Let’s begin with his notorious declaration that “God is dead” (first in The Gay Science, 1872). Secular thinking is a commonplace today, but in Nietzsche’s time this declaration was strikingly prophetic. The point of the claim is not so much to assert atheism: although Nietzsche was certainly an atheist, he was far from being a pioneer of European atheism. Rather, his observation is sociological, in a way: he means that Western culture no longer places God at the center of things. In another way, the term ‘sociological’ is quite misleading, for there is nothing ‘value-neutral’ in Nietzsche’s assertion. The death of God has knocked the pins out from under Western value systems, and revealed an abyss below. The values we still continue to live by have lost their meaning, and we are cast adrift, whether we realize it or not. The question is, what do we do now?
One might at first think that ‘the death of God’ is an all-too-familiar issue, conservative Christians arguing that if God does not exist then objective moral values don’t exist either, and secular humanists replying indignantly that God’s existence is entirely irrelevant to the validity of the moral judgments we make. Nietzsche agrees with those theists that the death of God signaled the end of objectivity as a feature of moral value, but differs from them by not taking this as a reason to believe in God. Yet he did not think that values were subjective in the crude popular sense, that anyone’s convictions are as valid as anyone else’s. Rather, to Nietzsche, values have power, and spring from power: like works of art, their greatness is in their power to move us. But the media manipulation of popular sentiment is no indicator of the power that creates value, since almost everybody is merely a member of the herd to Nietzsche. Any relating of value to popular preferences (even the preferences of an aristocracy) is an attempt to hold on to the objectivity of values. But if moral objectivity is at an end, an...
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