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Copyright © 2016 by Friedrich Nietzsche
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FIRST BOOK. EUROPEAN NIHILISM.
SECOND BOOK. CRITICISM OF THE HIGHEST VALUES THAT HAVE PREVAILED HITHERTO.
IN THE VOLUME BEFORE US we have the first two books of what was to be Nietzsche’s greatest theoretical and philosophical prose work. The reception given to Thus Spake Zarathustra had been so unsatisfactory, and misunderstandings relative to its teaching had become so general, that, within a year of the publication of the first part of that famous philosophical poem, Nietzsche was already beginning to see the necessity of bringing his doctrines before the public in a more definite and unmistakable form. During the years that followed—that is to say, between 1883 and 1886—this plan was matured, and although we have no warrant, save his sister’s own word and the internal evidence at our disposal, for classing Beyond Good and Evil (published 1886) among the contributions to Nietzsche’s grand and final philosophical scheme, “The Will to Power,” it is now impossible to separate it entirely from his chief work as we would naturally separate The Birth of Tragedy, the Thoughts out of Season, the volumes entitled Human, all-too-Human, The Dawn of Day, and Joyful Wisdom.
Beyond Good and Evil, then, together with its sequel, The Genealogy of Morals, and the two little volumes, The Twilight of the Idols and the Antichrist (published in 1889 and 1894 respectively), must be regarded as forming part of the general plan of which The Will to Power was to be the opus magnum.
Unfortunately, The Will to Power was never completed by its author. The text from which this translation was made is a posthumous publication, and it suffers from all the disadvantages that a book must suffer from which has been arranged and ordered by foster hands. When those who were responsible for its publication undertook the task of preparing it for the press, it was very little more than a vast collection of notes and rough drafts, set down by Nietzsche from time to time, as the material for his chief work; and, as any liberty taken with the original manuscript, save that of putting it in order, would probably have resulted in adding or excluding what the author would on no account have added or excluded himself, it follows that in some few cases the paragraphs are no more than hasty memoranda of passing thoughts, which Nietzsche must have had the intention of elaborating at some future time. In these cases the translation follows the German as closely as possible, and the free use even of a conjunction has in certain cases been avoided, for fear lest the meaning might be in the slightest degree modified. It were well, therefore, if the reader could bear these facts in mind whenever he is struck by a certain clumsiness, either of expression or disposition, in the course of reading this translation.
It may be said that, from the day when Nietzsche first recognised the necessity of making a more unequivocal appeal to his public than the Zarathustra had been, that is to say, from the spring of 1883, his work in respect of The Will to Power suffered no interruption whatsoever, and that it was his chief preoccupation from that period until his breakdown in 1889.
That this span of six years was none too long for the task he had undertaken, will be gathered from the fact that, in the great work he had planned, he actually set out to show that the life-principle, “Will to Power,” was the prime motor of all living organisms.
To do this he appeals both to the animal world and to human society, with its subdivisions, religion, art, morality, politics, etc. etc., and in each of these he seeks to demonstrate the activity of the principle which he held to be the essential factor of all existence.
Frau Foerster-Nietzsche tells us that the notion that “The Will to Power” was the fundamental principle of all life, first occurred to her brother in the year 1870, at the seat of war, while he was serving as a volunteer in a German army ambulance. On one occasion, at the close of a very heavy day with the wounded, he happened to enter a small town which lay on one of the chief military roads. He was wandering through it in a leisurely fashion when, suddenly, as he turned the corner of a street that was protected on either side by lofty stone walls, he heard a roaring noise, as of thunder, which seemed to come from the immediate neighbourhood. He hurried forward a step or two, and what should he see, but a magnificent cavalry regiment—gloriously expressive of the courage and exuberant strength of a people—ride past him like a luminous stormcloud. The thundering din waxed louder and louder, and lo and behold! his own beloved regiment of field artillery dashed forward at full speed, out of the mist of motes, and sped westward amid an uproar of clattering chains and galloping steeds. A minute or two elapsed, and then a column of infantry appeared, advancing at the double—the men’s eyes were aflame, their feet struck the hard road like mighty hammer-strokes, and their accoutrements glistened through the haze. While this procession passed before him, on its way to war and perhaps to death,—so wonderful in its vital strength and formidable courage, and so perfectly symbolic of a race that will conquer and prevail, or perish in the attempt,—Nietzsche was struck with the thought that the highest will to live could not find its expression in a miserable “struggle for existence,” but in a will to war, a Will to Power, a will to overpower! This is said to be the history of his first conception of that principle which is at the root of all his philosophy, and twelve years later, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, we find him expounding it thus:—
“Wherever I found a living thing, there found I Will to Power; and even in the will of the servant found I the will to be master.
“Only where there is life, is there also will: not, however, Will to Life, but—so teach I thee—Will to Power!
“Much is reckoned higher than life itself by the living one; but out of the very reckoning speaketh—the Will to Power!”
And three years later still, in Beyond Good and Evil, we read the following passage:—
“Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength—life itself is Will to Power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results thereof.”
But in this volume, and the one that is to follow, we shall find Nietzsche more mature, more sober, and perhaps more profound than in the works above mentioned. All the loves and hates by which we know him, we shall come across again in this work; but here he seems to stand more above them than he had done heretofore; having once enunciated his ideals vehemently and emphatically, he now discusses them with a certain grim humour, with more thoroughness and detail, and he gives even his enemies a quiet and respectful hearing. His tolerant attitude to Christianity on pages 8-9, 107, 323, for instance, is a case in point, and his definite description of what we are to understand by his pity (p. 293) leaves us in no doubt as to the calm determination of this work. Book One will not seem so well arranged or so well worked out as Book Two; the former being more sketchy and more speculative than the latter. Be this as it may, it contains deeply interesting things, inasmuch as it attempts to trace the elements of Nihilism—as the outcome of Christian values—in all the institutions of the present day.
