The Pious Origins of Nietzsche’s Immoralism
Redeeming Nietzsche: On the Piety of Unbelief written by Giles Fraser
Pious Nietzsche: Decadence and Dionysian Faith written by Bruce Ellis Benson
reviewed by David van Dusen, University of Wales
- The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, ed. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). All citations of The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo and Twilight of the Idols refer to this translation.
A §61: “The Reformation; Leibniz; Kant and what people call ‘German philosophy’ . . . I confess it, these Germans are my enemies: I despise them for every type of uncleanliness in concepts and values.”
- This appears on the cover of Pious Nietzsche, alongside a high commendation by John Caputo.
- If nothing else, Badiou’s far more original analysis of this connection appeared in his 1997 work SaintPaul: La fondation de l’universalisme. See Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 55–74, 94–96, 107–111.
As a single instance of this: “I do not read Pascal, I love him as Christianity’s most instructive victim” (EH “Clever” §3).
- Cf. Karl Löwith, Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, trans. J. Harvey Lomax (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1997); From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. David E. Green (London: Constable, 1964); and “The Interpretation of the Unsaid in ‘Nietzsche’s Word “God is Dead”’,” in Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism, ed. Richard Wolin, trans. Gary Steiner (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 96–127.
- There are also desultory allusions to Lou Andreas-Salomé, Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler and Merold Westphal.
- Benson devotes a page to recent “precedents” for seeing “Nietzsche as homo religiosus” (PN 6–7). He cites Karl Jaspers in the text, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a note.
- Cf. Steven E. Aschheim, The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890–1990 (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 205–206. Benson refers to this text (PN 220 n. 13), but misses the parallels.
- Cf. GS §§348–49; The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, ed. Bernard Williams, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff and Adrian del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). All citations of The Gay Science refer to this translation.
- For a sense of the philosophical, rhetorical and sociological diversity that characterized German Pietism at the turn of the nineteenth century, see F. Ernest Stoeffler, German Pietism During the Eighteenth Century (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973), pp. 217–65. Neither Fraser nor Benson seems to possess a “historically valid concept” (p. ix) of the ‘Pietism’ they foreground in the earliest Nietzsche and claim to detect in his last writings.
- Löwith, Hegel to Nietzsche, pp. 369–70; and in a note, Löwith refers to a series of publications in Germany between 1930 and 1938.
- Ibid., p. 369.
- Benson cites Nietzsche in his preface: “It is not necessary at all—not even desirable—that you should argue in my favor; on the contrary, a dose of curiosity . . . with an ironic resistance, would seem to me an incomparably more intelligent attitude” (PN x). This is one of many citations in Pious Nietzsche that Benson fails to effectively interpret.
- Thus, for instance, his polemical formulation “Christianity is Platonism for the ‘common people’” quite precisely reproduces Augustine’s defense of the catholica in De Vera Religione. See note 43, below.
- Benson speaks of “reconstructing the faith of the young Nietzsche” (PN 222 n. 6), but manifestly fails to do so—or rather, it is not clear that he makes the attempt.
- Certain comments by Löwith may appear to anticipate his remarks on Nietzsche’s madness, but on a close reading Löwith is subtler. He writes at mid-century: “Nietzsche’s reflection ends in insanity. It is not easy to decide whether that insanity was a senseless, external accident, or a destiny that belonged to him inwardly, or a holy insanity at the onset of which the phenomenon of Dionysian frenzy (to which Nietzsche’s first work was dedicated) was embodied in him like lightning, only to expire in idiocy” (Nietzsche’s Philosophy, p. 10).
- Cf. Aschheim, The Nietzsche Legacy, plates 3, 10.
- Benson is Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Wheaton College in Illinois, a vanguard institution of twentieth-century American fundamentalism.
- And while Nietzsche may seem to be similarly culpable here—namely, of reifying ‘Christianity’—he is not. See, for instance, A §58 on Christianity as a type of religion, “I mean the corruption of the soul through the ideas of guilt, punishment, and immortality.”
- Pages 152 and 153 of Pious Nietzsche are excruciating. Benson docilely cedes Tertullian, Augustine and Aquinas to Nietzsche, cavils at his reference to “the closure of the public baths” in Córdoba (A §21), and then to “counter Nietzsche” appeals to the life of a twentieth-century Catholic nun. Either Nietzsche lived in the wrong century or Benson’s Christianity emerged in the last century.
