Good-bye, Roger Scruton

Good-bye, Roger Scruton

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Roger Scruton on 12 January 2020, aged 75.

Scruton was shunned in his own country for exposing the follies and fallacies of the demi-Gods of the Left, such as Foucault, Derrrida, Althusser and Gramisci. In spite of all the hardships that he had to face, he succeeded in attaining the ‘good life’, which is the mark of all true philosophers.  May his life serve as a warning to all societies, of how easily it is to misjudge people, giving unwarranted praises to some and shunning the truly merited. The curse of postmodernism  exacerbated considerably this error of judgement.

I had the honour of meeting Scruton in 2012, in London, during the book signing section that followed the debate between him and the literary theorist and critic Terry Eagleton, promoted by Intelligence Squared. Having introduced myself briefly, I told him that I had created a magazine called PortVitoria, hoping to disseminate the ideas of classical liberalism to a Portuguese and Spanish audience. I mentioned that I would like to translate some of his essays to publish in PortVitoria, and that I had already published there a review of his book Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet. When I explained that PortVitoria was a start-up and still unknown, he put me at ease by telling me that he too had edited a magazine that had only some twelve hundred subscribers. He was referring to The Salisbury Review, a ‘quarterly magazine of conservative thought’ founded in 1982, which he served as chief-editor for 18 years. Although The Salisbury Review has a digital edition, its original paper edition survives to this day. I was very happy when he told me that I could translate his essay ‘The Green and the Blue’ into Portuguese and Spanish, to publish PortVitoria. I will always treasure my signed copy of his book The Face of God (2012), where he wrote “To Jo, with best wishes”.  Good-bye, great philosopher.

Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka and her friendship with Pope John Paul II

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (1923- 2014), the woman who gained posthumous fame for having had a friendship with Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) for more than thirty years, was a Polish American phenomenologist philosopher. In this essay I try  to show that although it was Tymieniecka’s  friendship with Pope John Paul II that has caught the interest of the greater media, she was an accomplished individual in her own right.

Continue to read in PortVitoria, magazine of the Iberian culture worldwide.

1968 in a nutshell

Jo Pires-O`Brien

The year 1968 was supposed to herald a revolution against the establishment. Like all revolutions, 1968 had a noble objective, which was to instill a freer and fairer society. With hindsight, 1968 has been downgraded from a revolution to a series of revolts against patriarchy, social repression, capitalism and ordinary ways of life labeled ‘bourgeois’, as well as against imperialism and the Vietnam War. However, it left devastating consequences of society, as if it had been a revolution.

Ideological threads and mind-set

1968 was the pinnacle of the revolts of the 1960s. Its ideology had various intertwined threads that included Romanticism, Existentialism, Marxism, Old Left, New Left and Postmodernism, as well as a specific mind-set against wars and a fixation with the authentic life.

Romanticism or Romantic Movement was a 19th century revolt against the classical restraint in the arts and the rigors of science, with origins in the 17th and the 18th centuries, especially in religion. The quintessential 19th century romantic was Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), the disseminator of the idea of the Volksgeist or ‘the people’s spirit’, a compelling notion that every nation has a natural culture which results from the inner necessity for meaning.

Existentialism or the philosophy of existence, is also a product of he 19th century, and revolves around the anxiety of being and the search for the essence of being. Its main founder was Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who dwelt on the historical process of the self. Other articulators of Existentialism are: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

Marxism refers to the socialist theory of Karl Marx (1818-1883), which was built over the tripartite dialectics of the philosophy of history of the German philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel (1770-1831): thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In Marx’s socialist theory, the thesis is bourgeois society, which originated out of the disintegrating feudal regime; the antithesis is the proletariat, which originated through the development of modern industry, was cast off from modern society through specialization and debasement, and who must eventually turn against it; and the synthesis is the communist society which will result from the conflict between the working class and the owning and employing classes, namely the harmonization of all the interests of mankind after the working class takes over the industrial plants.

The Old Left and the New Left are both based on the socialist doctrine of Karl Marx (1818-1883), although the New Left incorporated the contributions of other socialists such as the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937).

The Old Left’s main objective was to support the workers’ revolution which Marx had prophesised; its adepts consisted mainly of pro-soviet communists, revisionist socialists, Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists, etc. The New Left was a new take on the Marxist thought, where Marx’s revolutionary paradigm is replaced by a passive resistance of the establishment, which included accepting the bureaucratic routines as a means to the occupation of institutions. The movement of greatest significance to the New Left was the Frankfurt School[1], which in 1933 was transferred to Columbia University in New York. This link of Columbia with the Frankfurt School is significant, for Columbia became the American epicenter of 1968.

