible and free expressions of the human condition in particular and of the world and the universe in general. The artist, however, may offer a critique of values but is unable to command and legislate and, therefore, create values. If the artist was given the right to command he will cease to be an artist and engage himself in an activity that will not allow him to critique values. At the same time, he will not be able to create values for his creativity derives not from his urge to command and legislate, an urge that even if exists cannot be exercised by the artist, but rather from his goal to create a falsified image of the world (BGE 59). Even those artists who choose not to romanticise the world and the human condition, and who do not suffer from the impoverishment of life, cannot be described as very free spirited (GS 370). They may partake in a project of affirmation by valuing appearance as “reality once more, only by way of selection, reinforcement, and correction” and say “Yes to everything questionable, even to the terrible” (TI, “Reason” in Philosophy, 6). Any artist must obey a set of strict and rigid laws that prevent him from expressing the freest form of art, the art of creating values (BGE 188). The artist follows values and laws that were set for him in advance. He may provide a critique of these but he will never be truly liberated from them (BGE 213). This is not to say that art and philosophy cannot coincide. In fact, they do coincide and interact all the time but it is the philosopher’s task to interact and engage the arts rather than the artist’s task to interact with philosophy (TSZ). It is only the philosopher who knows how to use his creative hand to create values for “their ‘knowing’ is creating, their creating is a legislation, their will to truth is – will to power” (BGE 211).
There is a clear order of rank in our society and in such order the artist, the general and the herd animals are all secondary to the philosopher of the future for it is only the latter that was given a divine role. He is bequeathing with the right to replace God, who wears different forms, traditional religious forms and modern atheistic ones; or the form of humanity, an eternal humanity’.
As the Artist joined the General and resigned himself from the conversation by sitting down and pouring himself a drink, I chose to enquire who those most spirited people were.
‘Quite naturally, they are the philosophers of the future, a product of the first philosopher who “dared to think pessimism through to its depths and to liberate it from the half-Christian, half-German narrowness and simplicity in which it has finally presented itself to our century” (BGE 56). It is that philosopher who discovered how can one become the most world-affirming and high spirited human being, while accepting the premise that troubles you, the premise that asserts life is meaningless’ answered the Philosopher of the Future.
‘Aren’t you one of them?’ I asked.
‘I am’, he answered, ‘but I merely dwell in your subconscious and thus can only influence your kingdom’.
‘If that is the case’, I replied, ‘then do I also have the potential to be a philo1sopher of the future?’
The Philosopher of the Future pondered for few minutes and provided me with an answer and explanation: ‘No. The fact I dwell in your kingdom does not mean I am a product of your outer world’s genius. The inner world is the platform of expression for the weaker individuals but may contain the healthier elements that exist in the weak, that is, the elements that the weak cannot express in the outer world. I am simply here to warn you of the evils you inflicted upon yourself by stripping yourself from the right to live. You have proven to lack the ability to be a very free spirited individual although you did reach a rather high form of life affirmation by acknowledging the essence of life and committing your deed. “When one does away with oneself, one does the most estimable thing possible: one almost earns the right to live” (TI, Skirmishes of an Untimely Man, 36). However, by committing your deed you also rejected the possibility that you could be a fully life-affirming individual’.
‘Thus why should I, or anyone, aspire to be a life-affirming individual if not only was I confronted with the reality that both God, and the meaning God was able to give to the existence of man, are empty concepts, but also with the realisation that I cannot partake in the creation of new values as a philosopher of the future? How can one even think of affirming life when his meaningless existence is conducted by others and his societal rank is low and inferior to certain others?’ I replied with two questions.
‘Your responsibility as a member of society is to function in the rank given to you by nature, surely out of a necessity and not as a result of a supposed law, natural or human-made. Some are more capable than others, some are more intelligent than others and, most importantly, some are freer than others. The infiltration of modern ideas to the conscious of the modern man made him, you, believe that there must be a wrong if one is lesser than someone else. It is nature that dictates our differences and it is our duty to accept and embrace them rather than attempt to diminish them and finding a suitable formula, by which everyone is, supposedly, equal and thus has the human-made right and the natural opportunity to assert a greater role in society. Rights are natural and opportunities are most certainly always human-made. This formulation should not be rejected, negated or replaced because superficial and artificial changes to the foundations of humanity do not work for the benefit of society but rather against it. It contaminates society for such morality, the morality of the weak, the sick, “represent the greatest danger for the healthy; it is not the strongest but the weakest who spell disaster for the strong” (GM III 14). It is therefore our task to understand and accept our position in the order of rank and recognise that the noble and free was given the right to reign while others were given the right to follow’, answered the Philosopher of the Future.
