Posts Tagged ‘Existentialism’

Dominic Cumming’s Social Darwinist Views

September 4, 2019

On Sunday the Skwawkbox put up a piece about an article in the Groaniad revealing Dominic Cumming’s views on the value of education and social mobility: he doesn’t believe in them. In 2013 the Polecat produced a 250 page essay covering a number of subjects. One of these was in the importance of heredity in determining social advancement. He declared

differences in educational achievement are not mainly because of ‘richer parents buying greater opportunity’ and the successful pursuit of educational opportunity and ‘social mobility’ will increase heritability of educational achievement.

He also criticised a leading sociologist because

in a paper about class and wealth across generations, he ignores genetics entirely. However, using parent-offspring correlations as an index of ‘social mobility’ is fundamentally flawed because the correlations are significantly genetic – not environmental.

He concluded

However, the spread of knowledge and education is itself a danger and cannot eliminate gaps in wealth and power created partly by unequally distributed heritable characteristics.

This is bog-standard, textbook Social Darwinism – the survival of the economic fittest, as devised by Herbert Spencer. It’s the philosophy that passing legislation to improve conditions for the working class is useless, because their poverty and failure to ascend the social hierarchy is due to their lack of genetic fitness. Indeed, it may even be actually dangerous in the case of the disabled. If the ‘dysgenic’ – the genetically inferior – are allowed to breed, they will outbreed their genetic superiors in the upper classes. This will lead to racial degeneration. This was the reasoning behind the notorious eugenics legislation passed by 25 states in the US providing for the sterilisation of the mentally handicapped. It was also the reason the US also preferred not to take immigrants from southern or eastern Europe, let alone elsewhere in the world, because these peoples were deemed racially inferior to those of northern and western Europeans.

These eugenicist attitudes were a fundamental part of Nazi ideology. Hitler in his speeches declared that the business class deserved their position at the top of German society, because they were genetically superior to the proles. They also studied the American eugenics legislation, which influenced their own vicious policies towards the disabled, culminating in Aktion T4, the wholesale murder of ‘life undeserving of life’, as they called their victims. About their own eugenics legislation, they stated that they hadn’t done anything that the Americans hadn’t done already.

The Skwawkbox passed on Cumming’s views to a senior, unnamed, Labour politico. Who reacted with horror.

These views are appalling. They are chillingly eugenicist and the thought that they might influence public policy is frightening. Boris Johnson must act if the public is to have any confidence at all that their children are not going to be victims of even more deeply entrenched privilege and discrimination.

Unsurprisingly, Cummings is also a fan of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the preacher of the Superman. The Polecat declares that Nietzsche is probably the last of the line of recognisable great philosophers. He was particularly impressed by Nietzsche’s disgust at the animalisation of man to the pygmy animal of equal rights and equal pretensions. Skwawkbox states that Cumming’s seems to conclude that humanity can only achieve its best progress by casting aside the ‘equality of rights’ and ‘sympathy for all that suffers’ that Nietzsche despised.

Nietzsche was a militant atheist, and is credited as the founder of atheist existentialism. He admired the aristocracy, and the heroic, aristocratic values of ancient Greece. At the same time, he despised Christianity and its ‘slave morality’ of compassion. One of his books, The Antichrist, is a splenetic attack on the religion. He is undoubtedly a great philosopher, though one of the lecturers in the Religious Studies department of my old college considered his ideas so evil he refused to teach him. And not everybody is impressed with him by any means.

The theologian and Christian apologist, Hans Kung, quotes the German Roman Catholic philosopher Johannes Hirschberger, who was very scathing about the philosopher of the Superman. Hirschberger wrote

There is far too much fuss about Nietzsche. The literature on Nietzsche is to a large extent not much more than hot air, music hall entertainment and attempts to create interest. It is time to stop playing about with the deeper sense, the non-sense and the manic sense of Nietzsche’s thought. Nietzsche has caused enough mischief. He thought wherever Germany reached, it ruined culture. It would be more correct to say that wherever Nietzsche reached, he ruined philosophy. A young man who tries to make his first contact with philosophy by studying Nietzsche will never learn to think clearly, soberly, critically and above all objectively, but will soon begin to lose balance and increase his subjectivity, to talk pompously and issue orders. This is the very opposite of philosophy.

In Hans Kung, Does God Exist? (London: William Collins & Sons 1980) 399-400.

Quite so. Hirschberger’s observation on what happens to young men, who read Nietzsche does seem to apply to the Polecat, if not Boris himself. They’re both masters of talking pompously and issuing orders.

What is more serious is that No. 10 refused to comment when the Skwawkbox contacted them about Cumming’s odious views. They replied

‘Thank you for contacting us but we won’t be offering any comment.’

