Acton Institute Powerblog

Tweeting the abyss: Explaining Nietzsche in 140 characters (or less)

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While trying to teach the most consequential thoughts of West civilization to undergraduates, C. Ivan Spencer hit upon a unique idea: What if they were written in tweets instead of tomes?

That’s the kernel of his book Tweetable Nietzsche: His Essential Ideas Revealed and Explained. Somehow, the idea that the callously exploitative philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche could be mass-marketed so easily makes it all the more unsettling.

Spencer’s book is reviewed this weekend by Josh Herring, a humanities instructor at Thales Academy, at the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website.

“Spencer begins with Nietzsche’s most famous thought: ‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him,’” Herring writes. “From this foundation flow all of Nietzsche’s considerations.”

The first of Nietzsche’s insights is that, without God, all truth is relative. Herring recounts elements of Nietzsche’s Victorian-era philosophy, which sound startlingly contemporary:

He argued for perspectivism, meaning that a truth-claim is nothing more than the perspective of the speaker. Without God’s existence, without anything existing transcendentally, truth is nothing more than a perspective to be compared with other perspectives. One must exercise his “will to power” and select the perspective that best suits him as an egoistic individual.

Moral relativism is the core of postmodernism, which has held the West in thrall for a generation. However, the West longs to preserve the emotional qualities of the values associated with Christianity – empathy, compassion, gentleness – without its moral (particularly its sexual) constraints. Thus, EU politicians speak endlessly of “European values” or “Western values” which, if they have a basis in the West’s history, omit vital elements of its historic creed to unduly magnify (or invert) others. The EU has reduced these values to political undertakings best exemplified by welfare state programs, environmentalism, and various forms of identity politics.

Nietzsche was too consistent, too honest, to advocate any form of warmed-over Christianity. His philosophy would strip away all the intellectual furnishings of Western piety and reinvent the concept of values de novo, from the ground up.

Neitzsche submitted his own idea of the verities that should replace the Judeo-Christian consensus – an ethic of superiority, contempt, and brutality that seeks to impose its will upon those deemed inferior:

The “overman” is the one who has rejected the outdated morality shaped by the Judeo-Christian heritage; such a one will ascend to a position where he lives “beyond good and evil.” Nietzsche sees the overman as the eventual evolutionary leap mankind will make, and he leaves open the possibility that individual overmen will arise along the way.

Humans are not to act in accordance with “good” or “evil,” because such concepts only exist in comparison with the non-existent God. Instead, people have will and must “will to power.” Nietzsche does not clearly explain this doctrine but implies that is the exercise of will by each individual to seek his own benefit. This egoistic principle forms the core of Nietzschean ethics.

Nationalism, imperialism, and militarism flow naturally from this outlook. At least one version of Nietzsche’s ethics influenced the Third Reich, and now inspires the Alt-Right. Applied to business, Nietzsche would exalt plunder over commerce, and deceit over fulfilling contracts. Confrontation would replace cooperation in every facet of society. His philosophy shows how far the West’s historic values can be reversed if rejecting God is carried out to its logical conclusion.

Spencer’s book shows with frightening clarity that the core concepts of this ethical devolution can be conveyed in easily digestible bits, 140 characters at a time.

Read Josh Herring’s full review here.

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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