Postmodernism, whose main fathers are Michael Foucault (1926-1984), Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998), Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), and Richard Rorty (1931-2007), consists basically of a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies, as well as a reaction against modernity and the denial of progress. According with the postmodern doctrine, there is no such thing as ‘objective knowledge’ or ‘scientific knowledge’, or even ‘ the best morality’, for everything is opinion, and each type of opinion is as good as another.

The intellectuals who inspired 1968

Like other all uprisings in history, 1968 had its intellectual stirrers. The most prominent intellectuals of 1968 came from France and Germany, the two most prominent ones being Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979). What singled out Sartre and Marcuse was their connection with the university students and with the public at large who were anxious with the uncertainties of the Cold War. One could also argue that the reason of the strong connection was that the writings of both Sartre and Marcuse resonated well with the dominant mind-set of the time. Sartre popularized his own version of Existentialism, which included the notion that communism represented the people’s wish and offered an authentic way of life, as opposed to the inauthentic way of life found in capitalism. Marcuse popularized a kind of socialism that did not require wars, and which could be achieved by encroaching and occupying the established institutions. He also inculcated in the population the notion of free love.


Sartre disseminated a kind of Existentialism in which meaning and authenticity could be bound in communism. In 1960, he did a tour of Latin America, accompanied by his partner, the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), who was also a towering figure among the French intellectuals. The couple visited Cuba, where they were received by Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara, then his Finance Minister. In Brazil, where he was received by the writer Jorge Amado (a former militant of the Brazilian Communist Party; 1912-2001), Sartre spoke at various universities, and one of his interpreters was the young Fernando Henrique Cardoso (born in 1931), a future president of Brazil. In 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, which he turned down on the grounds that it was a Western institution and that his acceptance of it could be perceived as taking a side in the present East and West conflict.

Sartre’s take on Existentialism was focused on the notion of shame, or the way others saw him, to which he had no control; it is from this reflection that he came up with the phrase “hell is other people”. Sartre’s understanding of liberty was particularly unique, and to him the path to liberty was more important than liberty itself. Thus, when the French protesters took to the streets and the French police responded with force, Sartre preached a counter-violence to the violence of the police. Although Sartre’s books were highly regarded by the generation associated with 1968, he was mistaken regarding communism and the Soviet regime. His personal life was not exemplary, as revealed in his biographies.


Marcuse taught at the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, which was re-established in Columbia University, New York, after its closure by the Nazis in 1933. At that time, he fled to Geneva and from there to the United States, along with his colleagues Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969). During World War II he served as an intelligence officer and in the 1950s, when the Frankfurt Institute moved back to Europe, Marcuse chose to stay in the United States and to naturalize as an American citizen. In 1955, he published Eros and Civilization, where he combined Freud and Marx to create a doctrine of sexual and political liberation at the same time, where he introduced the slogan “Make Love, Not War” at the center of the 1960s revolts. Marcuse became a celebrity at age 66, with his 1962 book One-Dimensional Man, where the word ‘unidimensional’ in the title refers to the flattening of discourse, imagination, culture and politics in society. In it, Marcuse suggested a break away from the current system in order to make way for an alternative ‘two-dimensional existence’. Both Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man helped to promote the New Left with the student population. took Marcuse’s thoughts regarding creating an emancipated society without a socialist revolution are summarized in An Essay on Liberation, published in 1969, considered a snapshot of the revolutionary utopianism in the 1960s.

The type of socialism that Marcuse preached was a complete negation of the existing society and a rupture with previous history that would provide an alternative mode of free and happy existence with less work, more play, and the reduction of social repression. He used Marxist terminology to critique existing capitalist societies and insisted that socialist revolution was the most viable way to create an emancipated society. Marcuse was called an irresponsible hedonist by Erich Fromm (1900-1980)[2], the American social philosopher and psychoanalyst who was also a German refugee. Marcuse`s ingratitude to the country that received him as a refugee comes through in his writing, where he described the United States as ‘preponderantly evil’.

