Segments in this Video

Nietzsche: Genius of the Modern World: Introduction (01:52)


A 1934 photograph captures Hitler standing next to a bust of Nietzsche. Many believed Nietzsche was behind Nazi ideology, but the Third Reich distorted his philosophies; they supported many things that Nietzsche loathed.

Disbelief in Christianity (02:17)

In 1882, Nietzsche predicted the murder of God would lead to a major crisis. He realized that the loss of belief allowed the freedom to create moral values— at a high price.

Nietzsche's Childhood (03:13)

Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor and grew up in Rocken, Germany with two siblings; see the parsonage where he was born. When he was four, his father was diagnosed with a terminal brain disease. His father's death made Nietzsche question God.

Disciple of Truth (04:01)

At the age of 20, Nietzsche studied theology at the University of Bonn where he was exposed to biblical criticism. His doubt in God caused a rift in his family and he began to view Christianity as a "pernicious influence." Nietzsche wanted to find new meaning in a "godless universe."

Purpose of Life (02:10)

At the age of 21, Nietzsche became a student of philology. "The World as Will and Idea" influenced his thinking for over a decade.

"The Birth of Tragedy" (01:50)

Nietzsche became a professor of philology in 1869 at Basel University and his book began to gain him a reputation as a radical thinker. Composer Richard Wagner became an inspiration and obsession for Nietzsche.

Transforming a World of Suffering (04:53)

Nietzsche initially thought Wagner's music would instigate a cultural rebirth based on tragedy. Prof. Simon Goldhill reflects on Nietzsche's purpose for writing "The Birth of Tragedy" and why Nietzsche thought the focus on Dionysus would help humankind. Nietzsche subsequently rejected Wagner.

Pursuing a Life of Philosophy (03:35)

Nietzsche began to believe the flourishing of certain individuals was the answer to the future of humankind and that his academic life was suffocating. He resigned his professorship in 1879 and despite ill health, traveled across Europe. In 1881, a fellow traveler recommended his visit Sils Maria.

Sils Maria, Switzerland (03:26)

Nietzsche arrived in the village in 1881. While walking by a lake, he conceived the idea of the eternal recurrence of the same. "What doesn't kill makes you stronger" became an iconic phrase.

Nietzsche's Love Interest (02:35)

Nietzsche became fascinated with Lou Salomé and proposed twice but she refused. His sister Elisabeth informed their mother of his passions and their mother condemned him; Nietzsche was despondent.

Nietzsche's Dark Period (02:23)

Nietzsche was often suicidal and he left Silas Maria in 1883. He wrote "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," introducing the concept of Übermensch.

"Thus Spoke Zarathustra" (03:54)

Dr. Manuel Dries explains Übermensch. Writing the book gave Nietzsche's life meaning in the face of suffering; suffering was the key to happiness.

"Beyond Good and Evil" (05:44)

Nietzsche continued traveling around Europe and writing. His dismay at Christianity's persistence of moral values fueled this book and "The Genealogy of Morality." Prof. Ken Gemes explains how understanding the works helps us better understand Nietzsche.

Dissent into Madness (03:54)

Nietzsche moved to Turin, Italy in 1888; he produced four books in a year. The first signs of his madness appear in letters he wrote at the start of 1888. Nietzsche was incarcerated in an asylum at the age of 44.

Seeking the Exceptional (03:36)

In 1897, Nietzsche moved into Elisabeth's house. Elisabeth collected writings that Nietzsche never intended to be public. Prof. Simon May discusses two notebooks that led up to "The Will to Power."

"The Will to Power" (01:59)

Nietzsche was against philosophies that reduced life to a single principle. May considers Nietzsche's abandonment of thought. Elisabeth appropriated and manipulated Nietzsche's work and published his notebooks a year after his death.

Triumph of the Will (04:13)

Elisabeth, a Nazi supporter, promoted Nietzsche's works. A Nazi propaganda film echoes Übermensch; Nietzsche would have been horrified. Bettany Hughes states that Nietzsche and his sister bare responsibility for the life his work took on after Nietzsche's death.

"Post-Christian" World (03:17)

Hughes reflects on Christianity today and Nietzsche's prediction of the future and "the last men." Is the religion of comfortableness a description of the modern world? The point of life remains a challenge in the modern world.

Credits: Nietzsche: Genius of the Modern World (00:26)

Credits: Nietzsche: Genius of the Modern World

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Nietzsche: Genius of the Modern World

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The 19th century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the most brilliant and dangerous minds of the 19th century. His uncompromising and often brutal ideas smashed the comfortable presuppositions and assumptions of religion, morality, and science. His was a world not just bereft of God, but almost of humanity—breathtaking in both its post-religious starkness and its originality. In this episode, host Bettany Hughes goes in search of the beliefs of a man whose work is possibly the most devastatingly manipulated and misinterpreted in philosophical history. Nietzsche’s dislike of systems and of seeking truths left his ideas ambiguous and sometimes incoherent. It was this that made him vulnerable to interpretation, and as a result his thoughts—which warned against the very notion of a political system like totalitarianism—were manipulated to strengthen its ideals. Violently opposed to anti-Semitism throughout his life, his anti-Semitic sister made sure he became the poster boy for Hitler’s drive for an Aryan ideal. Anti-nationalistic, he came to symbolize a regime he would have loathed.

Length: 60 minutes

Item#: BVL115800

ISBN: 978-1-63521-150-4

Copyright date: ©2016

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