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Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom

Friedrich Nietzsche: Part 3: Friedrich Nietzsche's Personality and Psychotherapy

Part 3

Friedrich Nietzsche's Personality and Psychotherapy


From the
Wiener Klinische Rundschau,
14th Year, No. I, 1900



S THE PSYCHIC processes act parallel with the brain stimulae, so physiological psychology goes side by side with brain physiology. Where the latter does not as yet offer sufficient knowledge, physiological psychology may make purely provisional investigation into psychic appearances, but always accompanied by the thought that for these psychic appearances the possibility of a parallelism with cerebral processes must also be proved.” Even if one does not fully endorse this statement of Theodor Ziehen, (compare his Leitfaden der Physiologischen Psychologie, Guide to Physiological Psychology, p. 2) one will have to admit that it has proved itself exceptionally fruitful for the methods of psychology. Under the influence of his point of view which he expresses, this science has attained truly scientific knowledge. But one must be quite clear about the significant light which the observation of the pathological soul appearances throws upon the connection between psychic appearances and the corresponding physiological processes. Pathological experimentation has rendered great service to psychology as well as to physiology. The abnormal facts of the soul life clarify the normal ones for us. But it must be especially important to follow abnormal manifestations into those realms where the soul activity intensifies to the point of the highest spiritual achievements.

A personality like Nietzsche offers special points of interest for such observation. A morbid kernel in his personality gave him occasion to return to the physiological groundwork of his reflections. He alternately sounded all notes from poetic diction to the highest points of conceptional abstraction. He expressed himself very sharply over the connection of his ideas with his physical condition. “In the year 1879 I completed my professorship in Basle, during the summer lived like a shadow in St. Moritz, and the next winter, the most sunless of my whole life, I existed like a shadow in Naumburg. This was my minimum. I reached the lowest point of vitality in my thirty-sixth year; I still lived, but without seeing three steps ahead of me. Der Wanderer und sein Schatten, The Wanderer and his Shadow, came to existence during this time. Without doubt, I then had an understanding for shadows; ... The following winter, my first winter in Genoa, brought about that sweetening and spiritualization which is conditioned by an extreme poverty of blood and muscle; the Morgenröte, Dawn; the perfect clarity and joyousness, even exuberance of spirit, which the latter work reflects, is compatible with me, not only with the deepest physiological weakness, but also with an excess of painfulness. In the midst of my torment, which an uninterrupted three-day headache, together with the most wretched vomiting of slime brings with it, I possessed a dialectic clarity par excellence, and thought through things very cold-bloodedly, for which, in a more healthy condition, I was not sufficiently a climber nor sufficiently crafty, nor sufficiently cold. My readers know perhaps to what extent I consider dialectic as a symptom of decadence, for example, in the most famous instance: in the case of Socrates” (Compare M. G. Conrad, Ketzerblut, page 186, and Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche, The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche, Volume II, page 328). (See also Nietzsche's Works, German Edition, 1911, Vol. XV. p. 9 – 12)

Nietzsche considered the change of his ways of thinking to be absolutely the result of the changeability of his physical condition. “A philosopher who has passed through many states of health, and will do so again and again, has also passed through many philosophies; he simply cannot do otherwise each time than to transpose his condition into a spiritual form and, perspective; this art of transfiguration is his philosophy.” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume V, page 8) In his recollections written in 1888, his Ecce Homo, Nietzsche tells how from his sickness he received the impulse to develop within himself an optimistic world conception: “For once, pay attention to this: the years of my lowest vitality were those when I ceased to be a pessimist; the instinct for self-reconstruction forbade me a philosophy of poverty and discouragement.” (Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche, The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche, Volume II, page 338)

The contradictory in Nietzsche's world of ideas is understandable from this point of view. His physical nature moved in contrasts. “Provided one is a person, by necessity one also has the philosophy of a person; yet there is a substantial difference. In the one instance there are his deficiencies, which philosophize; in the other, his riches and his strength.” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume V, page 5) In Nietzsche himself the two conditions alternated: one time the one, one time the other was dominant. As long as he was in full possession of his youthful forces, he considered the “pessimism of the nineteenth century as a symptom of a higher power of thought, a victorious fullness of life;” he considered the tragic knowledge, which he found in Schopenhauer, to be “the most beautiful luxury of our culture, its most costly, most aristocratic, most dangerous kind of waste, but always on the basis of its over-richness, as its permitted luxury.” He could no longer see such a permitted luxury in the tragic knowledge, when the morbid in his life held the upper hand. For that reason, from now on, he creates for himself a philosophy of the greatest possible life-affirmation. Now he needed a world conception of “ego affirmation, ego glorification,” a master morality; he needed the philosophy; of “eternal return.” “I shall return again with this sun, with this earth, with this eagle, with this serpent — not to a new life, or to a better life, or to a similar life: I shall come back eternally to this identical, this self-same life in the greatest and also in the smallest.” “For the earth is a god's table, trembling with new, creative work and divine plans; Oh, how ardently I long for eternity and for the marriage ring of rings, the ring of the return!” (Zarathustra, Third Part)

