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Christ and Nietzsche: Toward Reconciliation

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Christ & Nietzsche: Toward Reconciliation

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is the associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

The Resonance of Opposites

Reconciliation between Christ and Nietzsche? — an impossibility! Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the German philologist, philosopher, bourgeois provocateur and prophet of power is noted in the popular mind for his pronouncement “God is dead!” and for his attacks on Christianity and other ideological emanations of what he called “slave morality.” His doctrines of the Übermensch and the “Will to Power” seem far from any application of Christian ethics. He wrote a book called The Antichrist (referring to himself) that sought the permanent dismantling of Christian belief and influence in European culture. What reconciliation can there be for one so openly of the devil’s party? And more to the point, why should we try to reconcile him with his so dearly flaunted enemy? The answer has nothing to do with mere intellectual curiosity. The fact is that Nietzsche is an interminable lotus for all seekers of power in the modern world. He haunts with a resonance for our times that can be subsumed but not denied. A partial reconciliation of Christ and Nietzsche is of imminent strategic necessity for the political fates of the United States and the Western world. To those attuned to emerging online political trends, this statement is plausible. But to many of you, it’s a shocking and doubtful assertion. A reconciliation is pressing because there is a rising intellectual cohort of young, dissident right-wingers essentially Nietzschean in thought and intended praxis. They have considerable and expanding influence (though as yet, largely online and politically inconsequential). The intellectual energy on the political Right is with them. Some of them would claim the oxymoronic epithet of “Nietzschean Christians.” Others are out-and-proud pagans. Whatever they call themselves, the people they wish to raise up in this country are Christians. Is a quasi-Nietzschean intellectual Right compatible with a Christian popular Right? The answer is yes, with caveats. To say Yea to this unlikely and necessary coalition is the burden not of Christian-Americans but of the prospective dissident power elite. They must understand in what sense they can remain Nietzscheans and what they must be for the people. The first and greatest lesson of power is that the people possess the truth. Once the power-seeker knows and accepts this, he is free to be a Nietzschean in his mind and methods. I am being too obscure, but with this essay the reconciliation I intend will be clear. First, I’ll elucidate what Nietzsche thought and why he is indispensable. Then, I’ll explain how Christianity overcomes Nietzschean negations. Lastly, I’ll integrate what I’ve said with American politics.

Nietzsche, the Prophet of Modern Malaise

You can’t casually dismiss Nietzsche for being a “pagan” or a “blasphemer” because as a diagnoser of the dilemma of modern life he stands alone. The “malaise of modernity” has descended on everyone, even the strongest Christians, and if Nietzsche doesn’t have the cure he has the most thorough diagnosis and deepest comprehension of the symptoms. The modern Christian doesn’t resolve the provocation of Nietzsche by dismissal but by an appraisal of what he must use from Nietzsche without being taken in by the allures of unbelief. The elastic genius of Nietzsche is neither straightforward nor unintelligible, and any Christian who attempts to defeat him by mere contempt will always look foolish.

Nietzsche identified the problem of the modern world as a chaos of values and a general vulgarization of meaning. When he said “God is dead!” he meant that no one could take old values for granted. In the modern world, everyone is a philosopher, whether he wants to be or not, because everyone is forced to confront the void caused by a proliferation of competing, mutually negating, values. Modern secular ideologies of liberalism, Marxism, republicanism, constitutionalism, and individualism compete with the old values of tribalism, traditionalism, and hierarchicalism. In the highest matters, modern “spiritualism” competes with ancient ritual and religious dogmatism. Modern man (and, more tragically, modern woman) is cast into this morass and made to work it out as best they can. Such diffuse circumstances are breeding grounds for anxieties and personal crises of purpose. Man is unsettled because his values are unsettled. What is to be done? For Nietzsche, crises of meaning are always resolved by the creation of values. This creation might be a re-creation, depending on the strength of the resurrected value system. But not all value systems are equal. Some tend towards decadence and degeneration while others tend towards refinement and ascending life. Christianity, in the Nietzschean assessment, is the most formidable formulation of “decadent values,” and maintained its degenerating stranglehold on the West for eighteen hundred years. But the “secular values” of the modern world are no better. For Nietzsche, the utopian political visions of socialism, Communism and liberalism derive from the same veneration for the “sick, defective, and resentful” portion of mankind as Christianity. The closest value system to Nietzsche’s ideal was that of the ancient Athenians, who were “yea-sayers” to all things beautiful, healthy, and vital.1 Nietzsche admired also Renaissance Italy, superabundant in beauty and brutality, and bemoaned the treachery of his countryman Martin Luther in reanimating Christianity through the Reformation.

