American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas

American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

Language: English

Pages: 464

ISBN: 022600676X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


If you were looking for a philosopher likely to appeal to Americans, Friedrich Nietzsche would be far from your first choice. After all, in his blazing career, Nietzsche took aim at nearly all the foundations of modern American life: Christian morality, the Enlightenment faith in reason, and the idea of human equality. Despite that, for more than a century Nietzsche has been a hugely popular—and surprisingly influential—figure in American thought and culture.

In American Nietzsche, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen delves deeply into Nietzsche's philosophy, and America’s reception of it, to tell the story of his curious appeal. Beginning her account with Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom the seventeen-year-old Nietzsche read fervently, she shows how Nietzsche’s ideas first burst on American shores at the turn of the twentieth century, and how they continued  alternately to invigorate and to shock Americans for the century to come. She also delineates the broader intellectual and cultural contexts within which a wide array of commentators—academic and armchair philosophers, theologians and atheists, romantic poets and hard-nosed empiricists, and political ideologues and apostates from the Left and the Right—drew insight and inspiration from Nietzsche’s claims for the death of God, his challenge to universal truth, and his insistence on the interpretive nature of all human thought and beliefs. At the same time, she explores how his image as an iconoclastic immoralist was put to work in American popular culture, making Nietzsche an unlikely posthumous celebrity capable of inspiring both teenagers and scholars alike.

A  penetrating examination of a powerful but little-explored undercurrent of twentieth-century American thought and culture, American Nietzsche dramatically recasts our understanding of American intellectual life—and puts Nietzsche squarely at its heart.

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interest to American anarchists. Schumm's selections introduced Liberty readers to a sampling of the range of Nietzsche's literary voices-expository and impressionistic, reasoned and prophetic-while providing them with a treasure of egoistic zingers for the anarchist convinced of the poverty of inherited ideals and the need for self-sovereignty. The excerpts showed Nietzsche at work unmasking the unwholesome egoism of altruism, dismantling the authority of decrepit philosophies that prevent free

confirmed his belief that America was a "doomed republic," for it operated under the "monstrous fallacy that all men are born free and equal. "The prob43 CHAPTER ONE lem with modern democracy is that it mistakes "plutocracy" for leadership and "ballotocracy" for public order. Critical of the leveling tendencies in modern life, and of its assault on the natural "intellectual aristocracy,"Thompson made his debt to Nietzsche explicit:59 And M'lle New York sees the democratic hatred of the

portraits taken in 1882 by the photographer Gustav Schultze in Naumburg, Germany, when Nietzsche was thirty-eight years old. In both images, Nietzsche's thick, dark hair is swept neatly off his high forehead, and his mouth is hidden under a huge but finely groomed mustache; he is dressed in a smart jacket, a white high-collared shirt, and a black tie. One picture is a bust portrait of Nietzsche. The other portrays the philosopher with furrowed brow, head supported by his fist, which would become

crossing; he refosed the human consequences of optimistic, democratic, and progressive impulses in modern culture. While his longing for man's grandeur, for his individuality, for an expansive vision of life put him at odds with nineteenth-century Germany, it was altogether "unnecessary to point out how alien [was] Nietzsche's whole attitude of mind to the American temper." America may worship individualism, but a deep reverence for human individuality was something altogether different.

the prospect that we are always inhibited in ways often invisible to us, either from birth or by our upbringing, so that our assertions of self are merely the rattling of our cages. Though CHAPTER FOUR Bourne refused to give in to the myth of the given, he argued that people internalize the dictates of society and only "dimly realize that their outward lives are largely a compulsion of social habit." Although he insisted that "there is nothing fixed about the objects to which society demands

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