Rand's Nietzsche vs. Heidegger's Nietzsche
Two versions or interpretations of the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche exist: the Objectivist Nietzsche or the Atheist Existentialist Nietzsche, what can also be called Rand's Nietzsche vs. Heidegger's Nietzsche. The Existentialist interpretation of Nietzsche is widely known, while the Objectivist Nietzsche is virtually unknown, thanks in part to Ayn Rand explicitly rejecting him and denying his obvious and extensive influence upon her. The purpose of this article is to present a summary of the Objectivist Nietzsche.
Ayn Rand was in Nietzsche denial, saying throughout her adult life that Nietzsche did not influence her and that she owed him no debt – an outright lie, both historically and ideologically. Historically it is known that Ayn Rand read Nietzsche as a teen and went through a phase of explicit fandom (see for example the biography The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden). Ideologically, the heroes of Rand's novels are the Overman and Objectivism is the new code of values called for by Nietzsche in his plea to replace Christian morality with something new. What is Objectivism? It is Ayn Rand doing what Nietzsche had said needed to be done, a half century earlier. Rand's criticism of altruism is based on Nietzsche's critique of what he called the Slave Morality, but before we explore how he influenced her, let us look at what Heidegger said and how it misled Nietzsche scholars.
Heidegger's Nietzsche says there is no absolute truth, there are no ideals, there is no such thing as knowledge or eternal principles, reason does not discover the truth, the Rationalism of Descartes and Kant is a fraud, there is only the ever-changing physical world in which we know nothing, we are all mere beings in time with no access to timeless truths or immortal ideals. Christian ideals are empty and meaningless, and God is dead, leaving behind a void, literally a nothingness, for us to believe in. It is in this sense that Existentialism is really Nihilism: Nietzsche removed God as what to believe in, so Existentialist Atheism believes in nothing.
Contrast this with Rand's Nietzsche, who says that Kant, Descartes, and Christianity are wrong, but, instead of a void left by their absence, we need something new to replace them, a new idealism of the physical world to believe in: we need “new values on new tablets,” to quote him, in other words we need a new morality, not no morality at all, to replace Judeo-Christian ethics. There is eternal truth, knowledge, and ideals, it is just that the Christian school of thought got them wrong. Nietzsche called for a new morality and Ayn Rand answered his call with the philosophy of Objectivism. Nietzsche predicted a Zarathustra-like sage to find new truth, and Rand's “Atlas Shrugged” created a brand new morality which did everything Nietzsche had said a new morality must accomplish. Ayn Rand is not a Nihilist, despite rejecting God: she gives us something to believe in, namely, the human ego, our ability to succeed and triumph and our potential for greatness. Her Nietzsche contrasts Roark's temple in “The Fountainhead,” a celebration of how high we can go, with Toohey's Stoddard Temple as religion, something whose greatness and grandeur makes us feel small and weak in comparison to it. That Randian attitude towards religion is deeply rooted in Nietzsche's books.
Nietzsche did not specifically predict Rand's ego as ideal or reason as means of knowledge. But he did anticipate her moral vision. Consider this statement, which summarizes one of his ideas: Slave Morality is used to manipulate the strong into being the slaves of the weak by making them feel guilty for being healthy. Now consider this as a sum takeaway of “Atlas Shrugged”: Altruism is used by the poor to manipulate the rich into being the slaves of the government by making them feel guilty for making money and being productive. Do you see how obvious and undeniable is the influence of Nietzsche upon Objectivism?
It is true that Friedrich Nietzsche opposed reason and knowledge, but it was reason and knowledge as defined by Descartes and Kant, reason as a non-physical disembodied thought gaining spiritual knowledge arising from an eternal deity, like reason transcending the world of empirical perception. Given that Kantian definition of the words “reason” and “knowledge”, Ayn Rand also opposed reason and knowledge, just like Nietzsche did. Whereas Heidegger's Nietzsche says reason and knowledge are empty illusions, Rand's Nietzsche clears a path to a new reason and knowledge based on empirical experience and the physical world. Rand thought of Descartes and Kant as champions of religion whereas Nietzsche thought of them as champions of reason, but the answer to the question of what enemy is Objectivism opposed to is the same if one defines both Rand and Nietzsche as philosophers of Objectivism.
This concludes a brief account of why Friedrich Nietzsche should be considered an Objectivist philosopher, given a plausible alternative to Heidegger's interpretation. For more details about what is Objectivism see my book explaining it.