They refused to reply when the Skwawkbox asked them if Cumming’s views would be influencing policy. But the Skwawkbox itself isn’t afraid to comment, stating

The Labour source’s assessment will be echoed by many and rightly so.

Even more concerning – while depressingly unsurprising – is the refusal of Boris Johnson and his office to even engage with the issues raised by Cummings’ Darwinian-Nietzschian views on inequality and the desirability of reducing it, let alone to offer any assurances that they will not be at the heart of government policy.

It should deeply worry everyone – and especially the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and their families, who have already endured the horrors of more than nine years of Tory government.

See: https://skwawkbox.org/2019/09/01/number-10-refuses-to-engage-with-questions-about-cummings-chillingly-eugenicist-comments/

I’m not surprised by their refusal to comment. The entire Tory party is riddled with such sentiments. Back in the 1970s Thatcher’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, caused outrage when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to the British racial stock. When Blair was debating reforming the House of Lords, the Tory papers defended it, declaring that the Lords deserved their right to sit in parliament through heredity and upbringing. And a few years ago Spectator loudmouth Toby Young attended a eugenics conference at University College, London, attended by real Nazis. And their determination to remove welfare support from the poor and disabled shows they share the Nazis’ hatred of such ‘useless eaters’ and see them die, even though it is through starvation on the streets and in their own homes, rather than by cyanide in death camps and clinics.

Cummings is a disgrace, as is Boris, and they and the whole Tory party are a threat to working people, and particularly the poor, the disabled. Get them out now! 

 

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Andrew Neil Loses Badly to Owen Jones and Carole Cadwalladr on Fascist Content of the Spectator

January 20, 2019

More fun at the expense of the right press! About a fortnight ago, left-wing journo and activist Owen Jones appeared on Andrew Neil’s current affairs show, This Week, and seriously upset him by reminding him of the Spectator’s dodgy far-right content. Neil and his guests had been supposed to talk about whether the media was assisting the rise of the far right. Just to show that people in glass houses shouldn’t raise topics they may find embarrassing, Jones reminded the world that the Spectator, of whose board Brillo is the distinguished chairman, had published an article praising Greek neo-Nazis. This was the rag’s long-time columnist, Taki, which praised the Golden Dawn as just good, patriotic Greeks. Well, they are patriotic in the same sense as the Nazis, Mussolini’s Fascists and the BNP. They’re a violent neo-Nazi group notorious for violent attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers. If I remember correctly, one of their members was also accused of murder of an opposition politician or journalist. As for Taki himself, he’s a snobbish Greek multimillionaire playboy, who has spent time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in Pentonville for possessing cocaine. He’s also published articles in the Speccie which are anti-Semitic.

Brillo Pad tried to shut Jones up, talking over him and accusing him of persuing a personal vendetta against him. That sequence of his wretched programme ended with Brillo staring into the camera like an existentialist philosopher like Sartre or Camus contemplating the awful meaninglessness of the universe. It seems that the veteran newspaper editor was afraid Jones was trying to get him sacked, and the spat continued on Twitter. According to a piece put up on Zelo Street last Monday, Brillo was denying that the Spectator was a ‘facist’ magazine and repeated the claim that Jones was pursuing a personal vendetta. He was also upset because one of the magazine’s own columnists had compared him to Mussolini and another that he was a ‘Paisley Pleb’. Jones hit back, saying

“There is no personal vendetta. You are the licence payer funded BBC flagship politics interviewer, and the Chairman of a hard right magazine whose articles praise the Wehrmacht, claim black people have lower IQs than white people, and defend Greek neo-nazis. These are facts”.

Zelo Street, quoting Michael Walker on Twitter also said that Jones did not accuse the magazine of being Fascist, but of publishing and platforming Fascists. The website also added that Brillo has also published a piece from Rod Liddle, saying that there should be more islamophobia in the Tory party, and from Douglas Murray, who said that conditions should be made harder for Muslims right across the board. As for Brillo’s statement that instead of pursuing his personal vendetta on the Beeb, Jones should have first come to him with his complaint, Zelo Street pointed out that this would have been worthless, because of the way Brillo tried to shout him down.

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/01/owen-jones-roasts-andrew-neil.html

Brillo was also roundly criticized by Observer journo Carole Cadwalladr, who rebutted Neil’s claim that he doesn’t interfere in the content of the Speccie. This is the journalist Neil had insulted as a ‘crazy cat woman’. After asking Neil on Twitter if he was sitting comfortably, she began with telling him that an ex-employee had said that

“The Spectator today is entirely made in Andrew Neil’s image. His constant presence in the building means that he looms over everything editorial … he shapes the agenda by his contempt for anyone and anything that challenges his right-wing, ultra-capitalist world-view. He wishes the Spectator was the Economist and that Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister. He has drained the magazine of gentleness and joy”. She also quoted another ex-Speccie journo, who said

The idea that Andrew is not responsible for content at the Spectator is…laughably false.’ … ‘The editors were frankly a little scared of Andrew.’

