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5.0 out of 5 stars
The first Nietzsche book I read - shocking and eye opening, 19 Sep 2013
I first encountered Beyond Good and Evil at the end of my Kantian phase. I was looking for convincing arguments from ethicists and moral philosophers and consistently coming up short when the title of this book grabbed my attention. I found much more than I expected - I found things I'd wondered about (and not seen in books elsewhere) but developed to a greater maturity, some deeply profound insights, some shocking assertions, and some things that at the time I found hard to decipher. I was ambivalent about Nietzsche at first, because, on the one hand, he was brilliant, on the other, there were plenty of assertions that I was deeply uncomfortable with.
Now that I have read most of Nietzsche's writings I must say my doubts have fallen away. He certainly does write in a way that can disturb, but this is an important part of his rhetorical strategy - the intent is to make you feel something. It is very important to read him very carefully. I have never found him to be rude or spiteful for the sake of it - there is almost always a philosophical point he is trying to make but, to identify what it is, usually requires 1) a good knowledge of his published works 2) comparing and contrasting what he says on a topic book to book, aphorism to aphorism. Even his remarks about women, though shocking and still the most controversial aspect of his thought, need to be read very carefully - Nietzsche felt that the feminist movement of his day (improvement and/or freedom of women through education, emancipation, work, rationality etc.) was still fundamentally conditioned by slave morality, and that, as with men, women's power is attained through 'strength of will', and not through 'culture' (s. 239). While he certainly had many criticisms of women of his day, he had strong criticisms of almost everything of his day, especially men. Also, it is worth pointing out that Nietzsche often says seemingly contradictory things - this is because part of his approach includes approaching a topic from many different perspectives.
Even his comments about democracy, freedom, and rights are deceptive - an important thing to bear in mind is that Nietzsche thinks all societies are aristocratic and hierarchical, and that all societies involve economic subordination/slavery - it is the unquestioning acceptance of such values and the presumption of freedom that he challenges - that is not to say we might not have good reasons for preferring to have recognised legal rights, voting rights, etc.
Also a note about Nietzsche's use of the term 'race' - he uses this as a descriptive sense - if you consider his criticism of artificial nature of the nation state, you will see why he doesn't use the term nation or people. I've seen no evidence of racism in Nietzsche either - in Daybreak he appears to make a really racist remark but if you read it closely it is actually a veiled attack on those who believed in the superiority of white Europeans. Whether or not you agree with Nietzsche's characterisations of different peoples, his remarks regarding the poles of philosophical excellence being India (best) and England (worst), his praise of Bizet's 'African happiness', his preference of Islam over Christianity, including rating Moorish Spain higher than Ancient Greece and Rome,should be argument enough that Nietzsche was far from some kind of white supremacist.
BGE is a stunning critique of modernity touching on metaphysics, morals, religion, science, and politics. Peoples and Fatherlands is remarkable in its warning against Germany, anti-Semitism, nationalism, the combination of all three of these, and the remark that 'the next century will bring the struggle for the domination of the earth'. His remarks about England had a profound effect on me, to the point of extinguishing the last of my patriotism for my homeland.
Originally I read the Zimmern version of BGE. While that version was quite funny, and I liked the prose style, this Cambridge edition is a much clearer text. A word of warning, as Nietzsche puts it in Ecce Homo, 'there is not a single good-natured word in the whole book', so you might have to look elsewhere (e.g. Zarathustra, The Gay Science, or Ecce Homo) for the positive aspects of his philosophy.
The introduction by Rolf-Peter Horstmann is completely awful in almost every way. The writer is unsympathetic, dismissive, and appears to have rather limited knowledge of Nietzsche. Some of the CUP introductions of Nietzsche's books are very good and I cannot understand why this man (whose research area appears to be Hegel) has been selected to write this one. The introductions to Thus Spoke Zarathustra and On the Genealogy of Morality are much better.
Skip the introduction, take your time, listen to what Fritz has to say, and have an open mind. There is a lot of insinuation and disinformation about him so I was sceptical when I first read Nietzsche, and while I disagree with him on some points, I found him to be a remarkable man that I have grown to admire, and despite his capacity to shock, rather a nice man.