- Fraser is an Anglican priest and a former lecturer in philosophy at Oxford University.
- Fraser is correct here, but Badiou is no less correct when he writes in St. Paul: “In reality, the core of the problem is that Nietzsche harbors a genuine loathing for universalism. . . . What Nietzsche—on this point remaining a German ‘mythologue’ (in Lacoue-Labarthe’s sense of the term)—cannot forgive Paul for is not so much to have willed Nothingness, but to have . . . formulated a theory of a subject who, as Nietzsche admirably, albeit disgustedly, puts it, is universally, ‘a rebel . . . against everything privileged’” (p. 62).
- The essay is Merold Westphal, “Nietzsche as a Theological Resource,” in Nietzsche and the Divine, ed. John Lippitt and Jim Urpeth (Manchester: Clinamen, 2000), 14–29. See PN 241 n. 19.
- Löwith, Hegel to Nietzsche, pp. 193–97, 368–73.
- For Nietzsche’s Philosophy see note 6, above.
- There is a similar but less serious lapse in the last pages of chapter 4; see RN 96–99.
- Benson’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s “musical askêsis” (PN 11) is unimpressive in its treatments of Greek mousikē and music in Nietzsche. For the latter see Georges Liébert, Nietzsche and Music, trans. David Pellauer and Graham Parkes (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
- So that Benson will write, “the crucial question is whether Nietzsche can go beyond ‘No-saying’” (PN 206). That this is not a ‘crucial question’—though it is indeed at the heart of Pious Nietzsche—will be discussed in a moment. The remainder this paragraph should serve to indicate that it should not even be a question.
- EH “Destiny” §3: “Have I been understood? . . . The self-overcoming of morality from out of truthfulness, the self-overcoming of moralists into their opposite . . . that is what the name Zarathustra means coming from my mouth.”
- The last sentences of A §46 are of decisive importance for Nietzschean piety: “Do I still need to say that in the whole of the New Testament there is only one honourable figure? Pilate, the Roman governor. . . . The noble scorn of a Roman when faced with an unashamed mangling of the word ‘truth’ gave the New Testament its only statement of any value,—its critique, even its annihilation: ‘What is truth!’”
- Benson’s discussion of ‘faith’ in the last pages of his work (PN 192–98) is inadequate and confused, and a discussion of this question should have appeared in its first pages.
- Later in A §52, Nietzsche turns explicitly on “pietists and other Swabian cows” who “take their everyday . . . lives and, using the ‘hand of God,’ fashion them into miracles of ‘grace,’ ‘Providence,’ or the ‘experience of salvation’.” On the rise of Swabian Pietism in association with the Tübingen Stift, see Stoeffler, German Pietism, pp. 88–107.
- EH “Destiny” §7: “I needed a word whose significance lay in challenging everyone.” And see TI “Ancients” §4: “. . . The word ‘Dionysus’ means all of this.”
- Benson goes so far as to suggest that eternal recurrence constitutes a new regula fide or creed: “To replace Christian faith with Dionysian faith . . . Nietzsche needs . . . new sorts of dances, prayers, songs, and even creeds” (PN 12).
- When Cicero decides to render the Greek δóγμα with the Latin decretum at Academica 2.29, for instance, it has only a very distant relation to the sense that ‘dogma’ will take on in the ecclesiastical tradition, particularly after Constantine.
- PN 196: “Nietzsche’s religion is dogmatic.”
- There is of course a whole discourse surrounding philosophical dogmatism in post-Kantian philosophy (Fichte is essential here), and relative to this late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century discourse it is senseless to say that Nietzsche is a philosophical, much less a theological, dogmatist.
- F. H. Jacobi, The Main Philosophical Writings and the Novel Allwill, ed. and trans. George di Giovanni (Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994), p. 272.
- Benson cites this passage (PN 84)—but overlooks it.
- Whereas Benson writes, “In the end, Nietzsche does what he accuses Paul of doing: create ‘a pagan mystery doctrine’” (PN 196). Benson should, indeed, read Lucretius.
