Dostoevsky’s Failed Übermenschen Show the Relevance of Nietzsche for Christians

By Chris Waldburger

The point of being right-wing is to counter the sickly egalitarianism of the left. We exist to re-establish as a foundation for all human endeavor the idea that justice, beauty, and transcendence are real, and that there is another life and another world possible, outside of the long-house.

In this political challenge, it has become clear that Christians have shown far too much weakness. The ease with which communal worship was given up, mask fantasies tolerated, and visits to the dying banned, exposed a long sickness, an historical perversion of empathy amongst believers. What is required is a return to a more robust and courageous faith, devoted to the fullness of Life even in the face of death.

To this end, I have written previously of the significance of Nietzsche to all those who share this burden of a commitment to Life, and particularly to Christians, despite Nietzsche’s apparent hatred of faith and metaphysics.

I believe reading Dostoevsky in the light of Nietzsche demonstrates this. Even without such a reading, Nietzsche on his own terms is far less opposed to Christian faith than is supposed.

Nietzsche’s ostensible antichrist sympathies must be placed within the philosophical context in which he lived and wrote. Germany in his day had allowed itself to be turned into a Reich of purely conventional morals and stultified conformity, all predicated upon the mythology of some kind of enlightened, Kantian rationality. And as ever, the German Reich was the dominant force of Europe.

Today, we have another Reich, the EU, dominated by German mommy-leaders like Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen – both of whom, incidentally, hail from the German Christian Democratic Party. Surely therefore this Lutheran pastor’s son can be offered some grace in identifying the hellish Europe emerging in his time with the inchoate religion it enthusiastically espoused as its animating force?

Yes, Nietzsche must be listened to with some respect, as the great European thinker who so accurately identified the Christian heresy which is killing the West, the heresy of egalitarianism, the heresy that corrupts the doctrine of the dignity of man and propounds and enforces the notion that equality is our ultimate destiny and security, and that therefore the great differentiators of truth, justice, and beauty must be expunged.

These tarantulas who preach the will to equality as the greatest of virtues suck the life out of the common people. As Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil: “… it is such men who, with their ‘equal before God’, have hitherto ruled over the destiny of Europe, until at last a shrunken, almost ludicrous species, a herd animal, something full of good will, sickly and mediocre has been bred, the European of today…”

This encouragement of mine toward Nietzscheanism meets with no little resistance amongst my fellow believers. In the more acceptable schemata of nihilistic thought, it is preferable that we posit Dostoevsky as a kind of successful Nietzsche, one who saw the same problems, worked with the same material of 19th century nihilism, but came out with faith restored.

This is true, as far as it goes, but it does not go very far.

The deeper truth is that Dostoevsky is not simply a dialectical opponent of Nietzsche, overcoming and redeeming what is best in Nietzsche, his noble twin. He is rather a dialectical partner of Nietzsche. His work exemplifies in literary form the philosophy of Nietzsche, and re-contextualizes it in a world in which Christianity had not been disgracefully ‘perfected’ by 18th and 19th century holier-than-God liberals.

This kinship with Nietzsche is best understood by reading Dostoevsky’s work through the lens of the Nietzschean Übermensch. It is my contention that all of the major novels of Dostoevsky’s final period are best understood by viewing their protagonists as either failed or successful Übermenschen in their conflict with the forces of modern nihilism. These protagonists are all characters whose essential nature is defined by the ‘answer’ of their lives to the question of the death of God, and the discarded values of the fading Christian era. This reading of Dostoevsky ultimately demonstrates his kinship with Nietzsche.

The question of the death of God is vividly taken up by the protagonist Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Before the plot begins, Raskolnikov has written a journal article in which he proposes a new kind of individual who, by their extraordinary nature, would not be subject to the strictures of law and morality. In fact, Raskolnikov imagines that he himself could achieve this exalted state by the very act of a crime of which he would be shown to be innocent because of it being a step towards becoming an historical figure like Napoleon.

His failure in this regard is foreshadowed by a mysterious dream which itself strangely foreshadows Nietzsche’s breakdown in Turin. In this dream, which he experience as he is contemplating his proposed great crime of murdering a usurious pawnbroker in order to liberate himself from morality, he is a young boy, walking with his father past the grave of his dead younger brother – Nietzsche also had a younger brother who died young – on the eve of a holiday. They see peasants emerge from a nearby tavern, who alight upon a cart, but the mare of the peasant cannot pull such a burden. The peasant flies into a rage and viciously whips the mare; eventually a mob forms and the horse is killed. Young Raskolnikov cannot take it anymore:

“But the poor boy, beside himself, made his way, screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms round her bleeding dead head and kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips.”

When Raskolnikov awakes, he immediately makes the connection between the killing of the horse, and his own plan to murder the pawnbroker: “‘Good God!’ he cried, ‘can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open… that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood… Good God, can it be?’”

