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THE MEANING OF THE EARTH AFTER

GOD’S DEATH. (por Simón Royo Hernández. Madrid, mayo de 2001)

 

Metaphysical comfort as Platonism: the beginning of the religious way of life* .

Young Nietzsche, while working on clarifying the tragic life of ancient Greeks, in an attempt to renovate European culture through his influence on his philology students, began a hard struggle against religious and fictitious conceptions of the world. In his Birth of Tragedy (1872), he already defined the phenomenon of the concealing of the Dionysian truth by metaphysical comfort, as opposed to artistic integration of the Apollinian-Dionysian instincts by means of tragic work of art. Nietzsche distinguishes five phases of the Hellenic world which would lead to a culture sufficiently praiseworthy to be emulated by future generations: 1) Titans (Dionysian); 2) Homeric world (Apollinian); 3) Influx of the Dionysian; 4) Doric Art (Apollinian); 5) Attic tragedy (Apollinian-Dionysian): fusion of both artistic instincts in works of art. Nevertheless, at the same time, he talks of three stages of illusion, one of which is the metaphysical comfort, that keeps us away from what could lead us to the highest culture and ways of life. Will compels man in different ways urging him to keep on living, conscious or not of his mortality and the expiration of all things. These three stages of illusion are: 1) The Socratic pleasure of Knowledge (Socratic culture), which belongs to Alexandrine culture; 2) The Beauty of Art (artistic culture) which belongs to Hellenic culture; 3) The metaphysical comfort (tragic culture) which belongs to the Buddhist culture. The metaphysical comfort represents here the religious illusion, which is rooted in the belief of eternal life beneath phenomena.

While the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno prefers comfort instead of nothingness, Nietzsche is able to live temporarily in nihilism, and, after this descent to hell, he is able to construct the criteria of excellence which lead life towards its fullness: “Let them alone! Let them, as long as they have comfort. It is better they believe in everything, even in things which are contradictory, than they believe in nothing[i]”. Unamuno thinks men (except himself) are too stupid and weak to be able to resist a life without lies. However, Nietzsche worked so as human beings of the future should enjoy life without lies, insisting on the cheerfulness of such a new culture. With the knowledge that there is no eternal truths, that God is dead, it is possible to foresee the emergence of a new man and culture, a better man who, instead of considering himself a handicapped, will undertake great deeds, confident of the growth of his strengths: “Let us imagine a coming generation with such intrepidity of vision, with such a heroic penchant for the tremendous; let us imagine the bold stride of these dragon-slayers, the proud audacity with which they turn their back on all the weakling’s doctrines of optimism in order to «live resolutely» in wholeness and fullness[ii]”. The last sentence belongs to Goethe’s verses which Nietzsche learnt while he was in Italy in 1871, and which he used to quote: “To lose the habit of mediocrity / and in full, goodness and beauty / live resolutely[iii]”. However, a last metaphysical comfort, the artistic comfort, seemed necessary to young Nietzsche, when he was under the influence of Schopenhauer and Wagner. But when he escaped from the masters of his youth, from Schopenhauer’s pessimism and from Wagner’s opera, he would no longer accept any kind of comfort; rebelling against any illusion, generalizing the way in which Plato positioned himself against the poets, dreams weavers.

 

There is no God, but beliefs have effects: the power of fiction.

