Spirituality for Today – October 2012 – Volume 17, Issue 3

The Nietzsche Virus

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

What do you give an infamous dictator for his birthday? A personal set of the works of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) would be the perfect gift. At least, Adolph Hitler believed that the works of Nietzsche would be the ideal gift for his friend and fellow dictator, Benito Mussolini on his 60th birthday. They caught the virus of the "Death of God" philosopher who spoke of the Ubermensch, the Superman; the philosopher who advocated the idea of the "master race" and the highest law of the "will to power."

A photo Friedrich NietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche

The virus struck Kahlil Gibran whose 1924 bestseller, The Prophet, applied the self-worship of Nietzsche and the liberated consciousness of a self-made morality. Gibran's Prophet proclaims that "you are good when you are one with yourself." You almost can hear, "I've got to be me." One can envision the specter of the blind maniac rejecting all criticism and dismissing all moral principles that would oppose his own thoughts. It does not take a rocket scientist to recognize the terrifying implications of rubber stamping your unexamined, unchallenged thoughts and actions as "good" because you are "one with yourself."

In 1925, the 14 year old Bobby Franks of Chicago was killed – just for the fun of it. In a horrific manner, Nietzsche infected two brilliant University of Chicago students, Nathan F. Leopold, Jr. and Richard Loeb, who decided one day that they wanted to know what the experience of killing someone was like. In what was called the "trial of the century," the renowned lawyer, Clarence Darrow defended them. He claimed that the boys were under the delusion that they were Nietzschean supermen and they killed the young boy "not for money, not for spite, not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience." Avoiding a trial by jury, he had the young men plead guilty. He told the judge that the influence of Nietzsche who advocated a strong "criticism of all moral codes as the world understands them; a treatise holding that the intelligent man is beyond good and evil; that the laws for good and the laws for evil do not apply to those who approach the superman." Thus, we have elitism at its ugliest.

Many American liberals were taken by the Nietzsche virus despite the fact that Nietzsche was terrified that American democracy would dominate the whole world. In 1908, H. L. Mencken wrote The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. "Mencken popularized a Nietzsche with a searing intellect and ruthless wit, armed with an unapologetically differentiated view of human nature and guided only by the gospel of 'prudent and intelligent selfishness, of absolute and utter individualism.' Mencken's Nietzsche was indifferent to the weepy resentment of the Christian-minded and racially inferior 'under-dogs' in American life."

Much of the material above is taken from the article, My Own Private Nietzsche: An American Story by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, The Wilson Quarterly.

There you have it; a "mad genius" who spoke to the greatest killers of the twentieth century. One only can wonder who will take up his standard in the twenty-first century. His appeal will be present to all the modern day supermen and his "might makes right" morality fits the mind of the secular world.

Arise, O champions of Christ. Declare the worthiness of all God's children to live. Let there be knights of valor and goodness who challenge the world to measure themselves against the gospel and the law of Christ. Men and women of this age would do well to ponder the words of Napoleon: "Alexander, Caesar, and I established kingdoms. Ours were based upon power. Jesus Christ established his kingdom upon love. And today, millions would gladly die for him." The essential difference is the belief in God and the love that that belief engenders in the believer.