Wagner and Nietzsche shared a deep contempt for the rise of bourgeois culture, for the idea that life, at its best, was to be lived easily, blandly, punctually, by the book. “Making a living” was, and still is, simple in Basel: you go to school, get a job, make some money, buy some stuff, go on holiday, get married, have kids, and then you die. Nietzsche and Wagner knew that there was something meaningless about this sort of life.
As my friend Arthur likes to say, “The problem is there is no Nietzsche, only Nietzsches.” Kaag seems to have been attracted to the dangerously-living, hammer-wielding, I-am-no-man-I-am-dynamite Nietzsche. Fair enough, but what about the Nietzsche who passionately declared that “to be like a little inn which rejects no one who is in need but which is afterwards forgotten or ridiculed” would be “a reason for a long life!” Or the Nietzsche who cast admiring glances at the Epicurean ideal? What do we make of the Nietzsche who confessed in a letter to his friend Peter Gast that “even now the whole of my philosophy totters after one hour’s sympathetic intercourse even with total strangers!” Or the gentle, considerate Nietzsche as remembered by his friends and acquaintances? Bourgeois, the lot of them? Or could it be that Nietzsche’s thought, even at its most bombastic (and syphilis-addled), was still far more nuanced than Kaag’s snark would suggest? Whether God, women, or bourgeois life, Nietzsche tended to love and hate things in equally passionate measures at the same time, which is part of why he’s still so much more interesting than most of his disciples.