There are power-beliefs whose unreality does not mean they are unable to have effects, they are as powerful as reality itself and have the same consequences as if they existed in reality: “Faith saves and condemns. —A Christian who would get lost in forbidden reasonings could wonder sometimes: Is it then necessary that there should be a God and also a lamb which carries men’s sins if faith in the existence of such beings is enough to produce the same effects? Would not these beings be superfluous in case they existed? Since everything that the Christian religion gives to the soul, everything that is beneficent, comforting and perfect, as well as everything that darkens and destroys comes from this belief and not from the object of this belief. Here it occurs the same as in this well-known case: we can assert that there never were witches but the terrible results of the belief in sorcery have been the same as if witches had actually existed. Each time a Christian expects God’s immediate intervention, he expects in vain —because God does not exist—, but his religion is inventive enough to find subterfuges and reassuring reasons: in this sense it is a really resourceful religion. To tell the truth, faith has not managed yet to move real mountains, although this was said I do not know by whom; but it can place mountains where there are none[iv]”. Beliefs are fictions, but curiosity fictions, which have effects. How can a nothingness have any effect? Because beneath fictions is strength, power, which uses beliefs for its own interest. In Europe, during the four hundred years of Inquisition, about 500,000 witches were burnt, but, as witches do not exist, it is obvious that 500,000 innocents were burnt.

It is not surprising that Human, all too human was a tribute to Voltaire. After exploring the whole romantic aesthetics and therefore approaching the intuitive man, Nietzsche then explores the Enlightenment, which leads him to the rational man. He has a double brain, philosophic and artistic, Apollinian and Dionysian. Genius, free spirit and the Overman consists then, in the ideal of the tragic man, which already appeared in The Birth of Tragedy. This is the reason why, by possessing a double complementary sensibility, Nietzsche is able to throw himself into the study of both tendencies, pointing out their agreements and disagreements: “The future of science. —(...). A superior culture has to give man a double brain, something like two cerebral compartments, one to be sensitive to science, the other to what is not science: juxtaposed, separable and tight; this is the condition for a good health. In one of the compartments is the source of energy, and in the other, the regulator[v]”. The second Nietzsche, using the scientific and enlightened brain, finds himself again before religion, which is once more seen as a mechanism of domination and as a weakling of will and life, which must be destroyed. Wars of religion are a clear example of this. They show how some fictions, useful to subdue the others, are enslaving. They did not exist in classical antiquity: “It was never seen, among the Romans, the horrible foolishness of the wars of religion”. They “did not struggle to decide (...) whether sacred chickens should eat and drink or only eat before telling the auguries (omens). The English used to hang each other in their courts and destroyed themselves in battles for arguments of this kind (...). I imagine that such nonsense will not occur again, it seems to me that they are becoming more sensible and I do not see in them any intention to slaughter each other again for such syllogisms[vi]”. Nietzsche could not but see the phenomenon of wars of religion as an extremely foolish modern characteristic. Modern theological discussions and Luther’s obtuse brain -as Nietzsche calls it- are a good example: “The Regensburg tragicomedy. (...). To increase this impression of an amazing farce, one must not forget that none of the axioms discussed in Regensburg possessed any hint of truth, neither the original sin, nor the salvation by intercessors, nor the justification by faith, and nowadays they cannot be discussed any longer. —However, owing to these faith articles, the world blazed with blood and fire. People fought for opinions which did not express anything real[vii]”.

 

There is no sense in existence I.

Postmodernity, with Nietzsche at its head, revealed how arbitrary was human knowledge. But such a discovery did not collapse the construction of knowledge and truths but led them to an extreme subtlety. The present world is as immersed in lies as was the antique world, but now, more elaborate myths have come to substitute the previous, simple ones. This is why the task of unmasking them has to go on ad infinitum. The scientific truths are, without any doubt, the most resistant metaphors. Once their falseness is discovered, they do not disappear, but survive thanks to their usefulness and efficiency. But, what are they useful and efficient for? -We could ask. For the survival of the species? Or, for any other future aim? It is very easy to realize that the coming aim of science, once survival is insured, is domination. Man can not renounce his mental constructions because they are useful to him as a means of domination.

As Karl Schlechta puts it, although Nietzsche’s writing is not voluntarily systematic, it contains a series of nuclear reflections, which makes it a philosophy in the traditional sense of the word. The most important of Nietzsche’s work can be summed up with the following sentence: “The world -including human beings- such as it is «in truth». It is «in truth» without any sense; it is no-sense[viii]”.

