#20 – Nietzsche, Michael Tanner BOOK REVIEW

February 14, 2018

This review is slightly out of sequence (it’s actually #25) but it’s fresh in my mind so I’m going with it. This book is from the Past Masters series, short introductory books for university students intended to cover the major thinkers in the Western canon.

Past masters

Never once spelled that right

I’ve long believed that understanding the personality, situation and background to a writer will tell you at least as much about his writing as the words he leaves on the page do. Nietzsche was a weirdo. Here are some choice highlights of his life:

  • His first book The Birth Of Tragedy was published when he was 27, was briefly subject to controversy within German university circles [1] and then he was pretty much ignored until after his death.
  • He caught syphilis from an Italian prostitute, which is what ultimately drove him mad
  • He resigned from his professorship long after students had stopped attending his seminars, such was the lack of interest in his work.
  • Despite falling on hard times and nobody reading him, he never stopped writing. He would frequently go back to his own older books and write his own self-critique of them [2]
  • He was convinced he had momentous ideas that the world ignored at their peril, ideas which would destroy the current basis of morality [3]
  • He once had 118 days of migraines in a single year. Ouch.
  • He began as a disciple and fan of Wagner, writing his first book to valorise him. Then he fell out with him (so passively aggressively that apparently Wagner didn’t even realise he had for several years) and wrote his next books as anti-Wagner treatises [4]

Nonetheless he seems to be taken rather seriously in certain circles so it behoved me to inquire a little into his ideas. I have mixed feelings about him now, though bear in mind this book is the only thing on Nietzsche I’ve read so I’m somewhat at the mercy of Tanner’s own understanding of the man.

Things get off to a bad start with The Birth Of Tragedy. Nietzsche shows himself to be as susceptible as anyone to the utter insanity of the post-Hegelian German intellectual tradition. This tradition seemed to mostly follow this little loop:

1. Fall in with one particular “name” philosopher who is either currently in the zeitgeist or is fashionably contrarian. Draw heavily from his ideas.
2. Recast history (“historiography” I believe it’s called) as being an eternal battle between two opposing grand concepts. For Hegel it was the master and slave, for Marx a materialistic version of the same, for Nietzsche it was epic vs tragedy.
3. Shit this nonsense over hundreds of pages of interminable obfuscatory prose intended to make you look clever.
4. Hope everyone in the coffee houses talks about it and your own name is advanced.


This kind of thing

This is what all these snidey gamma fuckers were up to and it’s left a horrendous pseudo-intellectual tradition of high-sounding gibberish behind them [5]. I suppose we can’t blame Nietzsche for it when he was 27 years old and absorbed in that way of doing philosophy. Fortunately he appears to have grown out of it.

He wasted lots more paper with Human, All Too Human but then seems to settle down a bit with Daybreak and moves away from pretension and towards coherent argument. Tanner outlines in chapter one that Nietzsche is ironically misconstrued by history due initially to his work being badly translated until 1950, secondly by him writing copious notes that are works in progress rather than completed thoughts which later writers disingenuously cherry-picked from to lend weight to their own opinions. Also, people seem to have linked him inextricably to the Nazis [6]. It’s ironic because virtually the last thing Nietzsche wrote was this:

“Listen to me! For I am thus and thus. Do not, above all, confound me with what I am not!” [preface to Ecce Homo] [7]

Tanner asserts that Nietzsche was not a proponent of the nihilism that made him famous. He actually feared it’s onset. Primarily concerned with how culture can deal with the preponderance of human suffering (remember Nietzsche’s life was full of suffering) he’d first tested his ideas with the historiography that epic plays ennobled humans but were unsustainable and that tragedies nourished the soul more effectively.

By the time of Daybreak he’d begun speaking directly of morality in the sense moral philosophers do.

“There are two kinds of deniers of morality… first, to deny that the moral motives which men claim have inspired their actions really have done so… [second] to deny that moral judgements are based on truths”

He states he agrees generally with the second, and sometimes with the first. His full paragraph is an awfully wordy way of saying (i) people claiming moral virtue are often insincere and (ii) there are no foundational ethics. Still, what do I know. I think these Germans are all full of shit and tie themselves in knots constantly [8].

