These are my notes from the Dreyfus’ Lecture on The Anti Christ…
Similarities between Dostoevsky and Nietzsche:
Jesus is a decadent. What does Nietzsche mean by this? Jesus is clearly not like a Socrates decadent. A Socrates decadent is really decadent. Jesus isn’t that decadent.
One could, with some freedom of expression, call Jesus a ‘free spirit’ – he cares nothing for what is fixed: the word killeth, everything fixed killeth. The concept, the experience ‘life’ in the only form he knows it is opposed to any kind of word, formula, law, faith, dogma. He speaks any of the inmost things: ‘life’ or “truth’ or ‘light’ is his expression for the inmost thing – everything else, the whole of reality, the whole of nature, language itself, possesses for him merely the value of a sign, a metaphor. (p. 156, Anti-Christ)
Reference to Dostoevsky:
That strange and sick world to which the Gospels introduce us – a world like that of a Russian novel, in which refuse of society, neurosis and ‘childlike’ idiocy seem to make a rendezvous – must in any case have coarsened the type: the first disciples in particular had to translate a being immersed entirely in symbols and incomprehensibilities into their own crudity in order to understand anything at all – for then such a type could not exist until it had been reduced to more familiar forms… (p. 154, Anti-Christ)
Jesus was talking in parables. Jesus was bringing in such a new world (being a super free spirit he’s bringing in a whole new world) so he is incomprehensible to the disciples who have only the old vocabulary and the Hebrew language. Naturally they are going to get it wrong so of course Jesus is going to be misinterpreted. But you can glimmer through their incomprehension that Jesus is against moral laws.
Denial is precisely what is totally impossible for him. -Dialectics are likewise lacking, the idea is lacking that a faith, a ‘truth’ could be proved by reasons (-his proofs are inner ‘lights’, inner feelings of pleasure and self-affirmations, nothing but ‘proofs of potency’-). Neither can such a doctrine argue; it simply does not understand that other doctrines exist, can exist, it simply does not know how to imagine an opinion contrary to its own… Where it encounters one it will, with the most heartfelt sympathy, lament the ‘blindness’ – for it sees the ‘light’ – but it will make no objection…
Nietzsche thinks that power and joy is what Jesus is “teaching”. It is also what Markel is saying in the The Brothers Karamazov:
The profound instinct for how one would have to live in order to feel oneself ‘in Heaven’, to feel oneself ‘eternal’, while in every other condition by no means feels oneself ‘in Heaven’; this alone is the psychological reality of ‘redemption’. – A new way of living, not a new belief…
If like Markel, you feel you are in paradise here and now, if you only see it, you are in heaven now. This has all gotten existentialized by Nietzsche.
I grant: in the word ‘Son’ is expressed the entry into the collective feeling of the transfiguration of all things (blessedness), in the word ‘father’, this feeling itself, the feeling of perfection and eternity. I am ashamed to recall what the Church has made of this symbolism: has it not set an Amphitryon story at the threshold of Christian ‘faith’? And a dogma of ‘immaculate conception into the barbain?… But it has thereby masculated conception. (p. 159, Anti-Christ)
Markel is like Jesus who is the Son. The idea is that Markel and Jesus manifest the new way of loving life and this connectedness enters the world in this way. Nietzsche is happy with some feeling of, if not an ocean of love, at least some feeling of some happiness here and now. But why is Jesus called “the decadent”?
So far, everything about him that Nietzsche has presented seems so right.
To resume, I shall now relate the real history of Christianity. – The word, ‘Christianity’ is already a misunderstanding – in reality there has been only one Christian and he died on the Cross. The ‘Evangel’ died on the Cross. (p. 163, Anti-Christ)
The one Christian who was a free spirit died on the cross. Nietzsche doesn’t tell you right off what he did wrong, but it has to do with dying on the cross. He was meek. He should have fought back. He should have led a rebellion of freedom fighters. Instead he was compassionate.