The uncertain information we possess about Nietzsche's ancestry unfortunately makes it impossible to judge properly how much of Nietzsche's spiritual peculiarity is to be traced to inheritance. It is often incorrectly stated that his father died of a brain sickness. The latter contracted this illness through an accident only after Nietzsche's birth. However, it does not seem unimportant that Nietzsche himself points to a morbid element in his father. “My father died at thirty-six years; he was delicate, gracious and morbid, like a being destined only for a moment, or like a kind of recollection of life, rather than life itself.” (M. G. Conrad, Ketzerblut, p. 179) When Nietzsche speaks of the fact that within himself lived something decadent next to something healthy; he apparently considers that the former is derived from his father, the latter from his mother, who was a thoroughly sound woman.

We find in Nietzsche's soul life a series of traits bordering on the pathological, which remind one of Heinrich Heine and of Leopardi, who also are similar to him in other respects. Heine was tortured by gloomy melancholia from his youth, and suffered from dream-like conditions; later, out of the most pitiful physical constitution and increasing ill-health he knew how to create ideas which were not far removed from those of Nietzsche. Indeed, in Heine one finds almost a predecessor of Nietzsche, in the sense of the contrast between the Apollonian, or quietly observing attitude toward life, and the Dionysian, the dithyrambic life-affirmation. Heine's spiritual life also remains inexplicable from the psychological point of view if one does not take into consideration the pathological essence of his nature which he had inherited from his father, who was a weak personality, creeping through life like a shadow.

The similarities in the physiological characteristics of Leopardi and Nietzsche are especially remarkable. The same sensitivity toward weather and seasons, toward place and environment, are found in both. Leopardi feels the slightest change in the thermometer and barometer. He could create only during the summer; he traveled about, always looking for the most suitable location for his creative activity. Nietzsche expresses himself about such peculiarities of his nature in the following manner: “Now after long practice, when I observe the effects of climatic and meteorological nature upon myself, as upon a very delicate and reliable instrument, and after a short journey, perhaps from Turin to Milan, calculate the change in the degree of humidity calculated physiologically in myself, then I look with horror at the sinister fact that my life until the last ten years, the most dangerous years, has always been spent in locations treacherous and absolutely forbidden to me. Naumburg, Schulpforta, Thuringia, in fact, Bonn, Liepzig, Basel, Venice, — all of them places of misfortune for my physiology. ...” Connected with this unusual sensitivity in Leopardi as well as in Nietzsche, is a contempt for all altruistic feelings. Both of them had to overcome this in order to be able to tolerate mankind. From Nietzsche's own words one can see that his shyness in presence of strong impressions, of attractions which demand too much of his sensitivity, fill him with suspicion toward selfless impulses. He says: “I accuse those sympathetic people in that it is easy for them to lose the modesty, the awe, the delicate feeling for distances.” For Leopardi also, it was certain that a bearable human being was very seldom found; he encountered misery with irony and bitterness, just as Nietzsche had adopted as one of his principles: “As first tenet of our love for mankind, the weak and misformed shall be destroyed. And one should even assist them in this.” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume VIII, page 218) About life, Nietzsche said that it is “Essentially appropriation, injury, overwhelming of strangers and weaker ones, suppression, hardness, forcing upon others one's own forms, incorporation, and, in its least and mildest form, exploitation.” (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 259) For Leopardi also, life is an unfeasible, frightful struggle, in which some trample others.

