nietzsche, politics, theology

The Most Revealing Words Nietzsche Ever Wrote


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Ah, providence. As I continue this exploration of Nietzsche as he emerges in “A Nietzsche Reader” — translated by R. J. Hollingdale — I stumbled on a construction — that is to say his editing — of the following, which I feel is the most accurate and earth-shaking explanation of what Nietzsche actually means by will to power.

After spending time in the vineyards of Heidegger and the French thinkers who have lavished many pages trying to exegete what eternal return is all about, I feel I have struck a mother lode.

Read on. This is from “Beyond Good And Evil 211” and it is in Hollingdale’s section on philosophy and philosophers.

[The philosopher] …must perhaps have been critic and skeptic and dogmatist and historian and, in addition, poet and collector and traveller and reader of riddles and moralist and seer and ‘free spirit’ and practically everything, so as to traverse the whole range of human values and value-feelings and be able to gaze from the heights into every distance, from the depths into every height, from the nook-and-corner into every broad expanse with manifold eyes and manifold conscience. But all these are only preconditions of his task: this task itself demands something different — it demands that he create values. […] Actual philosophers […] are commanders and law-givers: they say ‘thus it shall be’, it is they who determine the Wherefore and Whither of mankind, and they possess for this task all the preliminary work of all the philosophical labourers, of all those who have subdued the past — they reach for the future with creative hand, and everything that is or has been becomes for them a means, an instrument, a hammer. Their ‘knowing’ is creating, their creating is a lawgiving, their will to truth is — will to power. — Are there such philosophers today? Have there been such philosophers? Must there not be such philosophers?

I am going to leave this without comment. It is to me the precise context for an understanding of will to power.

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3 thoughts on “The Most Revealing Words Nietzsche Ever Wrote

  1. stephencrose says:

    Thanks very much for this Ken.

    As you probably sense, I am not academically oriented and do not pretend to expertise. Here is where I come from in this discussion. Heidegger used the whole body of N writings and since reading him I have inclined to the opposite approach. Sticking to the published texts a la Kaufman. Encountering some of the French work on N, however, I do note what you say — the overblown emphasis on will to ppwer and the emphasis on eternal return which I see as mainly a gloss on amor fati.. That said, it is important to understand what will to power is so it does not get lost in some post-Menken aristocratic mishmash..

    My “flash” when I read this in the Hollingdale version was that Nietzsche understood will to power primarily in the context of the mission of a philosopher who has passed through some or all of the phases that he mentions. He sees such a a philosopher the person who has overcome to some extent and who can therefore create values. That is the actual work of the philosopher!

    Now in my own odd life, I did evolve intellecturally out of a Christian ethos and concluded after writing my book on Jonestown that Creedal Messianism was THE problem in the Christian tradition. I came out very close to where N is in The Antichrist. Seeing autnentic Chruistianity or glad tidings as a way of life. I did not get into Nietzsche until quite recently and was happy to sense some interesting parallels. Other pieces on N in this blog more or sell spell this out.

    Revaluing values is I believe precisely the task today.

    I am writing hastily and I hope what I say makes at least some sense. Cheers, S

  2. Stephen,

    It is somewhat a joy to find a fellow Williams grad, grappling with these materials which I once spent a good deal of my life peering at, in an academic context.

    Some comments– offered, if you will, as nothing but comments.

    The “Will to Power” as a central Nietzschean concept may be somewhat overblown. (I note that you quote from Beyond Good and Evil, which seems more accurate, so-to-speak). The standard argument which is offered, is that the book which is titled “The Will to Power” was compiled and edited by Elizabeth Foster Nietzsche, after Friedrich was quite clearly insane; and included statements Nietzsche made while insane; and by this time, Elizabeth was herself quite clearly cuddling up to the National Socialist movement and attempting to produce a work which was favorable to the Nazis.

    I simply have not conducted the depth of work and research it would take to judge those propositions: I can offer a simpler attempt at measurement.

    If one has the CD of Nietzsche’s complete works, one can search the term “Will to Power” and compare its instantiations or appearances, in the various works, via this index. I believe if one does that, one finds a quite different picture, between Will to Power and the rest of Neitzsche’s work and thought.

    Regardless– in the above, you are glancing at Beyond Good and Evil (Jenseits von Guet und Bose), and indeed, a relatively critical passage in Nietzsche’s developing understanding of — I’m going to call it “the human capacity for action” instead of “Will to Power” (‘Wille zum Macht’). (Though I am substituting a different tradition, I think it indicates something closer to Nietzsche’s true meaning and intent, than how ‘base’ “Will to Power” seems in today’s English).

    We might understand “Power” (‘Macht’, or “Making” in English– indeed another translation might be, “Will to Make!”) via a quick game with the French word for the same thing or concept, “Pouvoir” or “Peut-voir,” the capacity or ability to see something through the course of its coming into existence. All I am saying here, of course, is that Nietzsche is primarily concerned with the human capacity, to create and envision and make future reality.

    As you say, the passage stands for itself, and speaks for itself. The first immediate concern I would bring, however, is that it stands in translation, and translation is a difficult process which loses meanings. I don’t have my collected Nietzsche at hand– but the final thing I could add here, would be to attempt an alternate translation of the above. Therefore I will now go looking for an original of the above passage, “as it actually was written.”

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