The early critics of the 1960s revolts: Aron and Habermas

Among the first critics of the 1960s revolts ,the two most significant figures were Raymond Aron (1905-1983) and Jürgen Habermas (1929). Both Aron and Habermas had been socialists when young and both studied socialism and Karl Marx in depth. Both continued to describe themselves as members of the Left even after they became its main critics, saw the masses as a means to totalitarianism, and believed that an extensive university reform could be the solution to the student’s unrest. Last by not least, they were both hated by the students.

In 1969 Aron published La Revolution Introuvable, translated in the following year as The Elusive Revolution, in which he referred to the events of May 1968, as a “psychodrama” in which “everyone involved imitated their great ancestors and unearthed revolutionary models enshrined in the collective unconscious” – a reference to the French Revolution of 1789 and the Reign of Terror that it created. The book received negative criticism in France and in the United States[3].

Habermas, who has published dozens of books and essays, is Germany’s most important living philosopher. Although he studied at the Frankfurt Institute, he moved away from its Marxist influence and created his own school of thought. His criticism of the students’ revolts of the 1960s is shown in some of his essays such as ‘The Movement in Germany’. In his 1962 book Strukturwandel der Öffenlicheit, which appeared in English only in 1989, as The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, he criticised many of the theories at the centre of the students’ revolts. Habermas pointed out the special role of universities as platforms of the public sphere debate, and that the most radical students were taking away the possibility of discussion. He also recognised the new environmental movements that stemmed from the 1960s revolts.

The ‘us and them’ of 1968: A strategy of identity

The talking heads of 1968 created an ‘us and them’ social division, in which the ‘us’, or ‘the partakers of 1968’ were the good guys who intended to create a better world, while the ‘them’ were the bad guys, labeled ‘counter-revolutionaries’ or ‘reactionaries’. In fact, the ‘them’ reactionaries were a minority, and a better description of them is ‘the silent majority’, ordinary people who were too busy living their ordinary lives.

The underlying reason for the ‘us and them’ split between the engaged and the disengaged was to create a group identity that could serve the political objective of gaining power through the occupation of institutions. The 1968 mind-set gave group identity to the once rebel students, and from such group identity they gained power, at least inside academia. The greatest evidence for this is the Cultural Wars of the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. Although there are indications of similar academic conflicts in Europe and in many Latin American countries, there are no significant critical studies available on the subject.

When the British philosopher Roger Scruton wrote Thinkers of the New Left in 1985 he was ostracized by the academic establishment in Great Britain, who put pressure on Longman House, his publisher, to withdraw the books out of the bookstores. Realizing that he would not get another academic job in Britain, Scruton decided to get a new training as a barrister, and continued his academic career outside Britain. During this time, Scruton reworked the original manuscript and added sections to it, coming up with Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, which was published in 2015. Only then Scruton was taken seriously. Finally, at the age when most people retire, Scruton became a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buckingham, and in 2016  was knighted by the Prince of Wales at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, for services to Philosophy, Teaching and Public Education.

Social consequences of 1968

1968 is also referred to as ‘the long year’ because its spirit continued on. The revolts of 1968 intended to create a better society. However, in spite of its good intentions, 1968 had several unintended social consequences of stifling the debate in the public sphere and the increase in political populism, to the social fragmentation that resulted from multiculturalism minus interculturalism.

Populism refers to actions deliberately planned to attract the majority of people. Since the people are recognized as being sovereign in any democracy, populism appears to be a good thing. However, there is no single political will attributable to the people, and what a populist does is to trick people to believe otherwise. Populist political leaders are well-trained in the art of persuasion. One example that occurs frequently is that of a candidate who persuades the people that he deserves to be trusted because he is one of them, when ‘being one of them’ simply means that he does not have the right skills of statesmanship. In campaigns for office, the populist candidate is the one who uses dishonest means to earn the voter’s sympathy, who lumps individual voters into lots of convenience and tailors his discourse to each. Another sign of the populist candidate is the use of emotional language to manipulate feelings.

Multiculturalism refers to the doctrine of regarding every individual, and every culture in which individuals participate, as being equally valuable. Although apparently this is a good thing, the acceptance of certain cultural practices could infringe on the human rights of individuals, as exemplified by female genital mutilation (FGM) and the marriage of children.

Social fragmentation is also a growing phenomenon in Western democracies. In his book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, Mark Lilla (born 1956) illustrates the problem in the United States, which can be inferred from the growing of identity politics, which refers to activisms based on a single unifying descriptor such as being a woman, black or LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), created to solve the problem of social or political exclusion. To Lilla, by keeping minorities separated from the mainstream society, identity politics does not help the minorities to gain political power through gaining more seats in local government. Although Lilla’s book concerns itself with the situation in the United States, identity politics is also common in Latin America.