The researcher in philosophy of religions can demonstrate that the concept of God is no more than an exalted projection of humanity (Feuerbach and Marx, for example), however, such a conception will not leave human consciences as long as it is useful to them; either for their survival or for the domination of some men over others.

The childish character of religious belief is a subject that has continually appeared in the enlightened philosophy of religion. From Voltaire to Frazer and to Freud, one gets to Nietzsche and his condemnation of religious conception of the world as a cowardly flight proper to children afraid of governing themselves: “In my Future of an Illusion [1927c] I was concerned much less with the deepest sources of the religious feeling than with what the common man understands by his religion —with the system of doctrines and promises which on the one hand explains to him the riddles of this world with enviable completeness, and, on the other, assures him that a careful Providence will watch over his life and will compensate him in a future existence for any frustrations he suffers here. The common man cannot imagine this Providence otherwise than in the figure of an enormously exalted father. Only such a being can understand the needs of the children of men and be softened by their prayers and placated by the signs of their remorse. The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life[ix]”. Infantilism, as the sickness of the will or weakness of reason, as one of the causes of religious beliefs, is a problem Nietzsche also pointed out, in terms which remind us of the beginning of Kant’s well known text entitled What is Enlightenment? (1784): “Religion and government. —As long as the State, more exactly, the government shall feel forced to be the tutor of a childish mass, and shall wonder if it is necessary to preserve, as it is usual, or eliminate religion; it is infinitely probable that it will always choose to preserve religion[x]”.

After all, the assurance of survival is a mechanism of domination. The environment is dominated, the mind as well, to such an extent as to make it delirious, and use all the possible devices that could make it cling to life. For that reason, all human beings have a fiction impulse, which weaves its web in order to cling to life and not to die. Therefore, who cares about the truth? In this context, men realize that they can utilize each other in their masking and fictional games in order to have the advantage of each other in the struggle of life. An ancient discovery from the beginning of history was that men could be domesticated. It is possible to enslave others, exploit others, and such knowledge marks the birth of the class society, of hierarchy within communities, of inequality. It is only necessary that just a small number of people who surround us create the metaphor that supposedly would be more favorable to us. When we believe in that false sense of life, it is possible to become slaves. Now, some people, unable to invent their own life, have to live according to other’s inventions, because the original senses of existence and inequality are hereditary.

In the fifth century BC a relative of Plato, Critias, in his drama called Sisyphus, asserted that the Gods were an invention of a few men in order to govern more easily their subjects (DK 88 B 25). A super-ego that would ensure that citizens respected the established laws, even without the presence of policemen, who could observe and coerce them. Conscience has become repressive, an internal Bentham’s panoptical. The link between the belief in God and determined moral way of life was created.

Machiavelli stressed that religions hide power determinations and class domination:  “Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as his great enterprises and his setting a fine example. We have in our time Ferdinand of Aragon, the present king of Spain (...): In the beginning of his reign he attacked Granada, and this enterprise was the foundation of his power (...). Further, always using religion as a plea, so as to undertake greater schemes, he devoted himself with a pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the converted Jews[xi]”. The unique faith is the signal of the unique truth and king, and the catholic religious rites are a defense against what is considered antisocial behaviorism. In the Discorsi religion is understood as the general ground from which to raise (with a high probability of success) all the political structures of society, which involve relationships of authority, as in the Roman Empire.  But Christian religion is not as good as the pagan ones: “Our religion has glorified humble and contemplative men rather than active ones (...). This way of living, then, has made the world weak” (Discorsi, II, 2). The whole last passage, if we may be allowed the anachronism, is rather Nietzschean.

In accordance with Machiavelli and against Nietzsche’s supposed anti-Semitism, we can see that what the German thinker valued most in human communities was their culture. He considered the Jewish culture much superior to the German one of his time: “The European man and the destruction of nations. (...). We shall say, by the way, that the whole problem of the Jews does not eventually exist, but inside the limits of national States, since this is where their superior energy and intelligence (...) necessarily get to such a predominance that they arouse envy and hate (...). Now, taking into account that we are not dealing any longer with the preservation of a nation but with the production of a European race, mixed and as strong as possible, the Jew is an element as usable and desirable as any other national vestige. (...) If Christianism did everything in order to easternize the West, Judaism essentially contributed to westernize it again: which, in a determined sense is equivalent to making of the mission and of the history of Europe the continuation of those of Greece[xii]”.

