Friedrich Nietzsche only drank water and occasionally milk
Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the greatest thinkers in recent memory. A philosopher most famous for the bold declaration:
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
Born in 1844 into a quite village in the Eastern part of Germany, where his father was the Priest, Nietzsche had a unique relationship and view on religion. And it is Nietzsche’s views on religion that we need to understand before we can understand his views on alcohol.
In his work, Nietzsche recommends owning up to envy. Envy is, Nietzsche recognised, a big part of life. The lingering effects of Christianity generally teach us to feel ashamed of our envy — our feelings are seen as indication of evil. We hide them from ourselves and others, yet there’s nothing wrong with envy, as long as we use it as a guide to what we really want. The person who induces envy in you is the person you are capable of becoming, and equally that person is most likely envious of someone else. It’s not that Nietzsche was a naïve optimist believing we always end up getting what we want, his own life had taught him this well enough (there is a famous anecdote of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten by its driver, and running and hugging the horse crying, “I understand you”), he simply insisted that we must face up to our true desires and put up a heroic fight to honour them. Then and only then may we mourn failure with sorrow and dignity.
A second recommendation our moustachioed guide makes is to not be a Christian, in his book ‘The Antichrist’ 1888, Nietzsche writes, “In the entire New Testament, there is only one person worth respecting: Pilate, the Roman governor.” Nietzsche resented Christianity for protecting people from their envy. Christianity had, in Nietzsche’s account, emerged in the late Roman Empire in the minds of timid slaves who lacked the stomach to get what they really wanted, and so clung to a philosophy that made virtue of their cowardice. Nietzsche called this ‘Sklavenmoral’ (slave morality) and Christians, whom he rather rudely termed ‘Die Herde’ (the herd), had wished to enjoy the real ingredients of fulfilment, such as positions in the world, intellectual mastery, creativity, but had been too inept to get them, so they fashioned a hypocritical creed denouncing what they wanted but were too weak to fight for, or praising what they didn’t want but happened to have. In this way, sexlessness became purity, weakness became goodness, submission to people one hates became obedience, and, in Nietzsche’s phrase, not being able to take revenge became forgiveness. In Nietzsche’s opinion, Christianity amounted to a giant machine for bitter denial of the reality of one’s circumstances.
And this is why Nietzsche never drank alcohol, he was not making a small eccentric dietary point, but rather the idea went to the heart of his philosophy, “ There have been two great narcotics in European civilisation: Christianity and alcohol.” Nietzsche hated alcohol for the very same reason he scorned Christianity, because both numb pain, both reassure us that things are just fine as they are, sapping us of the will to change our lives for the better. Drinking ushers in a transient feeling of satisfaction, but fatally removes the steps necessary to actually change and improve our lives. Nietzsche was obsessed with the awkward truth that getting really meaningful things done hurts. “How little you know of human happiness — you comfortable people […] The secret of a fulfilled life is: live dangerously!” Alcohol lulls into a false and fleeting sense that our life is great: we become happier, more socially versed, more confident. But in reality, once that passes, we wake up in the morning with a headache, wishing we hadn’t done that and hating our lives — it’s almost as if the happiness one gets from drinking is stealing hours of happiness from the next day.
We live in a society where not only is drinking acceptable, but it is actively encouraged. Those who don’t drink at parties are seen as strange or defective, our advertisements show happy people sharing beers and the like together. We drink when we get a new job, we drink when we are fired, we drink when we get married, we drink when we get divorced. Alcohol has become so deeply rooted in our society as a narcotic to numb the pain and avoid the reality of our lives that we’ve become blind.
Though Nietzsche was critical of religion, his dramatic assertion that God is dead is not, as it is often interpreted as, a celebratory statement. Despite his reservations about Christianity, Nietzsche didn’t think the end of belief was anything to cheer about. Religious beliefs, while he thought them false, were very beneficial with helping us cope with the problems of life. Alcohol does not have this benefit, and it would not be at all surprising to Nietzsche that Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have Christianity and faith at the centre of their programs, and that this is often the most effective way to deal with alcoholism. Nietzsche felt that the gap left by religion should ideally be fit with culture: philosophy, art, music, literature etc. So the next time you go to get a drink, think to yourself, ‘What would Nietzsche do?’ and then go get yourself a glass of milk if you’re feeling special! To quote John Wayne, “Get off your horse and drink your milk.”