Zelo Street went on by reminding its readers that under Brillo Pad, the Sunday Times paid holocaust denier David Irving to write articles, as well as publishing pieces claiming that the HIV virus did not cause AIDS. It also lost Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli whistleblower, who was jailed for revealing that Israel had developed nuclear weapons. The article continues by stating that Neil has got away with flagrant conflicts of interests with his position at the Beeb, including running the Addison Club, an elite dining society which may have been responsible for Russian money finding its way into the Leave campaign. He also used his position at the Beeb to promote his own denial of climate change. The article concluded with the statement that he got away with all that, but one more callous insult could be the last straw.

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/01/brillo-faces-cadwalladrs-revenge.html

Last time I looked, Neil was still on the Beeb and I really doubt that the corporation wants to fire him. But Neil’s own history of publishing extreme right-wing and unscientific articles in his newspapers clearly shows that he really can’t claim to be an impartial host, and lay the broadcaster open to further criticism.

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space: Land of Dopes and Tories

January 5, 2019

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space were a local band in Devon. Downes was into cryptozoology, the study of unknown animals, and, with others, ran the Centre for Fortean Zoology. Back in the 1990s they published a small magazine, Animals and Men, which covered developments in zoology ranging from recent discoveries in paleontology and dinosaurs, the new species then being discovered in South East Asia, and creatures like the Yeti and other ape creatures and the Loch Ness monster, whose existence is very definitely not accepted by mainstream scientists. His band was also unsurprisingly steeped in Fortean high weirdness, hence its bizarre name. One of the songs on their album was about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, a mysterious figure who stalked American suburbia around the 1940s. The Mad Gasser got his name because he was believed to be responsible for knocking people unconscious with some kind of anaesthetic gas. Despite the panic he caused and an intense police search, no-one was ever caught and the Mad Gasser is thus one of those mysterious figures of urban folklore like Spring-Heeled Jack in Britain.

Downes’ lyrics often included explicit social and political comments. ‘God Bless Amerikkka/Petsurfing’ contained references to the Beach Boys as well as bitter comments on Reagan’s America and the Vietnam War. It’s lyrics ran

The Beach boys in the Whitehouse took the president out dancing
took in a drive-in movie threw a frisbee with Charles Manson.
The American dream was sweet sixteen and no-one gave a damn
and thousands of asshole students were praying for their very own Vietnam.

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” give me concepts I can see
“Give me Librium or Give me Meths” it’s all the same to me,
God Bless America!
(I don’t mean to annoy ya as you drown in Paranoia got no reason to destroy ya in the land of the brave).
God Bless America!
(You’ve got to catch that one last wave!)

The western world just genuflects and licks its paltry leavings
so three stupid generations have got something to believe in
now style over content is the way they measure worth,
and a grinning fool has just become the most powerful man on earth.

The cretin culture faced the wall and found it couldn’t win against it
the peasants in the jungle or the troops of Ho Chi Minh,
the profit motive is a joke when there isn’t any money,
there’s no point to a joke like that, it really isn’t funny.

It also struck me that his track ‘The Stranger (L’Etranger)’ is also partly a comment on Thatcher and the British secret state, while the title is a reference to Camus’ existentialist classic.

She’s got half a mind to kill you if you don’t agree with her programme
she’s got half a mind to stop you in your tracks.
She’s got a 10% dead army, she’s got heroes ten a penny,
she’s got men she’d pay to stab you in the back.

There’s a new ideal on the night-time breeze,
(won’t you wait a while till midnight?)
There’s a new man coming through the trees,
(won’t you watch him dance by lamplight?)

In the darkness at the edge of town there’s a stranger with a knife,
and he swears he’s going to stop her with his life.
She knows he won’t forgive her, (and that he never wanted to live there),
but she still thinks he loves her like his wife.

In her mind she’s built a castle and peopled it with fear,
if you look too hard you know that it will all disappear,
she’s so lonely in her madness, it’s so lonely at the top,
If you got that far it’s really hard to stop.

The most explicitly anti-Tory lyrics in the album are in Part Two of his song, ‘English Heritage’. The song was about the government’s privatization of Stonehenge to English Heritage, who then surrounded it with a wire fence, put up a souvenir shop and charged an entry fee. The second part of the song was an explicit attack on Tory patriotism, ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’, and was an obviously parody of Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It ran

Land of Dopes and Tories, gameshows and TV,
the land our fathers fought for don’t seem the same to me.
Something’s subtly different, something must have changed,
‘cos England’s now just a refuge for the terminally deranged.
Land of Dopes and Tories, land of the living dead,
land where the hope and glory only lives on in my head,
land of idiot violence where innocent blood is shed,
land where only the assholes heard what Mosley said.
Land of Dopes and Tories I don’t see the point,
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.