This is the real stand-off between Nietzsche and the Christian view, even the near view Jesus has. What do you do with the people who are weak? Who don’t have the passion to turn over new worlds?
Non-violence and non-passion is not a Nietzsche virtue. The weak and ill-constructed shall parish and one shall help them do so. What is more harmful than vice? Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak. Except for this belief, Jesus comes close to being a free-spirit.
What gives you power is healthy because it is life. Life is constantly getting stronger. Jesus’ concern for the ill-constructed and weak doesn’t help life gain power. Socrates’ interest in truth doesn’t give him power because it leaves him with an “other world” of truth. In the end, Socrates wishes he wasn’t in this world and prefers the “other world”, the abstracted world.
Nietzsche says The Will to Truth is fine as a means but not as an end. If you make truth the end and not the means, you don’t have any outgrowing to do. You don’t have to put in any particular work to make it true (not like Kierkegaard’s subjective truth that depends on your energy). But Socrates’ objective truth is truth whether anyone knows it or not. Socrates wants to find a truth that is stable and doesn’t depend on him in any way to preserve it so there is not a kind of outgrowing or the always creating new worlds sort of thing that Nietzsche wants.
Mediation is OK as a means. It’s a necessary means. If you didn’t go through criticism, if you didn’t get rid of all of the lies, superstitions, etc., you wouldn’t be able to be a free spirit. But Nietzsche doesn’t like Socrates because he thinks he is finding refuse in a world out there rather than facing life as it is. The more disinterested you are the more you are able to discover the objective truth. Nietzsche thinks you should be doing anything you can to be self-critical and to discover the truth. But you should use it as a means rather than an end.
Both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky start out with a critique of metaphysical explanations which they think have a wrong view of causality. Metaphysical explanations refer to special powerful entities like the supreme being and eternity and the network of connectedness that are real. On the basis of that, you can explain why people should love each other, get childhood memories, etc. According to Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, this is upside down. You don’t explain the best way of living by bringing in metaphysical, theological beings. The best way of living is self-evident.
For Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, religion really doesn’t have to do with a belief in physical entities that somehow justifies religion.
“…genuine primitive Christianity will be possible at all times…” (p. 163, Anti-Christ)
This is a nice line. Dostoevsky thinks he has genuine primitive Christianity and Nietzsche probably agrees with him. Markel and Alyosha show that it is available at all times and that it is a pretty good thing. It’s got elements of free spirit in it although ultimately it is not free spirited. Dostoevsky and Nietzsche would agree that it is not a belief but a doing.
“…Not a belief but a doing, above all a not-doing of many things, a different being…States of consciousness, beliefs of any kind, holding something to be true for example – every psychologist knows this – are a matter of complete indifference and of the fifth rank compared with the value of the instincts: to speak more strictly, the whole concept of spiritual causality is false.” (p. 163, Anti-Christ)
When you bring in a supreme being that causes you to have belief in God, that has causality upside down. Also, if you think that your beliefs are caused by the Supreme Being, that is wrong. And if you think that your beliefs are what save you, that’s wrong. Your beliefs don’t do any good at all and they don’t cause anything.
If you think because you believe some truth about some ultimate reality such as the Creator God, or that Christ died for our sins, or that God loves us therefore you will be reborn, you are mistaken. You aren’t mistaken because this is false but because this reverses the causality. Whether that is true or false isn’t the question. The question isn’t about what you believe, it is what kind of life you live and whether it works. That is the final text and is the existential refrain.
