John Armstrong on Nietzsche: How Nihilism Has Given Material for Today’s Most Successful Motivational Books
Saying ‘no’ to the large range of possibilities constructing the anatomy of your life ultimately proves that you aspire to so much more than the things left at your hands’ reach. You may be better than those who would traditionally accept and appreciate them, or maybe you just think that you can be better and strive to project this ideal version of yourself in physical reality. Regardless of the motives, though, invalidating everything is a way of validating yourself through the power of comparison. Put differently, down to an almost primitive psychological level, nihilism is all about telling its followers apart from the masses, placing them on a higher level of emotional and intellectual feedback to the universe, without explicitly outlining its boundaries.
This kick-starting assumption might seem to be thousands of miles away from the original definition of nihilism, and therefore challenging. Coming from the Latin word “nihil” meaning “nothing”, nihilism is a philosophical doctrine that promotes the lack of belief in one or more apparently meaningful aspects of life. Nihilism is commonly presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life does not have an objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Throughout the historical evolution of philosophical thought, nihilism has extended to incorporating minor intellectual movements, such as futurism and deconstruction. German philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is widely considered to be one of the most representative figures of nihilism, providing a detailed diagnosis of this philosophical doctrine as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture.
In his book, “Life Lessons from Nietzsche”, British writer and philosopher John Armstrong attempts to identify a potent motivational nucleus in the philosopher’s most important works. His light-hearted, yet mildly critic approach focuses on restoring the nihilist philosophical tradition by suggesting a modern application of it, in the context of modern business and humanities. His astounding revival of the concepts once coined by Nietzsche lies in this collection of essay commentaries that is both thought-provoking and motivational.
The book is divided in eight entirely separated chapters, each titled by the idea that Armstrong tries to prove, and subsequently expand; the final result consists of eight different principles, or life lessons, regarding: how to find your best self, the role played by history in one’s personal development, how to deal with conflict, the troubled path connecting maturity and freedom, changing your mind, choosing not to respect the norm, being a noble, not a slave, and expressing your true thoughts and opinions. The book is concluded by one last life lesson, referring to keeping a notebook as a sincere account of your evolution as a human being and an efficient means of self-analysis. Armstrong supports his presentation by using a wide range of examples. For instance, Nietzsche’s friendship with German composer Richard Wagner and their later separation are cited in the fifth chapter of the book as an example of changing your mind, by figuring out that a certain relationship does not help you evolve as it once did. Also, in the second chapter, visiting the Pyramids is shown to be an inherent desire to connect to the history of humanity as a peculiar way to understand one’s own personal history. The book also includes a Homework section, in which Armstrong provides useful book, movies and music titles, as well as sites and other information sources that support his essay commentaries and final conclusions.
What might be the purpose of Armstrong’s philosophical pursuit, though? Why should one choose to dive in this fascinating, yet questionable examination of intellectual endeavours belonging to a socially and, after all, historically different environment? Nietzsche’s ideas and theories still stand, almost one hundred years since their slightly shy dash onto the intellectual scene of the time. Armstrong seeks to add another innovative purpose to their overall effect on history and culture alike, and a patient inspection of his venture confirms that his efforts are worth all the praise.
First of all, Armstrong aims to be more than just a postmodern philosopher reinventing the wheel, as he reaches out into the psychological dimension of things ( because he knows there is always a psychological dimension of things ) . In his book, he offers actual advice regarding the ways in which people can improve and boost their personal development, while drawing parallels between his own motivational encouragements and Nietzsche’s original ideas and theoretical assertions. Each of the chapters revolves around one central piece of advice, supported by explained excerpts from Nietzsche and miscellaneous examples. The eventual result is a rejuvenation of the profile of the Übermensch (translated as “overman”, “superman” or “super-human”), or what we can loosely describe as the next step in the evolution of humanity and the goal it ultimately seeks.
