Friedrich Nietzsche

Ecce Homo and Nietzsche's Freedom

I haven't really read much Nietzsche.  I've read parts of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but that's about it.

Last week, I picked up Ecce Homo, Nietzsche's autobiography.  It's really short – under a hundred pages – so I thought it was worth perusing.  

In a sense, Nietzsche is the exact opposite of an author I would interact with on a site dedicated to contemplative spirituality.  He is one of the most well known "anti-God" authors in the last several hundred years.  He hates all things spiritual, all things moral, and all ideals.  Listen to some of these lines from his autobiography:

"I do not set up any new idols; may old idols only learn what it costs to have legs of clay.  To overthrow idols (idols is the name I give to all ideals) is much more like my business.  In proportion as an ideal world has been falsely assumed, reality has been robbed of it's value..."

"...the lie of the ideal has been the curse of reality..."

"My experience gave me a right to feel suspicious in regard to all so-called 'unselfish' instincts, in regard to the whole of 'neighborly love' which is ever ready and waiting with deeds or with advice.  To me it seems that these instincts are a sign of weakness, they are an example of the inability to withstand a stimulus – it is only among decadents that this pity is called a virtue."

For Nietzsche, any type of spiritual ideal – say "lovingkindness" or self-sacrifice – or any type of morality, any "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not," is a lie.  It is the enemy of humanity.  As he says in the last quote above, he regards the tendency toward brotherly love as a weakness.  He will not bow to the idol of an ideal, a moral concept, a God. 

While he might seem to be the exact opposite of a contemplative from any spiritual path, in a sense, I feel like Nietzsche is looking for the same thing as all the spiritual giants – complete and total freedom.  They are just freedoms of a different sort.

The freedom of the spiritual master is freedom from all the things of the world which tie us down and hold us back from spiritual joy.  Freedom from vanity.  Freedom from bondage to material comfort.  Freedom from self.  When one is finally freed from the chains of self, they are open to simply be a channel of the Holy Spirit.  From an Eastern perspective, a Buddhist seeks freedom from all attachment and thus the ability to live with loving-kindness toward all things.  

Spiritual freedom is freedom from self.

Nietzsche's freedom is a freedom toward self.  Nietzsche's ideal sets up the self against anything that claims to have power over it.  His "superman" is one who has cast off conventional ideals so that the self becomes the measure of all things.  The superman can do what he wants.  And what he most wants is power over all. 

Ultimately, Nietzsche's life ended in literal madness.  He believed that the world had not received his message because it was not ready.  In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche's madman, declaring the death of God, comes to the realization that his time has not yet come:

"Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment.  At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and broke it and went out.  'I have come too early,' he said then; 'my time has not come yet.  The tremendous event is still on its way, still traveling - it has not yet reached the ears of men.  Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard.'"

Thus far, Nietzche's proclamation of the death of God has not been fulfilled.  Perhaps the decline of organized religion, but the death of God, of spirituality, of morality, of ideals, hardly seems immanent.

Perhaps, to the masses, the spiritual vision of freedom from self is just more appealing than Nietzsche's vision of freedom toward self.