To live without meaning (sense), without fear, without hope, with the intuition that perhaps living may not be a good nor dying an evil, like Socrates in Plato’s Apology (29a). Or, considering the inhabitable non-sense, in the other extreme, constructing one’s own sense of existence; knowing it will not be generalized to all men but valid only for it’s own creator and, on the whole, an imperfect model for other’s constructions. This last is the adventure only a few philosophers and many artists have dared to undertake. Nietzsche was one of them and may be there were more of this kind than it is usually thought.

The will of truth[xiii], that is, the faith in science, is a conviction which rests upon a metaphysical faith, upon a platonic and Christian idealism. It is an anti-vital and destructive principle, which contradicts the will of reality, which is contrary to life, nature and history. The will of truth believes in a world different from life’s and therefore denies real life itself (cf. The Gay Science, §344). Although Nietzsche proclaimed that God has died (Ibid. §343), the consequences of religion are still manifest. The devices of such belief go on working even without foundations and without noticing their own nakedness and emptiness. This is why, philosophers like him, free spirits, can be called atheists, incredulous and immoralist (Ibid. §346), honorable names. However they went further still, for they realized that God’s death implies the death of science, moral and man.

Believers and their need to believe. —How much one needs a faith [In German there is only one word for belief and faith, «Glaube»; and to believe is «glauben»] in order to flourish, how much that is «firm»; and that one does not wish to be shaken because one clings to it, that is a measure of the degree of one’s strength (or, to put the point more clearly, of one’s weakness)[xiv]”. Belief is a necessity, which implies a weakness, the necessity to hold on to something, no matter how false, harmful and negative it might be, so as to go on living. Living a life whose worthiness is hidden. The majority of nowadays men refuse to wonder why they wake up each morning and go to their routine work. They rest upon habit (custom) and justify themselves with shared beliefs, which give their life a fictitious meaning. If some time they dare to question themselves, they will see anguish, and they are afraid of living in anguish, that is to say, in real and material life, not fictitious, with its pleasures and displeasures. Therefore, although his religious beliefs might be refuted a hundred times, a man who needs to believe in them still considers them truthful. Let us remember that Kierkegaard defined faith as believing against all evidence. Therefore, the evidences against faith confirm it.

 

There is no sense in existence II.

Christianism, traditional metaphysics, scientific and empirical truth and patriotism are the most extended systems of belief of the occidental world. Nietzsche considers that they persist because of the instinct of weakness, because of the necessity, surely childish, of paternal protection, of security before the fear of confronting the changing vital reality. The quantity of faith is proportional to the lack of will, to the lack of self-government, which leads one to delegate his freedom to a God, a prince, a caste, a doctor, a confessor, a dogma or a political party. Nietzsche calls all this the sickness of the will, which is equivalent to fanaticism, a kind of hypnoses of masses that rules the belonging to a sect, a church or a doctrine and which is characterized by atrophy in a sole point of view. A phenomenon that Freud would study later in his work Psychology of the masses and analysis of the ego (1921), anticipating thus the emergence of nazism and the phenomenon of submission of a collective under the orders of a leader (Führer, Caudillo).

