Patrick West:

Yet Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence belongs strangely to the realm of metaphysics and dualism. Its fatalism and determinism contradicts Nietzsche’s exhortation for each of us to become our own masters and to become who we truly are.

West characterizes Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal recurrence — live your life as if it will recur again and again eternally, down to the tiniest detail — as “basic self-help stuff.” Self-help, of course, is universally scorned among the media clerisy and the sorts of intellectuals who write books about Nietzsche. It supposedly presents simplistic solutions to complex problems and reduces great art to raw material to be mined by the self-centered for banal “life lessons” — all of which is largely true, even if the scorn is overdone for status-signaling purposes. But I had to laugh at the irony here of West presenting Nietzsche as if he were the slightest bit interested in “each of us” becoming our own masters. He wasn’t. I dare say that this middle-class perspective, for lack of a more precise term, of viewing everyone as more or less on the same moral level, of failing to recognize a genuinely 19th-century aristocratic attitude even as it looks haughtily down its nose at you, is just as much a failure of imagination as anything found in the self-help section of a bookstore. What, you think Nietzsche would have been anything other than repulsed by Spiked magazine and its paint-by-numbers pretensions to be the true voice of the democratic libertarian masses? Ah, right, yes, you probably do.

Nietzsche seemed to hint that Goethe came closest to embodying his ideal of the Ubermensch, a man who “disciplined himself to wholeness,” “a spirit who has become free.” He took it for granted that geniuses like Goethe (or himself) came along once every couple centuries or so, and the best the rest of us could do would be to prepare the conditions where such higher types could flourish. They represent the mountain peaks of human existence; most of us spend our unimportant lives down in the valleys. Their work will endure for millennia like the pyramids; the individual slaves who toiled to lay the stonework are justly forgotten. Who could be so ridiculous as to imagine that the ordinary everyman could rise en masse up to the level of a Goethe or Aristotle? Who could generate an incoherent fantasy of human excellence improving cumulatively and indefinitely? Certainly not Nietzsche. For that, you need the stupendous foolishness of a Trotsky. And who could still be so foolish as to lionize a loathsome man who was every bit as monstrous as his fellow Bolsheviks? Ah, right, Spiked magazine. Suddenly, it all makes sense. From the aristocratic heights of Nietzschean philosophy to the fetid swamps of doctrinaire Marxism, it seems that no matter where the self-absorbed Spiked mindset goes, there it finds…itself. How strangely bourgeois!