The Nihilism of Contemporary Europe
While most of his contemporaries looked on the late nineteenth century with unbridled optimism, confident in the progress of science and the rise of the German state, Nietzsche saw his age facing a fundamental crisis in values. With the rise of science, the Christian worldview no longer held a prominent explanatory role in people’s lives, a view Nietzsche captures in the phrase “God is dead.” However, science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves. The last thing Nietzsche would have wanted was a return to traditional Christianity, however. Instead, he sought to find a way out of nihilism through the creative and willful affirmation of life.
The Doctrine of the Will to Power
On one level, the will to power is a psychological insight: our fundamental drive is for power as realized in independence and dominance. This will is stronger than the will to survive, as martyrs willingly die for a cause if they feel that associating themselves with that cause gives them greater power, and it is stronger than the will to sex, as monks willingly renounce sex for the sake of a greater cause. While the will to power can manifest itself through violence and physical dominance, Nietzsche is more interested in the sublimated will to power, where people turn their will to power inward and pursue self-mastery rather than mastery over others. An Indian mystic, for instance, who submits himself to all sorts of physical deprivation gains profound self-control and spiritual depth, representing a more refined form of power than the power gained by the conquering barbarian.
On a deeper level, the will to power explains the fundamental, changing aspect of... [continues]
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