Nietzsche is opposed to knowledge as a custom, as beliefs shared by sheeps to feel safe from wolves. He extended the area of doxa into a larger space than Plato did. Platonic ideas are no more than a custom of traditional philosophy, which consists in reducing the world into ideas in order to keep safe from fear, from the fear that the incapacity to inhabit diversity produces: “The origin of our concept of «Knowledge». (...) The knowing things, that means: those things we are accustomed to (...). It will not be the instinct of fear what knowledge means for us?[xv]”. Then, we could say that Nietzsche goes further Hume’s skepticism, as far as truth as belief, habit and custom is concerned. He especially studied the religious truths in a way that reminds us the Latin Lucretius. Free spirit consists, then, in a will with the strength of self-determination, with autarchy and self-sufficiency; that is to say, in a freedom of will which refuses to be tied by the chains of any belief or certainty. Thus, in the undetermined self-determination, as changing and extended as life itself, is where one can reach freedom.

Nietzsche strove to live without beliefs and to admit only the customs that improved his intellectual, artistic and human development. Albert Camus explains the Nietzschean incredulity in the following terms: “With Nietzsche, nihilism seems to become prophetic. But one can get nothing out of Nietzsche, but low and mediocre cruelty that he hated so much, as long as, in his work one does not put in the foreground, the clinic much before the prophet. The provisional, methodical, in one word, strategic character of his thought can not be questioned. For the first time, in him nihilism becomes conscious. Surgeons have this in common with prophets: they think and operate on the basis of an apocalypse to come, not in order to exalt it, for he sensed the sordid and calculating face this apocalypse would take in the end, but in order to elude and transform it into a rebirth. He recognized nihilism and examined it as a clinical fact. He defined himself as the first accomplished nihilist in Europe... He turned the «can one live revolted?» into «can one live without believing in anything?». His answer is affirmative. Yes, if one makes of the absence of faith a method. If one urges nihilism to its ultimate consequences and if, arriving then in the desert and trusting in what is to come, one feels in the same primitive manner both pain and joy.

Instead of the methodical doubt, he practiced the methodical negative, the conscientious destruction of all that still masks nihilism to itself, of idols who conceal the death of God[xvi]”. Camus sees in Nietzsche the setting up of a rebellion method instead of the Cartesian geometrical method, which he accused of complicity with the idealist justification of existence.

 

Nietzsche and Unamuno: Between an awake life and a sleeping death.

In his novel San Manuel Bueno Martir, Miguel de Unamuno tells the story of a priest who gets to the conclusion that God does not exist but that simple people need such a belief to support life. Unamuno’s existential anguish is more like the one of Kierkegaard than Nietzsche’s. Unamuno wants to believe but can not, just like Kierkegaard and he is thus tormented, whereas Nietzsche reverses that point of view to declare that only the one who manages to be deeply atheist can find the joie de vivre. This is why San Manuel does not really intend to find solutions for the peoples’ calamities but tries to supply them with opium, illusion, comfort and resignation. His position is extremely anti-revolutionary: “A social question? Leave this alone; it is not our business. What if they bring a new society where there are no rich nor poor and where the riches are justly shared up and where everything belongs to everyone? And don’t you think that from the general welfare the sense of emptiness (tedium) will emerge stronger? Yes, I already know that one of these leaders of the so-called social revolution said that religion is the people’s opium. Opium..., opium..., opium, yes. Let’s give them opium so that they may sleep and dream[xvii]”. And it is also an aristocratic point of view: “Truth? Truth, Lazaro, might be a terrible thing, something intolerable, something mortal. Simple people could not live with it[xviii]”. It is not enough to solve the problem of the conquest of bread, the social question, since the existential question, deeper still than the first one, is expecting us just around the corner: “The black abyss of the tedium of life, a thousand times worse than hunger[xix]”. The majority could not bear the truth, Silenus’ wisdom: “There is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: «Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is —to die soon»[xx]”. The Christian who ventures to think over forbidden questions and gets to the conclusion that what is important is belief not truth, as San Manuel Bueno Martir who pretends, out of humanitarianism, of contempt toward simple people. His pretence is his martyrdom since he considers himself able to cope with God’s death and man’s mortality, whereas he thinks that the others could never live without the belief in God: “I am to make my parishioners’ souls live, to make them happy, to make them dream they are immortal and not to kill them. What is needed here is that they live healthily, that they live in unanimity of sense. And with the truth, with my truth they won’t live. Let them live! That is what the Church does, it makes them live. True religion? All religions are true as long as they spiritually help to live peoples who profess them; as long as they give them comfort for being born to die[xxi]”. Christianism, like all other religions, poisons life by considering what is finite despicable, instead of considering what is finite, precisely because of its fleetingness, the most valuable thing. Religions help to live after real life has gone, help to live spiritually and not materially, help to support slavery without rebelling. In that Christian sense, existence is seen as evil, like the Buddhist principle that young Nietzsche learnt from Schopenhauer: the principium individuationis as a fall, as original sin: “Which one? -He answered. A great Doctor from the Catholic, Apostolic and Spanish Church, already said, the great doctor of Life is a Dream said «the biggest crime of man was to have been born». That is, my daughter, our sin: to be born[xxii]”. To come into existence is not a sin, it is a great thing to enjoy life and search the beauty of the natural and cultural world, and it is marvelous to struggle to reach excellence and to die in that struggle. Only the ones who hate life can say that existence is a sin. Priests, pessimists, snakes, sheeps, camels do, but not a man worth of that name, neither a lion, nor a child.