Raskolnikov goes through with the crime nonetheless, ignoring the dream’s symbolic warning – but then he disintegrates and finally confesses as a pathetic and tormented figure. What we read above is something close to the popular view of Nietzsche and his proposed Übermensch – to go beyond good and evil is always imagined as the justification of evil, usually of the Nazi variety. Yet to will an evil obviously cannot be to go beyond ‘beyond’ good and evil. And this is not Nietzsche’s position at all. He explicitly names love as the substance beyond good and evil. He does not discard mercy nor pity. He simply seeks first life – a tree of life more primal than the knowledge of good and evil.

In short, Raskolnikov recognizes the problem faced by modern humanity, but he does not heed the eerie admonition of Nietzsche to all those who attempt a solution to the problem: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” He is motivated not by Life, but by resentment.

We see another failed Übermensch, but for vastly different reasons, in a subsequent Dostoevsky novel: The Idiot. Here, Prince Myshkin also suffers a disintegration of his very self – but not from a lack of compassion, but rather from a lack of will itself. He gives, but has no self to give. And his interventions into the world of the other characters simply creates, with the best of intentions, destruction. Myshkin is the contrary to Raskolnikov. Goodness for Myshkin is an absence of evil, a simple, idiotic innocence. It lacks content. Eventually his character is completely emptied. Myshkin accomplishes nothing – not his own happiness, nor the happiness of the two women he seeks to protect. If anything, he facilitates their destruction.

Perhaps Dostoevsky’s most chilling failed Übermensch in his corpus is the aristocratic figure of Stavrogin, from Demons. In a certain sense, Stavrogin represents the high watermark of Nietzsche’s failed Übermenschen – of power operating without goal, like an engine with no gears. Here is a Caesar, not simply without the soul of Christ, but with no soul whatsoever. He has no slave morality, but he does not even have the master morality of the past. He is a last man, because he is tired of life, yet he is one whose strength as a character, his ability to take on parts of the ultimate drama of nihilism – revolutionary, libertine, aristocratic strongman, or even Christian – only serves to allow him an awareness that he is in fact this ‘last man’. His life is mere ‘play’, and his life therefore becomes a rebuttal of the postmodern notion of Nietzschean ‘play’ as somehow liberating. Stavrogin destroys himself, and those around him, in this ‘play’ that has no direction, and becomes symbolized in the novel as the fire which consumes the town.

In their attempts to go beyond good and evil, Raskolnikov chooses nothing but evil, Myshkin nothing but good, and Stavrogin nothing at all. Thus Nietzsche exhausts all the options of failure before consummating his exploration of nihilism by tracing out a future Übermensch in the final work of his life, his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov. Because the Übermensch is a bridge, to depict such a character, a character thoroughly committed to Life, can only be done tentatively. A path can only be suggested in the direction and intention of a character.

We see this path in three characters in the novel – in the Elder Zosima, in Alyosha Karamazov, and in Dmitri Karamazov. They find this Life in their Christian faith. But this faith is not simply that of the conventional society, the existence of which in the German Reich was accurately identified by Nietzsche as the decadent will to power of the slave morality. Their faith rather seeks mastery and glory as it seeks the intensity of a human life that has managed to integrate the chaos of its various drives into a will to power that is self-overcoming, that is a dancing star. As I have written before, I believe such a glory is coterminous with Heraclitean Fire and Johannine Logos, and that Nietzsche’s will to power is an attempt from the abyss of nihilism to explicate the same primal idea.

It is helpful to recall that the novel is not simply a story of three brothers but equally a story of fathers. After all, fatherhood is necessarily prior to brotherhood. Fyodor Karamazov’s three sons, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha, are pulled between a life defined by their amoral father, and a life defined by their response to the ideal represented by Alyosha’s father figure, Zosima, mediated via Alyosha.

By understanding the fatherhood of Zosima, we see a coherent picture of an integrated, passionate Life, which is not bound by conventional morality and ascetism but a vision of the goodness and glory of life on earth.

Before Zosima dies, and sends Alyosha back into the world from the monastery where he is mentored by his Elder, he recounts the story of life. Zosima’s personal tale begins with him recounting the influence his elder brother had on him – a great critic of religion who undergoes a dramatic conversion on his death bed. His new-found faith is the same kind of cosmic faith which is to become Zosima’s own, and Alyosha’s, and even Dmitri’s. For our purposes, we can call it the faith of the true Übermensch:

“My dear ones, why do we quarrel, try to outshine each other and keep grudges against each other? Let’s go straight into the garden, walk and play there, love, appreciate, and kiss each other, and glorify life.”

