Monday, December 03, 2007

Nietzsche vs. Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky

Nietzsche vs. Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky

Mr. Younos,
Below are my reponses to your questions.

Mr. Martinez,

I found your article online, titled as above in the subject field, dated 5/16/02. I was very interested in the subject matter you discussed, the moreso because I myself have been greatly influenced by Nietzschean ideas (this doesn't mean I'm passionately anti-christian; only that I tend to fall more on the side of Nietzsche's way of seeing things, as opposed to the way of traditional Christianity). I would like to begin a correspondence with you via email on this topic, as there were some areas you brought up which I wished to explore further. Some things I would like touch upon are, for instance, this whole notion of the degree to which Adler was influenced by Nietzsche. I realize that Adler's ideas on power dynamics were derived from Nietzsche's philosophy, but I'm not so sure about his ideas on self-actualization.

WSU Professor Paul Brians disaggrees with you. Please read:


The two grandfathers of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Carl Jung (1875-1961), both had a deep admiration for Nietzsche and credited him with many insights into the human character.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) developed an "individual psychology" which argues that each individual strives for what he called "superiority," but is more commonly referred to today as "self-realization" or "self-actualization," and which was profoundly influenced by Nietzsche's notions of striving and self-creation. The entire "human potential movement" and humanistic psychology (Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, etc.) owes a great debt to this line of thought. Even pop psychologists of "self-esteem" preach a gospel little different from that of Zarathustra. The ruthless, self-assertive "objectivism" of Ayn Rand (1905-1982) is difficult to imagine without the influence of Nietzsche.


Granted, there's a definite intonation in Nietzsche's writings which rings strongly of something like self-actualization, but could the similarities here to Adler's theories be mostly a matter of coincidence (although Munch obviously thinks the contrary)? After all, Adler was also influenced by Christian thinkers like Dostoevsky, and there are similarities between Nietzsche's and Dostoevsky's psychological observations. I was also curious as to what your thoughts were on Soren Kierkegaard, another Christian thinker who capitalized on notions of self-actualization. Kierkegaard viewed the process of becoming an authentic individual as being indispensable to genuine Christianity.

There is a eternal gulf between Kierkegaard's:

"The more superior one person is to another whom he loves, the more he will feel tempted (humanly speaking) to draw the other up to himself, but (divinely speaking) the more he will feel moved to come down to him. This is the dialectic of love."

And Nietzsche's:

"Master morality," which was different from Christian morality – or "slave morality," as he called it. He thought the weak have the morality of obedience and conformity to the master. Masters have a right to do whatever they want; since there is no God, everything is permissible.

There is the same difference between Dostoevsky and Nietzsche.

I'm aware that your article was primarily on the loss of Christian values in American culture, and how this loss seems somehow to be tied in with this Nietzschean-Freudian-Jungian-Adlerian emphasis on individuality. To the best of my understanding of Nietzsche, however, he doesn't consider all values/opinions to be of equal worth. He believed that vital qualities in a human being determine his choice of values, as a venu of self-expression. He favored value systems that were "life-affirming"; a future which is willed is only worth as much as it is an affirmation of life (i.e., without a vision the people perish). Individual self-creation also becomes necessary in a world which has become deprived of meaning after the death of God, insofar as lack of meaning is life-negating. But Nietzsche's self-creative act is to be something lofty and reverential, not an exercise of petty narcissism. When postmodernists speak of a "value-free" ideal in which -- so it seems to me -- "self-actualization" is in fact an exercise of petty narcissism, I think what's being represented isn't so much Nietzschean as it is the product of liberal democracy. The bourgeoisie are, after all, diminutively selfish creatures who foster the edict, "live and let live" -- private citizens who are concerned only with their own lives and how to make themselves "happier". They have little or no social consciousness. Nietzsche hated democracy as much as he hated Christianity.

There is only a difference in degree between bourgeoisie petty narcissism and Nietzsche's superman narcissism.

Those are my thoughts after reading your article. Please respond to my email if you'd be interested in beginning a correspondence.

Ken Younos




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