Bad vs. Good Art

I’m in a great books reading program that includes works by Nietzsche and Marx, are these works even worth reading? In one of his talks, Joseph Pearce made a distinction between quality and morality in labeling art either good good art, bad good art, good bad art, or bad bad art. Would these books then be worth reading or are they a waste of time?

This is a good question. It really depends on your reason for being a part of this particular “great books” program. If it’s to broaden your understanding of the books and ideas that influenced western civilization, there’s no doubt that the works of Nietzsche and Marx have had a huge influence. If it’s to pursue an understanding of the truth, objectively speaking, and not merely an understanding of other people’s presentation of what they perceive to be the truth, I’d spend my time reading books within the tradition of Thomistic philosophy. I’d also add that the distinction that I made, to which you refer, is referring primarily to works of literature and not to works of philosophy.

In my opinion, both—especially Nietzsche—had very important things to say about our broken human nature and our corrupted society (including superficial religion), things that are absolutely worth reading. But both proposed narrow, godless solutions that eventually led to Auschwitz and the Gulag. There is a great book by Henri de Lubac that might help you navigate this terrain: The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

I think every educated person should read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. It is critical for understanding Communism, which has had an enormous impact on history. It is not a work of literature, however, not a work of art, but an ideological tract. As for Nietzsche, I have never read him. What I know about his philosophy comes from the analysis of others, which I consider a deficit in my education. Like Marx, he has had a huge influence on human affairs, and I hope to read at some point his Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which is a novel.