(Read Part 11 of the series.)
Marx and Nietzsche
As noted earlier, Hegel’s philosophy was very influential with Marx, whose ideas are the basis of the intellectual foundation of Communism. In particular, he accepted Hegel’s concept of reality as an ongoing dialectic process, which could be monitored through a study of history, and which would continue to evolve until there were no further internal contradictions needing resolution. Not until this was achieved would true freedom and fulfilment be possible for man. He believed that the sort of society that would bring this about would be one in which individuals acted together rather than independently. Marx did not however agree with Hegel’s concept of a spiritual ‘Absolute’. Any form of religious belief or pursuit was seen as an attempt to escape from the meaninglessness that life had become.
He believed that matter, in the sense of man’s relation to it, was the driving force behind progress, and this meant that subjects such as the production and distribution of goods, and the economics of this, became extremely important. Thus he would have argued that socialism was simply the point that had been reached in the process of evolution, not something that he was specifically advocating, though his personal commitment to the ‘revolution’ is apparent in his writing. But all of this is a matter of politics and was advocated at the expense of ethical considerations.
So-called progress had produced a world of technology but man was being controlled by this instead of controlling it (and this is over 150 years ago!). He was being alienated from the true values of life, such as friendship and culture, and instead was being conned into desiring the products themselves. In this process, he felt that he himself was becoming dehumanised. Most of us probably now appreciate that cars, DVDs and mobile phones, are mere ‘things’ that can never bring happiness or fulfilment. And yet much of today’s generation seem to be trapped in a downward spiral of dependence upon the next fix from the purveyors of our material society.
Communism was inevitable as far as he was concerned and what any individual might want was not a consideration. It would represent the final synthesis of the then-current conflict between the working class, who actually produced the goods and the capitalist employers who owned the means of production, and everyone would then be happy. The means of production would be jointly owned and be used in everyone’s interest. For him, then, the purpose was clear and achievable – the bringing about of a better world. Unfortunately, as we all now know, these good ideas were unrealisable in practice and led only to far worse repression and lack of individual freedom. It just took a long time, and considerable suffering before this was finally accepted by most people.
Will to Power
Friedrich Nietzsche began his philosophical career as a disciple of Schopenhauer but did not share the latter’s pessimism and eventually diverged drastically when he decided that the world was the only reality. He claimed that there was no point at all in searching for some idealised spiritual truth since none existed. We should aim to realise our potential within this life since that is all there is. He saw that society was descending into nihilism and that the existing philosophies and religions were powerless to prevent it. A new ethos was needed. He was highly suspicious of absolutes with respect to truth or knowledge, suggesting that there are no real facts, only interpretations and his books tend to make suggestions (often in metaphorical form) rather than lay down rigorous principles.
He believed that the moral values that had been passed down to us from earlier generations were necessarily outdated. Man was continually evolving, with the stronger overcoming the weaker and it was necessary that our standards should evolve with us. Why pay any attention to outmoded religious principles and rules of conduct when we no longer believe in them? – God is dead. Since the strong overcome the weak as a natural part of progress, the strong should determine their own values and not be held back by any notion of equality with the mediocre masses. Meaning must be generated from within, not from some presumed external deity. Men are certainly not ‘equal’. We should be free to realise our full potential and become ‘supermen’. He valued passion, anger and adventure, advocated discipline and strength of will and regarded the compassion of Christianity with contempt. ‘Christianity’, he said, ‘breaks the spirit of the strong and poisons their noble instincts so that they perish through self-loathing.’
He despised the Christian ideals of goodness, such as loving one’s fellow man, claiming that this was simply the outcome of fear and said that we should openly display the scorn that we really feel. His idealised man was a ruthless hero, seeking only more power, treating others as inferior, especially women, who should be treated as property and were only ‘for the recreation of the warrior’; we should ‘go to them with a whip’.
His ideas affected politics, in particular the Nationalism of Hitler, though Nietzsche himself did not support the principles of Nazism. He also saw art as being of great importance in transforming ourselves and the world. This inevitably influenced literature (e.g. Strindberg, Shaw, Mann, Hesse and Camus), music (e.g. Mahler and Richard Strauss – who named one of his most famous tone-poems after Nieztsche’s literary-philosophical work ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’) and other philosophers (e.g. Sartre). But the idea that only the happiness of a few really matters – those who happen to be strong in body and will or who happen to be born into rich and influential families – that these few are in some way superior, scarcely seems reasonable to the modern mind. This was the sort of society that existed in Egypt at the time of the Pharaohs, with an elite few living in luxury and the majority enslaved to support them. There are no doubt still some today who would want such a world… but only so long as they are amongst the rulers.
But Nietzsche was wide of the mark when he set his aims. His ideals were mistaken, participating in those aspects of man’s nature that are part of his limitations. He was seeking the empowerment of the ego, not the realisation of his true nature. His is the way of fear and led the man himself to insanity at the age of 44.
Read Part 13 of the series…