 

The Overman as a proposal of sense of existence.

Silenus’ wisdom shows that life in itself has no meaning. Man is a being made to die and Nietzsche shows how to reverse such perspective considering man as a being made to live, precisely because he ends up in death; in a life which does not need any predetermined nor after-death meaning: “on the other hand, do ask yourself why you, the individual, exist, and if you can get no other answer try for once to justify your existence as it were a posteriori by setting before yourself an aim, a goal, a ‘to this end’, an exalted and noble ‘to this end’. Perish in pursuit of this and only this - I Know of no better aim of life than that of perishing in pursuit of the great and the impossible[xxiii]”. Zarathustra loves the tragic man, the one who wishes to create something beyond himself and perishes in the attempt[xxiv]. Man must be overcome. This is impossible if one positions himself in the comfortable convictions of the world. Man is not an aim but a means, a bridge, which leads toward another kind of humanity. The collective objective that Nietzsche proposes to introduce in order to justify the a posteriori meaning of existence is the genius, the free spirit and in the end, the Overman. The following text from The Antichrist goes in the same way: “The problem that I set here is not what shall replace mankind in the order of living creatures (--man is an end--): but what type of man must be bred, must be willed, as being the most valuable, the most worthy of life, the most secure guarantee of the future. This more valuable type has appeared often enough in the past: but always as a happy accident, as an exception, never as deliberately willed[xxv]”. This is why the goal that Nietzsche set himself was always related to education (Bildung) and culture (Cultur).

The well Known passage of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing[xxvi]”; was enough for Faulkner to write a book inspired on the last sentence, and keeps on being used by opponents of the idea that life, the world or history, conceal some inner sense, finality or fulfillment.

Against the theories of immanent and transcendental absolute sense of existence, comes the realization that this sense and finality are not an attribute to events but a creation of man. Thus, before the idea that World and History are made only by divine, natural or social forces acting through them, the thesis of man as a builder of life and history emerges; a man provided with the privilege of action.

Nietzsche sees in God’s death the devaluation of present absolute values, of traditional sense notions of the Western world history, the breaking of a whole series of metaphors fossilized in language after which a change in modern society and culture is possible; a new way of life which has already existed among a very few number of exceptional men of our species: “The greatest recent event, that «God is dead»; that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable; is already beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe. (...) -And how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it; for example, the whole of our European morality. This long plenitude and sequence of breakdown, destruction, ruin, and cataclysm that is now impending (...) we philosophers and «free spirits»; feel, when we hear the news that the «old god is dead»; as if a new dawn shone on us[xxvii]”.

