What Nietzsche Really Said



In my previous post I said that Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold seriously misunderstood the writings of Nietzsche (and oh, how I wish he had an easier name to spell! Five consonants in a row).

So let’s check in with Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins who literally wrote the book on What Nietzsche Really Said:

In 1924 two exceptional students at the University of Chicago, Nathan F. Leopold and Richard A. Loeb, plotted the gratuitous murder of a child named Bobby Franks, supposedly thus demonstrating their status as Übermenschen, after reading Nietzsche. I hope that we need not make the point here that they seriously misunderstood Nietzsche. But the legend has been passed down since their trial, popularized in the novel Compulsion by Meyer Levin and dramatized first as a play and then a movie in 1959 (with Orson Welles playing the boys’ defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow). The legend has been supplemented by a number of other deranged criminal acts in which Nietzsche and other exciting philosophers were said to have influenced overly suggestible sociopaths who sought something other than their bad brain chemistry to blame for their atrocities. Once again, we want to proclaim, rather indignantly, that an author is not responsible for vile misreadings of his works.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s inspirational effect on students cannot be denied; and while most of the time their Nietzschean rebelliousness takes on forms no more dangerous than a couple of extra beers or a rude English composition essay, there are some very real dangers in Nietzsche’s militant prose. All the more reason, then, to try to understand and get across what Nietzsche really meant, which was not ruthlessness but a soul-searching appreciation for those values that might make life more vigorous and healthy. More than any other philosopher, Nietzsche is reknowned for urging that we affirm life. “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati [literally, “love of fate,” the embracing of one’s fate]: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it . . . but love it.” How tragic, then, that murder has ever been committed in his name.

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