The Theory of Human Rights and Its Criticism in the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
[Note: Below are the abstract and summary in English of Dr. Przemysław Zientkowski's book, published in Polish in 2013.]
The book is devoted to the idea of human rights in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Its main objective is to respond to Nietzsche’s critique of eternal and individual human rights.
Two major theses are advanced. The first is that — despite the fact that Nietzsche consistently rejected the existence of human rights — their elements are present in his philosophy. The second is that Nietzsche’s philosophy cannot in any way be regarded as the substructure of the criminal ideology of Nazism.
The book outlines the historical background from ancient times to the French Revolution, thus proving that the idea of human rights is rooted in the natural law. It also raises issues Nietzschean philosophy of law and politics as well as their social and moral consequences. The book focuses only on fundamental human rights, which are, in the opinion of the author, in accordance with the natural law and consist of the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to equality.
The twenty-first century can be characterized by a specific kind of fashion for human rights. The idea is present in almost every domain of the human life. It is examined on every possible ground, in theory and in practice. It is present in science, politics, work and even religions. Human rights and, strictly speaking, issues concerning their observance or violation, appear as an international burning issue on all continents. Basically, it is impossible to avoid speaking about them.
Another omnipresent intellectual fashion in the twenty-first century is Friedrich Nietzsche and his works. The works are comprehended both in the strictly philosophical (scientific) categories and more theoretical, culture-and opinion-forming categories. The trend started to appear already in the second half of the twentieth century; however, no sooner than in the second and third generation after World War Two, Nietzsche definitively stopped being connected with the criminal system of the Nazism.
In the light of the above tendencies, it is impossible to avoid an attempt to compare the Nietzschean philosophy with the concept of human rights. It was only a matter of time to try to raise the issue and make an analysis of the available material.
The purpose of this book is an attempt to present a response to the definition of “top-down imposed, eternal, individual human rights” in Nietzschean philosophy. In Nietzsche’s opinion, in his contemporary reality, these rights — instead of supporting, leading and emphasizing brilliant individuals — only eliminated natural disproportions and differences between people, transforming exceptional individuals into a plain, identical mob. These rights were understood by Nietzsche strictly in the context of the natural law doctrine. Through his works he indicated its twilight to finally announce the non-existence of human rights.
The intention of the author is also to present some Nietzschean light-heartedness. We cannot, however, accuse the philosopher of the lack of responsibility for his works. He could not, after all, even suspect what social and moral consequences he would bear for the use of his authority by the Nazis — along with posthumous putting in line with the largest criminals of the twentieth century. In his works, Nietzsche often accuses Jean-Jacques Rousseau of the preparation of revolutionary ideology. He defines him as the initiator of the most bloody farce that affected the mankind and, with all strictness, stigmatizes him. Instead, he turns out to be the victim of an unusual perversity of history, which manifests itself in the fact that it is nobody else but the author of Beyond Good and Evil to have been declared inspirer of a significantly bloodier and far greater “farce”, which broke out 150 years later.
This book, despite the fact that it is an integral whole, consists of three basic parts, conventionally called the introducing, historical and Nietzschean parts. Although they are not clearly separated, they form a comprehensible composition that enables tracking human rights from the oldest times, their beginnings to the interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche. It is extremely important in the context of the foundation of human rights. The Nietzschean philosophy and an attempt to include it in Nazism close, in the opinion of the author, the chapter of natural law of human right understanding.
Chapter One characterizes basic notions, presenting them as mandatory definitions in this book. It seems that without standardization of basic concepts, such as human rights, natural law, dignity or human being, there is no possibility of a reliable formulation and defense of the formulated thesis statements.
Chapter Two outlines those primary human rights the book is devoted to, such as the right to life, equality and freedom.
Chapter Three is devoted to the presentation of historiosophical outline starting with the Hebrew tradition, the thought of ancient Greece, to the concepts of the Middle Ages.
Chapter Four discusses the modern theories of human rights from the doctrines of the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment and revolutionary legal-human initiatives.
In both historical chapters the context of explaining natural rights and human rights being, their consequence remains meaningful. It is important insofar because it had a real impact on shaping the views of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Chapter Five of the book briefly presents the life and views of Friedrich Nietzsche and indicates inspirations of social thought of the author of The Gay Science.
Chapter Six introduces the socio-political thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, and strictly speaking the Nietzschean interpretation of the major doctrines having an effect on formation of his visions of human rights.
Chapter Seven presents the human’s dependence on the state instruments.
Chapter Eight contains the Nietzschean vision of rights — mostly in the perspective of subjective rights, as the sphere of abilities of individuals to act limited by instructions of legal norms, and also as the spheres of freedom of behaviors, namely certain activities or omissions resulting from broadly understood nature.
The last chapter, Chapter Nine, presents the social and moral consequences of the thoughts of the German philosopher, mainly through heresy, namely the selection of certain behaviors in the context of law and morality, the author of The Gay Science created a background that his philosophy was used to crush the natural and inviolable rights of every human.
The impact of Friedrich Nietzsche’s thoughts was and has been multi-directional. In the context of human rights, to recognize a person as a biological being with a suggestion that he is the creator of culture, knowledge and the legislator of the systems of values remains meaningful.
A broad bibliography on the subject includes biographies of the author of Beyond Good and Evil, reasons and comments to the works of Nietzsche from all the areas of philosophy, from aesthetics to metaphysics inclusively, in addition, it touches the issues related to philology, theology, psychology and sociology. When analyzing nearly the whole scope of social life, the interpreters of the Nietzschean thought very often ignore the categories of law and politics. It clearly indicates a deeper need to analyze that issue.
The purpose of the author was to write a book of interdisciplinary nature. Although it is firmly based on the philosophical ground, in its essence it touches the issues related to law and political sciences.
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[For more information, please contact Dr. Zientkowski at przemyslawzientkowski [at] op.pl.]