“Morality and religion fall entirely under the psychology of error; in every single case cause is mistaken for effect; or the effect of what is believed true is mistaken for the truth; or a state of consciousness is mistaken for the causation of this state.” (p. 64, The Twilight of the Idols)
For instance, it turns out that it is the experience that matters. There doesn’t have to be any cause behind it. Take baptism. It isn’t that baptism is sort of magical and works because there is some sort of causality that when you get prayed over the right way or water put over you the right way it will do something about your spiritual state. If Baptism is true, it is because the experience you have, like Alyosha being held up to the Icon, has an affect on how you act later in life. You can say Baptism is powerful, Baptism is true, etc. but that isn’t the point. The point is that there are certain ways of acting that give you positive experiences. You don’t need to ask what causes them. Beliefs do not explain a way of life.
It is not a “belief” which distinguishes the Christian: the Christian acts, he is distinguished by a different mode of acting.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Alyosha doesn’t have any beliefs about anything. He doesn’t believe that baptism is necessary, he doesn’t believe in prayer (especially not to a supreme being) or that a supreme being is even necessary. He does all sorts of things but they don’t follow from his belief about anything.
For Dostoevsky it is not a belief in connectedness that creates the experience of connectedness. It’s just the reverse. When we experience ourselves as part of the whole of connectedness and see we are accountable for everything, we do believe it but that’s not important. What is important is that the experience changes the way we act. It is the experience that causes us to act that way we do, not the belief.
But here’s an interesting question:
If we experience eternity in time, have you shown just by virtue of having the experience that eternity in time is possible?
Nietzsche says he doesn’t care whether you believe in eternity or not because it is the experience that is important. Dostoevsky would say, OK, I have described where there are experiences of eternity in time. We get this experience when Alyosha gives the boys the childhood memories at the end of the book which are going to keep them from becoming cynical and so forth later.
Nietzsche would say that we don’t know yet. We won’t know if the memories are there for the boys until they die. Maybe there aren’t any memories or maybe they outgrown them. Or, they get the memories and they hold on to them for the rest of their lives. But this doesn’t prove there is eternity in time. All it proves is that you are weak. There may come a point in time when it makes sense for the boys to be cynical. The highest thing is to be adaptable. Nietzsche would never admit that forever in time is a good thing.
Nietzsche and Dostoevsky would agree that if there is eternity in time, there is evidence that there are people who get it through an unconditional commitment or a moment where the boys are all together having a special revelation, or romantic love. And it could control your life. But you don’t know if this means eternity in time exists. They agree that it is not a question of “is there eternity”. [I am hoping this makes more sense in Dreyfus’ next lecture. I’m not fully following what he is trying to say here.]
If God is dead, all things are possible. Is that a causal claim? Sort of. Is the statement “if God is dead, all things are possible” true or not? It’s not a matter of objective truth, it’s a matter of how people act. In all of Dostoevsky, the experience is that if you do something immoral, you will feel guilt, you won’t get away with it, and that’s the important thing. Can you get away with murder? The answer is going to be found out by what people can do and get away with – not an absolute.
In Woody Allen’s "Crimes and Misdemeanors" it is clear that the guy who murders his mistress is first overcome by guilt and tortured by the idea that he should go and confess but he doesn’t and then he feels better. He goes back to being a pillar of the community and being rewarded and he doesn’t feel tortured.
In "Match Point", it looks like he feels terrible about his crime at first. He feels guilty. He says, “If I am not caught and imprisoned it proves there is no meaning in the universe” to the ghosts. If I get caught, then the ghosts are right, but if I don’t, then it proves there is no meaning in the universe. He feels OK about it by the end of the movie. It’s not certain, but we get the impression at the end of the movie that he is going to be fine. He won’t collapse and kill himself out of regret (or anything like that). [But I do think he is disappointed that there isn’t some sort of redemption for his guilt.]
Kierkegaard says that if the world is just a kind of chaos and those who work don’t get the bread, that would be terrible. But luckily in the world of the spirit it’s OK. Those who work always get the bread. Dostoevsky through Ivan considers that it is just random and chaos and has his own arguments that it is not OK to just kill your father. But it looks like from Woody Allen’s perspective, Nietzsche is right. The world is chaos and sheer randomness.
