We talk a lot about Nietzsche here at Big Think. His ideas on God, life, the mind, and politics continue to interest even the lay reader of philosophy. However, Nietzsche’s ideas are not without their critics. Today, we are going to look at one of the brightest and harshest critics of Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Who was Bertrand Russell?

Bertrand Russell was a British philosopher who worked in many fields. His work in logic was paradigm shifting, and his writings on modern love were so shocking to his contemporaries that he found it impossible to find a job for some time after publishing his book Marriage and Morals (1929). While today we would find these radical ideas rather normal, he was made an outcast over them. During his stretch on the academic blacklist, he wrote the book A History of Western Philosophy to pay his bills.

What does he have to say?

In his history, Russell spends a chapter on Nietzsche. While his sources were early translations and Russell was criticized for misunderstanding Nietzschean thought, his criticisms of Nietzsche still have punch and should be considered.

Russell begins by explaining that Nietzsche is not unintelligent and even praises a few of his insights. He explains Nietzschean thought, as he understood it, in ethics and religion alongside an accurate biography. Russell then begins his attack.

He condemns the “power-phantasies of an invalid” that are Nietzsche’s ethics. He points out that every other analyst has found that religion has been used by the nobility to control the poor and not, as Nietzsche argues, used by the weak to limit the ambition of the strong. He further argues that Nietzsche was a megalomaniac and this rotten foundation makes his ethical views questionable in terms of real use.

He found Nietzsche’s ability to justify the suffering of millions for the sake of one great man terrifying, quoting Nietzsche directly with this passage from On the Genealogy of Morality: “The Revolution made Napoleon possible: that is its justification. We ought to desire the anarchical collapse of the whole of our civilization if such a reward were to be its result.” 

He ends the chapter by removing all doubt as to his opinions on Nietzsche.

"I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit into a duty, because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die. But I think the ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against any unpleasant but internally self-consistent ethic, lies not in an appeal to facts, but in an appeal to emotions. Nietzsche despises universal love; I feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards the world. His followers have had their innings, but we may hope that it is coming rapidly to an end."

These changes are due to increased study, the removal of the right wing edits his sister added in, and the denazification process German academia endured.