The extent to which both these thoughts play over into the pathological is shown in the completely rational way these men arrive at their ideas. They were not impelled to thoughts about the struggle for existence through logical reflection, as, for example, the national economist, Malthus, and the philosopher, Hobbes, or through careful observation as with Darwin, but through the high-strung sensitivity already mentioned, with the result that every external stimulus is regarded as a hostile attack, and is answered with violent rejection. One can prove this quite clearly in Nietzsche. In Darwin he finds the thought about the struggle for existence. He does not reject it, but he re-interprets it in such a way that it accords with his enhanced sensitivity: “But provided there is this struggle — and, in effect, it does happen — it comes about unfortunately in reverse from the way the Darwinian school wants it, as with them one may perhaps wish, namely, to the disadvantage of the strong, the privileged, the fortunate exceptions. The species does not grow in perfection; ever and again the weak become masters over the strong because they are in the majority, and because they are also cleverer. ... Darwin has forgotten the spirit (that is English!) the weak have more spirit ... the strong sacrifice the spirit” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume VIII, p. 128).

Without, doubt his heightened sensitivity and impulses impel him to a certain extent to direct his observations by choice upon his own personality. Entirely sound and harmonious natures, like Goethe, for example, find something questionable in far-reaching self-observation. In complete contrast to Nietzsche's way of reflection stands Goethe's point of view: “We must not interpret the significant saying, Know thou thyself, in an ascetic sense. With this by no means is meant the auto-gnosis of our modern hypochondriacs, humorists, and self-tormentors, but it means quite simply, take heed of yourself to a certain extent, observe yourself so that you become aware how you; stand in relation to others like yourself, and in relation to the world. No psychological torments are necessary for this; every capable human being knows and experiences what this should mean; it is good advice, which is of the greatest practical advantage to everyone. ... How can one learn to know oneself? We can never get to know each other through observations, but through action. Try to do your duty, and immediately you will know how things are with you.” Now we know that Goethe also possessed a fine sensibility. But at the same time he possessed the necessary counter-balance, the capacity which, in regard to others, he himself described in the most direct way, in a conversation with Eckermann on the 20th of December, 1829: “The extraordinary” things that exceptional talents have achieved, “presupposes a very delicate organization, which makes them capable of rarer feelings. ... Now such an organization, in conflict with the world and with the elements, is easily disturbed and injured: and the one who, like Voltaire, does not possess an extraordinary toughness, is easily subject to constant sickliness.” This toughness is lacking in natures like Nietzsche and Leopardi. They would lose themselves completely in their impressions, in irritations, if they could not shut themselves off artistically against the outer world; indeed, if they could not oppose themselves to it in a hostile way. One compares this overcoming which Nietzsche required in his intercourse with mankind, with Goethe's pleasure in this intercourse, which he describes in these words: “Sociability was in my nature; thus I won co-workers for myself in my manifold undertakings, educated myself to be a co-worker with them, and so attained the good fortune to see myself live on, I in them and they in me.”



