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Nietzsche's Philosophy of Religion [Paperback]

Julian Young
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 April 2006
In his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche observes that Greek tragedy gathered people together as a community in the sight of their gods, and argues that modernity can be rescued from 'nihilism' only through the revival of such a festival. This is commonly thought to be a view which did not survive the termination of Nietzsche's early Wagnerianism, but Julian Young argues, on the basis of an examination of all of Nietzsche's published works, that his religious communitarianism in fact persists through all his writings. What follows, it is argued, is that the mature Nietzsche is neither an 'atheist', an 'individualist', nor an 'immoralist': he is a German philosopher belonging to a German tradition of conservative communitarianism - though to claim him as a proto-Nazi is radically mistaken. This important 2006 reassessment will be of interest to all Nietzsche scholars and to a wide range of readers in German philosophy.


Product details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (6 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521681049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521681049
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 241,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'Julian Young offers a comprehensive, profound, yet consistently lively and engaging overview of Nietzsche's almost obsessive reflections on religion. Young's claim is that instead of rejecting all religion, Nietzsche tries to revive a richer, 'healthier' religious life that existed in earlier times, one that gives us a meaningful way of understanding community, commitment, devotion, the fact of death, and even the 'gods'.' Charles Guignon, University of South Florida

'Every student of Nietzsche in the Anglophone world should read this book.' Nietzsche Circle

'In Nietzsche's Philosophy of Religion, Young presents a scandalously unscandalous version of the author who dreamed of dividing world history in two. politically, Young's Nietzsche was neither a proto-anarchist nor a proto-Nazi, but a mainstream one-nation conservative who, though not much of a democrat, would have favoured something like 'twentieth-century Scandinavian social democracy.' New Humanist

Book Description

Julian Young argues, on the basis of an examination of all of Nietzsche's published works, that his early religious communitarianism in fact persists through all his writings. This important 2006 reassessment will be of interest to all Nietzsche scholars and to a wide range of readers in German philosophy.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and original interpretation 4 Mar 2007
Format:Paperback
This is a unique exegesis of Nietzsche, focusing on the rather unusual theme of religion (rather broadly defined to include themes such as culture and politics as well). I have to confess it's an odd choice of title, although Young uses the word "religion" in an unusual way which he defines early in the book. Young is essentially attempting to refute the widely-held misconception of Nietzsche as a "radical individualist" who had no interest in communal life. His study is well-argued, lucid and above all well-founded in textual evidence.

Young highlights the often-neglected aspects of Nietzsche's thought - his appraisal of high culture, the healthy society, and "religion" as defined by the author - essentially a philosophical framework for life - which make little sense from the "radical individualist" perspective. He charts the development of these themes throughout Nietzsche's work, also rejecting the idea that Nietzsche underwent a radical shift of perspective, completely abandoning his earlier thought, in favour of a reading of Nietzsche's later work as perfectly continuous with the earlier.

I especially recommend reading this along with Solomon's "Living with Nietzsche", as the two complement one another very well. Young mainly concerns himself with the social aspects of Nietzsche's thought, while Solomon considers the individual aspects, albeit from a unique perspective. They manage to refute many false ideas about Nietzsche, and together they provide an excellent insight into this widely known yet poorly understood philosopher.

Contrary to what the above reviewer has stated, Young never suggests that Nietzsche was "not such an atheist after all" - I've read it twice through and see nothing even approaching such a statement.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising 21 Oct 2006
By Dr. Nicholas P. G. Davies TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
It seems Nietzsche is not such an atheist after all. As a Christian I see Nietzsche as the great prophet of human authenticity as opposed to false religiosity. (And politics and scientism can be as much false beliefs as religion)

This book is interesting and will make you re-examine your views of Nietzsche.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, Nietzsche and community 28 Jan 2011
By Justin Pack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I feel the need to defend Julian Young's wonderful argument for Nietzsche as a religious thinker. The previous reviewer feels Young is making a rather wild and unfounded interpretation of Nietzsche as a kind of religious communitarian. This is unacceptable because we all know Nietzsche is am ardent atheist and a forceful proponent of a highly individualist ubermensch ethos.

There are at least three reasons to reject this reviewer's assessment and support Young's argument.

1. The first, which Young clearly makes, is that Nietzsche needs to be understood in the context of his times. At the time Nietzsche was writing Germany was rapidly embracing modernity and German social thinkers and philosophers were returning to their Romantic roots and thinking about community again. Like them, Nietzsche was concerned with community. On this interpretation the Ubermensch is not merely the atheistic individualist that abstains from society, but the concerned would be founder of a new community who abstains from society in an effort to become the kind of person who can found a new, better community. There is ample evidence both for and against this in Nietzsche's work, which bring me to the second point:

2. That Nietzsche's work included as great variety of perspectives or "masks" as Ofelia Schutte calls them. He tries different things on and seeks to explore alternative perspectives. Young's argument does not pull a religious, community oriented perspective out of nowhere. It is clearly threaded throughout Nietzsche's writings and what Young does is pull them together. He essentially argues that traditional interpretations of Nietzsche have taken one of the masks for his real position. How did this misinterpretation happen?

3. Young insists that it is the Anglo-American tradition that has ignored and written out the communal aspects of Nietzsche's thought - or, to phrase it less provocatively, emphasized the wrong aspect of his thought. I would argue that the French tradition is actually the main culprit. Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze all seem to present and celebrate the atheist, individualist Nietzsche. One could even trace this interpretation back to Heidegger.

