Caesar or Nothing Critical Evaluation
by Pío Baroja

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Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

CAESAR OR NOTHING is, in several ways, Pío Baroja’s flirtation with the Nietzschean superman; his hero exemplifies the sort of will-to-power that is easily associated with Nietzsche. Caesar’s views on morality are little more than a restatement of the German philosopher’s doctrine: All that is good comes from power, and all that is bad comes from weakness. The cornerstones of his approach to life are energy, action, and courage.

In his book JUVENTUD, EGOLATRIA (1917; YOUTH AND EGOLATRY, 1920) Baroja readily admits that Nietzsche’s work influenced him. The portrait of Caesar is an exercise in the ethic of the superman. His interest in the Borgias is the result of a natural affinity for their conviction that might is right. He adopts Caesar Borgia’s motto for his own, seeing in it the perfect expression of his own ambition. Like Nietzsche’s superman, he breaks with Christian morality, having no feelings of guilt or sin. He is opposed to Christianity for several reasons, one of which is its tendency to renounce this life: he is unable to accept such otherworldliness. In fact, he goes so far as to say that Christianity is a retrogression compared to paganism. He does not believe in a personal God.

Caesar’s objection to Christianity is based not only on metaphysical and ethical grounds but also on social, political, and economic ones. He sees injustice in Spain and concludes that the Church is largely responsible because of its opposition to reform and its defense of the few against the masses. He cannot accept its insistence on tradition in the midst of people dying of hunger.

In the final analysis, it is Caesar’s pessimism which prevents him from attaining the stature of a fully developed Nietzschean superman. He ultimately lacks the will to struggle against apparently insuperable obstacles, to overcome the forces of reaction that impede social progress. It is not so much Caesar’s weakness, however, but the strength of the establishment in Spain that ensures his defeat.