The students revolution of 1968 was a mass movement, and, like all mass movements, it consisted of instigating leaders and malts of followeres (the hoi polloi). Although many of  the leaders of 1968 eventually understood the problems associated with idealizations of society, the malts of followers carried on dreaming about the ideal society and seeking social interventions of one kind of another. Examples of the latter are the armed groups of hard left-wingers in the African and Latin American bushes.

It has taken almost fifty years for 1968 to be properly understood. Sadly, too late to avoid its unintended social consequences.


Aron, Raymond. Thinking Politically: A Liberal in the Age of Ideology, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers, 1997.

Habermas, Jürgen (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge, Polity Press, 1992. Reprint of 2011.

Lilla, Mark. Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. New York, Harpers, 2017.

Marcuse, Herbert. An Essay on Liberation. Boston, Beacon Press, 1969.

Scruton, Roger (1985). Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. London, Bloomsbury, 2015.

[1] The Frankfurt School , a sociology movement inspired on Marxism also known as ‘Critical Theory’. The movement itself sprout from the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), which was attached to the Goethe University in Frankfurt, after it was founded in 1923 by Felix Weil. Other names associated with the Frankfurt School are Friedrich Pollock, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm, Wilhelm Reich, Leo Lowenthal, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. After 1933, the Nazis forced its closure, and the Institute was moved to the United States where it found hospitality at Columbia University in New York City. After the War the Institute was re-established, and the most notorious member of this new generation was Jürgen Habermas, although he later abandoned both Marxism and Hegelianism.

[2] Here is a quote by Erich Fromm on the sexual liberation of the 1960s: “The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

[3] Aron found recognition late in his life, especially after the publication of his memoirs, one month before his death, on 17 October 1983.

Jo Pires-O`Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

Speaking of Nietzsche

Jo Pires-O’Brien

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) remains one of the most talked-about philosophers of the 19th century, and continues to divide opinion. The Nazis claimed him to lend respectability to their political agenda; Christian thinkers have denounced him as a nihilist; but he has also been adopted by the left-inclined postmodernists. Such conflicting views of a philosopher who is acknowledged as one of the greatest of modern times ring alarm bells. Anyone who heeds such alarm bells discovers that there are many misunderstandings surrounding Nietzsche’s life and work. This essay attempts to explain some of the most important of them. I start by reviewing how he is perceived by other philosophers.

Three Peers’ Assessments
Will Durant (1885-1981) analyzed the influence on Nietzsche of Charles Darwin. Nietzsche regarded the biological process of natural selection as biased against the exceptional individual: Nature protected the mediocre and eradicated the exceptional. Nietzsche supported the ideas of eugenics and of ennobling education. It is unclear whether Nietzsche was being racist or simply bemoaning the precariousness of the position of any superior individual who lived amid mass mediocrity. Nietzsche contradicts himself when, after arguing in favour of developing finer and stronger individuals, he suggests that it is futile to try to improve mankind, as mankind is only an abstract concept. To Durant, there was much of Plato in Nietzsche, such as in his defense of the superior individual and the aristocracy of the mind, as in his ‘superman’, an embodiment of Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’. To Durant, Nietzsche had great style but his philosophy required caution: ‘Nietzsche does not prove, he announces and reveals; he wins us with his imagination rather than with his logic’. Madness was the price that Nietzsche paid for his genius: ‘These dogmatic assertions, these unmodified generalizations, these prophetic repetitions, these contradictions – of others not more than himself – reveal a mind that has lost its balance, and hovers on the edge of madness.’

Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009), a Polish philosopher and historian of ideas, points out that Nietzsche has demolished the shell that had sheltered faith from the searchlight of reason, a shell maintained for the sake of the illusory comfort that religious faith provided. Nietzsche declared that reality was pointless; that the world had no meaning and made no distinction between good and evil; but even so, this was the only world. Madness was the result of Nietzsche’s consequent despair.

Roger Scruton (1944-) remarks that Nietzsche’s forthrightness has made him a favorite of the postmodernists. The postmodernists marginalize both truth and refutation, and seize on Nietzsche’s paradoxical statement ‘There is no truth, only interpretation’: ‘Either what Nietzsche said is true – in which case it is not true, since there are no truths – or it is false.’ Scruton’s view is that because of Nietzsche’s insanity it is unwise to adopt his philosophy as a source of edifying inspiration.