Against all this, Julian Young is certainly presenting a Nietzsche that upsets the statis quo about Nietzsche. But I think he makes a powerful, and ultimately correct argument for an alternative understanding of Nietzsche's project. For me it is an extremely important reassessment.
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nietzsche As Religious Communitarian 5 Jan 2011
By Thomas Llewellyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Philosophy thrives on bold, creative interpretations. But there is a big difference between a bold, creative reading and one that is audacious and misguided. Unfortunately Professor Young has aimed for the former but produced the latter. This author has written another book on Nietzsche (Nietzsche's Philosophy of Art) that is quite good. I read it in 1994 and was very impressed. Recently he has published a well-received biography of Nietzsche. To say the least, I was disappointed with his examination of Nietzsche's philosophy of religion. Occasionally the pressures of creativity push a writer into the realm of the implausible.

The book's important points may be summarized as follows:

(l) Nietzsche's concern is "...first and foremost, with community" (p. 2).

(2) Nietzsche is commonly regarded as an atheist, but in fact this was never the case (ibid.). Contrary to most scholarly opinion, Nietzsche had a religious attitude towards life (p. 173). It may be stated even more strongly: "...he is above all a religious thinker" (p. 201).

(3) The heart of Nietzsche's philosophy: How to overcome the "nihilism" of modernity and thus create a healthy society (p. 179). A "noble" religion is essential to any healthy society (ibid.).

I will discuss these points in some detail. First is Nietzsche's commitment to the notion of community. Young sees Nietzsche's philosophy as a conservative, backward-looking political vision. As such it resembles the "Volkish" tradition in German thought. This intellectual movement's essence was a radical antimodernism, a hatred of Enlightenment values. There was a virulent opposition to democracy. Nietzsche's views are strikingly similar. His opposition to modernism included a distain for any notions of equality or the concept of rights. Antifeminist and antidemocratic diatribes are common in many of Nietzsche's books. This is a popular interpretation of Nietzsche, and I am in complete agreement.

But there is a positive side to the Volkish viewpoint. Their ideal society was an organic unity committed to a certain Volksgeist, an ethos manifested in a "mission" or "destiny" (p. 5). Romanticism, hero worship, and nationalism were strong components of their thinking. Among the Volkish the idea of community was king--but only a certain type of community. They strongly believed in a social hierarchy, and social differences were paramount. A social arrangement similar to that of medieval estates was their concept of a good society.

Nietzsche would have strongly disapproved of the nationalism displayed by the movement. He thought of himself as a "good European." Putting this aspect aside, Young emphasizes the organic notion of community that he claims is an important thread running through Nietzsche's philosophy. Nietzsche's idea of a healthy society is an overriding concern that is found throughout his writings--from the Birth of Tragedy all the way through to Ecce Homo. And for Nietzsche a healthy society is a hierarchically organized community where everybody knows their place (and accepts it). The glue that holds everything together is a communal religion (p. 179).

What type of religion is best for our desired community of the future? Nietzsche, in his typically reactionary attitude towards modernity, advocates a return to his beloved Greeks. The solution is to be found in "Dionysian" pantheism--a revival of the life-affirming festival of the ancient Greek cults (p. 201). Nietzsche believed that Christianity, the face of Western modernity, was a decedent, anti-life religion for losers, appealing "...to the disinherited everywhere; it is founded on a rancor against everything well-constituted and dominant...it takes the side of idiots and utters a curse on the spirit" (Will to Power, section 154). The key to overcoming our current nihilism is overthrowing Christianity and reinstituting the noble religious beliefs of that glorious ancient Greek culture found in our distant past.

Did Nietzsche believe in a God as the necessary foundation of any successful religion? Or was his infamous "God is dead" rhetoric a sure sign of a fervent atheism? Young supports the former view (with important qualifications). He sees Nietzsche as a "Dionysian pantheist" (p. 110, n. 2). God is not a person and therefore it (not he or she!) can have no concern for humanity and its problems. God is the cosmos--Nature in its broadest sense. But the life-force, so important to Nietzsche's thinking, is the very essence of Nature. Nietzsche called it the "will to power." The noble religion of Dionysus is the perfect vehicle to express the joy, life-affirmation, and "yes-saying" that should be an integral part of any healthy society.

Does it make sense for Nietzsche (or any pantheist) to say that God is identical with the totality of nature? This position--foreign to the three great religions of Western civilization--empties the concept of any meaning. If God is everything, then God is nothing. It is, to use Hegel's famous phrase, the night in which all cows are black. Humans need a God who is a person--someone who cares for them and can be approached through prayer. This is not the pantheist's (or Nietzsche's) God.

But this is really a moot point. Contrary to Young's position, Nietzsche is really just a garden variety atheist. There is an explicit avowal of atheism in Ecce Homo ("Why I Am So Clever," sec. 1), and strong approvals of atheism in the Genealogy of Morals (Second Essay, sec. 20) and the Will to Power (sec. 707).

So what is the positive role that religion plays for Nietzsche? It is a "noble lie" in Plato's sense of the term. The ruling class needs an obedient, subservient mass of humanity in order to further its goals. Religious values must instill a deference to authority among the working class. Slaves (traditional or the modern wage type) should obey orders so they can reap their eventual heavenly reward. That Nietzsche's nihilism should engender cynicism should surprise no one.

In closing I would like to comment on Nietzsche as a communitarian. There have been two universal communitarian movements in Western history. Christianity was the first. It sought to unify mankind under the banner of the Spirit. Nietzsche detested Christianity. The second force espousing genuine community values was socialism. Nietzsche hated the socialists. As an alternative to these he offered the following: ardent approval of racial purity, the subordination of women, a denunciation of democracy, demands for cruelty and extermination, and a celebration of suffering. I can not imagine any civilized person wanting to live in this type of community.
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