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Of Friends and Neighbors (and Women)


Do I recommend love of the neighbor to you? I prefer instead to recommend flight from the neighbor and love of the farthest! . . .
    . . . One person goes to his neighbor because he seeks himself, and the other because he would like to lose himself. Your bad love of yourselves makes you loneliness into a prison.
    Those farther away pay for your love of neighbor; and even when you are together five at a time, always a sixth one must die. . . .
    . . . I do not teach you the neighbor, but the friend. The friend shall be your festival of the earth and an anticipation of the overman.
    Let the future and the farthest be the cause of your today: in your friend you shall love the overman as your cause.
    My brothers, I do not recommend love of the neighbor to you: I recommend love of the farthest to you.
(Thus Spoke Zarathustra I “On Love of the Neighbor”)

Nietzsche overturns the Christian commandment of the love of one’s neighbor, seeing in it a hidden longing to escape one’s self, which in turn betrays our inability to love ourselves. “You cannot stand yourselves and do not love yourselves enough,” he tells us, and “now you want to seduce your neighbor to love and gild yourselves with this error.”

While Christianity challenges us to go out of ourselves, shun selfishness for selflessness, as Christ did, Nietzsche suspects that this centrifugal movement is easier accomplished than a centripetal movement: what is more difficult, thus the true challenge, is to stay—and learn to love one’s self.

This Christ also knew: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We have, along the way, perhaps have just forgotten the latter part of the commandment, given all this clamor for generosity, being persons for others, regard for “the Other,” etc.—what we now call ethics. But the point for Nietzsche is to first (either in order or priority) love your self: “Many cannot loosen their own chains and yet they are a redeemer for the friend” (“The Friend,” p. 41).

Love of one’s neighbor is, aside from it possibly being an escape from one’s loneliness, can also be rather convenient: you do not have to go very far from where you are in order to call yourself “generous” or “loving.” The neighbor is by definition nachbar—the “near-dweller,” or he who is close by. All you need to do is to cross a short distance, and that emptiness is filled for a while (organized relief projects, one-time donations through cash or credit card, etc.). No real effort, no real sacrifice (because not really difficult), or no real love, is thus paradoxically required to love one’s neighbor.


Instead of the love for one’s neighbor, Nietzsche teaches us the love of the friend. What is the friend?

Nietzsche describes the friend (rather unclearly though) as he who is “farthest” from us (in time and space); as him “in whom the world [already] stands complete”; as him who already has “an overflowing heart,” being a “a bowl of goodness”; and who, we can assume, is the one who can bestow us what we ourselves lack (because of our hidden loneliness and despair). The friend can turn everything around because he is able to transform us into a receiver (and receiving is at times more difficult than giving). Because of his possible power over us, the friend will also have to be one’s enemy (“The Friend,” p.40).

(We also know that there can also be a “politics” in friendship. There are those who keep only friends who need them, letting go of those who are “complete” and without lack. Even in friendship the will to power can be in play.)

An interesting note: Nietzsche tells us that a woman is not yet capable of friendship as she is only able to love those who love her (thus only those close to her). Toward those who do not lover her she is unjust and blind. (Nietzsche's unfair view on and animosity toward women though can easily be explained biographically.)

Though if there’s any consolation for women that Nietzsche gives, he also says that men themselves are not capable of friendship.


Caravaggio. Detail from
The Calling of St. Matthew. 

Finally, a rebuttal and confirmation from Christ, something Nietzsche may have overlooked: “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much” (Matthew 5:4-6). Precisely: did not the Samaritan answer to the call of the one who was farthest from him?

Christ knew as much. Did he not also have real companions that resemble Nietzsche's imaginary friends? 



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