Nietzsche and Nihilism
Nietzsche has been incorrectly called a Nihilist. Nihilism, which maintains that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated, as nothing really exists, was the first blot inflicted on Nietzsche’s reputation, caused by taking some of his writings at face value.

In his notebooks, assembled posthumously by his sister under the title: ‘The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values’, Nietzsche many times repeated ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’. All of Nietzsche’s isolated sentences associated with nihilism need to be understood in the context of his entire work. In many instances when he appears to be defending nihilism he is in fact bemoaning the nihilism that surrounded him. An example is the following quotation from his book ‘Beyond Good and Evil’:
‘The eagerness and subtlety, I should even say craftiness, with which the problem of ‘the real and the apparent world’ is dealt with at present throughout Europe, furnishes food for thought and attention; and he who hears only ‘Will to Truth’ in the background, and nothing else, cannot certainly boast of the sharpest ears. In rare and isolated cases, it may really have happened that such a Will to Truth – a certain extravagant and adventurous pluck, a metaphysician’s ambition of the forlorn hope – has participated therein: that which in the end always prefers a handful of ‘certainty’ to a whole cartload of beautiful possibilities; there may be even puritanical fanatics of conscience, who prefer to put their last trust in a sure nothing, rather than in an uncertain something. But that is Nihilism, and the sign of a despairing, mortally wearied soul, not withstanding the courageous bearing such a virtue may display’.

A biography of Nietzsche by Georg Brandes refers to several instances where Nietzsche’s apparent negativity and contempt are due to his acerbic style rather than to nihilism. Brandes also points out some positive things that accompanied Nietzsche’s negativity. In his The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Nietzsche wrote about the role of art in counteracting decadence and nihilism in scientism, historicism, and Christianity. Nietzsche attacked literature, not because he did not believe in it, but because he thought that literature was not fulfilling its role of promoting liberty and the progress of humanity.

Nietzsche and Nazism
Although Nietzsche’s time was characterized by the ideology of Teutonic supremacy and a wave of antisemitism, both of which the Nazis adopted, the philosopher’s association with Nazism1 was contrived by juxtaposing his writings, published and unpublished, in such a way that they would appear to justify aggression and domination for the sake of nationalistic and racial self-glorification. Sadly, one of the persons responsible for that was Nietzsche’s own sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who took charge of assembling the philosopher’s archive after his death in 1900. Elisabeth was the wife of Bernhard Förster, whom she accompanied to Paraguay in the 1880s to help him establish an Aryan colony named Nueva Germania, near a place called San Bernadino3.

The Nazis had already adopted Bernhard Förster as a figurehead, second only to the composer Richard Wagner, who, in addition to composing music designed to arouse nationalist sentiments, had been the originator of Nueva Germania. By pointing out Nietzsche’s friendship with Wagner and other things such as his idea of the superman, Förster-Nietzsche ingratiated her brother with the Nazis. But Nietzsche had many Jewish friends and was no anti-Semite. He repudiated Wagner when he realized how anti-Semitic he was. Further evidence that Nietzsche was not anti-Semitic is a Christmas letter that he wrote in 1887 to his sister, in which he set out his objections to her marriage to the anti-Semite Bernhard Förster.

Nietzsche’s idea of the superman was introduced in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, published in 1883, his most important work, a satire of both the religious gullibility of society and the nationalist-tinted glasses of many philologists. The character Zarathustra is the prophet Zoroaster, who was born on Lake Urmi and at age 30 went to the province of Arya, where he wrote the Zend-Avesta. Zarathustra serves as Nietzsche’s mouthpiece, through whom the philosopher affirms his atheism and presents his ideas of the superman (Übermensch), the strong man who lives by his own morality and vanquishes all opposition. Nietzsche bemoans how the conditions of the world are unfavorable to the superman, for natural selection (Nietzsche believes, though such a belief is contrary to the principle of Darwin’s theory) is guided by a ‘law of average’ which eliminates the superior specimens and favors the mediocre ones. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra speaks for him: ‘You [mankind] have made your way from worm to human, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now the human being is still more of an ape than any ape is.’ However, there is little doubt that Nietzsche’s superman came from Richard Wagner’s Siegfried, a character taken from Norse and Germanic mythology, who, according to Wagner, represents the ideal vision of the Aryan race, the man of the future, who must create himself by destroying mankind (or our notion of mankind), and displace Christianity. This appealed to Nietzsche because of his grievances with Christianity, which he defined as poor people’s Platonism.

