He was born on October 15th, 1844, into the family of a village pastor not far from the city of Leipzig (it was the Prussian Kingdom’s province then).
In his early childhood, Fritz went through a double tragedy. In 1849, his father died after months of madness and exhausting suffering. And Fritz’s brother died a year later. After that, the family moved to Naumburg, where the philosopher-to-be attended preschool classes, then a gymnasium. He studied to play the piano and displayed a gift for poetry.
In 1858 Fritz was admitted to the prestigious boarding school Pforta, which another philosopher, J. G. Fichte, had earlier attended. There, Nietzsche read a great deal and kept a diary. Also at that time, he familiarized himself with antique literature. Among his favourite contemporary authors were Schiller, Byron, and Hölderlin. Fritz himself wrote poetry, composed music and even dreamed of becoming a musician. Together with his friends, he founded the music and literary club “Germania”. Soon his first articles appeared – “Fate and history”, “The freedom of will and fate”, and “On Christianity”. Also at about that time, severe headaches started tormenting him, which turned out to be the manifestation of a serious and progressing disease.
In 1864, Nietzsche finished Pforta and entered the University of Bonn, the faculties of theology and philology. But, half a year later, he moved to Leipzig, where he studied at the faculty of philology at the University of Leipzig. Nietzsche’s “inconstancy” is said to have been due to his renunciation of the Christian faith, in which he had been brought up. It is also said that this renunciation occurred to a large extent owing to his perusal of the book “The Life of Jesus” by David F. Strauss. Incidentally, Nietzsche himself had earlier written that “historical science has shown the groundlessness of the Christian religious doctrine”.
What naïve (or, rather, primitive) ideas of God one should have, so as to be tempted of Him under the influence of whatever research, be it thrice scientific! However hard Nietzsche tried to distance himself from the crowd, he turned out to be an easy pray of scientific propaganda. Similarly, in 20th century atheists used Man’s flight into outer space to suit their own ends, saying “he flew and did not see”. It must be said, though, that the renunciation of the conventional faith and the faith in Nature, winning one over by its “clearness”, is a logical stage in gaining absolute knowledge.
During his university years, Nietzsche familiarized himself with A. Schopenhauer’s philosophical teaching and became its passionate follower. At about that time, Nietzsche met the composer R. Wagner, who also was Schopenhauer’s adherent. Besides, Nietzsche continued his musical studies, where R. Schumann became one of his idols. Gradually, he deviated from philology proper and more and more devoted himself to philosophy. The work submitted by him for graduating from the University of Leipzig was titled “De fontibus Diogenus Laerti” (On the sources of Diogenus Laertius).
In 1869, at the age of 24, Nietzsche became professor of philology and ancient Greek at the University of Basel (Switzerland).
In 1872, the first book by Nietzsche came out named “The birth of tragedy from the spirit of music”. In it, the idea is being advanced that the world is underlain by a certain impetuous primordial Force, the “Might of Life”, personified by the ancient Greek god Dionysus. As soon as man appears, he tries to escape from this unchecked orgy by inventing him a fairy-tale, a harmonious outside world. In this way, the second
Principle of the World is formed, which is personified by another ancient Greek god, Apollo. Nietzsche compares the first, “natural” Principle, to intoxication, and the second, “artificial” Principle, to a “dream”. In the end, Nietzsche’s “true man” appears as a “bearded satyr jubilating in front of the sacred image of Dionysus”.
Out of those two Principles, according to Nietzsche, there arise two art forms – plastic arts represent the Apollonian Principle, whereas non-plastic ones (above all, music) are most successful in representing the Dionisyan Principle.
In ancient Greece, Nietzsche argues, the equilibrium of those two Principles had been reached, which, in particular, expressed itself in the rise of the genre of Greek tragedy. But starting from the time of Socrates, this balance was upset, and, as Nietzsche puts it, the era of “perversion and disgrace” began. World history followed this Greek along the path of theoretical and epistemiological optimism, having made the yearning for knowledge the main, if not the only, predestination of man. Mind destroyed the beautiful Greek myth, the insanity of inspiration. A belief emerged that thinking can penetrate into the deepest abysses of being and not only cognize, but even “improve” the latter.
Nevertheless, Nietzsche believed in the possibility of a rebirth of the Dionysian Principle that had long been driven underground in European culture. In the process, according to Nietzsche, as the Apollonian, “elucidating” Principle, German mythology and music might well come forward, first of all, music by his friend and like-minded person Richard Wagner.
The book caused a row in the then humanitarian community. Critics referred to Nietzsche as a “disgrace to Pforta”, saying that in light of his prophetic, soothsaying, exaggerated and historically uninformed style of writing, Nietzsche should instead “gather tigers and panthers about his knees, but not the youth of Germany”.
In essence, Nietzsche’s ideas go back to the philosophical notions of Cosmic Soul, the “medial”, vivifying Principle of Nature that unconsciously ties It together into a single organism. This “psychic” Reality comes out here as the only genuine substance of the World. It is thought of as a living Being having feelings, yearnings, and representations. Not long before Nietzsche, the doctrine of Cosmic Soul had been given a proper workout in the philosophy of F. W. J. Schelling.