The sleeve notes explain that the line about Mosley refers to his comment that whoever won the Second World War, Britain would be ruined as a world power.

Time and the world have moved on since the album came out, and the ’90s ended nearly two decades ago. Reagan is gone, and we had another grinning fool enter the White House in the shape of George ‘Dubya’ Bush. He’s now been succeeded in his turn by another maniac, Trump, who doesn’t grin but glowers and struts like Mussolini. Over here, Maggie also passed from power to be succeeded by John Major, the grey man who handed Stonehenge and other ancient sites to English Heritage, and who was succeeded in his turn by Blair and his sickly grin. Blair has also left government, and instead we’re run by Tweezer. Who would like us all to believe that she’s Maggie Mark 2. And she does have men ready to kill people. Not just the staff at the DWP, who are determined to throw people off benefits to starve and die at the slightest excuse – she’s also put legislation in place to put 3,500 troopers on the streets in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. And British television and popular culture in the shape of the right-wing press is doing its best to distract people from how dire and desperate the situation is for very many people, not least by smearing and misrepresenting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. And like Maggie Thatcher, Tweezer’s also using the secret state to smear and lie on her behalf.

Maggie, Reagan and their era are gone, but Tory and Republican tactics and policies are carrying on. It’s time they were utterly discarded, and genuinely left-wing, progressive governments voted in under Jeremy Corbyn here in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US.

Dawkins’ Atheist Bus Service

February 7, 2009

Richard Dawkins has been in the news a bit recently. Firstly, about a fortnight ago the buses in various cities in Britain started running his adverts for atheism. The slogan adopted by Dawkins and his fellows for attacking religious belief is ‘God probably doesn’t exist, so be happy.’ This has prompted its share of comment and controversy. According to the British papers, one Christian bus driver in Southampton, Ron Flowers, refused to drive one of the buses with the slogan. Apparently he turned up for work one Friday, saw that he was supposed to drive that bus, and went home instead. According to the bus company, when he turned up for work on Monday the company decided instead to reach some kind of arrangement with him so that he could drive another vehicle instead. A spokesman for the Humanist Society declared that they couldn’t understand why someone would be offended by someone else’s statement of belief, while a spokesman for the Methodist Society stated that they had no problems with atheists sticking the slogan on buses, as this encouraged people to think about these important issues.

Now my own point of view is that atheists like Dawkins and the Humanist Society have every right to have their adverts carried on buses and other places. It’s a free society, and so they should have the right to express and try to promote their views, just like people of faith. However, I also consider that Dawkins’ atheist bus campaign presents far more problems for atheism, and indeed itself constitutes a rebuttal of some of their arguments, than it does for people of faith.

Firstly, it bears out Aleister McGrath’s view in The Twilight of Atheism that much of the New Atheist attack on religion is due to religion not declining as was expected by atheists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Also, the content of the slogan itself has managed to offend many people regardless of their own personal stance on religion or political affiliation. The advert was briefly discussed this past week on the BBC magazine programme, The One Show, broadcast on BBC 1. One of the presenters, Christine Blakeley, felt it was arrogant for Dawkins to state that religious believers were miserable. They had as one of their guests on their show the fertility expert, Dr. Robert Winston, who has himself presented a number of science programmes on the Beeb. Winston’s very definitely a supporter of Charles Darwin, and was talking about a children’s book he’s written about evolution. He also made it clear that he was a friend of Dawkins, but objected to the buses’ slogan and stated that he also found Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, also to be arrogant in its choice of title. In fact, Winston gave a speech at the Edinburgh branch of the British Association for the Advancement of Science a few years ago where he stated that, as much as he liked Dawkins’ personally, Dawkins’ attempts to promote atheism in the name of science was itself unscientific and indeed damaging to science.

There are also a number of non-scientists who were similarly unimpressed with the adverts. They were discussed a few weeks on BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, which, like Have I Got News For You on TV, takes a satirical look at the week’s news. One of the regular guests on the programme is Jeremy Hardy, a man of strong left-wing opinions, who isn’t afraid to criticise organise religion. However, he described Dawkins as ‘one of those irritating professional atheists’. This seems to indicate that Dawkins’ campaign has managed to annoy a lot of people regardless of their personal views on the existence of God or religion. This might be because people generally don’t like to be told what to believe or how to vote by others. Now one of the most frequent objections to organised religion is that it tells people what to believe. But this is exactly what Dawkins and his fellows have done with their bus slogan: they are telling people not to believe in God. The slogan is not ‘We believe that there is probably no God, and recommend that you be happy’, but ‘There is probably no God, so be happy’. Now I’ve no objection to people being told to be happy, but there is clearly a problem in that the posters are telling people ‘there is probably no God’.

