Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand

Having now spent a considerable amount of time consuming, digesting, and integrating her ideas, I now see that Rand did far more than simply combine Aristotle and Nietzsche; she corrected and completed them.

Leaving Aristotle aside for the moment, I would like to look at what I see as two major corrections Rand made to the philosophy of Nietzsche.

Nietzsche's Contributions and Catastrophes
There are those who have said of Nietzsche that he was too poetic to be a philosopher, and too philosophical to be a poet. Most certainly, Friedrich Nietzsche is a mixed bag in more ways than one. In the end, Nietzsche's philosophy is what I call a necessary tragedy. As far as his contributions, I see two points that are important.

The Contributions of Nietzsche's "Philosophy with a Hammer"
First, Nietzsche was a champion of individualism who attempted to revitalize our lost Achilles spirit of man as a hero. Nietzsche declared all-out war against the moralities of collectivism and altruism, mercilessly smashing their false idols with his philosophical hammer and passionate fire. Nietzsche was very critical of modernity, particularly in its holding mediocrity as its highest ideal; a remnant of the bad Christian instincts that still lingered in the psyche of modern Western man.

Nietzsche inflicted a more devastating blow to Christianity and its ethics than any other philosopher of his time. Not since Thomas Paine had anyone so boldly challenged what was once thought to be "good," "moral," and "just." Nietzsche showed that modern man had fallen into a state of decay, primarily because of what he called, "slave morality" and sacrificial "herd instinct" that had been instilled in humanity for centuries. Nietzsche pointed out that while the individual hero type had once been celebrated, this highest type of man, in our age, had not been "willed," but only happened by chance rather than by intentional "breeding." For his transvaluation of all values, I give him credit, and I am also personally grateful.

Nietzsche's Warning
The second vital contribution Nietzsche offered was the warning concerning Western man's loss of horizon caused by what he called, "the death of God." There is no doubt that with the arrival of the enlightenment and modernity came also the death of what once had for so long held power over the spirit of man - religion. Many people often think that he was primarily posing arguments against the existence of God, which I think falls short of a much larger issue. Regardless of whether God does or does not exist, religion certainly no longer holds sway over our society, no longer provides the social glue that it once was able to provide, thus leaving society with a sort of moral void.

In his book, The Gay Science, a madman came into the marketplace searching for God and asked, "Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the horizon? Who has unchained the earth from its axis?" The question of most importance to Nietzsche was: will man be able to create a morality that he can hang above his own door as law? Thus the madman asks, "What games shall we invent?"

As of yet, mankind has never properly filled that moral void. To me, this is the essence of today's post-modern moral crisis and the task that is at hand. The modern man in many ways fails to even see that there is a void that must be filled at all, thus the people in the marketplace laugh at the madman.

Nietzsche's Catastrophes
While Nietzsche's no-holds-barred attack on Christianity and the altruism of modernity in general did in fact clear the way for a fresh look at morality, Nietzsche fell short of offering any tenable alternative, and in fact made two critical mistakes.

The first mistake was to claim that power is man's final end and highest goal, rather than as means toward a greater end; power as an end in itself, a power that is to be governed by man's unbridled passions.

The second major mistake in Nietzsche's incomplete philosophy was that it does not offer man a way for cultivating what is best in his nature, but rather is a wild attempt at altering human nature itself, as depicted in his ?bermensch, or "over man." To Nietzsche, man is not something to be fully realized, but overcome.

Nietzsche's ideal man is in many ways a creature devoid of any sympathy, any charity; solely concerned with one's own whims in the pursuit of power, while viewing any sense of universal humanity or happiness as weaknesses.

Ayn Rand's Contribution
Ayn Rand created a new philosophy called Objectivism. Objectivism is a complete philosophy that stands on its own. It is the only complete philosophy produced in the 20th century that is not influenced or based upon Platonic forms or Kantian categorical imperatives. Objectivism is far more than some simple mixing of Nietzsche and Aristotle, but a new and complete philosophy that cannot be dismissed out of hand; not with any true intellectual integrity.

There are indeed many similarities between Nietzsche and Rand when it comes to their views concerning collectivism, altruism, and Christianity. Also, each of these great thinkers correctly placed man's ultimate standard of value in man himself rather than man as a sacrificial animal to some god or government. While there are striking similarities, there are also profound differences.

Correcting Nietzsche's "Will to Power"
The following two short quotes will help clarify where some of the important differences are:

"What is good? - All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness." -Nietzsche

This following quote, by Rand, initially sounds very similar:

"All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil." -Ayn Rand

While both Rand and Nietzsche hold man as his own standard of value, they define "good" very differently. According to Nietzsche, the good is whatever gives man a "feeling" of power. In contrast, Rand places that which is proper to life as the standard of good, and her philosophy is based upon man's rational faculties, not his emotional drives.

Nietzsche places power as an end in itself, and directs man's will, driven by unbridled passions, toward power; power as man's final end. Rand on the other hand, like Aristotle, place happiness as man's final end. Man's will is directed toward happiness, and man's rational power is the means by which he achieves his happiness. Hers is not a "will to power" but a "pursuit of happiness."

The "good" is not a magnitude of force given off by unbridled passions, but the power of man's intellect in pursuit of his rational values, i.e., those things that produce positive self-esteem: his creative work, his friendships, and his art. This is the first major correction that can be attributed to Ayn Rand that makes her philosophy distinctly different than that of Nietzsche.

Correcting Nietzsche's "?bermensch"
The second of Ayn's major corrections, and probably even more important than the first, was ending Nietzsche's Gnosticism that seeks to somehow "go beyond" being human. Not only is this a bad idea, it is outside the grasp of human power to do so. To Ayn, man is something to be fully realized and human nature something to be cultivated to its fullest potential. Through the use of man's rational faculties, most importantly logic, man is capable of being all that he can truly be, but he is not capable of being more than human. Man is what he is.

In these two ways Objectivism offers striking contrasts to the philosophy presented by Nietzsche, and to claim that Ayn's philosophy is nothing more than a regurgitation of Nietzsche falls woefully short of the mark. Objectivism seeks happiness rather than power as man's final end, and it offers a means for man to be fully human, without expecting him something else.

"Nietzsche's rebellion against altruism consisted of replacing the sacrifice of oneself to others by the sacrifice of others to oneself. He proclaimed that the ideal man is moved, not by reason, but by his "blood," by his innate instincts, feelings and will to power-that he is predestined by birth to rule others and sacrifice them to himself, while they are predestined by birth to be his victims and slaves-that reason, logic, principles are futile and debilitating, that morality is useless, that the "superman" is "beyond good and evil," that he is a "beast of prey" whose ultimate standard is nothing but his own whim. Thus Nietzsche's rejection of the Witch Doctor consisted of elevating Attila into a moral ideal-which meant: a double surrender of morality to the Witch Doctor."
-For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand

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Appreciate Differences