The most noticeable phenomenon in Nietzsche's spiritual life is the always latent, but at times clearly evident, schizophrenic quality of his ego-consciousness. That “two souls live, Alas, within my breast,” bordered upon the pathological in him. He could not bring about the reconciliation between the “two souls.” His polemics are hardly, to be understood except from this point of view. He hardly ever really hits his opponent with his judgments. He first arranges what he wants to attack in the strangest way, and then struggles with the illusion, which is quite remote from reality. One understands this only when one considers that fundamentally he never fights against an external enemy, but against himself. And he fights in a more violent way when at another time he himself has stood at the point which he now regards with antagonism, or when at least this point of view played a definite role in his soul life. His campaign against Wagner is only a campaign against himself. He had half inadvertently united himself with Wagner at a time when he was thrown back and forth between contrary paths of ideas. He became the personal friend of Wagner. In his eyes Wagner grew to the immeasurable. He called him his “Jupiter,” with whom from time to time he breathes, “a fruitful, rich, stirring life, quite different from and unheard of in mediocre mortals! Therefore he stands there, deeply rooted in his own strength, his glance always over and above the ephemeral; eternal in the most beautiful sense.” (E. Foerster-Nietzsche, Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches, The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche, Volume II, page 16) Nietzsche was now developing a philosophy within himself, about which he could say to himself that it was entirely identical with Wagner's artistic tendencies and conception of life. He identifies himself completely with Wagner. He regards him as the first great renewer of the tragic culture which had experienced an important beginning in ancient Greece, but which was subordinated through the sophisticated, intellectual wisdom of Socrates, and through the one-sidedness of Plato, and in the age of the Renaissance had experienced a brief rejuvenation. Out of what he believed he recognized as Wagner's mission, Nietzsche formed the content of his own creating. But in his posthumous writings one can now see how he completely subordinates his second ego under the influence of Wagner. Among these writings are found dissertations from the time before and during his Wagner enthusiasm, which moved in directions completely opposite to his feelings and thinking. In spite of this he forms for himself an ideal picture of Wagner, which does not live in reality at all, but only in his fantasy. And in this ideal picture, his own ego vanishes completely. Later, in this ego appears a way of reflection which is the opposite of Wagner's method of conception. Now, in the true sense of the word, he becomes the most violent opponent of his own thought world. For he does not attack the Wagner of reality; he attacks the picture of Wagner which previously he had made for himself. His passion, his injustice, is only understandable when one realizes that he became so violent because he fought against something which had ruined him, according to his opinion, and which had taken him away from his own true path. If, like another contemporary of Wagner's, he had faced this objectively, perhaps he also might have become Wagner's opponent. But he would have faced the whole situation in a more quiet, calm attitude. It also comes to his consciousness that he does not wish to be freed from Wagner, but rather from his own “I” as it had developed itself at a certain time. He says: “To turn my back to Wagner was a tribulation for me; to like something again later was a victory for me. No one perhaps was more dangerously ingrown with this Wagner business, no one rebelled against it more strongly, no one rejoiced more to be free of it; it is a long story! Does one want a word for it? Were I a moralist, who knows what I should call it! Perhaps a self-conquering. What is it that a philosopher asks of himself at the beginning and at the end? To overcome his age in himself, to become ‘timeless.’ Against what does he have to wage his hardest struggle? With that in which he is exactly the child of his age. Well I like Wagner as a child of this age; that is to say, a decadent: only that I comprehended it, only that I rebelled against it. The philosopher in me defended himself against it.” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume VIII, page 1)

In the following words he more clearly describes his inner experience of the dividing of his ego and the immediate contrast of his world of thoughts: “He who attacks his time can only attack himself; what can he see otherwise, if not himself? So in another, one can glorify only one's self. Self-destruction, self-deification, self-contempt: that is our judging, our loving, our hating.” (Nietzsche's Works, German Edition, 1897, Volume XI, page 92)

In the autumn of 1888, Nietzsche cannot come to any agreement at all with himself about the content of his book, Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, other than that he tries to justify himself in that he did not mean Wagner at all, but himself. “A psychologist might add that what I had heard in Wagner's music in my youth had absolutely nothing to do with Wagner; that when I described the Dionysian music, I described that which I had heard; that instinctively I had to translate and transfigure everything into the new spirit which I bore within me. The proof for it, as strong as proof can be, is my book, Wagner in Bayreuth; in all psychologically decisive places the question is only about me; at will, one may put my name, or the name ‘Zarathustra,’ wherever the text mentions the name Wagner. The whole picture of the dithyrambic artist is the picture of the pre-existentialist poet of Zarathustra, drawn with profound depth and without touching the reality of Wagner for a single moment. Wagner himself had an idea of this, for he did not recognize himself in the book.” (E. Foerster-Nietzsche, Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches, The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche, Volume II, page 259)

Whenever Nietzsche fights, he almost always fights against himself. When, during the first period of his creative writing, he entered into active warfare against philology, it was the philologist in himself against whom he fought, this outstanding philologist, who, even before completing his doctorate, had already been appointed a Professor at the University. When, from 1876 onward, he began his struggle against ideals, he had his own idealism in view. And, at the end of his writing career, when he wrote his Antichrist, again unparalleled in violence, this was nothing but the secret Christian element in himself through which he was challenged. It had not been necessary for him to wage a special battle in himself in order to free himself from Christianity. But he was freed only in the intellect, in one side of his being; in his heart, in his world of emotions, he remained faithful to the Christian ideals in his practical life. He acted as the passionate opponent of one side of his own being. “One must have seen this doom near by; one must have been almost destroyed with it to understand that here is no joke. The skepticism of our natural scientists and physiologists is a joke in my eyes; they are lacking in passion for these things, in suffering for them.” The extent to which Nietzsche felt the conflict within himself, and the extent to which he recognized himself as powerless to bring the different forces within him into a unity of consciousness, is shown at the end of a poem in the summer of 1888, that is, from the period shortly before the catastrophe. “Now, incarcerated between two nothingnesses, a question mark, a tired riddle, a riddle for predatory birds ... they will ‘free’ you, they are already longing for your ‘freeing,’ they are already fluttering about you, you riddles, about you, the hanged one! ... Oh Zarathustra! ... self-knower! ... self-executioner!” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume VIII, page 424)