In fact there are further, more profound objections to Dawkins’ slogan. There’s the question of how Dawkins can say authoritatively that ‘there is probably no God.’ One can question not just the validity of the statement, but the logic and arguments that support it. However, the slogan doesn’t present any: it’s just an assertion, a statement of belief purporting to be fact.

There is also the problem that the non-existence of God does not necessarily lead to happiness. For atheist existentialists such as Camus and Sartre, the non-existence of God meant that man was free, but also condemned to a meaningless existence, and much atheist, existentialist literature is occupied by the anxiety and despair that created by this lack of transcendental meaning. So, rather than atheism leading necessarily to happiness, it may also lead to misery and despair. Indeed, Hume, the great founder of modern Scepticism, himself declared that at times his rational investigation of the cosmos filled him with such despair that he had to take a break from his philosophical activities and amuse himself for a few hours. Nevertheless, when he returned to his philosophical analyses once again, they appeared so cold, strained and ridiculous, that he didn’t want to go any further with them.

Many religions, by contrast, offer the joy of a truly meaningful universe in which humanity can find fulfilment both as a creature in the cosmos, and through contact with the gods and deeper realities that give that cosmos meaning. In Christianity, humanity was created by the Lord for fellowship with Him, and so has a profound meaning and dignity. People of faith are not necessarily miserable, and indeed there is considerable evidence that they are happier and enjoy better mental health than other, secular individuals. Religion, and Christianity, can therefore be seen as far more optimistic than the atheism that Dawkins seeks to promote.

Nietzsche, Nihilism and the ‘Shadows of God’

March 24, 2008

Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the foremost atheist philosophers and perhaps the one who most strongly represented the 19th century attack on God. Although atheism long predated his assault on theism in general and Christianity in particular, Nietzsche’s vehement declaration that ‘God is dead’ in a series of books sent a philosophical shockwave through Europe. Previous atheist works, such as those of the French philosophes, had argued for atheism as a liberating force while often still accepting the existence of objective moral values that could be discovered by human reason, a reason freed from belief in God. Nietzsche challenged this assumption. In his attack on Christian morality, Nietzsche attempted a thorough exploration of what it actually meant to live in a Godless universe. Instead of the optimistic belief in continuing progress of the philosophes and Positivists, Nietzsche instead argued instead that in the absence of God, there were no objective moral values and the universe itself was inherently meaningless. It was a profoundly pessimistic view, and one from which the human mind instinctively draws back. While conceptions of morality vary from age to age and generation to generation, nevertheless people instinctively insist that some moral must be absolute, such as the injunctions against killing and lying. As for an inherent meaning in the cosmos, atheist philosophers such as Sartre argued that humanity was now free to invent its own meaning. Yet whether one agrees with Nietzsche’s analysis or not, his discussion of the philosophical implications of atheism far beyond the mere question of the existence of God – how it affects, or can affect, every aspect of human life and endeavour, is still immensely relevant to the debate about atheism. Recent critiques of the arguments by New Atheists like Sam Harris, for example, by Dinesh D’Souza have cited Nietzsche. So an examination of Nietzsche’s basic conception of atheism and his violent rejection of Christianity and morality is timely here.

Nietzsche’s View of Theism as a Disease

Despite the marked difference between Nietzsche’s nihilism and the positivism of the New Atheists, there are a number of striking similarities. Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins claim to be arguing in favour of science when they attack theism. Nietzsche similarly claimed to be critiquing theism from a scientific standpoint, considering himself to be a physiologist or psychologist examining the unconscious reasons why people say what they do. 1 In his discussion of truth from the perspective of life, Nietzsche constructed a series of typologies of humanity based on physiology, environmental and temperamental conditions. 2 Indeed, he declared that all moral values needed to be critiqued from the perspective of physiology and medical science.

‘In fact all tables of values – all ‘you out to’s’ – which we know from history or ethnological research, in any case, first require a physiological examination and interpretive explication, before even a psychological one; similarly, all of them stand in need of a critique from the side of medical science.’ 3

Like some contemporary atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, who regard theism as a disease or disorder, Nietzsche similarly rejected theism, and particularly Christianity, as a source of depression and spiritual debilitation, and that God had to be killed in order to restore health and self-confidence. 4 ‘He perceives taht the human society surrounding him is in a diseased spiritual state, and that something needs to be done, lest the entire species waste away.’ 5 Nietzsche’s sentiments here are very strongly similar to some of the claims by contemporary atheists that theism is somehow harmful to the species, or humanity needs to evolve out of theism. Part of Nietzsche’s rejection of God was based on his belief that theistic religion repressed healthy biological energies. In the case of Christianity, it was the sexual energies that were repressed. The Rational Response Squad notoriously provoked a storm of controversy by describing theism as a ‘mind disorder’. While even other atheists attacked them for this, their views here are exactly the same as Nietzsche.