Unlike Marx, Nietzsche doesn’t like the idealistic telos of the German tradition, the idea that history is progressing towards a greater goal. Marx famously built his epistemology on the proposition that all ideas in the superstructure are conditioned by the economic infrastructure, and thus we take as timeless and immutable modes of thought that are specific and conditional. Nietzsche seems to agree in broad strokes but without the inevitable movement forwards. It could just as easily regress.

His worry is that modern society has lost its originator of moral belief (God) and is thus drifting towards nihilism. He states this in Twilight Of The Idols about “the English” philosophers:

“They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality. That is an English consistency… We others hold otherwise. When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self evident; this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands.

When the English actually believe that they know ‘intuitively’ what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value-judgement and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion.”

I’m inclined to agree and certainly believe it an accurate prognostication of the decline of the West into atheism and degeneracy. The human mind is swayed primarily through habit, herd-instinct, and rhetoric. By kicking away the supporting pillar of Faith, the free-thinkers set the stage for ultimate collapse and rendered the West easy prey to the satanists cultural Marxists from within and the more fanatically-held Faith of Muslims rival cultures.

But is this very clever, to justify Nietzsche as a great thinker? Evidently his contemporaries didn’t think so.


Now this is a problem of moral philosophy

Not really. This is a repeated pattern of human action. People adhere to a principle, live their lives based on it, come to believe they no longer need the principle, and behavioural inertia continues for a while to give the impression things are fine…. and then collapse. We see it everywhere. For example, the Feminists of the hippy era abandoned all the beliefs that held the family together but because those individual women had been raised under patriarchy, their pro-family behaviours held things together, mostly, until their own children grew up. The problem came when those children, raised without patriarchy, began forming (or not forming) families without having all the pro-civilisation patterned behaviours.

Thus we see the screeching harpies of the 1970s mostly got married, had a few kids, and stayed in the house their husband paid the mortgage on. The screeching harpies of the 1990s are crazy cat ladies.

This is just how people are. There’s always a group who don’t like societal strictures who will say “let’s just relax the rules, nothing will go wrong”. The rules get relaxed, things seem okay for a while, then we get the collapse which were the reason why we had the rules in the first place. The car drives in a straight line a little while after the driver has fallen asleep at the wheel.

I’ll restate that this is the only book on Nietzsche I’ve read, and thus I have far from a nuanced reading of him. But so far I’m very much underwhelmed. He seems like just another German pseudo-philosopher reheating a load of nonsense under impenetrable language. I had more than enough of Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx. I don’t need more trash.

If you’d like to see modern rationalist philosophy organised into a coherent readable structure that does not betray a syphilis-addled mind [9] then you’re best off reading Daygame Infinite. It is truly beyond good and evil.


Not this shitty Lefty French game

[1] In itself hardly a mean feat. Those pompous intellectuals were the manosphere of their day, gossiping like little girls over the fashion of the week.
[2] There’s a gamma tell if ever there was one.
[3] There’s that secret king thing again
[4] Funnily, I’ve experienced a low-rent version of this with former fan boys of Daygame Mastery casting me in the Wagner position. Many still write hate-fuelled long-winded comments on my blog despite them all wasting away in my auto-spam folder
[5] The French intellectuals did their own version last century which was just as awful
[6] I’m not sure why this would be a negative.
[7] Considering he was still unread and unheard at this point I don’t think anyone was confounding him with anything. Shades of gamma self-importance there.
[8] Just try reading Marx in his own words. Fucking hell, what a moron.
[9] Fingers crossed. Haven’t had an STD test in a while.


  1. I bought Will to Power years ago in my late 20s… took it to a bar after work … probably to try and look smart (classic chode projection that the characteristics you value will be valued by others).

    Some bastard nicked it after I asked if I could put it in his bag and get it back at the end of the night. Been contemplating re-buying and giving it another go but remember it as being rather impenetrable. Perhaps Ill put it back to when Ive got a load of time on my hands. Not a light fun read by any means. His work strikes me as being very much like PUA guides … bear with me … uses a catchy title to draw you into thinking there is a magic pill (check the title, in this case … ‘will to power’ … catnip to a gamma male), then use lots of metaphorical hints to get you thinking there might be something of great value in there, let your imagination do the rest.

  2. It’s been a while since I read Nietzsche and I remember being impressed by Beyond Good and Evil and the Genealogy of Morals. Not sure it’s fair to say it’s all self-evident that moral and ethical standards are arbitrary and peculiar to their time and place. Back then and even now there are people convinced that everyone around the world shares Judeo / Christian morality, with all it’s dire consequences.

