Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Religious Longings of Strauss and Nietzsche

"Beyond Good and Evil always seemed to me to be the most beautiful of Nietzsche's books."

That's the first sentence of Leo Strauss's article on Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, which is the only substantial piece of writing by Strauss on Nietzsche. I have often puzzled over that first sentence, because Human, All Too Human has always seemed to me to be the most beautiful of Nietzsche's books. In my recent series of posts on Nietzsche, I've explained why I rank that book as Nietzsche's best. It's one of the books from Nietzsche's middle period, when he fully embraced Darwinian evolutionary science, and broke away from the religious longings that run through his earlier and later writings. The fundamental idea of Human, All Too Human is stated near the beginning: "everything has evolved," and "man has evolved."

In his later writings, and certainly in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche reverts back to his earlier fear of Darwin's "science of universal becoming" as "true but deadly," and he uses "the eternalizing powers of art and religion" to give "eternal meaning to existence." This move from evolution to eternity includes an affirmation of the eternity of the human species--"the eternal basic text of Homo natura.

As I have argued in an earlier post, Nietzsche moved from the Christian Pietism of his childhood to the Dionysian Pietism of maturity, and this required a move away from the Darwinian evolution of his middle writings to the Dionysian eternity of his later writings.

Is Strauss moved by the same religious longing for eternity that Nietzsche shows in his earlier and later writings? In his article, Strauss certainly does stress the importance of Nietzsche's atheistic religiosity and his appeal to the "religious instinct."

That Strauss and Nietzsche might share a similar religious longing is suggested by the following story about Strauss told by Hans Jonas in his Memoirs (p. 49):

". . . His family had been Orthodox, and it had cost Leo intense spiritual pain to tear himself away from his traditional upbringing. It hadn't been easy for him to make philosophy his guide, to free himself, that is, from all preexisting dogmatic assumptions when it came to the ultimate questions bearing on God and the world. This freedom, which was essential to being a philosopher and incompatible with adherence to a specific religion or revelation or god, this intellectual necessity of becoming an atheist in order to be a philosopher, tormented him all his life. He did make the leap, but he could never shake off the sense that he'd committed an act whose correctness could never be proved once and for all. That hurled him time and again into a fundamental state of doubt as to whether following the path of rational enlightenment, which requires the denial of established articles of faith, is consistent with the truth and beneficial to the human being. He suffered from the necessity of being an atheist. An experience we had as emigres made this clear to me. When I got to England in 1933, he was there, too, and we saw each other quite often. Leo Strauss was living in London at the time with his young wife and her little son from her first marriage. On a fall day--it must have been in 1934--we went for a walk in Hyde Park. We'd walked along in silence for quite a while. Suddenly he turned to me and said, 'I feel terrible.' I said, 'Me too.' And why? It was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and both of us were not in the synagogue but were walking through Hyde Park. That was telling. For him much more than for me, for in my case relinquishing our traditional faith had been much easier, having already been accomplished by my parents; I'd grown up in a climate in which you could think freely about such things. But for Strauss it was a source of torment. 'I've done the equivalent of committing murder or breaking a loyalty oath or sinning against something.' This 'I feel terrible' came straight from his soul."

Doesn't this sound a lot like Lou Salome describing Nietzsche's anguish in struggling with his religious yearnings from his Lutheran childhood and his fear that modern scientific naturalism could not satisfy him?

Some of my earlier posts on these points can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Anonymous said...

Your quotations starting with "true but deadly" are from the untimely meditations (which ironically I was reading today), so it seems odd to use those quotes to support your contention that Nietzsche's LATER writings are filled with religious longing.

Larry Arnhart said...

As I have said in my previous posts, my claim is that in the later writings, Nietzsche returns to the religious longings of the earlier writings. He thus returns to the fear of Darwinian science that he expresses in UNTIMELY MEDITATIONS. The other posts offer quotations to illustrate this.

Tony Bartl said...