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Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom

Friedrich Nietzsche: Introduction: Friedrich Nietzsche and Rudolf Steiner



N A BOOK published in 1983 (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 10, Gale Research Company, Detroit), 83 years after his death, the best critical reviews and articles in English about Nietzsche were finally gathered together. And what a wonderful collection they are. The roll-call of contributors to this article bears witness to the influence and importance of this man: Franz Liszt; August Strindberg; George Brandes; Max Nordan; Rudolf Steiner; George Bernard Shaw; James Huneker; G. Santayana; Stefan Zweig; Karl Jaspers; Jacques Barzun; Bertrand Russell; Thomas Mann; Albert Camus; Eric Bentley; Martin Heidegger; Rollo May; Walter Kaufman and many others. And such writers as Rilke, Stefan George, Herman Hesse, Andre Gide, William Butler Yeats, were all influenced by Nietzsche's works.

To say that Nietzsche has had a crucial and decisive effect on the cultural, intellectual, psychological, artistic, and social development of the Twentieth Century is to almost understate the case. But this awareness has been objectively presented and properly understood fairly recently, perhaps only in the last 40 years. During his lifetime (1844–1900), he personally suffered as much from the negative criticism as did his works.

“These were a few interpreters and critics during his lifetime who understood the significance of his ideas, both for their own times and for the Twentieth Century. Two in particular praised Nietzsche for his awareness of the cultural decay in Europe, for his insights into individual psychology, and for his studies in ethics and morality: George Brandes and Rudolf Steiner.” (Page 352, Vol. 10).

Brandes, through his lectures and works on Nietzsche, was very influential while Nietzsche was still alive. Steiner, as shown in the following pages of this book, was early-on aware of the immense importance of Nietzsche's thoughts and ideas, and of his personal, psychological, and spiritual development.

There are those critics who divide Nietzsche's work into three periods, each one representing a different stage in the development of his thought. Some critics argue “that the sudden shifts in his philosophical thought demonstrate the erratic nature of his intellect; others such as Rudolf Steiner, Eric Bentley and Peter Heller, believe a single idea passes through and unifies each stage. For Steiner this idea is the concept of the Ubermensch; for Bentley it is Nietzsche's concept of power; for Heller, it consists of Nietzsche's dedication to the Dionysian process.” (Page 352, Vol. 10).

One of the most important results of the re-evaluation of Nietzsche's works over the past 40 years, has been to disassociate him from the Nazis in Germany, who completely falsified his meanings and intentions, and perverted his philosophy of the Ubermensch — the Higher Man in Man — into their precise opposite: military superiority; anti-Semitism and a sick Nationalism. Only by placing the true Nietzsche over against the false picture created by the Nazis, such as was done after 1945 by Kaufman, Heidegger, Camus and others, are we at long last able to see, understand and appreciate the prophetic and timely genius of Nietzsche: a crushed victim of a decadent culture bent on self-destruction; a free spirit martyred on the cross of self-complacent materialism; the courageous fighter for the freedom of the human individual in the world of ‘Big Brother’.

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In addition to the material contained in this book, Rudolf Steiner often referred to Nietzsche in his various lectures. The following selection from a lecture by Dr. Steiner in Dornach, Switzerland, on March 15, 1924 presents a helpful explanation for some of the seemingly strange events and personal characteristics in Nietzsche's life. This selection also serves as an example of one of the new tools of investigation available to those interested in the laws of human destiny and biography: the Spiritual Scientific Method of Research inaugurated by Rudolf Steiner.

The following copyrighted material is reprinted from the book: Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies, Volume I, pages 153–158; published by the Anthroposophical Publishing Co., London, 1955.

“I was also intensely interested in the connections of destiny of a man with whom my own life brought me into contact, namely Friedrich Nietzsche. I have studied the problem of Nietzsche in all its aspects and, as you know, have written and spoken a great deal about him.