Ultimately, Cosmic Soul is an instinctively acting and creating Agent. It is the independent substance of Nature, and It is supposed to be able to do without any self-reliant conscious Principle above It. To put it another way, Mind is sure to be implied given such an approach. But here It appears rather as a kind of “appendage”. Anyway, Cosmic Soul will flee from any “excessive” rationality. It finds Its fullest expression not in religion or philosophy, but in art.
Besides, recognition of the primacy of Soul in Nature translates into the apology of self-will, arbitrariness, and, in the end, animality in Human. In reality, however, it is Mind that crowns Life, so it is precisely rationality that should be regarded as the basic human virtue. Certainly, animality has nowhere to escape. It does persist in Human, and it is still there. But Human should hardly persevere in His animality, neither should He flaunt it. His task should rather be to preserve and augment His rationality.
“Cosmic Soul”, or “Life”, represents an already incorporeal, but still irrational entity. In the meantime, “life” is a necessary, but insufficient condition for a full-fledged human existence, as well as that of the entire Universe. In this sense, Nietzsche’s teaching appears as a spontaneous protest of the animal Soul against the necessity of becoming Human. Of course, Nietzsche himself took great pains to become human. He had already got the feel of being a “camel”, “lion”, and “child”. And yet, that proved not enough.
In 1873, at the age of 29, Nietzsche stopped composing music, after having been criticized by the pianist H. von Bülow and R. Wagner. By the way, friendship with the latter was over in 1878, after Nietzsche became keen on the ideas of the French Enlightenment and realized that, apart from the German nation, there were others, no less bright as to the manifestation of the primordial “Vital Force”.
In 1879, at the age of 34, Nietzsche abandoned lecturing and started his wandering across Europe. Commonly, he would spend winters in France, and summers, in Switzerland. During this period of time, he wrote his most emblematic works, including “Thus spoke Zarathustra”. Nietzsche’s meditations acquired pronounced social acuteness. He concentrated on criticizing the Judeo-Christian civilization and also composed his myth of the upcoming “Superman”.
Nietzsche’s myth of the “Superman” is a dream of a certain brotherhood of creative, congenial souls, “creative nobility”, who are commonly forced to bow down to mediocrities and obey their laws. It is a yearning for the “splendid blond beast, prowling about avidly in search of spoil and victory”, – the militant protector and savior of all uncommon personalities, – who will come in, restore “justice”, and deal shortly with this entire brazen mob. In fact, Nietzsche assigns his “Superman” the role of the Messiah of the Bible. Perhaps, it is not without reason that G. V. Plekhanov called him a “cultured person flown off the handle”.
One cannot but mention the “Russian trace” in the German philosopher’s fate. In 1882, when he was in Rome, he met the only woman to whom he proposed marriage. She was a certain Luiza Gustavovna Salomé, daughter of a Russian army general, born in St. Petersburg. At the time of her meeting with the German philosopher, she was a 21-year-old student at the University of Zurich. However, she declined his proposal, but preserved amicable relations with him for quite a while.
Generally speaking, Nietzsche, unlike some of his “followers”, was not at all inclined to nationalism. On the contrary, he would not miss a chance to stress his Polish descent. Moreover, he was convinced that the Germans needed to have closer relations with Russia and that history would ask for a “new joint programme” of the German and Slavic races.
In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown. Nearly up until his death that happened on 25th of August 1900, he was at his home in Naumburg, looked after by his mother, then by his sister.
In the last works written by Nietzsche, a need for social reorganization is heavily discussed. Here, his ideas appear to become aligned with philosophical materialism, with the doctrine of the class structure of human society, and even with that of class struggle. Yet, his train of thought is quite different. Surely, people are not equal. And, ideally, the more advanced a person is, the more freedom he should enjoy, and the higher social position he should occupy. Therefore, – Nietzsche infers, – the most natural and beneficial for culture social system is a slaveholding system, where the rule of the nobles is ensured.
Nietzsche’s teaching seems to be something that should not be taken literally, but rather as a cry from a lonely and forsaken heart, as a fairy-tale that does not claim to come true. And yet, it is far from innocuous. This philosopher came out as a mouth-piece of Cosmic Soul, which was one of the Components of a triune Nature and, thereby woke It and urged It to embody Itself. What had once been groped after by Schelling, taken up by Schopenhauer and Dostoyevsky, reached theoretical completion with Nietzsche.
Nature’s Soul is supposed to occupy the intermediate position between Element and Mind. Its mysteriousness and “uncertainty”, Its bias towards art has always attracted romanticists of every stripe. And yet, despite Its attractiveness, one had better not to yield to It. The romantic veil will go off, and Cosmic Soul will appear in all Its squalor, as a hotbed of willfulness and the triumph of animality. Such an “awakening” is fraught with grave consequences. As is the case with Nature’s Mind (philosophical idealism), and Nature’s Body (philosophical materialism), the exaltation of Nature’s soul is also fraught with the emergence of a mass religious cult, the deification of an individual person, with a lot of praise and sacrifices ensuing. Hitler became the World Soul’s incarnate, and Nietzsche did his best for this to happen. It was not by chance that German soldiers would carry in their knapsacks his “Zarathustra”.