On this date in 1844, Friedrich Nietzsche was born in a town near Leipzig, Germany. “Fritz” was the son of a Lutheran minister who died when Friedrich was four, and the grandson of two Lutheran pastors. At age 20, he wrote his sister that one could choose consolation in faith, or pursue the truth no matter where it led. During a stint of mandatory military service, he suffered a serious chest injury. He then enrolled at the University of Leipzig, where he met and became friends with Wagner and Wagner’s wife.
The brilliant student was given his Ph.D. without an examination, and joined the faculty of the University of Basel at age 24. Working as a hospital attendant during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Nietzsche’s health was permanently weakened when he came down with diphtheria and dysentery. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), was written when he was 28. It was followed by Human, All-Too-Human (1878-80), which ended his friendship with Wagner. Nietzsche resigned from his University position due to health problems.
His outpouring of books includes: Daybreak (1881), The Gay Science (1882), in which he wrote “God is dead,” Thus Spake Zarathrustra (1883-91), which he considered his most significant work, Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), which critiqued the priesthood, Twilight of the Idols (1888), The Case against Wagner (1888), in which he wrote that he “declares war” on the decadent composer who had turned back to religion, and The Antichrist (1888).
In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown from which he never recovered, and was nursed by his mother and sister for the remaining seven years of his life. It is widely speculated that the ascetic philosopher, whose two marriage proposals had been rejected, might have contracted syphilis as a young man. Nietzsche was also on many medications for migraines and illness, and might have suffered a drug reaction. He did not live long enough to see his vast influence as one of the most respected thinkers of modern times.
Nietzsche is often falsely credited with fueling Nazism by his concept of the ubermensch.He was not an anti-Semite, although he did not spare Judaism his trenchant criticisms any more than he spared Christianity. Nor was he a nationalist or militarist. (His sister, Frau Foerster-Nietzsche, who was an anti-Semite, forged 30 letters and put words into the mouth of her brother in compiling The Will to Power from manuscripts after his death.) In Thus Spake Zarathrustra, Nietzsche described his “higher man” as one who overcomes superstition: “I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes!” D. 1900.
“After coming into contact with a religious man, I always feel I must wash my hands.”— Friedrich Nietzsche, Why I Am a Destiny, 1888“Great intellects are skeptical.”— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 1888“There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.”— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human, 1878“Christianity as antiquity. — When we hear the ancient bells growling on a Sunday morning we ask ourselves: Is it really possible! This, for a Jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was God’s son? The proof of such a claim is lacking. Certainly the Christian religion is an antiquity projected into our times from remote prehistory; and the fact that the claim is believed — whereas one is otherwise so strict in examining pretensions — is perhaps the most ancient piece of this heritage. A god who begets children with a mortal woman; a sage who bids men work no more, have no more courts, but look for the signs of the impending end of the world; a justice that accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice; someone who orders his disciples to drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of a beyond to which death is the portal; the form of the cross as a symbol in a time that no longer knows the function and ignominy of the cross — how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past! Can one believe that such things are still believed?”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human, 1878