This insecurity in regard to himself is also expressed in Nietzsche in that at the end of his career, he gives an absolutely new interpretation to his entire development. His world conception has one of its sources in ancient Greece. Everywhere in his writing one can point out what great influence the Greeks had upon him. He never tires of continually emphasizing the greatness of Greek culture. In 1875 he writes, “The Greeks are the only talented nation of world history; as learners they are very talented; they understand this best, and do not only know how to decorate and to refine the borrowed, as the Romans do. Genius makes all half-talented, tributary; thus the Persians themselves sent their messengers to the Greek oracle. How those Romans with their dry seriousness contrast with these talented Greeks!” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume X, page 352) And what beautiful words he found in 1873 for the first Greek philosophers: “Every nation is shamed when one points to such a wonderfully idealistic community of philosophers as those of the old Greek masters, Thales and Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Socrates. All these people are hewn entirely from one stone. Between their thinking and their character strong necessity reigns. ... Thus together they formed what Schopenhauer called a talent republic in contrast to the scholar republic; one giant calls to the other through the empty halls of the ages, and, undisturbed by the mischievous noisy ways of dwarfs who crawl beneath them, they continue the lofty conversation of spirits. ... The first experience of philosophy on Greek soil, the sanction of the Seven Wise Ones, is at once a clear and unforgettable line in the picture of the Hellenic. Other nations have saints; the Greeks have Wise Ones. ... The judgment of those philosophers about life and existence says altogether so much more than a modern opinion because they had life before them in luxuriant perfection, and because in them the feeling of the thinker did not go astray, as in us, in the conflict between the desire for freedom, beauty, largeness of life, and the impulse for truth, which asks only, What is life really worth?” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume VIII, page 7) This Greek wise one always stood before Nietzsche's eyes as an ideal. He tries to emulate him with the one side of his being, but with the other side he denies him. In the Götzendämmerung, wilight of Idols, 1888 (Nietzsche's Works, Volume VIII, page 167), after his description of what he wishes to owe to the Romans, we read, “To the Greeks I owe absolutely no strong kindred impressions; and, to say it straight out, they can not be for us what the Romans are. One does not learn from the Greeks; their way is foreign, it is also too liquid to work imperatively, ‘classically.’ Whoever would have learned writing from a Greek? Who would have learned it without the Romans! ... The splendid, pliant corporality, and bold realism and immorality, which is part of the Hellenic, was a necessity, not something natural. It came only later; it was not there from the beginning. And from, festivals and arts one wanted nothing more than to feel and act in a buoyant spirit; they are a means to glorify one's self, under certain circumstances, to create fear for one's self. ... To judge the Greeks in the German manner, according to their philosophers, is to use, for example, the honorable gentlemen of the Socratic school for solving solutions which fundamentally are Hellenic! ... The philosophers indeed are the decadents of Greece. ...”

One will only gain full clarity concerning Nietzsche's arguments when one combines the fact that his philosophical thoughts rest upon self-observation, with the idea that this self is not an harmonious self, but is rather a self split apart. This splitting apart he also brought into his explanation of the world. In looking back upon himself he could say, “Do not we artists have to confess to ourselves that a weird difference exists in us, that our taste, and, on the other hand, our creative power, stand alone in a mysterious way, remain standing alone, and have a force of growth in themselves: I want to say, quite different degrees of tempos, old, young, ripe, dry, rotten? So that, for example, a musician is able to create things for life which contradict what his spoiled listener-ear, listener-heart, values, tastes, prefers; he doesn't even need to know about this contradiction!” (Nietzsche's Works, Volume V, page 323) This is an explanation of the nature of an artist, formed according to Nietzsche's own being. We encounter something similar in him in all his writings.

There is no doubt that in many cases one goes too far when one connects manifestations of the soul-life with pathological concepts; in a personality like Nietzsche's the world-conception finds full clarification only through such a connection. Useful as it might be in many ways to cling to the sentence of Dilthey's Einbildungskraft und Wahnsinn, Powers of Conceit and Illusion, (Leipzig, 1886), “The genius is no pathological manifestation, but the sound perfect human being,” just as wrong might it be to reject dogmatically such observations about Nietzsche as have been presented here.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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