Nietzsche and Postmodernism
Two French philosophers, Foucault and Derrida, began to associate Nietzsche with postmodernism, a chameleon ideology that has a number of mantles including the relativist idea that the universal realities of the world are social constructs based on language and communication. Ideologically, postmodernism favors the destruction of the present Western civilization so that it can be replaced by another that is post-industrial and post-capitalist. It maintains that the literary canon of the West has been constructed to preserve Western hegemony, and that scientific truth is no better than other types of truth.

One of the reasons why Nietzsche has been chosen as the face of postmodernism is his dualist understanding of the world based on an objective external representation as well as a subjective, inner, perception of ‘the will’, showing how mindless and aimless ‘the will’ can be. It can be argued that Nietzsche’s dictum ‘There are no truths but only interpretations’ suggests that the world is a ‘construct’ and thus fits well the post-modern ideology. However, the post-moderns ignored many things that Nietzsche wrote that do not conform to postmodernism. To give 2 examples: 1. Nietzsche praised science for having defied the lies of religion; 2. He criticised the false claims of truth based on the misuse of metaphors, metonyms and anthropomorphisms.

Nietzsche is perhaps the most talked-about modern philosopher among both scholars and the public, although much of his notoriety has arisen from misunderstanding him. As I have tried to show in this essay, the association of Nietzsche with nihilism, Nazism and postmodernism has resulted from unscrupulous and opportunist pursuit of agendas other than that of innocent inquiry. According to Nietzsche’s peers his philosophy is as complicated as his personality. It should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Jo Pires-O’Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a cultural internet magazine dedicated to Spanish and Portuguese speakers:


1. Nazism. The supremacist and anti-Semitic ideology of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) created in 1920 from the German Workers Party (DAP). The Nazi ideology reached its maturity around 1862, coinciding with the year when Bismarck became the German Prime Minister.

2. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic* pre-Islamic religion of Ancient Persia founded by Zoroaster in the 6th century BC. It was introduced to India by the Zoroastrians of the west coast of India, who were also called Parsees or Parthians, which means Persian. The Zoroastrianism introduced in India had already incorporated some aspects of Hellenism, during the Greek rule of Persia, as well as some aspects of Christianity, stemming from their warfare with the Armenians. *According to the narrative, the monotheism of Zoroastrianism came about after Ormazd, the god of creation, light and goodness, defeated his brother Ahriman, the spirit of evil and darkness.

3. Nueva Germania, near the town of San Bernadino, in Paraguay, was a project of 5 German families. Förster committed suicide after the project failed and Elisabeth returned to Germany. San Bernadino became the destination of Joseph Mengele and other Nazis who had escaped from the allies’ justice after the end of World War II.

Literature Consulted
Babich, Babette (2000). “Future Philology! by Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff – Translated by G. Postl, B. Babich, and H. Schmid”. Articles and Chapters in Academic Book Collections. Paper 3.
Durant, Will (1953). The Story of Philosophy. The lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers. Simon and Schuster, New York. 412 p.
Kolakowski, Leszek (1990). Modernity on Endless Trial. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1883) Thus Spake [sig.] Zarathustra. Translated by Thomas Common. With an Introduction by Mrs Forster-Nietzsche. Kindle edition. Project Guttenberg, Europe.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2009) Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by Thomas Common. . Project Guttenberg, Europe.
Scruton, Roger (2004). Modern Philosophy. An Introduction and Survey. Pimlico, London. 611 p.
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (2011). Friedrich Nietzsche Source:

Acknowledgment: I am indebted to Guy Choat for revising and editing this manuscript.


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Nietzsche (1844-1900): a Mini Biography

Friedrich Nietzsche was born in Röcken bei Lützen, South of Leipzig, Prussia (Germany), in October 15, 1844. Since his father was a Protestant minister, the family lived in the house provided by the church. At age five, Nietzsche’s father (Karl Ludwig) died of a brain ailment and with his mother (Franziska), and his younger sister (Therese Elizabeth Alexandra) he went to live with the paternal grandmother and two great-aunts. It has been suggested that the lack of male role models in Nietzsche’s life had an effect on his personality, somewhat different from that of other boys.

