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Editor’s Note: In his essay “Nietzsche, the Crisis, and the War,” Eric Voegelin summarizes Friedrich Nietzsche’s disturbing description of “The Last Man”:

Zarathustra preaches the gospel of the superman to the people, and the people are silent. He then tries to arouse them by an appeal to their pride and draws the picture of the most contemptible, of the Last Man, whom they will be unless they overcome their present state. The Last Man is the man without creative love, without creative imagination, without a desire for anything that is more than himself. “What is a star?” asks the last man, and he is satisfied with his little pleasures and the comforts of his existence. What he wants is: some warmth, some neighborliness, not too much work, protection against disease, a sufficient measure of drugs to create pleasant dreams (liquor, movies, radio), no poverty but not too much wealth. He wants to know what is going on and to thrash it out; all want the same and want to be equal; he who feels different goes voluntarily into the insane asylum; “formerly all the world was insane”—say the most subtle and leer; one has a pleasure for the day and a pleasure for the night—but with restraint, for the last man is concerned about health and wants a long life. “‘We have invented happiness’—say the last men and leer.” At this point of the speech the audience breaks out in enthusiasm: “Oh, give us this last man—make us these last men. You can have then your superman!” and they laughed. “But there is ice in their laughter,” adds Nietzsche, having diagnosed correctly the schizophrenic touch of the man who is last because he is lost spiritually. —”Nietzsche, the Crisis, and the War,” in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 10: Published Essays

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2 replies to this post
  1. There are echoes here of many of my colleagues, who don’t want anything more from life than to ‘be happy, and be nice to others’. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing – hobbits may save us all, after all – but it certainly bears wondering whether we as a society have begun to lose our capacity for wonder and what C.S. Lewis called joy.
    I was also reminded of a movie recently released titled “the cure for wellness” – a horror film about a health clinic that gradually convinces healthy people that they need treatment (while actually driving them insane). The emphasis on subconscious or unconscious motivations and prejudices in our society allows a disturbing amount of leeway in determining a person’s intentions, and opens the door to the idea that if someone disagrees with me on issue X, it must be because there is something wrong with him, and he shouldn’t be engaged as an equal until he’s fixed.

  2. I am reminded of a G.K. Chesterton quote that I have always loved, “Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.” – The Everlasting Man

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