His was indeed a strange and remarkable destiny. I saw him only once during his life. It was in Naumburg, in the nineties of last century, when his mind was already seriously deranged. In the afternoon, about half-past-two, his sister took me into his room. He lay on the couch, listless and unresponsive, with eyes unable to see that someone was standing by him. He lay there with the remarkable, beautifully formed brow that made such a striking impression upon one. Although the eyes were expressionless, one nevertheless had the feeling: This is not a case of insanity, but rather of a man who has been working spiritually the whole morning with great intensity of soul, has had his mid-day meal and is now lying at rest, pondering, half dreamily pondering on what his soul worked out in the morning. Spiritually seen, there were present only a physical body and an etheric body, especially in respect of the upper parts of the organism, for the being of soul-and-spirit was already outside, attached to the body as it were by a stubborn thread only. In reality a kind of death had already set in, but a death that could not be complete because the physical organisation was so healthy. The astral body and the ego that would fain escape were still held by the extraordinarily healthy metabolic and rhythmic organisations, while a completely ruined nerves-and-senses system was no longer able to hold the astral body and the ego. So one had the wonderful impression that the true Nietzsche was hovering above the head. There he was. And down below was something that from the vantage-point of the soul might well have been a corpse, and was only not a corpse because it still held on with might and main to the soul — but only in respect of the lower parts of the organism — because of the extraordinarily healthy metabolic and rhythmic organisation.

Such a spectacle may well make one attentive to the connections of destiny. In this case, at any rate, quite a different light was thrown upon them. Here one could not start from a suffering limb or the like, but one was led to look at the spirituality of Friedrich Nietzsche in its totality.

There are three strongly marked and distinct periods in Nietzsche's life. The first period begins when he wrote The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music while he was still quite young, inspired by the thought of music springing from Greek tragedy which had itself been born from music. Then, in the same strain, he wrote the four following works: David Friedrich Strauss: Composer and Author, Schopenhauer as Educator, Thoughts out of Season, Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. This was in the year 1876. (The Birth of Tragedy was written in 1869). Richard Wagner in Bayreuth is a hymn of praise to Richard Wagner, actually perhaps the best thing that has been written by any admirer of Wagner.

Then a second period begins. Nietzsche writes his books, Human, Ail-too Human, in two volumes, the work entitled Dawn and thirdly, The Joyful Wisdom.

In the early writings, up to the year 1876, Nietzsche was in the highest sense of the word an idealist. In the second epoch of his life he bids farewell to idealism in every shape and form; he makes fun of ideals; he convinces himself that if men set themselves ideals, this is due to weakness. When a man can do nothing in life, he says: Life is not worth anything, one must hunt for an ideal. — And so Nietzsche knocks down ideals one by one, puts them to the test, and conceives the manifestations of the Divine in nature as something “all-too-human,” something paltry and petty. Here we have Nietzsche the disciple of Voltaire, to whom he dedicates one of his writings. Nietzsche is here the rationalist, the intellectualist. And this phase lasts until about the year 1882 or 1883. Then begins the final epoch of his life, when he unfolds ideas like that of the Eternal Recurrence and presents the figure of Zarathustra as a human ideal. He writes Thus Spake Zarathustra in the style of a hymn.

Then he takes out again the notes he had once made on Wagner, and here we find something very remarkable! If one follows Nietzsche's way of working, it does indeed seem strange. Read his work Richard Wager in Bayreuth. — It is a grand, enraptured hymn of praise. And now, in the last epoch of his life, comes the book The Case of Wagner, in which everything that can possibly be said against Wagner is set down!

If one is content with trivialities, one will simply say: Nietzsche has changed sides, he has altered his views. But those who are really familiar with Nietzsche's manuscripts will not speak in this way. In point of fact, when Nietzsche had written a few pages in the form of a hymn of praise to Wagner, he then proceeded to write down as well everything he could against what he himself had said! Then he wrote another hymn of praise, and then again he wrote in the reverse sense! The whole of The Case of Wagner was actually written in 1876, only Nietzsche put it aside, discarded it, and printed only the hymn of praise. And all that he did later on was to take his old drafts and interpolate a few caustic passages.