‘As far as Nietzsche can see, this theistic outlook amounts to a form of madness, and he reasons that the kind of sickness with which he sees the European Christian as having been infected is a mental illness.’ 6 

Rejection of Absolute Truth In Nietzsche

Where Nietzsche differs from contemporary atheists is that while many contemporary atheists deny that the absence of God has any bearing on objective truth or morality, Nietzsche believed that without God there was no single, objective truth or set of moral values. Indeed, Nietzsche was resolutely opposed to any dogmatic philosophical or scientific concepts that did claim to be objectively true. Thus Nietzsche rejected concepts such as eternally enduring substances, matter and Platonic forms. He denounced these concepts as ‘shadows of God’, ideas that act like God in that they similarly claim to be the absolute foundation of the universe and its contents. 7 Scholars of Nietzsche have also suggested that these ‘shadows of God’ could also be expanded to include notions such as ‘laws of nature’ and definitions of human nature that set limits upon or imprison humanity within distinct notions of the human condition. 8 

This rejection of any single, dogmatically true conception of the universe was based on a vehement rejection of any kind of anthropomorophism of the cosmos. Nietzsche followed Hume, Feuerbach and the ancient Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, in considering that God was merely a projection of human concerns and qualities. However, expanded this rejection of anthropomorphism to the universe itself. He strongly rejected anthropocentric interpretations of reality, comparing them to ants in a forest who similarly believed that the forest was for them. 9 Far from being a universe of order, the cosmos was instead based on chaos.

‘The overall character of the world is, to the contrary, in all eternity chaos – not in the sense of any necessity that is missing, but an absence of order, structuring, form, beauty, wisdom, and everything else named by our aesthetic, human constructions’. 10

The universe was not just beyond or outside human aesthetic constructs, but also based very much on chance. ‘Nature, considered artistically, is no model. It exaggerates, it distorts, it leaves holes. Nature is chance.’ 11

Like conceptions of the universe, objective truth also was, for Nietzsche, merely another anthropomorphism without any real validity.

‘What, then, is truth? A maneuverable army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms – in short, a summation of human relationships which have been poetically and rhetorically heightened, transposed, and embellished, and which, after long use by a people, are considered to be solid, canonical, and binding: truths are illusions whose true nature has been forgotten.’ 12

Nietzsche’s Rejection of Objective Moral Values

For Nietzsche, the absence of God and objective truth and humanity’s existence in a meaningless, fundamentally unknowable universe, meant that not only were all moral values merely social constructions, but even immoral acts were valid from the perspective of life – when they aided the individual’s continued existence or social advancement. For example, lying is traditionally considered immoral. Yet Nietzsche considered that weaker and less robust people often maintained themselves by lying, flattery and other forms of deception, so from the perspective of survival, lying was not entirely objectionable for those whose circumstances necessitated it. 13 Indeed, Nietzsche considered that humans were primarily motivated by a will to power, and that traditional moral principles, such as those against lying and harming and exploiting others, were opposed to human biology.

‘Life operates essentially, namely, in its basic functions, with injury, violation, exploitation, destruction, and cannot at all be concived without this character. One must stand by an even further thought: that, from the highest biological standpoint, legal conditions can only be anomalous conditions, as partial restrictions upon the actual life-will, which is a will for power.’ 14

Nietzsche and Suffering

Contemporary scholars of Nietsche note that although there is a very definite sense that might makes right in his works, Nietzsche’s philosophy is also one of being able to transcend and transform oneself and ones values to become a stronger person. 15 Nietzsche was strongly aware of humanity’s insignificance in the atheist conception of the cosmos. In the absence of God, the problem of evil for Nietzsche was not how God could let evil occur, but ‘the more frightening problem of how to say “yes” to a world where there is no God to work against evil, and where there is no justice.’ 16 Nietzsche conception of the universe as a place of suffering in which one must test one’s strength has suggested to scholars that he designed his philosophy not for the brutal and insensitive, who suffer less under cruel conditions, but for those who were potentially strong-willed, but also cultivated and caring. 17 

