Does Nietzsche say, and mean, that all life is unavoidably tragic?

All I know, right now, is that he had a book The Birth of Tragedy, about theater I think. And, I think, that all life is a struggle for some form of power, which finds its consummation in at least a life.

  • Its greek tragedy that showed life tragically; it's a view that Plato was unhappy with; and it seems the later Nietzsche was deeply ambivalent with this early work, take for example this;"Nietzsche referred to The Birth of Tragedy as "an impossible book... badly written, ponderous, embarrassing, image-mad and image-confused, sentimental, saccharine to the point of effeminacy, uneven in tempo, [and] without the will to logical cleanliness." Nov 9, 2016 at 7:33
  • It refers to life being art : Nietzsche emphasizes that in real tragic art, the elements of Dionysus and Apollo were inextricably entwined. As words could never hope to delve into the depths of the Dionysian essence, music was the life of the tragic art form. read more : sparknotes.com/philosophy/birthoftragedy/summary.html
    – shrey
    Nov 9, 2016 at 11:04
  • @shrey: Dionysus himself doesn't strike me as a god who would read more, probably read less, and mostly likely none at all...anyhow the lyric was the element from which the tragic was derived; lyrics of lamentation and exultation; try reading the work of the Syrian poet Adonis to get a taste of what this means. Nov 12, 2016 at 5:50
  • 2
    Life is tragedy. It takes age and honesty to grasp that.. or a quick forray into depression. Nothing humans do emmancipates us from the human condition that includes war. Just when you've realized that any attempt to alter that is as futile as trying to breed dogs that aren't dogs... You die. Only an evolutionary change in homo sapiens will alter that. You might think that this is fatalistic, most humans are 'good' you might say.. we have tiramisu,. and love.. but if that's the case why do we still have war? You think of ways to fix it.. but you die. Next person... This is Nietzsche. Reality.
    – Richard
    Aug 6, 2018 at 23:35
  • 1
    @Richard Hooray for Tiramisu :)
    – a20
    Mar 30, 2023 at 5:08

1 Answer 1


An extract from Paul E. Kirkland might throw some light. The immediate focus is political but I have highlighted the wider implications relevant to your question:

This article presents a Nietzschean realism that rejects political universalism for quite different reasons than either postmodern efforts to provide for radical openness or the particular nationalisms that he explicitly rejected. The realism of Nietzsche's thought would deny support to political principles or orders that sought complete solutions or universal order. A politics of tragic realism would demand the acknowledgment of the limited character of all political orders and the conflicts that this certainty entails. Neither internal nor external contests could be resolved by resorting to broad principles. For Nietzsche, unhealthy political orders expect complete solutions or appeal to universal foundations. A healthier politics would be rooted in recognition of the limits of all political orders, the precarious nature of any political order, and the wellsprings of potentially destructive political ambitions.

Unlike the realism of theorists of international politics that use the Hobbesian goal of survival in a world of anarchy to explain competition for power, Nietzsche presents conflict as stemming in part from the inevitability of different values, and his realism involves an account of the tragedy of political orders themselves. Nietzsche's tragic realism explains his apparent admiration for tyrannical figures like Julius Caesar, Alcibiades, Napoleon, and even Cesare Borgia. He sees in them a realism that seizes opportunities in conditions of decay, but his praise for them is not a final claim of political preferences. Nietzsche describes these examples as tragic figures, and he indicates a higher possibility in recognizing tragedy, a genuine realism that manifests the capacity to love life as it is. Nietzsche's realism claims to embrace the totality of human life and all of its distinct aspirations without resorting to ideals imposed from outside of life. His realism about humanity extends to politics without reducing all motives to calculations of advantage. A full realism requires taking into account the complexity of human aspirations, including spiritual aspirations. On Nietzsche's account, it requires saying "yes" to all of these. It is most deeply at odds with any effort to design a model for society and then to attempt to direct human beings toward it, to denature man or create humanity to fit one's model,

Nietzsche's realism is connected to his tragic view in three ways. First, Nietzsche links the success of political figures and political orders to inexorable downfall. Second, he depicts political life and its deepest psychological roots as characterized by irreconcilable conflicts among incommensurable goods. Third, he presents the unavailability of ultimate political resolutions to these tensions. Unlike forms of realism that see the limiting of goals and the prioritizing of peace as reducing conflict, Nietzsche's realism does not expect that understanding the causes of conflict can succeed in resolving conflict. Nietzsche's realism accepts the reality of political aspirations; it does not seek to eliminate them. He goes so far as to express admiration for figures of great political ambitions because of the human possibilities they represent, not the effects they bring. His embrace of such figures is bound to his vision that those ambitions bring ultimate collapse, not a final reordering. In this regard, Nietzsche's politics stands in sharp contrast with the efforts that distinguish modern political thought. Nietzsche's presentation of realism does not seek to eliminate overweening ambitions or resolve fundamental conflicts, but it does attempt to divorce political life from eschatological hopes. He thus rejects modern optimism and its hopes for infinite progress, perpetual peace, or a resting point of human history. This perspective can be understood as postmodern in that Nietzsche rejects what he sees to be the inheritance of otherworldliness in modernity and its idealism. Yet, Nietzsche's antimodernism looks to life as it is to combat the eschatological universalism of modern thought rather than seeking to transform humanity in accordance with willful products at odds with life.

(Paul E. Kirkland, 'Nietzsche's Tragic Realism', The Review of Politics, Vol. 72, No. 1 (WINTER 2010), pp. 55-78 : 56-7.

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