To borrow a Nietzschean phrase, there are “a thousand and one” methods to learn Nietzsche. Heinrich Meier, a well-known German scholar of political philosophy, takes a Straussian path, the way in which of studying pioneered and practiced by the late Leo Strauss (1899-1973). This path entails multiple attribute options. It approaches texts—the texts of “the greatest authors” no less than—with the best respect and it lavishes monumental care on them. This exegetical care ranges from phrase counts and thematic evaluation to carefully following the motion of a textual content. It studiously avoids “proof-texting,” i.e., lifting a sentence or passage out of its context and declaring it “the meaning” of the textual content. The complete textual content have to be thought of, the potential of dialectical growth entertained. The first duty of the exegete is alert docility. This is the golden path to perception and understanding.
Thematically, the Straussian method focuses principally on the duality and duel of religion and purpose, the claims of the gods and the town versus these of autonomous purpose. Typologically, this entails consideration of the peaks of the respective poles, the “types” of “the philosopher” and “the prophet” (as well as lesser sorts similar to “the poet,” “the gentleman,” and “the moral man”). Typically, the studying entails a “dialectical contest” between views and positions.
All of those Straussian options determine prominently in Meier’s recently translated book, a detailed studying and dense interpretation of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. To enter into such a e-book, it’s smart to keep track of the lead of the writer and begin with the title and subtitle. Meier begins by posing a query, “What is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?,” which is adopted by a lapidary indication, “A Philosophical Confrontation.” The preliminary “what” seems to be important, even important. Instead of Martin Heidegger’s well-known query, Who is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?, Meier argues that the what query—the Socratic query—is extra acceptable to the character and extra revealing of the writer’s intention.
To make certain, the “what” query encounters an odd object in Zarathustra! In Meier’s studying, Nietzsche’s central character (and one should always remember that “Zarathustra” is a creation of the writer) is ambiguous, he comprises a duality. He is, or aspires to be, a thinker, the primary true thinker, and he’s, or aspires to be, a prophet, the primary true prophet. What superb ambitions, certainly! The chief drama of the work is the understanding of the exigencies of every, every by itself, every in relation to the opposite. What is a thinker? “I am!” solutions Zarathustra. “Someone who dispels illusions and ceaselessly seeks greater insight into the world and the self.” What then is a prophet? “Someone who lays down the law—the tablets of values—for humanity.” What, then, are you, Zarathustra? Two or One? (“Two or One?” is how Meier characteristically places the matter, and it isn’t arduous to detect a Platonic undertone right here, one which follows on the heels of the Socratic query.)
From this twin characterological core, Meier carefully follows as Nietzsche connects the ambiguous character to quite a lot of audiences and presents him in quite a lot of circumstances. Each encounter or change reveals one thing of Zarathustra, each reveals one thing to Zarathustra, and collectively they transfer the motion alongside, which Nietzsche himself characterizes as tragic: “Incipit tragoedia.” At this level, the reader is inclined to suspect that the twin burden that Zarathustra has taken upon himself proves an excessive amount of for one man, therefore the tragic character of the textual content. Meier conditionally affirms this interpretation, once more following Nietzsche’s lead in characterizing the textual content. For Nietzsche had additionally written “incipit parodia.”
The audiences that Zarathustra encounters start with “the crowds” after which “disciples” (precise and potential). Those two phrases, discovered repeatedly in St. Matthew’s Gospel (e.g. Matt. 13), point out one other defining function of the textual content, its “parodic” character. Thus Spake Zarathustra parodies the Bible, particularly in its German Luther translation. Indeed, there are “hundreds of telling allusions, silent citations, and contrasting references connecting the book with the Bible,” counts the indefatigable Meier.
More pointedly, “the parody particularly concerns the four Gospels, the life and teaching of Jesus. For Thus Spake Zarathustra presents Zarathustra as a true Counter-Jesus.” In the parody, the prophetic Zarathustra is on show, one who should surpass the final Great Prophet. In his preaching of the Kingdom, Jesus was “unfaithful to the earth,” turning human beings’ aspirations towards a non-existent Heaven. Along with Plato, he did probably the most to show people from one world—the one world—to a second world, an imagined world of perfection, permanence, and relaxation. He was the exemplar of the ethical consciousness that creates actuality after its own heart’s emotions and wishes. In distinction, the Overman proposed by the prophetic Zarathustra could be introduced as “the meaning of the earth,” the this-world transformation of the human that justifies or “redeems” the ineradicable imperfections of the world. This prophetic exigency presupposes that “God is dead,” and that except humanity has a brand new religion, a brand new lodestar, a brand new surpassing ambition, it would decline into the contemptible creature, “the last man.”
It’s at this juncture that Meier ventures that
His [Zarathustra’s] tragedy might have its floor exactly in the truth that the parody, pushed to its most excessive level, burdens him with what None can accomplish. That he’s alleged to unite in himself what can’t be united. Two as One.
