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Human, All Too Human

Human, All Too Human (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches), subtitled A Book for Free Spirits (Ein Buch für freie Geister), is a book by 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, originally published in 1878. A second part, Assorted Opinions and Maxims (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche), was published in 1879, and a third part, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten), followed in 1880. Reflecting an admiration of Voltaire as a free spirit, but also a break in his friendship with composer Richard Wagner two years earlier, Nietzsche dedicated the original 1878 edition “to the memory of Voltaire on the celebration of the anniversary of his death, May 30, 1778.” Instead of a preface, the first part originally included a quotation from DescartesDiscourse on the Method. Nietzsche later republished all three parts as a two-volume edition in 1886, adding a preface to each volume, and removing the Descartes quote as well as the dedication to Voltaire.

Style and structure

Unlike his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, which was written in essay style, Human, All Too Human is a collection of aphorisms, a style which he would use in many of his subsequent works. The aphoristic style was suited to many of the ideas and thoughts in the book, which are as short as a sentence, to as long as a few pages. It was also likely due to Nietzsche’s decline in health at the time, when he was already frequently suffering from vision problems as well as painful migraine headaches that would have made reading and writing very difficult. In 1879, a year after publishing the first installment, he was forced to leave his professorship at Basel University because of his deteriorating health. The first installment’s 638 aphorisms are divided into nine sections by subject, and a short poem as an epilogue. The second and third installments are an additional 408 and 350 aphorisms respectively.

This book represents the beginning of Nietzsche's "middle period", with a break from German Romanticism and from Wagner and with a definite positivist slant. Note the style: reluctant to construct a systemic philosophy, Nietzsche composed these works as a series of several hundred aphorisms, ranging in length from a single line to a few pages. This book comprises more a collection of debunkings of unwarranted assumptions than an interpretation, though it offers some elements of Nietzsche's thought in his arguments: he uses his perspectivism and the idea of the will to power as explanatory devices, though the latter remains less developed than in his later thought.

Of First and Last Things

In this first section Nietzsche deals with metaphysics, specifically its origins as relating to dreams, the dissatisfaction with oneself, and language as well.

On the History of Moral Feelings

This section, named in honor of his friend Paul Rée’s On the Origin of Moral Sensations, Nietzsche challenges the Christian idea of good and evil , and as it was philosophized by Arthur Schopenhauer.

"At the waterfall. When we see a waterfall, we think we see freedom of will and choice in the innumerable turnings, windings, breakings of the waves; but everything is necessary; each movement can be calculated mathematically. Thus it is with human actions; if one were omniscient, one would be able to calculate each individual action in advance, each step in the progress of knowledge, each error, each act of malice. To be sure the acting man is caught in his illusion of volition; if the wheel of the world were to stand still for a moment and an omniscient, calculating mind were there to take advantage of this interruption, he would be able to tell into the farthest future of each being and describe every rut that wheel will roll upon. The acting man's delusion about himself, his assumption that free will exists, is also part of the calculable mechanism.

Religious Life

Here Nietzsche attacks religious worship, specifically Christianity, going so far as to say that “Christianity wants to destroy, shatter, stun, intoxicate.”

From the Soul of Artists and Writers

Nietzsche uses this section to go against the idea of divine inspiration in art, claiming great art is the result of hard work, not a higher power or “genius.” This can be interpreted as a subliminal attack on his former friend Wagner (a strong believer in genius) though Nietzsche never mentions him by name, instead simply using the term “the artist.”

Signs of Higher and Lower Culture

Here Nietzsche criticizes social Darwinism:

Wherever progress is to ensue, deviating natures are of greatest importance. Every progress of the whole must be preceded by a partial weakening. The strongest natures retain the type, the weaker ones help to advance it. Something similar also happens in the individual. There is rarely a degeneration, a truncation, or even a vice or any physical or moral loss without an advantage somewhere else. In a warlike and restless clan, for example, the sicklier man may have occasion to be alone, and may therefore become quieter and wiser; the one-eyed man will have one eye the stronger; the blind man will see deeper inwardly, and certainly hear better. To this extent, the famous theory of the survival of the fittest does not seem to me to be the only viewpoint from which to explain the progress of strengthening of a man or of a race.

