Neitzsche is one of the most seminal philosophers in human history. He is part of the small group of people who are almost always referred to by one name, like Seneca, Socrates, or Elvis. Neitzsche was one of the founders of the school of philosophy know as existentialism, which is basically the answer to nihilism. He was one of the harshest critics of religion, particularly Christianity, during the time in which he lived. He famously said that God is dead, meaning that the old religions will not be sustainable for society and human flourishing.
However, other than these flaws, he also predicted the enormous hole that could be created if civilization were to collectively come to this conclusion. Killing the idea of your saviour can lead to earth-shattering despair, which can lead to nihilism. This philosophy is essentially the idea that nothing has any purpose, and that life inevitably revolves around suffering. That’s an oversimplification, but I agree with it, and I think that Neitzsche did too. He helped create exitentialism because nihilism doesn’t have to lead to pessimism. I think that philosophical pessimists, like Schopenhauer, make some excellent points, including on subjects like suicide. But there being no purpose, and suffering being unavoidable, doesn’t mean that we should all just wallow in pity and give up on life. The way that Neitzsche seemed to look at it is this: Everyone suffers, but rather than despairing about this, you should accept it, grit your teeth to get through it, and emerge as a better person for having the strength to withstand it. Suffering can make us better. We can focus on and look forward to the rewards in life, rather than dreading the bad parts.
According to my amateur knowledge of Nietzsche, there being no purpose in life doesn’t have to make you give up either. It can actually be freeing because it means that you can choose any purpose you desire. So if you want to be a writer, surfer, mechanic, physicist, or parent, you can make that your purpose. Choosing to live as if any of these paths are your cosmic, God-given destiny has no impact on the universe as far as we know. So why not act in the most pragmatic way? It will probably make you a happier, more productive member of society. I find philosophical principles like those of Nietzsche to be a lot more useful and inspiring than religious texts.
Nietzsche started going crazy near the end of his life. This seems common in super geniuses like him for some reason. Maybe they are so insightful that they eventually run out of ideas that make sense, and begin taking their conclusions too far. Nietzsche’s I. Q. was apparently 160, which is about the same as that of Einstein! So if this is true, he was obviously extremely intelligent. Anyway, some people think that the pneumonia that led to his death caused his madness. That’s because some of the symptoms of this disease can be psychiatric disturbances, dementia, and strokes, all of which can make you dumb and confused.
When Nietzsche was dying, he was writing a book called The Will to Power, which apparently incorporates some of his earlier ideas in a more direct way. These are related to his answers to suffering and the lack of purpose, laid out excellently in parables like Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He talks about ideas such as becoming the ubermensch, or the “superman”, which is kind of another way of looking at enlightenment. You can overcome suffering and follow your own destiny by becoming the best version of yourself. This is a positive feedback loop because following your purpose and rising above obstacles help make you better at doing so in the future. So being a “superman” is just like being enlightened. This is because it is the best version of yourself. You can experience pain without dwelling on it, and move toward your meaningful and admirable goals.
The notes for The Will to Power were disorganized and at times, rambling, according to a few documentaries and historians. This makes sense, due to Nietzsche’s pneumonia and madness. But Nietzsche had a sister, and what she reportedly did after his death is chilling. She edited and reorganized his notes to suit her malicious agenda. She published his book, with a different message behind it than what her brother likely intended. The language catered to Hitler’s Nazi ideals, expressing the will to power and the ubermensch as ways of taking advantage of others. Hitler was an admirer of Nietzsche, and attended his funeral. Visiting Nietzsche’s sister after his death, Hitler may have been manipulated by her (as much as Hitler could have been manipulated). She presented her propaganda designed for the Nazis. This was The Will to Power. Hitler purportedly drew heavily from this work, and Nietzsche in general, in his speeches. So Hitler perverted the thoughts of a genius philosopher to serve his racist, genocidal agenda! And Neitzsche’s sister helped write the Nazi propaganda format! In some ways, it’s no wonder that Hitler was so convincing.
Nietzsche was a phenomenal philosopher with groundbreaking ideas. But unfortunately, it seems like his insanity late in life, and fatal disease, were taken advantage of by his sister. If this is true, not only did she do this, but she mangled her brother’s wisdom to help the most evil living person at the time. (Although, maybe Hitler was less evil than Stalin or Mao Zedong if you look at their body counts.) These perverted insights almost certainly gave a lot more charisma and influence to Hitler. There’s no telling how much of a factor this played in the public responses to his propaganda. Without the unintentional help of a genius philosopher, maybe Hitler would have had significantly less success. Who knows? I think the most interesting aspect of this story is that Nietzsche’s sister helped the Nazis. If reports are true, then the sister of one of the best philosophers of all time perverted his work to improve Nazi disinformation. Unimaginable death, torture, and mayhem were the results.