July 17, 2019

Can Nietzsche Be a Self-Help Guru?

“If Friedrich Nietzsche were alive today, what would he think of our times? “The nations are again drawing away from one another and long to tear one another to pieces,” he might observe. “The sciences, pursued without any restraint and in a spirit of the blindest laissez faire, are shattering and dissolving all firmly held belief; the educated classes and states are being swept away by a hugely contemptible money economy. The world has never been more worldly, never poorer in love and goodness … Everything, contemporary art and science included, serves the coming barbarism.”

That passage, from one of the philosopher’s “Untimely Meditations”, was published in 1874 and illustrates the extent to which Nietzsche is always our exact contemporary. The problem with writing books about him, though, is that you just can’t compete with the bleak hilarity and glamorous swagger of his prose, and to reduce the wild forest of his thoughts to single propositions in precis is nearly always to traduce him.

The American philosophy professor John Kaag tries a different tack, aiming to use Nietzsche as a kind of elevated self-help guru, scattering discussions of the philosopher’s life and works through a memoir of the author’s own youth and romantic life. This approach is defended early on by the claim that Nietzsche’s philosophy “is no mere abstraction. It isn’t to be realised from an armchair or the comfort of one’s home. One needs to physically rise, stand up, stretch, and set off.” It is surprising to see a professional philosopher talking of “mere abstraction” here. Few people today will stand up for abstraction, but it is a keystone of all intellectual endeavour, as Nietzsche himself well knew. “There are epochs,” he wrote, “in which the man of reason and the man of intuition stand side by side, the one fearful of intuition, the other filled with scorn for abstraction, the latter as unreasonable as the former is artistic.” (On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense, 1873.)”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"As Europe moved toward war in the summer of 1914, two battleships were being built for the Ottoman Empire in British shipyards. Worried about signs of an Ottoman-German alliance, Winston Churchill, then first lord of the admiralty, seized the..."

"For most of this year, Joe Biden has strutted across stages in New Hampshire and Iowa, and at swanky fundraisers in New York and California, as if he were already the Democratic nominee. Questions about attacks from his rivals were, more often..."

"A vast city that may have had as many as 1,500 to 3,000 inhabitants in its heyday 9,000 years ago was part of a sprawling Neolithic network of barter. Fresh findings in the mega site at Motza, the Jerusalem foothills, include an obsidian blade..."

"Befitting Stranger Things’ loving ode to the ’80s, the golden age of merchandising, there sure is a lot of Stranger Things crap for sale. Need a copy of Hopper’s Magnum P.I.–inspired Hawaiian shirt for your own date night? Provided you’re not...."

"Big Government lobbyists and entrenched bureaucrats are predictably hysterical about a common-sense congressional push to improve transparency and accountability about wasteful taxpayer-funded monkey experiments. They’re worried that once..."

"The economic summit in Bahrain organized by the Trump administration last month was the latest example of how Israel’s hi-tech industry created new diplomatic opportunities for a country with no apparent natural resources. While Israel had no..."

"The early ‘90s, famously, saw the “End of History,” as it was dubbed by the right-Hegelian political theorist Francis Fukuyama. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus the ostensibly final victory of capitalism and liberal democracy..."

"“Almost all books of aphorisms, which have ever acquired a reputation, have retained it,” John Stuart Mill wrote in 1837, aphoristically—that is to say, with a neat if slightly dubious finality. (“How wofully the reverse is the case with systems..."

"While we can easily misjudge, misunderstand, or even avoid a pregnant individual’s experience of miscarriage, we can also forget that the loss of a pregnancy may impact a wide range of other people too. There’s usually one other person..."

"I have never tried psychedelic drugs, but I imagine the experience is a lot like drinking a Starbucks Frappuccino. Strange sensations, unnatural colors, increased heart rate, heightened emotions, paranoia: It’s all there in that plastic cup..."

"Fifty years ago this week, more than a million Americans drove, flew and even boated to Florida’s Cape Canaveral to witness the launch of Apollo 11, which would culminate four days later on July 20, 1969, with America’s victory over the Soviet..."

"The incidents now pass without much notice, a steady, familiar drumbeat of violence and hate targeting visibly Jewish people in New York City. Early on the morning of June 15, a Saturday, two men in a white Infiniti drove around Borough Park..."