Zosima’s elder brother subsequently asks him to “enjoy life for me too.” This glory inherent in all things, which must be sought and honoured, enjoyed is connected to the idea of the Logos or the Word. Zosima will himself put it in these terms:

“Every blade of grass, every insect, ant, and golden bee, all so marvellously know their path, though they have not intelligence, they bear witness to the mystery of God and continually accomplish it themselves… All creation and all creatures, every leaf is striving to the Word, singing glory to God, weeping to Christ, unconsciously accomplishing this by the mystery of their sinless life…”

Zosima provides an apt metaphor for this sense of divinity within earth in pursuit of divinity beyond, when he says, “God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew up and everything came up that could come up, but what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its contact with other mysterious worlds.” The feeling within, the pursuit of growth within the genetics of the seed, is necessarily vital. Without it, one withers away – like Raskolnikov, like Myshkin, like Stavrogin, like Ivan Karamazov – like the last men of Nietzsche.

We are to find the completion of Zosima’s work towards the Übermensch in the fate of Dmitri and Alyosha. As noted above, Zosima’s ‘integrated man’, his spirituality founded within the earth, is easily recognizable as a rendering of Nietzsche’s own pursuit of the Übermensch in his will to power, and thus a demonstration of the compatibility of Christian faith with Nietzschean will to power.

Dmitri is to come to a belief that even after he is falsely convicted for the murder of his father, even in the face of prison and exile, he will achieve the destiny of a new man emerging from within, from the underground. This underground may be considered literally as the mines of Siberia or figuratively the underground where Christian faith has been pushed culturally by the modern nihilism:

“Brother, these last two months I’ve found in myself a new man. He was hidden in me, but would never have come to the surface, if it hadn’t been for this blow from heaven. If they drive God from the earth, we shall shelter Him underground… And then we men underground will sing from the bowels of the earth a glorious hymn to God, with whom is joy.”

The novel concludes with Alyosha and the boys of the town celebrating a future resurrection and the redemption of the name of Karamazov in the new men of Alyosha and Dmitri.

The new joy associated with the Karamazov family is the culmination of Dostoevsky’s project of overcoming nihilism. Dostoevsky’s work is thus shown to have no real conflict with that of Nietzsche’s. Both attack the same enemies. Both intend to reach and express a vision of life in which morality as a conventional system is overcome. Ultimately, both express the Übermensch. For Dostoevsky, the Übermensch is the one reaching towards the grand simplicity of Zosima. For Nietzsche, it is Zarathustra seeking eternity.

This Übermensch is to found a new kind of school in which philosophy, art, and morality are integrated in a struggle or agon towards a fulfilment of earthly life. In our writing, in our thought, in our building – it is time for that integration portrayed by both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky.

Chris Waldburger is a writer in Africa. He can be found at chriswaldburger.substack.com

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Gnillik Yot says:

    Absolutely not.

    People like this author seem to think the point of Christianity is solely to combat the left and “egalitarianism”, ignoring the atheist right-wing elements which have historically been used to attack Christ from an elitist angle. Darwinism is an early example of this, which attacked Christians for our uplifting of the weak. The eugenics movement was started by the political right with the goal of combating egalitarianism. It was associated with people like H.L. Mencken and Margaret Sanger, the former an enemy of Creationism (he infamously covered the Scopes Monkey Trial) while the latter was a racist who wanted the “lesser races” to have less children so that the “beautiful, intelligent” could thrive. Sound familiar? It is from this despicable crowd that Nietzsche emerges, a man who believes physical beauty is more important than goodness, a man who believes the poor and the feeble should be trodden underfoot as they were in the time of the Roman Empire.

    It is also from this anti-egalitarian crowd that the Satanist movement has its origins. Alistair Crowley, the occultist who called himself the Beast, was anti-egalitarian and was inspired by Nietzsche as well. Nowadays, Christians rightly worry about the left wing Satanic temple, but often they forget about the much older and more evil right-wing Church of Satan. The Order of 9 Angels is another right-wing satanic group that has recently begun to infiltrate right wing groups for recruitment purposes.

    Do not be fooled by those that claim the atheist anti-egalitarians are the natural allies of Christians. They are in fact our oldest enemy, much worse and more powerful than the perverted egalitarianism of the left we deal with today.

    Siding with them against the left is like if Boromir decided to side with Sauron against Golum.

    Like

    1. NIGEL is a TEAPOT says:

      Absolutely! the “right” is the devil’s intended army, always was.

      Like

  2. jdothandle says:

    Neetchee was rejected by women and therefore sought to become the ideal man in the woman’s eyes. That’s what you worship, not masculinity, not reality.

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    1. NIGEL is a TEAPOT says:

      Won’t let me “like” comments, but you provide a partial take on nietzche. it’s more due to his lifelong sickliness.

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  3. Michael says:

    The deeper one gets into (Orthodox) Christian life (of which “philosophical” writings are an important, but ultimately small part), the more the famous German incel becomes an object of pity or disinterest rather than a source of insight.

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