While one may assume (a Christian definitely would) that the prophetic contest of changing Jesus Christ is past human capability, Meier locations the accent on the incompatibility of the 2 “personae” and methods of life. Why that is the correct focus could be approached by means of the opposite One of the Two, the thinker. He is characterised by a selected type of “the will to power,” “the will to truth.” This will make him skeptical of all authorities and all given solutions, it makes him continuously query himself, what he thinks he has understood, and what motivates him. In a later work, Nietzsche calls Zarathustra “a skeptic.” This is supposed in a selected method. “The Antichrist says of the “great passion” that guidelines the skeptic as “the ground and the power of his being” that it makes use of up convictions and doesn’t topic itself to them: “it knows itself sovereign” (my italics). The thinker is consistently unhappy, continuously questioning actuality and himself, and he wills to take action solely on his phrases.
His nature subsequently doesn’t enable him to whole-heartedly, or whole-mindedly, keep or relaxation content material with any “conviction” that may be the bottom or substance of a prophetic educating or doctrine. This consists of “his own” as a prophet. Here we encounter probably the most distinctive options of Meier’s interpretation. In a set of perceptive observations, he notes that Zarathustra himself by no means teaches “the Eternal Return of the Same,” and that, after early on proposing “the Overman” as the item of recent devotion and aspiration, the thinker in him decisively refutes it. Two of probably the most well-known “Nietzschean doctrines” weren’t in actual fact taught by Nietzsche!
These will not be the one, or final, of Meier’s perceptive “catches.” A last one entails the ending, and therefore last that means, of the work. Nietzsche had begun by characterizing it as a tragedy. The ending, nonetheless, belies that characterization. Zarathustra is just not given a tragic demise, damaged down by the unattainable, or dying for a discredited objective. Indeed, he doesn’t die in any respect. He lives, and it’s left to the reader who has tracked his adventures and development in self-knowledge to thoughtfully think about what he’ll develop into.
In this activity, he resembles the writer of the work, Nietzsche himself. Through his literary creation, Nietzsche performed out his own dilemma: Philosopher or prophet? Philosopher and prophet? He will go on to offer his own reply in his subsequent two books, “Ecce Homo and The Antichrist, the dyad with which [his] oeuvre comes to a close.” Based on Zarathustra’s clear tendency, whereby the thinker undermines the works of the prophet, one would count on that he would go for philosophy. But the biblical and anti-Christ[ian] titles give one pause. His commentator is making ready intensive research of the ultimate two books.
With respect to his commentator, I finish with a query, a tentative reply, and an commentary. Various years in the past, Meier strikingly (even shockingly) argued that, in his opinion, Leo Strauss believed he had refuted “revealed religion.” In so doing, he departed dramatically from Strauss’s own express educating, that the 2 nice attitudes of the human soul (“obedient faith” and “autonomous reason”) can’t refute one another. They are fated to coexist in a mutually difficult, but mutually enriching, relationship. Granting for the second that Strauss did refute the rational credibility of biblical religion, why would Meier spend a lot effort and time on an writer and a textual content that took “the prophet” and prophecy so critically? One thought involves thoughts.
If atheism is the one rational possibility after Strauss, then it is sensible to concentrate to the thinkers who took atheism as a right, because it had been, and tried to assume, or rethink, all of life and thought in its phrases. While not the one candidate (Machiavelli involves thoughts), Nietzsche definitely suits that invoice. And Zarathustra does so in a particular method. It supplies a needed “literary-philosophical experiment,” by presenting the character and goals of the oxymoronic “atheist prophet.” How far can atheism go? Can it present what humanity, or the best nature, wants? Can it fulfill the prophetic perform? Can it accomplish that with a transparent—that’s, atheistic-philosophical—conscience? In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche addressed these questions in a sustained and apparently radical method. Hence his compelling interest for the Straussian exegete, whose Straussianism is greater than exegetical.
One, nonetheless, can’t assist however discover that the enterprise relies upon a petitio principii. Unlike a Socratic dialogue, or a Thomistic questio, Zarathustra is a really self-enclosed dialogue. True, its lead character refers back to the main lights of everything of western civilization (and past, beginning with Zoroaster). But he solely does so on his own phrases, in his own phrases. There’s one thing essentially unphilosophical about this experiment. The roots and grounds—the unique evidences and experiences, the next concerns and important reflections—of Zarathustra’s atheism will not be laid naked for the curious (or essential) reader’s inspection. In merely following Nietzsche and the textual content, Meier departs from Strauss’s own observe and instance. Strauss at all times sought out the roots. Meier stays on what we may call “the extremely complex surface.” Thus, when all is alleged and executed, this very shut, cautious, and infrequently perceptive commentary falls in need of a philosophical commentary. It doesn’t actually fulfill its subtitle’s promise.