Philosopher Nietzsche saw a man whipping a horse on a street in Turin, Italy. He couldn’t endure the cruel sight. Rushing towards the animal, the philosopher hugged it before collapsing to the ground. He never regained his sanity after that.
Nietzsche despised weakness and sentimentality. He was a social Darwinist who believed in the right of the fittest to survive. Strength is the ultimate virtue, he said, and weakness is a vice. Goodness is that which wins while the bad yields to pressure and perishes.
This philosopher of strength who counselled people to live dangerously and to erect their cities beside fuming volcanos and to send out their ships to unexplored seas could not bear the sight of a horse being whipped by its owner. That was Nietzsche: a bundle of paradoxes.
He did not even possess basic health. He was a sickly person right from childhood and he possessed all the goody-goodiness of such boys. As a little boy, he detested the “bad boys” of his neighbourhood who robbed birds’ nests, raided neighbours’ orchards, and told lies. His schoolteachers called him “the little minister,” meaning little priest. His parents were pastors. Some people nicknamed the little Nietzsche “a Jesus in the Temple.” He was a good boy – too good, in fact.
He grew up to despise Christianity, however. He thought it was a religion of weakness. An effeminate religion with a god who capitulated. Someone who dies on a cross with a helpless whimper can’t be a god. Christianity’s heaven must be an utterly boring place with all effeminate souls that never dared to cross the lines drawn by mediocre morality. Nietzsche walked out of that heaven and proclaimed the death of god.
And he grew his moustache long. He was “more moustache than man,” in the words of Eric Weiner whose book The Socrates Express is my present reading. I remember another illustrious writer, Will Durant, describing Nietzsche as “the soul of a girl under the armour of a warrior” [in The Story of Philosophy].
Nietzsche was not what he thought he was and what he pretended to be. He was too good at heart to be the Bismarckian Superman that he idolised in his writings. His heart was more Christian than Saint Francis Assisi’s so much so that the people of Genoa called him ‘the Saint’.
Nietzsche held Wagner’s music in contempt for being an effeminate romantic rhapsody that softened human conscience. But towards the end of his life, in a lucid moment of his flagging sanity, seeing a picture of the musician who was then dead and gone, Nietzsche muttered, “Him I loved much.”
What Nietzsche’s heart loved, his brain did not. That was the paradox that killed the philosopher “too early – and too late,” as Weiner puts it. Almost a century back from today, Will Durant had concluded his chapter on Nietzsche with the epitaph, “Seldom has a man paid so great a price for genius.”
I completed reading Weiner’s chapter on Nietzsche just a few minutes back. Nietzsche had always held a charm for me right from my youth. Weiner has added a lot more colours to that charm and it has now become a rainbow. This is my humble tribute to the troubled genius tormented by the paradox that he was even to himself.