by Denyse O'Leary
Nietzsche is widely reviled as the philosopher of the Nazis, and he certainly spelled out his views in no uncertain terms in Beyond Good and Evil. As Wiker puts it,
Nietzsche's view was that the utilitarians made mediocrity into a morality, a mediocrity aimed at the most animal-like, herd-like type of existence, a kind of "slave" morality that cared only for comfort and trivial pleasures and shrank from every harsh demand. But this goes against all that has, in the past, made man great, and so the trend must be reversed. There must be a revolution against the democratic, utilitarian spirit, the spirit that equalizes everything, thereby extinguishing the notion of greatness itself ... (P. 105)Essentially, Nietzsche agreed with Darwin that war was the source of evolutionary development (p. 106):
The similarities between Darwin's account and Nietzsche's are obvious: all rising above the merely animal is caused by struggle, war, and the brutal elimination of the less fit by the stronger. Nietzsche believed this to be the core natural truth of aristocracy - that the better should rule over, and hence should use, the lesser. "The essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy" is that it "accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, musts be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments."Wiker notes one difference between Darwin's account of human nature and Nietzsche's - Darwin was trying to account for why people felt sympathy for others' suffering, but Nietzsche saw this sympathy as a destructive development.
So, to Nietzsche, if Darwin was right, exploitation and destruction of weaker peoples were both inevitable and correct responses to historical circumstances. They were what Nietzsche famously called the "will to power". (p. 108) Darwin's effort to discover why people did not always carry out such acts was, on Nietzsche's view, a waste of time.
While Nietzsche's views were generally discredited following World War II, when the Holocaust became general knowledge, to this day, evolutionary psychologists go to a great deal of trouble to explain away "altruism" - a tendency to favour the other party in a transaction instead of oneself - as somehow helping one's own selfish genes.
All such views are, of course, based on genetic determinism - the view that a human being is controlled by genes and that the mind is an illusion created by the buzz of our neurons, guided by genes. Thus a person cannot simply develop an independent idea - based on personal observations (whether correct or erroneous, whether beneficial or harmful to himself) - about how to live. This view is still very current in the popular science press.
Next: Ten Worst Books 5: V. I. Lenin's The State and Revolution (1917)
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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