Nietzsche was born in 1844, the son of a Lutheran pastor, in a provincial town in Thuringia. In 1866 Prussia united the whole of Northern Germany and in 1871, after the victory of Sedan against the French, the German unification was completed. Germany, which had been for centuries a loose coalition of many little independent states, had suddenly become a superpower and the German Chancellor Bismarck became the hero of his time. Nietzsche, however, was not impressed. He saw a danger in this triumphalist mood, arguing that every victory makes us dumber. In fact by that time Nietzsche had already permanently left Germany to go to teach in Basel, and even renounced his Germany citizenship, remaining stateless for the rest of his life.
For Nietzsche state and culture were two irreconcilable opposites: the intervention of the state in the incipient democratic age would have the effect of dumbing down culture and transforming it from refinement and distinguishment into a demagogic mass product. Although considered almost the founder of the modern philosophical skepticism, Nietzsche was a classicist by formation and by vocation, and never hid ambition to be regarded as a classic, untimely, thinker, a reactionary resisting the forces of decadence and vulgarisation of modernity. A collection of four essays of his was titled “Untimely Meditations”.
From one side, Nietzsche was definitely a revolutionary, because he, more than any other, broke not only with the Christian tradition, preparing the ideological (im)moral ground for this post-Christian age of ours, but with the idea of religiosity itself, in line with the Enlightenment, which put rationality above everything else. On the other side, Nietzsche was a radical conservative too, obviously not a conservative in the footsteps of the Judeo-Christian tradition, like it is often understood now, but a pagan aristocrat, who firmly rejected all pretenses of social equality and democracy, arguing in favour of a society rigidly divided in classes.
Nietzsche, who involuntary became the forefather of much postmodern philosophy, is not a modern philosopher. Nietzsche rejected the whole modernity as sickness, as neurosis, as weakness, as feminization. He was able to diagnose the diseases of the modern culture because arguably he was suffering himself from the same disease: he longed for marble rock solid imposing monumentality of antiquity but his hands and legs were shaking.
Few would probably forgive Nietzsche, in light of the current “clash of civilizations” between the West and Russia, if they knew that he liked to position himself, rejecting the tradition of German metaphysical philosophy, as a cultured Russian (although he had never been to Russia); he even wrote that the salvation of European civilization lay entirely in the hands of the strong Russian tsardom. If Nietzsche was alive now, probably many would have dismissed him from public conversation with the epithet “Putinversteher”, the German word introduced recently to label all the “Putin apologists”.
We are living through the times of the German leadership in the EU, a leadership which originated from the sheer size of the German economy, but which has become a moral leadership. Many see Germany as the leading nation in Europe, Germany the model to follow for everyone else, Germans as the most successful Europeans, Germans as the most influential politicians. In these times, the lesson of Nietzsche remains more than actual. The temporary illusion of success from a victory in a single battle is good for morals but could turn out to be a prelude to cultural collapse.