Nietzsche’s Doctrines

Nietzsche divides value systems into “slave” and “master” moralities. The Jews were the first people to advance a “slave morality” that exalted the oppressed and downtrodden and not the happy, powerful, and victorious. But they kept it within the bounds of ethnic idiosyncrasy. Christianity proliferated this value system when it became a universal religion, and “infected” the mass of the population. The “chaos of values” in the modern world is the opportunity to reject slave morality and return to the healthy “master morality” of pre-Christian Europeans. Nietzsche says:

“The slave wants the unconditional; he understands only what is tyrannical in morals; he loves as he hates, without nuance, to the depths, to the point of pain, of sickness — his abundant concealed suffering is enraged against the noble taste that seems to deny suffering.2

The mark of the slave is that he resents life, and learns also to resent those who enjoy life. “Good” and “evil” are, to slaves, avenging monikers that seek to deprecate privilege, power, and contentment. “Good” in slave morality is whatever is humble, meek, and unambitious while “evil” is the proud, strong, and willful. Life is, at first, a matter of survival, and then a matter of satisfaction. Since power is the means of both survival and satisfaction, the Will to Live is the Will to Power. The man who attains power inspires either fear and envy or admiration and emulation. Nietzsche says:

“According to slave morality, those who are “evil” inspire fear; according to master morality it is precisely those who are “good” that inspire, and wish to inspire, fear, while the “bad” are felt to be contemptible.3

Christianity is “the denial of the Will to Live” because of its professed hatred of the world, its imminent desire for a better, and its condemnation and distrust of all temporal power. It is for Nietzsche the crystallization of the slavish view of life, and unforgivably, it lies to life:

“Christianity in particular should be dubbed a great treasure-chamber of ingenious consolations — such a store of refreshing, soothing, deadening drugs has it accumulated within itself; so many of the most dangerous and daring expedients has it hazarded; with such subtlety, refinement, Oriental refinement, has it divined what emotional stimulants can conquer, at any rate for a time, the deep depression, the leaden fatigue, the black melancholy of physiological cripples.”4

You could question the idea that Christianity represents such escapism. Ultimately, it’s a matter of individual practice. Look to the oceans of martyrs’ blood to dispense with the idea that Christianity is always personally consolatory. But that’s not exactly what Nietzsche means when he refers to Christianity’s narcotic effect. For Nietzsche, the impulse to martyrdom may be an exercise of Will beyond the banality of the ordinary “believer,” but it’s an exercise of Will against life. A martyr believes so strongly in his convictions that he suffers and dies for them. But all convictions are denials of life because they flee from the open pastures of the mind and its infinite capacity for inquiry. The “higher man” must be a skeptic and he must question all values and beliefs. This doctrine is crucial to understanding the uses (and limits) of Nietzsche:

“The great man is necessarily a skeptic (I do not mean to say by this that he must appear to be one), provided that greatness consists in this: to will something great, together with the means thereto. Freedom from any kind of conviction is a factor in the strength of Will. And thus, it is in keeping with the enlightened form of despotism which every great passion exercises. Such a passion enlists intellect in its service; it even has the courage for unholy means; it creates without hesitation; it allows itself convictions, it even uses them, but it never submits to them. The need of faith and of anything unconditionally negative or affirmative is a proof of weakness; all weakness is a weakness of Will.5

The doctrine presents a paradox because isn’t the devotion to the Will a kind of conviction? Nietzsche answers yes, and emphasizes how hard it is for a man to forge new values only on the basis of himself, his actions and his thoughts. Here is the blueprint for Übermensch. The Übermensch has attained the strength to negate all the interpretations of life that have preceded him; he confronts the chaos at the heart of conscious experience. He sees the uninterpretability of life. His Will becomes his God and his law. He is even beyond questioning whether his Will is truly his own, for it is an act of Will to claim the event of the thought.6 Nietzsche’s Übermensch Zarathustra is esoteric. He says his sayings are for the few and it’s hard to be sure that you’re meant for them. But here we arrive at the paradox at the heart of Nietzsche’s vision. The creation of values is the business of the solitary mind, but it’s clearly not for himself alone that the Übermensch forges them. Zarathustra gathers the strength to be a creator of values on the solitude of a mountain-top and then he comes down. Why must Zarathustra come down?

