The Anti - Christ is the forth work that I have read by Friedrich Nietzsche. My recent commentary on On the Genealogy of Morals is here. I read the Horace B. Samuel translation of this treatise.
This book is an ideological as well as emotional, even hateful, attack on what Nietzsche perceives as the Judeo - Christian tradition and philosophy. While in some ways this is a rehash of ideas presented in earlier works, in this book the philosopher maps out this particular thesis in intricate detail. Nietzsche describes his primary contention,
“Christianity,” which is to say, the corruption of souls by means of the concepts of guilt, punishment and immortality”
“Corruption” of souls being an effect of Christianity, Nietzsche sees modern Europeans as being motivated by guilt and punishment. As a result, modern society is riddled with weakness and decadence. He equates Christianity to anarchy. He blames it for what he perceives to be the malevolency of democracy and scoffs at the ideas that humans are equal. He sees Christianity as the revenge and rule of the lowest elements of society. A proper society in his view would be controlled by elites, and he is contemptuous of even the middle classes,
“A high civilization is a pyramid: it can stand only on a broad base; its primary prerequisite is a strong and soundly consolidated mediocrity. The handicrafts, commerce, agriculture, science, the greater part of art, in brief, the whole range of occupational activities, are compatible only with mediocre ability and aspiration; such callings would be out of place for exceptional men; the instincts which belong to them stand as much opposed to aristocracy as to anarchism. The fact that a man is publicly useful, that he is a wheel, a function, is evidence of a natural predisposition; it is not society, but the only sort of happiness that the majority are capable of, that makes them intelligent machines. “
For Nietzsche, the problem with the concept of immortality and the afterlife is that it focuses human attention away from the reality of life, and is thus the worship of death and, therefore, abominable. He condemns belief systems that distract people from reality.
Nietzsche extolls the virtues of what he considers to be high civilization, principally the Roman Empire, as well as the Islamic Empire. He sees those societies as great, having existed without guilt and decadence. In the philosopher’s eyes, these civilizations were springs of culture, learning and science that were not burdened by ideas that make humanity weak. In addition, he admires these empires for their warrior ethos.
There are a plethora of additional arguments here, all illustrating how Nietzsche believes that Christianity and its supposed offspring, socialism, anarchy and democracy, have destroyed high civilization.
I certainly disagree with certain aspects of the Christian belief system. However, on almost every level, Nietzsche’s arguments simply do not hold water for me. I believe that human progress has resulted from a combination of ideals. These include the drive and will of the individual to succeed despite societal constraints that Nietzsche champions. However, human progress has also been driven by the tendency to exhibit compassion and charity, ideals that the philosopher treats with contempt. Furthermore, much of the tendency in people that Nietzsche defines as a “slave morality” is clearly built into our genes.
I also find many flaws in Nietzsche’s views of history, sociology and psychology. For example, he attributes the fall of Rome entirely to the spread of Christianity. He also gives too much credit to Christianity by implying that the world would be mostly devoid of charity, democracy, the philosophy of equality, etc. without it. His reasoning is, on some issues, utterly without nuance. He is full of hatred towards thought systems and people that he disagrees with. As a result, I find this treatise to often be childish and downright silly.
To be sure, Nietzsche has been influential on subsequent belief systems. For example, his thoughts have not only heavily impacted the philosophies of Libertarianism and Objectivism, but even upon deeper and more reasoned thinkers such as D.H. Lawrence and Hermann Hesse. He does delve into extremely audacious and uncharted territory. He is opinionated and, at times, lays out interesting arguments. He often exhibits great insight. I also remember other works by the philosopher, such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil as being less vitriolic as well as a little more levelheaded. However, at least when it comes to this work, for me, these attributes do not compensate for the immaturity and the flawed nature of these writings.