In this last period of his life the urge came to him to carry through an attack which in the first epoch he had abandoned. In all probability, if the manuscript he put aside as being out of keeping with his Richard Wagner in Bayreuth had been destroyed by fire, we should never have had The Case of Wagner at all.

If you study these three periods in Nietzsche's life you will find that all show evidence of a uniform trend. Even the last book, the last published writing at any rate, The Twilight of Idols, which shows entirely his other side — even this last book bears something of the fundamental character of Nietzsche's spiritual life. In old age, however, when this work was composed, he becomes imaginative, writing in a graphic, vividly descriptive style. For example, he wanted to characterise Carlyle, the English writer. He lights on a very apt expression when he speaks of him as having the kind of enthusiasm that takes off its coat. This is a marvellously apt description of one aspect of Carlyle. Other similar utterances — graphic and imaginative — are also to be found in The Twilight of Idols.

If you once have this tragic, deeply moving picture before you of the individuality hovering above the body of Nietzsche, you will be compelled to say of his writings that the impression they make is as though Nietzsche were never fully present in his body while he was writing down his sentences. He used to write, you know, sometimes sitting but more often while walking, especially while going for long tramps. It is as though he had always been a little outside his body. You will have this impression most strongly of all in the case of certain passages in the fourth part of Thus Spake Zarathustra, of which you will feel that they could have been written only when the body no longer had control, when the soul was outside the body.

One feels that when Nietzsche is being spiritually creative, he always leaves his body behind. And this same tendency can be perceived, too, in his habits. He was particularly fond of taking chloral in order to induce a mood that strives to get away from the body, a mood of aloofness from the body. This tendency was of course due to the fact that the body was in many respects ailing; for example, Nietzsche suffered from constant and always very prolonged headaches, and so on.

All these things give a uniform picture of Nietzsche in this incarnation at the end of the 19th century, an incarnation which finally culminated in insanity, so that he no longer knew who he was. There are letters addressed to George Brandes signed “The Crucified One” — indicating that Nietzsche regards himself as the Crucified One; and at another time he looks at himself as at a man who is actually present outside him, thinks that he is a God walking by the River Po, and signs himself “Dionysos.” This separation from the body while spiritual work is going on reveals itself as something that is peculiarly characteristic of this personality, characteristic, that is to say, of this particular incarnation.

If we ponder this inwardly, with Imagination, then we are led back to an incarnation lying not so very long ago. It is characteristic of many such representative personalities that their previous incarnations do not lie in the distant past but in the comparatively near past, even, maybe, quite recent times.

We come to a life where this individuality was a Franciscan, a Franciscan ascetic who inflicted intense self-torture on his body. Now we have the key to the riddle. The gaze falls upon a man in the characteristic Franciscan habit, lying for hours at a time in front of the altar, praying until his knees are bruised and sore, beseeching grace, mortifying his flesh with severest penances — with the result that through the self-inflicted pain he knits himself very strongly with his physical body. Pain makes one intensely aware of the physical body because the astral body yearns after the body that is in pain, wants to penetrate it through and through. The effect of this concentration upon making the body fit for salvation in the one incarnation was that, in the next, the soul had no desire to be in the body at all.

Such are the connections of destiny in certain typical cases. It can certainly be said that they are not what one would have expected! In the matter of successive earthly lives, speculation is impermissible and generally leads to false conclusions. But when we do come upon the truth, marvellous enlightenment is shed upon life.

Because studies of this kind can help us to look at karma in the right way, I have not been afraid — although such a course has its dangers — to give you certain concrete examples of karmic connections which can, I think, throw a great deal of light upon the nature of human karma, of human destiny.”

Bernard J. Garber 
January 1985 

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