Nietzsche and the Nazis

Nietzsche’s philosophy is also strongly associated, at least in the popular view, with the Nazis through his celebration of the superman and the will to power. The association of Nietzsche with militant German nationalism began in the 19th century when his cousin, Elizabeth Forster-Nietsche, issued an edition of his writings under the title The Will to Power. During the Third Reich, his sister attempted to approach Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to help spread his ideas. In 1934 the Nazis issued a propaganda photograph showing Hitler gazing at a bust of Nietzsche during his visit to the Nietzsche archive in Weimar. 18 The association between Nietzsche’s ideas and Nazi ideology was reinforced still further by the title of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film of the Nuremberg rally, Triumph of the Will. The perceived link between Nietzsche and the Nazis has been strongly criticised and refuted, however. Nietzsche himself was a vehement critic of the Germans and despised the nationalism of Wilhelmine Germany. When Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche published her edition of his works, with a very strong nationalist bias, he commented that he wrote his books ‘only for people who like to sit and think, no more’. He was not particularly anti-semitic, and while Thus Spake Zarathustra celebrated the warrior and was issued by the German government to soldiers in the trenches during the First World War along with the Bible as inspirational reading, Nietzsche’s own view of the warrior was that of the idealised heroic warrior of ancient Greece, rather than modern soldiers who massacre unarmed civilians. 19 Nietzsche hated mass politics, and his philosophy was too individualistic to support the totalitarian ideology of the Nazis. Historians such as Joachim C. Fest have noted that Hitler was far more influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer, and that only severely edited versions of Nietzsche’s works were published during the Third Reich.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s vehement hatred towards Christianity has been compared to the Nazis hatred of the Jews and other racial groups. ‘Sometimes when reading Nietzsche, one feels that in his worst moments, the psychological venom with which he attacked Christians was comparable to the venom with which Hitler attacked the Jewish people. It is from the same bottle of poison that rabid racists attack those who are unlike them, and  religious fanatics attack those who stand opposed to their doctrinal expansion.’ 20 Unlike the Nazis, however, Nietzsche mostly advocated peaceful solutions to what he perceived as contemporary problems which involved merely a change in worldview and self-improvement through an emphasis on personal strength and aesthetic appreciation. 21 Indeed, the Nazis themselves and their aggression can be seen as psychologically weak and inferior from a Nietzschean perspective that considers that the truly strong individual can nevertheless still flourish and not feel threatened by the type of society, like Weimar Germany, which threatened the Nazis. 22

Nietzche’s Influence on Contemporary French Philosophy

Regardless of Nietzsche’s perceived connection with the Nazis, he has influenced 20th century and contemporary French philosophy, including existentialists such as Sartre and Camus. His statement in Human, All-Too-Human, that ‘everything, though, has become; there are no eternal facts: just as much as there are no absolute truths’ formed the basis for Postmodernism. 23 Nietzsche’s rejection of a single authority and unique worldview for historical philosophizing influenced Georges Bataille, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida. 24

Similarity Between Nietzsche’s Views on Cosmic Meaninglessness and those of Monod and Weinberg

Some of the pronouncements made by contemporary atheist scientists are also very similar to statements made by Nietzsche, even though there may be no direct influence. The French evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who signed the 1975 Humanist Manifesto, declared that the message of of science was that humanity was a gypsy on the boundary of an alien world. 25  Monod considered that the emergence of humanity was entirely due to chance, stating that

‘Immanence is alien to modern science. Destiny is written as and while, not before, it happens … The universe was not pregnant with life nor the biosphere with man. Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game. Is it surprsing that, like the person who has just made a million at the casino, we should feel strange and a little unreal?’ 26

The great American cosmologist, Steven Weinberg, has similarly remarked that humanity is merely an insignificant part of a vast, meaningless universe.

‘It is very hard to realise that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realise taht this persent universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.’ 27 Nietzsche expressed a similar bleak, cosmic pessimism at the beginning of his essay, ‘On Truth and Lie in a Morally-Disengaged Sense’, stating

‘In some isolated corner of the cosmos, poured out shimmeringly into uncountable solar systems, there was once a star upon which clever animals invented knowledge. It was the most arrogant and hypocritical minute of “world history”: but it was only a minute. After nature drew a few breaths, the star grew stiff with cold, and the clever animals had to die.’ 28

In fact the view of humanity as an alien, out of place in the universe, has been challenged by science. It has been remarked that evolutionary biologists have been demonstrating for over a century that humanity was born here and should acknowledge the cosmos as their native home. 29 Humans are natural products of the world, and so, like other creatures in the cosmos, are intrinsic to it. 30

Intelligibility of the Cosmos

Despite these apparent points of contact between Monod, Weinberg and Nietzsche, however, there are immense differences. Rather than believing in an unknowable cosmos, such as that imagined by Nietzsche, Monod and Weinberg would argue strongly that science gives a unique access to objective truth about the nature of the world. From the Nietzschean standpoint, any attempt to ascribe a particular character to the cosmos, or make dogmatic statements about its fundamental nature, is an anthropomorphic projection comparable to the process by which humans invented God. The physical laws and models of the universe created by Monod and Weinberg are, in the Nietzschean view, shadows of God fulfilling the same conceptual role in human ideology as God. Thus, ironically, in the Nietzschean view atheists like Monod and Weinberg, in their conception of an intelligible, universe, aren’t atheist enough.

