Nietzsche's first generation of readers tended to see him as a thinker, philosopher or prophet of the future; he was the teacher of the superman, the transvaluator of all values, the founder of a new philosophy of the will to power. In the many discourses of the early twentieth century that are devoted in various ways to 'Nietzsche and the Future' there are obvious signs of the nineteenth century cult of progress, although interpreted divergently by social Darwinism, socialism or anarchism. Now we are more sophisticated. Those first readers saw Nietzsche as radicalizing and rewriting the modernist metanarrative (substituting the superman for Hegel's absolute spirit or the good European for Marx's proletariat). Now we read Nietzsche as the paradigmatic postmodern philosopher, providing a genealogy and a deconstruction of those modernist metanarratives. He does not offer simply one more transformation - whether vitalist, anarchist or proto-Nazi - of such grand stories of legitimation but rigorously and vigilantly undermines the claims to uniqueness and legitimation that one finds in the enlightenment tradition (a tradition that includes, in the nineteenth century, such representative thinkers as Hegel, Marx, J.S. Mill, Ernest Renan, Comte, Herbert Spencer and Charles Peirce). Our Nietzsche is the radical critic of such future oriented thinking. He is the analyst of the advantages and disadvantages of history for life and the thinker of the thought of eternal recurrence that puts the concept of history into question. Above all he exposes that logic of ressentiment by which the future is laid under the obligation of redeeming the debts of the past.

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1991

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Copyright © 1991 Penn State University Press. This article first appeared in Journal of Nietzsche Studies 1 (Spring 1991): 15-28.

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