Can you live as if there was no God and all things are possible? Nietzsche says you can and Dostoevsky says you can’t. [But isn’t Nietzsche saying all things are possible? Isn’t that the point? Get over what you believe to be fixed and create new meaning?]
Kierkegaard – God is that all things are possible. Ethics is either based in what counts as good in the community (Hegel); or there is a sort of absolute ethics (Kant). What does he mean all things are possible? He means that Abraham can kill Isaac and still have Isaac. If you are a moral person and a sensible person, certain things will be impossible for you. Yet if you are a homosexual in 1850 Copenhagen and this is absolutely disgusting and depraved and sick, it still can look to you as the best thing you ever did. You can have this love because for God all things are possible. But that doesn’t mean all actions are OK.
For Nietzsche it’s the opposite: If God is dead all things are possible – there is no punishment, there is no moral order, there is no law. [I don’t think this is exactly what Nietzsche is saying. It’s not that “If God is Dead” all things are possible. All things are possible has always been true, but we got stuck in our beliefs about God and ceased to realize all things were possible.]
Dreyfus says the argument is whether all things are morally permissible and that Dostoevsky would say no and Nietzsche would say yes. But I think this misses Nietzsche’s point!! I don’t think that is what Nietzsche is saying at all! (But I’ve already discussed that in the Gay Science Lecture so will move on.)
There are two different ways of living dangerously. When you live dangerously in Kierkegaard, you see the sword hanging over the head of the beloved. But if you are a Knight of Faith, you do it as though it is the surest thing of all. It’s like swimming over 50,000 fathoms. It’s vulnerable and could disappear at any minute. But if you are a Knight of Faith, you act as if in everything you do, nothing could hurt you. You have a completely absurd way of living. It’s dangerous, but not dangerous. The Knight of Faith isn’t risking anything because they live in the field of faith where all things are possible. The Knight of Resignation doesn’t live dangerously at all. They want to be peaceful and secure. The Knight of Faith has to constantly live in an absurdity they don’t understand.
Nietzsche thinks you have to take the risk that bad things will happen to you and it won’t be OK. There is a peculiar sort of absurd in Kierkegaard’s sense of adventure that doesn’t exist in Nietzsche. Very similar, though.
Dostoevsky and Nietzsche have a totally different view of the religious experience. Nietzsche is against all versions of the Christian experience except Jesus, even if it is based on revelations as in Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky says there is a connectedness of everything and we know this based upon Alyosha’s experience of this.
Nietzsche would refute this:
Christianity has made a great contribution and taught moral skepticism trenchantly and effectively. (p. 178, Anti-Christ)
What is important is this moral skepticism issue. You can have what looks like religious experience but the religious experiences grows out of your needs. Christianity has taught us to fool ourselves into it and then talked us out of it.
One sort of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and their kind: They have never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. “What did I really experience? What happened in me and around me at that time? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will opposed to all deceptions of the senses and bold in resisting the fantastic?” None of them has asked such questions, nor do any of our dear religious people ask them even now. On the contrary, they thirst after things that go against reason, and they do not wish to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. So they experience “miracles” and “rebirths” and hear the voices of little angels! (p. 253, Aphorism 319, The Gay Science)
So back to Alyosha’s experience of the connectedness of all things. He doesn’t ask himself that “hey, gee, it happened after two nights of no sleep and I was desperate to get in touch with something”. He’s just happy to have the experience. Dostoevsky says he really had it and it gave him a connection to this ultimate order. Nietzsche would say you didn’t tell us how it happened to him.
A weak person can’t be honest:
Not to see many things, not to be impartial in anything, to be party through and through, to view all values from a strict and necessary perspective – this alone is the condition under which such a man exists at all. But he is thereby the antithesis, the antagonist of the true man – of truth… The believer is not free to have a conscience at all over the question “true” and “false”: to be honest on this point would mean his immediate destruction. (p. 185, The Anti-Christ)