Nietzsche writes of the “free spirit” or “free thinker” (Freigeist), and his role in society. This is an early form of the concept of the “superman” or “overman” (Übermensch), later explored in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A free spirit is one who goes against tradition, and “onwards along the path of wisdom” in order to better society.

Man in Society and Women and Child

These two sections are made up of mostly very short aphorisms on man’s and women and child’s respective roles in society. While section six is relatively mild, section seven furthers Nietzsche’s reputation for misogyny, writing that “women are so much more personal than objective.” He also believes that free spirits do not marry and “prefer to fly alone.”

A Look at the State

Here Nietzsche studies power in a state, and speaks strongly against war and nationalism. He also speaks on Europe’s Jews, worrying that “in the literature of nearly all present-day nations…there is an increase in the literary misconduct that leads the Jews to the slaughterhouse, as scapegoats for every possible public and private misfortune.” He continues, saying that they have “had the most sorrowful history of all peoples, and to whom we owe the noblest human being (Christ), the purest philosopher (Spinoza), the mightiest book, and the most effective code in the world.” Though not anti-Semitic, this would eventually be one of his works taken out of context and reinterpreted by the Nazis to paint Nietzsche as an early philosopher of Nazism.

Man Alone with Himself

Like sections six and seven, Nietzsche’s aphorisms here are mostly short, but also poetic and at times could be interpreted as semi-autobiographical, in anticipation of the next volumes: “He who has come only in part to a freedom of reason cannot feel on earth otherwise than as a wanderer.”

Nietzsche also distinguishes the obscurantism of the metaphysicians and theologians from the more subtle obscurantism of Kant's critical philosophy and modern philosophical skepticism, claiming that obscurantism is that which obscures existence rather than obscures ideas alone: "The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence.”

Reception and translation

Within his lifetime, prior to his mental breakdown in 1889, few of Nietzsche’s books sold particularly well, and Human, All Too Human is no exception. The first installment was originally printed in 1,000 copies in 1878, and sold only 120 of these, and still less than half of these by 1886 when it was resold as the complete two-volume set. Though his friendship with Richard Wagner was nearly over, Wagner actually received a signed copy, though he never read it, saying Nietzsche would thank him for this one day. It was first translated into English in 1909 by writer Helen Zimmern as part of a complete edition of Nietzsche’s books in English, but was never translated by Walter Kaufmann when he translated most of Nietzsche’s works into English in the 1950s and ‘60s. Finally, in the 1980s the first part was translated by Marion Faber and completely translated by R.J. Hollingdale the same decade.

Most notoriously, Human, All Too Human was used by archivist Max Oehler, a strong supporter of Hitler, as supposed evidence of Nietzsche’s support for nationalism and anti-Semitism, both of which he writes against. Oehler wrote an entire book, Friedrich Nietzsche und die Deutsche Zukunft, dealing with Nietzsche and his connection to nationalism (specifically National Socialism) and anti-Semitism, using quotes from Human, All Too Human, though out of context. Nietzsche would speak against anti-Semitism in other works, most strongly in The Antichrist : “An anti-Semite is certainly not any more decent because he lies as a matter of principle.” Oehler also had control of Nietzsche’s archive during the Nazi’s rule, which he shared with Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, a Hitler supporter herself, until her death, when he took it over. It wasn’t until much of Walter Kaufmann’s work in the 1950s through the 1970s that Nietzsche was able to shed this connection with nationalism and anti-Semitism.

References and footnotes


  • Copleston, Frederick C. A History of Philosophy, Volume VII: Modern Philosophy: From the Post-Kantian Idealists to Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
  • Craig, Gordon A. Germany: 1866-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Kaufmann, Walter A. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. 4th ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich W. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Trans. Walter A. Kaufmann. New York: Modern Library, 2000.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich W. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Trans. Marion Faber, with Stephen Lehmann. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich W. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich W. The Portable Nietzsche. Trans. Walter A. Kaufmann. New York: Viking Press, 1954.
  • Tanner, Michael, et al. German Philosophers: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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