- For a sense of redemption in Nietzsche which neither work so much as gestures toward, see EH “Books” §5: “Did anyone hear my answer to the question of how to cure—‘redeem’—a woman? Give her a baby. Women need children, the man is only ever the means: thus spoke Zarathustra”; and TI “Ancients” §4: “In the doctrines of the mysteries, pain is pronounced holy: the ‘woes of a woman in labour’ sanctify pain in general,—all becoming and growth . . . There has to be an eternal ‘agony of the woman in labour’ so that there can be an eternal joy of creation, so that the will to life can eternally affirm itself. The word ‘Dionysus’ means all of this.” And there is, of course, a Pauline echo in the latter passage that would be worth interrogating.
Löwith writes that Nietzsche’s “own contra Christianos was an exact repetition of the contra gentiles of the church fathers, with reversed valences. . . . If one compares Nietzsche’s arguments with those of Celsus and Porphyry, it is not difficult to notice how little has been added to the ancient arguments against Christianity” (Nietzsche’s Philosophy, p. 119). Löwith’s phrase ‘exact repetition . . . with reversed valences’ is of course inexact, but this passage is highly suggestive. One indication of this is that a fundamental contention of The Anti-Christ—namely, that the rise of the Christians caused the decline of Rome—is what aroused Augustine to compose the Civitate Dei against those “who now complain of this Christian era, and hold Christ responsible for the disasters which their city endured” in the sack of Rome, in 410. Another indication of this is that Augustine clearly anticipates (if he does not inspire) Nietzsche’s endlessly cited formulation, “Christianity is Platonism for the ‘common people’,” as well as Nietzsche’s insistence on Christian ressentiment, with his stress on pagan invidentia. (Cf. De vera religione 4.6.21–22; and BGE Preface, in The Nietzsche Reader, ed. Keith Ansell Pearson and Duncan Large, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.) It seems that a serious interpretation of Augustine and Nietzsche in relation has yet to be written—and needs to be written. It would presumably begin with Nietzsche’s reading of the Confessions in 1885, in the months prior to commencing work on Beyond Good and Evil. (Cf. letter 589 in Nietzsche Briefwechsel. Kritische Gesamtausgabe 3/3, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1982, pp. 33–35.) Nietzsche of course identifies all previous philosophy—in the opening sections of this work—as ‘confession’; and though Augustine is only named several times in the work, a sensitive reading of part 3, on the ‘religious neurosis,’ nevertheless reveals that Nietzsche’s concern with Augustine is far deeper and more diffuse than direct references suggest.
- EH “Clever” §4: “We do not know nearly enough about Lord Bacon, the first realist in every great sense of the term, to know what he did, what he wanted . . .”
- Nietzsche uses the variant “sub hoc signo” at GM I §8. Cf. A §51: “This reminds me again of the invaluable words of Paul. ‘The weak things of the world, the foolish things of the world, the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, hath God chosen’: this was the formula; decadence was victorious in hoc signo.—God on the cross—have people still not grasped the gruesome ulterior motive behind this symbol?” And for the sense of this Anti-Christ passage, cf. GS §353 (which has a reference, be it noted, to German Pietism): “Jesus (or Paul), for example, discovered the life of the small people in the Roman province, a humble, virtuous, depressed life: he explained it, he put the highest meaning and value into it—and thereby also the courage to despise every other way of life, the silent Moravian brotherhood fanaticism, the clandestine subterranean self-confidence that grows and grows and is finally ready to ‘overcome the world’ (i.e. Rome and the upper classes throughout the empire).”
- Significantly, this is where Nietzsche closes The Anti-Christ; cf. A §61.
- Cf. TI “Ancients” §4.
- GS §344. Benson cites GS §381—“dance is [a philosopher’s] ideal, also his art, and finally also his only piety, his ‘service of God’”—in a superficial way. The sense here of ‘piety’ as ‘dance’ derives from Nietzsche’s discussion of the “will to knowledge” and “specific gravity” in GS §380, and first emerges at GS §346 in explicit opposition to ‘faith’: “one could conceive of a delight and power of self-determination . . . in which the spirit takes leave of every wish for certainty, practised as it is in . . . dancing even beside abysses . . .”