The Great War and The Rise of Existentialism

Currently I am enrolled in this class, Literature of The Great War, and another philosophy class, Existentialism. Since I have begun learning about both of these topics I have already found many similarities between the two and have been able to look at the war from a more philosophical perspective. The Great War took place between 1914 and 1918, just about a decade after Existentialism began to take rise in the late to mid- 19th century. Until then, people believed in Platonism, which also served as the basis for Christianity. This imposed many restrictions and fears onto people, such as if you sin you go to hell, as well as emphasized the separation of body and soul. On the other hand, Existentialism, in brief, is the study of existence. Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, would publish his work Gay Science in 1882, in which he made his famous proclamation that “God is dead.” To Nietzsche this meant that we no longer lived in a world where God, and this other, spiritual world, served as the explanation for our world here. No longer is God the one who judges us and gives our life meaning. This then leads him to question how humanity will find a meaning for itself and from itself. With Nietzsche came the death of the soul and the praise of the body and living.

In class we talked about the rise of Darwinism, who’s writings also influenced the Existentialism movement, since he was the first to come up with a scientific reason for our existence that had no reliance on another world. Darwinism also affected how people thought of war, since the survival of the fittest was one of his prominent points. We also spoke about how this caused the Book of Genesis to be questioned, leading people to question themselves, what they believe, and who they truly are. This relates very strongly back to Nietzsche’s argument that God is dead. This idea of the loss of innocence for all peoples, along with all the physical, emotional, and psychological damage the war caused, presents then a generation which is confused, angry, and demanding answers. As we said in class, another thing which was lost during this war was many people’s faith in God.


1 thought on “The Great War and The Rise of Existentialism

  1. I think Nietzsche’s idea behind “God is dead” was certainly prevalent during this time. After many natural/ man-made disasters occur, we see so many people from religious backgrounds posing the question, “how could God let this happen?” I have no doubt in my mind that people wondered this themselves during the Great War.

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