‘Your answer hardly addresses my concerns’ I responded.
‘What was missing?’ he asked.
I thought for few minutes and was able to articulate a sufficient answer: ‘Much, much was missing. Let us assume that one understands the order of rank you described, agrees with the principles that guide this order of rank, and accepts the consequences such order of rank may produces. Let us further assume that the individual comprehends that life is meaningless and that his suffering has no intrinsic reason and is, in fact, purposeless. These are all givens that the individual is willing to accept. What should drive man, therefore, to serve his society or, rather, serve the very free spirited ones? If his existence is pointless then his service must be pointless as well; if his existence is pointless than his suffering is meaningless’.
The Philosopher of the Future answered: ‘You are correct for pointing out that man cannot endure suffering when he is told that his suffering is pointless. “Man, the bravest of animals and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far” (GM 28).
It is meaning, therefore, that you are seeking and meaning that shall relieve your pain. How does one find meaning then? He has two choices. Few will choose to stop seeking meaning and affirm life. They shall affirm life only through a new principle, the principle of the eternal recurrence. Such principle frees one’s spirit and liberates him from the belief that there needs to be a meaning to life but the actual experience of living. Believing in the eternal recurrence does not necessarily mean it happen but rather that it is the guiding principle of life. In order to acknowledge the essence of life one needs to believe that he should experience the facts of existence once again. And the facts of existence include the everlasting experience of suffering, a feeling one needs to adopt and aspire towards if he wishes to touch greatness (BGE 56, 225). Thus, the first option entails the affirmation of life through the belief that life is worth affirming by simply being alive and wishing to continuously experience liveliness. This is the manner by which one can overcome the poisonous appeal of nihilism while not rejecting the principle that life does not have, in essence, meaning or purpose. It is only the experiencing of life and not what life stands for that fills the void of purposelessness. However, not only it is the acknowledgement that life eternally returns but that the world and the universe eternally create and destroy, “without goal, unless the joy of the circle itself is a goal”. It is a world that is generated by the will of all the forces that encompasses it, forces that essentially strive for one and only will, the unendingly will to power (WP, extract giving in class).
The second option is rather simple. One should join the herd by adopting a new ethos, the ethos of the eternal recurrence, with man as a creator at the centre. This option will not lead the individual to affirm life as it is but rather to affirm life via a mediator who shall connect the principles of past traditions, and the need of the herd to have a religion with a principle that can be viewed through the prism of religion’.
‘How would I sense that the principles you described here will not merely apply to my own kingdom but also to the kingdom of the outer world? What would bring about the changes society requires in order to adhere to the even newer testament you offered to me?’ I asked
‘It is not a question of when it would happen’, he replied, ‘it is a question of when man shall realise what stands in front of him. The Greatest events and thoughts – but the greatest thoughts are the greatest event – are comprehended last: the generations that are contemporaneous with them do not experience such events – they live right past them. What happens is a little like what happens in the realm of stars. The light of the remotest stars comes last to men; and until it has arrived man denies that there are – stars there. “How many centuries does a spirit require to be comprehended?” – that is a standard, too; with that, too, one creates an order of rank and etiquette that is still needed – for spirit and star’ (BGE 285).
‘And me? Am I going to be able to detect those greatest and events and thoughts?’ I enquired.
The Philosopher of the Future stared at me and replied: ‘That might not be. It is only when your outer-self will understand his experience that your new, healthy and strong inner-self shall conquer the fear of existence. The year Zero is knocking your door; you must decide whether you are willing to live through it’.
And so I woke up to find myself in my bed. My jump never truly happened for I dreamt of jumping and then dreamt of dreaming of my encounter with the three figures that dwell in my own kingdom. Nonetheless I was invigorated with new principles and, most importantly, a new direction. The year Zero was inaugurated in order to liberate my spirit and soul. My choice to embrace it was mine and although I was not entirely ready to live through it, I chose to affirm the meaningless of my life and wait; wait for a philosopher who shall “think pessimism through to its depths” and liberate man from the banalities and evils of our times by transcending the individual’s inner world and gathering the courage to speak to the society of man (BGE 56).
- Lampert, Laurence. Leo Strauss and Nietzsche. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.
- Lampert, Laurence. Nietzsche’s Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.
- Loeb, Paul S. ‘Identity and Eternal Recurrence’. In A Companion to Nietzsche Keith Ansell Pearson ED. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
- Magnus, Bernd. Nietzsche’s Existential Imperative. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good & Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Genealogy of Morals; Ecce Homo. Walter Faufmann and RJ Hollingdale. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Josefine Nauckhoff. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html.
Moses E Lavi lives in Israel. He is a graduate from Carleton College, MN.