    I think you’re right to take the personal history of great thinkers into account (Kant was on the Asperger spectrum IMO, Marx live off other people’s money), and in 99% of cases I would be sceptical about the ideas of someone with Nietzsche live history, but he did have some good ideas. So read it with that in mind, don’t take it as the gospel 🙂

  3. It’s kind of like I also can draw accurately the conclusions and the personality of an author after reading a review of Daygame Infinite from another blogger.

    Guaranteed, pretty much an errors would be generated from a second level analysis like that. [A secret king emerges. K.]

  4. Before 2005-or-whatevever, a 20-something year old who thought and felt as we do – who had our normal, healthy instincts – had no websites to visit, no forums to read discussions, no heartiste or krauser or vox to sharpen thoughts and deepen insights.

    He pretty much only had Nietzsche.

    Pre-internet (and pre-Amazon), Nietzsche was one of the few intellectual resources and points of reference available in bookshops to help thoughtful, healthy people articulate their feelings and instincts – the feeling that what they’ve been taught about morality and religion and politics and pretty much everything is BS.

    Flawed as he was, and deeply so, gamma undeniably he was, his works kept the light burning across the previous century to the dawn of the internet age. For that, we shouldn’t dismiss him as one of them. He was one of us. [Interesting. Hadn’t thought of him that way. I disagree (lots of old novelists, essayists, satirists espoused fairly red pill ideas) but certainly a valid position if you’re of the more philosophical bent. K.]

  5. Out of interest, what are your thoughts on Jordan Peterson?

    I have yet to find a philosopher that doesnt annoy me while reading them. Any that come to mind who don’t babble on dragging out their points? [At first I thought Peterson was just another purple pill guy who got popular out of bandwagon-jumping. I watched a few talks and thought “he’s not telling me anything the manosphere didn’t figure out years ago”. Since then I’ve watched a lot more and my opinion of him keeps rising, to the point that I now respect him and sometimes search him on YouTube to see what he thinks about topics. The main thing I like about him is his outreach – he’s jumping into debates, interviews and other hostile arenas to take on the Enemy. That’s hard work and exposes you to lots of flak, so I respect people who do that. I know I wouldn’t be willing to do all the preparation necessary to anticipate all the sneak attacks the opponents have lined up (e.g. the Cathy Newman interview). I’m not yet convinced he’s an original thinker of value rather than a good synthesiser of existing ideas, but I’ll continue to watch him and try to reach an opinion on that. Overall, I recommend people watch his talks but avoid all the shameful bandwagon jumpers trying to get YouTube views by putting his name in the title of a video. K.]

  6. I’ve started reading Nietzsche (Twilight of the Idols in particular) out of frustration with the many conflicting summaries of his work by others which I’ve encountered. A lot of it seems like collections of unfinished thoughts, but occasionally there is something profound that seems to shine through. In this regard it seems a bit like Keynes’ ‘General Theory’, in that what we think of as ‘Keynesian’ policies nowadays are cherry-picked (out of context) from his work and were something Keynes himself would never have accepted, and also in that the General Theory (as flawed as it is) does contain occasional moments of brilliance.

    I’ve only got an amateurish and mostly second-hand understanding of his work. The point about Western society’s drift towards nihilism is an important one but not necessarily original or that which we should use to judge whether he was a great philosopher. I’m flicking through H L Mencken’s ‘Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche’ (which was recommended to me as the best guide to Nietzsche’s ideas) and it seems he has much more to offer. Probably the most salient I’ve come across is the idea that we should reject a moral system that does not facilitate our advancement, or which leads to our impoverishment or decline. This seems relevant given the bastardisation of liberal ideas about ‘human rights’ which once upon a time enabled high-trust European societies to flourish, but which now guarantees the ‘rights’ of African migrants and Islamic terrorists. Not to mention a version of Christianity which has turned us into doormats.

    Also, as gamma as Nietzsche was, I tend to think it’s a little unfair to dismiss him on the basis that he wasn’t a swashbuckler like Lord Byron or Errol Flynn. For someone who experienced such poor health and romantic failure throughout his life, I have to respect him for how much he praised (rather than resented) the strong, despised socialism and degeneracy and lived an aesthetic lifestyle. [I love what little I know of H L Mencken. K.]

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