Nietzsche among the social justice warriors

Get Over Yourself
by Patrick West, Societas, £9.95

What, Patrick West asks, would Friedrich Nietzsche make of contemporary, metropolitan Westerners? Scary thought. After all, the 19th-century German philosopher’s central message, as summarised here, was: life is tough; accept this; embrace it. “You find the burden of your life too heavy? Then you must increase the burden of your life.”

Imagine, then, how the notion of “safe spaces” would have gone down with Friedrich. More than a century before the advent of Twitter, he was enraged by “you gifted young men tormented by ambition who consider it your duty to pass some comment on everything that happens”.

Despite signs of haste in the writing and editing, and the odd loss of momentum brought on by run-of-the-mill swipes at contemporary fixations, Get Over Yourself is an entertaining, bracing, enlightening read. Cleverly stitching together excerpts from his subject’s books and letters, from biographies and commentaries, West conveys the ubiquity of Nietzschean thinking in our culture in both its high and low, most dangerous and most anodyne forms. Progressives and conservatives both have reasons to laud Nietzsche, which means he also has the gift of getting up everyone’s nose. And he really, really had it in for Christianity.

I wonder how many safe-spacers or virtue-signallers will read Get Over Yourself. There is an inherent risk in itemising what Nietzsche would have had to say about them. Maybe they would have prompted the “cavernous laughter” suggested by the philosopher Roger Scruton. On the other hand, maybe Nietzsche would have defied even the most well-founded expectations. The strident iconoclasm of the “social justice warrior” might have appealed to him, as might the determination of some to smash the chains of gender. And I can’t quite share the author’s confidence that Nietzsche would have rejected Nazism out of hand. Tremendous food for thought, then, though we need to be wary of overeating.

As West wisely notes, Nietzsche’s message for an age in which he has become the all-purpose rebel might be not only to get over ourselves – but also to get over him.