Truth vs. Resonance

Though an open despiser of the trends of modernism, Nietzsche was in the crucial sense a modernist. He was a relativist. Nietzsche declared that the truth of the world was uncertainty. His doctrine was the eternal recurrence, the idea that all values and ideas are cyclical and that the generations of the minds of men are unending mirrors. The “higher men” are questers for truth in the sense that they are embracers of uncertainty; they prefer the Will over inherited values because at least the bearer of the Will lives. The values of the Übermensch are no more sustaining than other values, but the living Will of the Übermensch has precedence over dead creators of any previous values. Nietzsche said he wasn’t a nihilist. But his words are for the few because most men attempting to follow him would succumb to nihilism. Here he is speaking on the “truth”:

“Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the truth one could still barely endure — or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.7

This is the dogma of the skeptic, that truth is found only in the courage of sustained contradictions. The fearless pursuit of truth is for Nietzsche ultimately a matter of suffering and endurance. Such a life is too severe for the masses, and so Nietzsche denies that his philosophy is applicable to them. But the paradox I spoke of above remains. Why should a man seek to create new values? Because value creation is the great evidence of his vitality? Is it only for himself that a man creates new values? That cannot be, for as we observe, Zarathustra comes down. Why should Zarathustra come down if not to give something to the masses? And what does Zarathustra give if he cannot give the truth?

Against “truth” we might set resonance or meaning as the fundamental property of life. The common man doesn’t seek “truth” if that means a remorseless quest of skeptical inquiry. What the common man seeks is resonance, and he finds it in one dogma or another. This dogma gives an absolute and not relative justification for the values which he seeks to live by. The common man ceases questioning when he has found resonance, for to him, resonance is truth. He asks with great dignity: What else can truth be but what is supremely meaningful? If Nietzsche demands that everyone attempt to become Zarathustra then he is no better than the Marxists or the liberals who seek to displace native meanings with impositions of ideology. What vitality is there in a life where everyone is compelled to be Socrates? Zarathustra comes down because he has gotten much too little from “truth,” and requires for himself the resonance which the people found long before him. For the man who has plumbed the skeptical depths, the bar for resonance is higher, and needs power to make it really glow. Zarathustra needs the people and he needs his created values to be resonant for the people, else he is left holding the ragged skin of “skeptical truth” and the crush of his own mortality. A man can live and die without “truth,” but he cannot live, and dares not die, without meaning. And so, the journey of the philosopher ends with the wisdom of the people: Truth is meaning in life, and only death, not mind, is the arbiter of dogmas. Nietzsche knew this, if not for himself, then for Zarathustra. For Nietzsche did not come down, but he knew that Zarathustra, and all who would emulate him, would have to. He probably didn’t like that this was so. Here, at last, Nietzsche was a resenter.

Christianity in the Modern World

The agon between Christ and Nietzsche is whether there is an absolute system of values. When Jesus said “the kingdom of God comes not with observation”8 he meant skeptical inquiry also. The observation of the world can only dilute the values that are already native to the heart. Jesus conveyed that humans possess native meaning that is resonant with the eternal values of God. Man’s freedom means that he can ignore this native meaning through sin, but as the image of God he cannot deny that it’s there. Values don’t really change at all because man’s native resonance is unchanging. Maybe a Jew would say that Christianity was a Nietzschean overthrow of old values, but this isn’t how Christianity understands itself. Christ came to “fulfill the law and the prophets”9 and brought the remedy of grace for the malady of sin. Grace was always the destination of the law, not the refutation. Nietzsche and other modernists did not believe in native meaning because modern man is not at his core an ethical being. He is material, biological, psychological, chemical or whatever. But if even Zarathustra is defeated by the need for resonance, then Christ is right to insist that it’s there in the heart. It’s there not just for the common men, who don’t have to think twice about it, but for the “higher men” also, who might require a long “commodius vicus of recirculation”10 to come by it. If the Will to Meaning always triumphs over the Will to Truth, then resonance becomes truth. And the greatest resonance is Christ.

But, as Nietzsche said, a man (or a skeptic) might perish of the truth. If the resonance of the gospel is truth then it doesn’t follow that this truth is ideal. Whether Christianity is “slave morality” or not has no bearing on whether it is true; it only means that slaves are right. Nietzsche accused Christianity of weakness, cowardice, passivity, resentment, and impotent hatred of healthiness. The modern practice of Christianity was a “practical pessimism which produces a horrific ethic of genocide from compassion.”11 But the rebuttal to the idea of Christianity as slave morality is the historic greatness of the West. Christianity was the dominant ethic of the sublime culture of Christian Europe. Civilization in the highest sense is the legacy of the gospel. Nietzsche was mistaken to hate Christianity itself, but he was right to deplore its modern practice. Christianity in the modern world, for both Nietzsche’s time and ours, is weak. This weakness is a consequence of a long rout from an offensive that began with the Enlightenment and continues mercilessly to the present. The long retreat follows the slow removal of Christianity from its dominant position of communal resonance in the West to the realm of total subordination to banal political creeds.12 This is the reason why so many young intellectuals on the Right are embracing Nietzsche and the ethos of Greek paganism. Modern Christianity is cowed, and it’s a question if it can really be a fosterer of political reclamation for the peoples of the West. I say it can, but first we have to understand the nature of the dilemma.