Criticisms of Nietzsche

In fact Nietzsche’s philosophy is vulnerable to criticism on a number of fundamental points. It is fatally flawed in the sense that it is basically self-contradictory. Nietzschean philosophy states that there is no fundamental truth about the world and no objective worldview or morality. Yet for Nietzschean philosophy to be valid, it has to be fundamentally and objectively true, something which it denies.

Furthermore, for all his claims to rationality and scientific methodology, Nietzsche’s approach was literary and poetic rather than entirely scientific and rationalistic. Nietzsche was opposed to exclusive and excessively rationalistic thought and ‘to any science devoid of art, to any purely literalistic, non-literary, non-poetic approach to understanding the world’. 31

Nietzsche’s family circumstances also seem to bear out the suggestion of the Christian psychologist, Paul Vitz, that people turn to atheism due to the breakdown of their families and particularly a poor relationship with their father. Nietzsche himself loved his father, a Lutheran minister, and his early years centred around his father’s church and pastor’s house, which was situated only a few meters away. In his teens Nietzsche wrote music strongly influenced by the style of that of the contemporary Lutheran Church.  However, Nietzsche’s father died when he was four, and his two year old brother only six months later. It’s possible that the grief caused by this loss was important in generating Nietzsche’s atheism. ‘Nietzsche’s early childhood experiences presented him with an understanding of death that could easily be transposed into reflections on the “death of God,” if only because the Christian God is a superhuman father figure.’ 32

There is also the point that rather than being an unintelligible chaos as imagined by Nietzsche, science instead has discovered the universe to be intelligible and ordered. T.H. Huxley himself stated that ‘if imagination is used within the limits laid down by science, disorder is unimaginable.’ 33 For people of faith, this order present in the cosmos is due to it being the product of a transcendent Creator, and the belief that this is case was one of the causes of the rise of science in Europe. Paul Davies has pointed out in his 1983 The Mind of God that the scientific investigation of nature was justified in renaissance Europe through the argument that nature was the creation of a rational God and therefore displayed this order. 34 Eugene Wigner, one of the founders of Quantum physics, remarked on the ‘unreasonable successfulness of mathematics’ in describing the universe. The British physicist Sir James Jeans similarly considered that it was little short of miraculous that an insignificant creature such as humanity, briefly occurring in the immensity of the cosmos, should possess a mind that could map the universe. Humanity was able to do this because the universe conformed to the same mathematical framework that humanity had constructed, and so bore witness to a mind that had kinship with humanity’s own. 35 The Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose similarly argued in his 1985 Shadows of the Mind that the best explanation for the beauty and structure of mathematics was that they were somehow given by God. Instead of inventing equations and formulae, mathematicians instead discovered the mathematical creations of God. 36

Conclusion: Intelligibility of the Cosmos Supports the Existence of a Rational God

If the universe was unintelligible, then Nietzsche’s rejection of any attempt to define its fundamental characteristics as mere anthropomorphism could be justified. However, its intelligibility suggests that both it and humanity have a common origin as creations of God. The former Quantum physicist and Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, in his 1988 Science and Creation: A Search for Understanding, stated that

‘If the deep-seated congruence of the rationality present in our minds with the rationality present in the world is to find a true explanation it must surely lie in some more profound reason which is the ground of both. Such a reason would be provided by the Rationality of a Creator.’ 37 Thus, science, far from supporting the meaningless universe of chaos envisaged by Nietzsche, instead to people of faith continues to point to a meaningful cosmos of divine order, and a transcendent rationality which humans share with the author of that cosmos. In this view, Monod and Weinberg are also wrong for viewing the cosmos as meaningless like Nietzsche despite their rejection of Nietzsche’s view that the cosmos has not objective nature.

Notes

1. Robert Wicks, Nietzsche (Oxford, One World 2002), p. 39.

2. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 43.

3. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 43.

4. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 54.

5. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 57.

6. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 56.

7. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 65.

8. Wicks, Nietzsche, pp. 65-6.

9. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 66.

10. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 68.

11. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 68.

12. Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lie in a Morally-Disengaged Sense’, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 44.

13. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 42.

14. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 70.

15. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 73.

16. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 75.

17. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 77.

18. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 125.

19. Wicks, Nietzsche, pp. 128, 129.

20. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 131.

21. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 131.

22. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 134.

23. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 140.

24. Wicks, Nietzsche, pp. 136-44.

25. Mary Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears (London, Methuen 1985), p. 76.

26. Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion, p. 88.

27. Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion, p. 88.

28. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 74.

29. Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion, p. 76.

30. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 148.

31. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 38.

32. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 51.

33. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 79.

34. Alister McGrath, The Science of God (London, T& T Clark International, 2004), p. 67.

35. C.E.M. Joad, Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science (London, Unwin 1963), p. 48.

36. McGrath, The Science of God, p. 116.

37. John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding (London, SPCK 1988), p. 22, cited in McGrath, The Science of God, p. 60.