Yes, Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher of “der Ubermensch,” the Superman, and the famous quote, “God is dead,” is not very smart. Of course, that’s probably because he’s been dead since 1900. It is a little difficult to think once you are no longer alive and your brain has turned to stinky muck in your coffin under the ground. And you cannot hope to defend your recorded intelligence in the written works you have left behind if you are totally dead and unaware of how people may be misinterpreting your ideas.
Crazy Fred was born in 1844. He was multi-talented, being a philosopher, poet, musical composer, and a writer of fiction. He was something of a genius for a while. At the age of 24 he became the youngest person ever to hold the prestigious Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, His radical philosophy created a critique of truth that leaned in favor of perspectivism. And as he continued down paths of making ironic aphorisms and exercising his wits to wander into thinking that life is meaningless and the roots of nihilism, he more or less stumbled into the view of his philosophy that there was no hope for the future but the improvement of the self.
I think it could be argued that Crazy Fred did indeed become a monster with the abyss staring back at him. At the age of 44 he had a complete mental breakdown. After that, for the remaining 11 years of his life, he had to be cared for by his mother… until she died in 1897, and then by his sister Elizabeth until he died in 1900. If street stories are to be believed, he escaped from his home, found a horse being beaten by its owner, stepped in to save the horse from the beating, then turned to the horse, hugged its neck, and died.
His writings were inherited by his sister Elizabeth. And she was an ultra-nationalist. Under her management, his writings were edited to fit her agenda for a new Germany, and so his ideas were credited with founding the Nazi movement and the quest for Aryan superiority… eugenics and genocide were to follow.
Ironically, Crazy Fred was radically opposed to anti-Semitism and most of the ideas that Hitler and the Nazis would give him credit for.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good things in Crazy Fred’s philosophical teachings that make him worth reading and studying. He identified two distinct forms of thought that operate in culture. He called them Apollonian and Dionysian styles of thinking. Apollonian is associated with the sun god Apollo, rationalism, logic, order, and clarity. Dionysian is associated with the god of wine and sensuality, Dionysius, emotionality, chaos, intuition, and obscurity. These cultural definitions are very useful for understanding human behavior.
But Crazy Fred is controversial to this day. I am not the only one that thinks he’s a coocoo bird and wrong about a lot of things. And, yet, his work led to very good things as well as the questionable. Much of the philosophy of the 1960’s owes its progress to him, from the Apollonian Bertrand Russel to the Dionysian Albert Camus.
Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”
Clearly, I believe I myself am proof that Crazy Fred was wrong about that one. After six incurable diseases, surviving skin cancer, and making it most of the way through the Covid Pandemic alive, an awful lot of things didn’t kill me so far. By rights, if what Fred said is true, then I should be stronger than Superman. X-ray vision and the power of flight too. You can tell by the picture that if I am like Superman, then I have seen entirely too much Kryptonite up close.