However, nowadays believers are still in the majority on earth. There are around 1700 millions Christians in the world, some 1200 millions of Muslims, 800 millions Hindus, 350 millions Buddhists, including a series of less numerous and esoteric sects of different kinds. Atheists are therefore in the minority: “Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard the news, that «God is dead!»[xxviii]”. But he is no longer a lonely anchorite who did not hear about the Good News, but the majority of the world population is who lives under the veil of religious illusion. If we add scientific illusion to religious illusion, we realize that free spirits are fewer and fewer, and that the beginning of the total revolution about which Nietzsche talks has not come yet.

Each one has to build the sense of one’s existence, a sense that does not necessarily need to coincide with the majority sense of one’s culture. The latter is a social construction. Each one will have to choose his own individual sense of existence so as to overcome himself, therefore, the general sense of collective existence that Nietzsche proposes for culture is the Overman: “The Overman is the meaning of the earth[xxix]”. Those who talk of after-death hopes despise and poison life, because one can only have earthly life hopes. Then, one collaborates with the idea that man must be overcome, a task within everyone’s reach and which is related to the ideal of the Greeks aristós and to their determination to pursue excellence (areté).

The Greeks were a great civilization because they had a magnificent social construction of the sense of existence, an Apollinian construction on a Dionysian background of life, which explains their discoveries and achievements. The Attic Tragedy was the most eminent example.

The ancient aristocracy, noble and war-like, defender of traditions, was to be gradually displaced by a new economic class, the citizen of the polis. The cultivation of the dramatic gender of Tragedy which synthesized archaic and classical ideologies in one Weltanschauung and which flourished brilliantly in Pericle’s century, is a good example of the fusion between the ancient and the new and enlightened ways of life. Compared to this Weltanschauung, to the justification of existence with which the Attic Tragedy provided the Greeks, compared to the tragic life, considering that it is a life as cheerful as deep and dark, the social construction of the way of life the people of Western society find when they are born nowadays, is so insignificant and superficial that some untimely people, find irresistible the idea of constructing oneself an alternative way of life.

Not only do ethnic tribalism, expiring ways of life which come back to life after a long period of sleep, oppose to the present globalization, but also individual counter-cultural options, obvious models of refusal of general formulations. Then, some experiments of austerity oppose themselves to capitalism, to the consumer eagerness of the Western bourgeois. Minority pleasures, which need previous culture, are a response to the massive consumption urged by the media. Free relationships are the response to classical marriage or interested friendship. Non consumerist but formative leisure activities respond to wage-earning work, which then becomes a mere means of subsistence. There are alternative ways of life which had rather have time, free of production necessity, than buy a new car; they change television for books (reading and writing them) music (playing or listening to it) and Art (making or seeing it). A Nietzsche’s reader who lives like the crowd is a joke; he is someone who has not learned anything by reading, another hypocrite of our demagogic culture.

Epicure, in his Letter to Menoeceus laughs at the ones who believe in Silenus’ wisdom by saying that either they are joking or they should commit suicide as soon as possible. But epicureism is a call to construct an alternative way of life because, when the Empire substitutes the polis, individual options take the place of political participation.

Therefore, Nietzsche’s answer to the question about the sense of existence is rather Epicurean. Maybe the future shall see the emergence of men who will not need any justification of existence (Overmen), radical atheists, who will construct by the means of both art and science, some sense of existence, which will lead them to their major development and fullness. However, in order to make this possible, the present day man has to be able to consider his own improvement as the finality and justification of his existence, and therefore, return to the search of excellence (areté). The present culture will then follow the path of the Greek culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 



* Nietzsche’s Complete Works abbreviations: KGW: Kritische Gesamtausgabe Werke. KSA: Kritische Studienausgabe. (In brackets page/s and line/s).

[i] Miguel de Unamuno San Manuel Bueno Martir (1930), Alianza Cien, Madrid 1995, p.43.

[ii] KSA 1: Die Geburt der Tragödie, 18. (S.118-119, 34-5) & Versuch einer Selbstkritik, 7. (S.21, 26-31). English translation by Walter Kaufmann: Friedrich Nietzsche The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Random House, 1967, p.26  (Attempt at a self-criticism [1886]: section 7, p.26 & pp.112-113 of The Birth of Tragedy [1872]: section 18).

