German Men of Letters - Vol. 2

German Men of Letters - Vol. 2

German Men of Letters - Vol. 2

German Men of Letters - Vol. 2

Excerpt

Friedrich Nietzsche died on 25 August 1900, on the threshold of the twentieth century. He it was who, in the isolation of his last productive years, declared war on civilization when he warned his fellow-men: "Gott ist tot. . . . Irren wir nicht durch ein unendliches Nichts? Haucht uns nicht der leere Raum an? Ist es nicht kälter geworden? Müssen nicht Laternen am Vormittag angezündet werden? Hören wir noch nichts von dem Lärm der Totengräber, welche Gott begraben?"(1) These questions, which have not lost their poignancy during the last sixty years, reflect the increasing anxiety which pursued all thinking men at the turn of the century. An intellectual uneasiness was noticeable among those who recklessly believed in the optimism of progress, and among those who, terrified by the enormous spreading of civilization, prophesied the "Untergang des Abendlandes". The latter were convinced that man had lost his orientation, had betrayed his cultural achievements, and was now doomed to damnation. Was there still a possibility of leaving the wildly rocking boat with its cargo of materialism and relativism, scepticism and resignation? Did a chance still exist of reaching a sheltered anchorage, and hence a point of new departure to shores of firm creeds and established beliefs? Some writers of outstanding importance in the German-speaking world attempted a charting of unknown seas, each in his own individual way before the holocaust of 1914 finally destroyed all illusions.

The Dutch philosopher, Johan Huizinga, called Nietzsche a "homo ludens", a man who played many parts in a protean life without ever being able to identify himself with any of them completely. Nietzsche's inability to settle down, his innate loneliness, his refusal ever to become "engagé" foreshadowed the problematical position of the intellectual in modern society. "Nur wer sich wandelt, bleibt mit mir verwandt"(2) sums up Nietzsche's personality. His fight against God, against Christianity and its "Sklavenmoral" reflected the corrosive spirit of an age which was finally to develop the atomic bomb. Nietzsche's embittered fight against traditional religion and morality was identical with the protest of an individual's conscience against the shallow tenets of a class-bound society. But it was equally directed against the strictures of the coming managerial age. Hence Nietzsche's romantic longing for the . . .

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