Different issues are in play for the various Christian manifestations. The mainline Protestant churches are captives of globalist regime ideology and lost for the foreseeable future. The Catholic church remains what it always has been, a hybrid of possible application. You can be a stalwart traditionalist or a globalist and find what you want in Catholicism. We can only hope that with the twilight of liberal globalism the catechism is not much altered. There remains in America the wide phenomenon of evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is the dominant religious expression of the Christian-American heartland. The values of evangelicalism are deeply conservative and patriotic, and the evangelical population is the core of any right-wing political base in America. Yet even evangelical Christianity has its weaknesses that prevent it from advancing a strong politics of Christian culture and European-American peoplehood. Evangelicals are audacious in hopes, but not in acts. Much of evangelical practice is overly feminized, and encourages the withdrawal from political society and not its reclamation. The question is whether evangelicals can become a sufficiently active electorate before the globalist desecration of the United States is too deep to salvage. Young white men, who have no incentive to buy into a society in which they are the principal enemy, are in many cases wary of evangelicalism because of its perceived catering to establishment liberalism and the hesitancy of its leaders to call for social reforms like changes to divorce law. There is also the problem of End Times theology. Many evangelicals believe that the parousia is imminent and that only Christ’s return can destroy the power of a globalist Satanic elite. This induces a certain passivity in political matters and, at worst, a warped satisfaction in continued degeneration as evidence of the Last Days.13 The aims of the intellectual Right, to save Western civilization and its prosperity, merge with the deepest concerns of evangelicals in a proud assertion of American nationalism, but the pagan whiff of some young right-wing intellectuals has no resonance in the heartland. Certainly, any right-wing political elite in this country must be profoundly Christian, but it’s worth asking if the religious expression of evangelicals can be nudged in a more muscular (Nietzschean!) direction.

I already said in refutation of Nietzsche that Christianity will never be “dead values.” It is much too resonant a force in the earth. Modern relativism can blunt the force of Christianity and deceive many, but it cannot shutter the evocative power of the gospel. What seems weak in the modern practice of Christianity is really the result of modern secular values encroaching on religious expression, not weaknesses fundamental to Christianity itself. This is obvious in the case of “left-wing Christianity” which is just a parrot for regime ideology, but it’s true also for conservative evangelicalism. Evangelicals are defensive and unassertive, and the unapologetic dogmatism of liberalism has destroyed the communal power of Christianity in the West. The most tragic case is Europe, which has become a barren wilderness of “enlightened” agnostics and empty cathedrals. But even in America, where professed Christianity is strong, believers are largely content to fall back on weak assertions of “individual” belief. The result is that the “religion” of liberal globalism reigns supreme in American institutions. Look at public education which is an unabashed engine for indoctrination of regime ideologies. American Christians responded to being shut out of the public schools by encouraging homeschooling and made no attempt to take back institutional influence. It’s clear in this dire hour that Christians need to develop the Will to Power and assert their values in the culture as unashamedly as the globalists do. Nietzsche may be an enemy of Christ, but his methods, wielded in the service of Christian culture, are not. You’re worthy of power in this world only if you’re devoted to the defense of the dignity of common life and the protection of the native meaning of the people. Here is Christ’s Will to Power.

Notes

  1. Nietzsche liked the Athenians before Euripides and Socrates because he viewed them as degenerate influences on the purity of Athenian aesthetic imagination. After Socrates, Athenian culture was no longer young and unconscious, and no longer so beautiful.
  2. Beyond Good and Evil 46.
  3. Beyond Good and Evil 260.
  4. The Genealogy of Morals 17.
  5. The Will to Power 963.
  6. This is one step shorn from DesCartes’ famous Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). Descartes knew by thinking that it is I who think. But Nietzsche knows nothing about any ego. Your mind may be the playhouse for thoughts not your own, but borrowed being is being enough.
  7. Beyond Good and Evil 39.
  8. Luke 17:20.
  9. Matthew 5:17.
  10. See first sentence of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.
  11. The Birth of Tragedy 15.
  12. It’s not hard to find the gay rainbow flag draped over the walls of churches. This is the flag that represents the real religion of the current American regime.
  13. As many theologians have insisted, it’s a great sin to presume the parousia. Though the Last Days will come like a “thief in the night,” and a healthy sense of readiness is necessary, this doesn’t mean that a Christian should allow evil open dominion. This is understood by evangelicals in matters like abortion, where the right to life is defended rigorously from Satanic trends, but less so in matters of political society. No Christian should ever be passive or indifferent to living under a regime that is an enemy to Christ.     *
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