Between the ages of 14 and 19, Nietzsche attended Schulpforta, a highly rated boarding school in Naumburg, the same school attended by the German Idealist philosopher Johan Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814). During this period, Nietzsche met his lifetime friend Paul Dessen (1845-1919) who later became an Orientalist and historian of philosophy. Nietzsche was a music lover who even contemplated a career in music. Through a magazine called the Zeitschrift für Musik, which one of his school’s club subscribed, Nietzsche became acquainted with the music of Richard Wagner.

In 1864, after graduating from Schulpforta, Nietzsche enrolled at the University of Bonn to study theology and philology, which at the time were taught for their connections with the classical texts and the Bible. Of these two, it was in philology that Nietzsche had the greatest interest, something that was going to have an indelible effect in his future writings. Nietzsche immersed in philosophy at age twenty-one, when he discovered the book The World as Will and Idea by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). From then on he continued to read Schopenhauer and to rethink his arguments. While Schopenhauer sought ways in the aesthetics of art to raise the human condition, Nietzsche took those further by stating that it is man’s responsibility to give meaning to life. Another book that left a mark on Nietzsche was F A Lange’s History of Materialism and Critique of its Present Significance (1866). The essays that Nietzsche wrote while an undergraduate singled him out by the maturity of his thought.

After graduating from the University of Bonn, Nietzsche enrolled himself at the University of Leipzig as a post-graduate student in philology, supervised by Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl. However, soon afterwards he had to take a break from academic life to comply with the military conscription. He worked as a hospital attendant during the Franco-Prussian War and returned to the University of Leipzig after he was discharged. In November 1868, Nietzsche met the composer Richard Wagner (1813–1883) at the home of Hermann Brockhaus (1806–1877), an Orientalist who was married to Wagner’s sister, Ottilie. In the following Christmas of 1869 Nietzsche was invited to spend Christmas at the home of Wagner and his wife Cosima, daughter of the composer Franz Liszt, in Bayreuth, Central Germany.

Although Nietzsche had not yet completed his doctorate, with good recommendations from his supervisor Ritschl and others, in December 1868 he was appointed Assistant Professor of Classic Philology at the University of Basel, Switzerland. In March 1869, however, the University of Leipzig issued him the rank of doctor, without examination, based on his publications in the journal of the Rheinisches Museum. After moving to Switzerland, Nietzsche renounced his Prussian citizenship, due to a sense of duty to the university that hired him, but since he never met the criteria for Swiss citizenship, he became stateless.

During the time he was a professor in Basel, between 1872 and 1879, Nietzsche maintained his friendship with Wagner and visited the composer several times. Nietzsche’s first book – The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music (1872)–, as well as ideas spread about in other books and essays, attest the impression that Wagner made on Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy was trashed by the philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff (1848-1931), also a former student of Schulpforta. To Wilamowitz-Möllendorff only ignorance, lack of love for truth or naivety could explain Nietzsche’s claims that with the use of Greek tragedy he embodied Dionysius and solved the riddle of the orchestra. When weighting out this bad review it is important to recall the ongoing academic dispute between Nietzsche’s supervisor, Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl (1806-1876), and Otto Jahn (1813-1869), in which Wilamowitz-Möllendorff sided with Jahn, who was a friend of his best friend Hermann Sauppe.

In January 1879 Nietzsche had his first nervous breakdown, from which he never quite recovered. His health continued to deteriorate and in June of the same year he resigned from the university of Basel, after a career that lasted only ten years. Afterwards Nietzsche had just under ten years of productive life left. He lived in a series of places in Switzerland as well as in Venice, Genoa, Nice and Trim. However, the visible signs of his madness such as his unkempt appearance and delusional outbursts began to be noticed in the Summer of 1888. Nietzsche’s last breakdown occurred in Turin, on 3rd January 1889 when he collapsed and succumbed to madness. The alleged cause of this breakdown was his witnessing of a cab man flogging viciously a stubborn horse, to which Nietzsche reacted by throwing himself to embrace the horse’s neck in order to prevent any further flogging. Nietzsche received constant care from his mother until her death and thereafter he was cared on and off by his sister Elizabeth. On August 25, 1900, just before completing his 56th birthday, Nietzsche died, of pneumonia and a stroke.

Jo Pires-O’Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a cultural internet magazine dedicated to Spanish and Portuguese speakers.

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