In Armstrong’s opinion, what are the main traits that describe the superman of the 21st century? He is being himself in any given situation and he is completely unapologetic about it. He holds independence from the society that he is a part of, he refuses to respect the norm it promotes, and he is untouched by its critical appreciation and consequential rejection. Instead, he aims to form and stand by his own set of values and principles, way above the stage of evolution his society and times have just reached. He is analytical towards everything that life brings his way, including conflict and the unexpected act of changing your mind. He is morally, spiritually and intellectually noble, he always speaks his mind and he is able to track his personal development and look upon it objectively. Last but not least, he does not belong to his times, but exclusively to himself. Ironically, these are the very same ideas forged and dully repeated throughout every motivational book out there. In Armstrong’s writing, though, they benefit from an outstanding philosophical case.
Secondly, the approach Armstrong suggests in “Life Lessons from Nietzsche” is incredibly accessible, and yet, highly ingenious. Armstrong talks about philosophy without using an exhaustive load of pretentious terms, which would usually chase away the interest of the keenest reader, if they have never properly experienced philosophy before. Our author might have anticipated this particular obstacle, because he succeeds in avoiding the trap of becoming a self-indulgent partner of conversation, refusing to give his readers the privilege of being understood. His style is animated, effervescent, almost relaxing in its full, yet not insulting simplicity. Armstrong manages to impress by combining easiness of the language with a surprising shift between philosophical theory and its day-to-day application, making his book both a motivational pocket guide and an intellectual leap forward.
Finally, we can safely say that the author pursues a noble objective: bringing the generations drawn apart from philosophy closer to Nietzsche’s cultural contributions. Definitely one of the most important names in both German philosophy and Western culture, Nietzsche deserves the recognition that he has failed to get during his lifetime, as well as an unbiased reinterpretation as a response to the cultural role his work has played in the Nazi propaganda. If philosophy was of major importance to society a couple of centuries ago, today’s modern and rapidly improving world doesn’t seem to have either time or energy for such intellectual endeavours. Armstrong supposedly believes it’s not true, as in his book he attempts to bring back Nietzsche’s theories in a more accessible, more direct style, hoping that a new and fresh audience would be able to appreciate them as they should’ve been appreciated throughout their relatively short history. Would these theories help our restless society seek clearer, more meaningful objectives? Armstrong believes so. In addition to that, the author has such flattering expectations from his potential readers, that refusing the opportunity to meet them seems like a ridiculous gesture even for the most intellectually indifferent public.
John Armstrong’s “Life Lessons from Nietzsche” adds up to the wonderful list of titles and suggestions made possible by The School of Life, an educational organisation focused on how to live wisely and well, founded in 2008 and based in branches in several big cities of the world, including London, Paris, Berlin, Melbourne and Seoul. The School offers a great variety of programmes and services covering finding fulfilling work, managing relationships, achieving calm and peace of mind, and understanding and changing the world that we live in. Also, the School offers psychotherapy and bibliotherapy services, and runs online and physical shops, as well as a YouTube channel bringing together more than a million subscribers. Armstrong’s book is included in a series aiming reinterpretation of the most iconic philosophical theories, in order to provide valuable lessons to a great diversity of readers.
I found myself reading “Life Lessons from Nietzsche” throughout a relatively confusing time in my life: my high school exams had just finished, my acceptance response from the university had just come in, and for some reason I didn’t know at the time, I was pacing back and forth in anticipation of something I didn’t even foresee. With one chapter of my life nostalgically closing and another just starting to emerge on the edge of the horizon, I was standing between two worlds I couldn’t really adhere to and I was looking forward to some sort of epiphany that could finally make me feel like a real adult. I cannot exactly say that I’ve found my epiphany by reading this book. One claim that I can make, though, is that this book helped me take one first baby step forward, and not only did this come in on time, but it also proved to be more than what I needed for the moment. This book doesn’t say anything new, but it definitely says what a disoriented soul needs to hear, and I do hope this is enough of a promise to make you give it a shot and dive into the mystery of philosophy for more than just putting on a pretentious act of interest.