[iii] From Goethe’s poem Generalbeichte, in his work: Gesellige Lieder [1802]: “Uns vom Halben zu entwöhnen, / Und im Ganzen, Guten, Schönen, / Resolut zu leben”.

[iv] KGW IV 3: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches II: 1.Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche, §225. (S.116).

[v] KGW IV 2: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches I: 5. Anzeichen höherer und niederer Cultur, §251. (S.212, 19; S.213, 8-13).

[vi] Voltaire Philosophical letters. About the Parliament. 8th Letter. (Internet’s original French version: http://abu.cnam.fr/BIB/).

[vii] KGW IV 3: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches II: 1.Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche, §226. (S.116-117, 19-28).

[viii] Karl Schlechta Le cas Nietzsche. «L’oeuvre et son intention», p.27. (Der Fall Nietzsche, 1958; traduit de l’allemand par André Coeuroy). Gallimard 1960.

[ix] Sigmund Freud The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Translated from the German under the General Editorship of James Strachey. In Collaboration with Anna Freud. Volume XXI: (1927-1931): Civilization and its Discontents, II, p.74. London: The Hogarth Press, 1961.

[x] KGW IV 2: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches I: 8. Ein Blick auf den Staat, §472 (S.312, 6-11).

[xi] Nicolo Machiavelli The Prince. XXI: How a prince should conduct himself as to gain renown.

[xii] KGW IV 2: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches I: 8. Ein Blick auf den Staat, §475 (S.319, 4-5; S.319-320, 30-1; S.320, 4-5 & 8-12; S.320-321, 34-5). Cf. Jenseits von Gut und Böse, §250 and 251, but Cf. also §195.

[xiii] Cf. Jenseits von Gut und Böse, §1 y 10.

[xiv] KGW V 2: Die fröliche Wissenchaft: Fünftes Buch: Wir Furchtlosen: §347.

[xv] Ibid. §355.

[xvi] Albert Camus L’homme révolté (1951). II. La révolte métaphysique: Nietzsche et le nihilisme. Gallimard, 1977, pp.87-88.

[xvii] Unamuno, Op.cit. in the first note, pp.44-45.

[xviii] Ibid.p.35.

[xix] Ibid.p.41.

[xx] KSA 1: Die Geburt der Tragödie, 3, (S.35, 12-24). English translation by Walter Kaufmann, Op.cit. in the second note.

[xxi] Unamuno Op.cit. p.36.

[xxii] Ibid.p.48.

[xxiii] KSA 1: Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben, 9. (S.319, 13-19). English translation by R.J.Hollingdale. Friedrich Nietzsche On the uses & disadvantages of history for life [1874]: section 9. Cambridge University Press, 1983, p.112.

[xxiv] KGW VI 1: Also sprach Zarathustra I. Die Reden Zarathustra’s. Vom Wege des Schaffenden. (S.79, 36-37): “Ich libe den, der über sich selber hinaus schaffen will und so zugrunde geht”.

[xxv] KGW VI 3: Der Antichrist 3, (S.168, 18-25).

[xxvi] William Shakespeare The Complete Works. Gramercy Books. London 1990; Macbeth, Act V, Scene V.

[xxvii] KGW V 2: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, 5: Wir Furchtlosen, §343. (S.255, 3-6; 15-20; S.256, 16-18).

[xxviii] KGW VI 1: Also sprach Zarathustra I: Zarathustra’s Vorrede, 2. (S.8, 5-7): “Sollte es denn möglich sein! Dieser alte Heilige hat in seinem Walde noch Nichts davon gehört, dass Gott todt ist!”.

[xxix] KGW VI 1: Also sprach Zarathustra I: Zarathustra’s Vorrede, 3. (S.5, 29): “Der Übermensch ist der Sinn der Erde”.

 

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