In the Second Book Herbert Spencer comes in for a number of telling blows, and not the least of these is to be found on page 237, where, although his name is not mentioned, it is obviously implied. Here Nietzsche definitely disclaims all ideas of an individualistic morality, and carefully states that his philosophy aims at a new order of rank.
It will seem to some that morality is dealt with somewhat cavalierly throughout the two books; but, in this respect, it should not be forgotten that Nietzsche not only made a firm stand in favour of exceptional men, but that he also believed that any morality is nothing more than a mere system of valuations which are determined by the conditions in which a given species lives. Hence his words on page 107: “Beyond Good and Evil,—certainly; but we insist upon the unconditional and strict preservation of herd-morality”; and on page 323: “Suppose the strong were masters in all respects, even in valuing: let us try and think what their attitude would be towards illness, suffering, and sacrifice! Self-contempt on the part of the weak would be the result: they would do their utmost to disappear and to extirpate their kind. And would this be desirable?—should we really like a world in which the subtlety, the consideration, the intellectuality, theplasticity—in fact, the whole influence of the weak—was lacking?”
It is obvious from this passage that Nietzsche only objected to the influence of herd-morality outside the herd—that is to say, among exceptional and higher men who may be wrecked by it. Whereas most other philosophers before him had been the “Altruist” of the lower strata of humanity, Nietzsche may aptly be called the Altruist of the exceptions, of the particular lucky cases among men. For such “varieties,” he thought, the morality of Christianity had done all it could do, and though he in no way wished to underrate the value it had sometimes been to them in the past, he saw that at present, in any case, it might prove a great danger. With Goethe, therefore, he believed that “Hypotheses are only the pieces of scaffolding which are erected round a building during the course of its construction, and which are taken away as soon as the edifice is completed. To the workman, they are indispensable; but he must be careful not to confound the scaffolding with the building.”
It is deeply to be deplored that Nietzsche was never able to complete his life-work. The fragments of it collected in volumes i. and ii. of The Will to Power are sufficiently remarkable to convey some idea of what the whole work would have been if only its author had been able to arrange and complete it according to his original design.
It is to be hoped that we are too sensible nowadays to allow our sensibilities to be shocked by serious and well-meditated criticism, even of the most cherished among our institutions, and an honest and sincere reformer ought no longer to find us prejudiced—to the extent of deafness—against him, more particularly when he comes forward with a gospel—"The Will to Power"—which is, above all, a test of our power to will.
ANTHONY M. LUDOVICI.
CONCERNING GREAT THINGS ONE SHOULD either be silent or one should speak loftily:—loftily—that is to say, cynically and innocently.
What I am now going to relate is the history of the next two centuries. I shall describe what will happen, what must necessarily happen: the triumph of Nihilism. This history can be written already; for necessity itself is at work in bringing it about. This future is already proclaimed by a hundred different omens; as a destiny it announces its advent everywhere, for this music of to-morrow all ears are already pricked. The whole of our culture in Europe has long been writhing in an agony of suspense which increases from decade to decade as if in expectation of a catastrophe: restless, violent, helter-skelter, like a torrent that will reach its bourne, and refuses to reflect—yea, that even dreads reflection.
On the other hand, the present writer has done little else, hitherto, than reflect and meditate, like an instinctive philosopher and anchorite, who found his advantage in isolation—in remaining outside, in patience, procrastination, and lagging behind; like a weighing and testing spirit who has already lost his way in every labyrinth of the future; like a prophetic bird-spirit that looks backwards when it would announce what is to come; like the first perfect European Nihilist, who, however, has already outlived Nihilism in his own soul—who has out-grown, overcome, and dismissed it.
For the reader must not misunderstand the meaning of the title which has been given to this Evangel of the Future. “The Will to Power: An Attempted Transvaluation of all Values“—with this formula a counter-movement finds expression, in regard to both a principle and a mission; a movement which in some remote future will supersede this perfect Nihilism; but which nevertheless regards it as a necessary step, both logically and psychologically, towards its own advent, and which positively cannot come, except on top of and out of it. For, why is the triumph of Nihilism inevitable now? Because the very values current amongst us to-day will arrive at their logical conclusion in Nihilism,—because Nihilism is the only possible outcome of our greatest values and ideals,—because we must first experience Nihilism before we can realise what the actual worth of these “values” was.... Sooner or later we shall be in need of new values.
1. NIHILISM IS AT OUR door: whence comes this most gruesome of all guests to us?—To begin with, it is a mistake to point to “social evils,” “physiological degeneration,” or even to corruption as a cause of Nihilism. This is the most straightforward and most sympathetic age that ever was. Evil, whether spiritual, physical, or intellectual, is, in itself, quite unable to introduce Nihilism, i.e., the absolute repudiation of worth, purpose, desirability. These evils allow of yet other and quite different explanations. But there is one very definite explanation of the phenomena: Nihilism harbours in the heart of Christian morals.
2. The downfall of Christianity,—through its morality (which is insuperable), which finally turns against the Christian God Himself (the sense of truth, highly developed through Christianity, ultimately revolts against the falsehood and fictitiousness of all Christian interpretations of the world and its history. The recoil-stroke of “God is Truth” in the fanatical Belief, is: “All is false.” Buddhism of action....).
3. Doubt in morality is the decisive factor. The downfall of the moral interpretation of the universe, which loses its raison d’être once it has tried to take flight to a Beyond, meets its end in Nihilism. “Nothing has any purpose” (the inconsistency of one explanation of the world, to which men have devoted untold energy,—gives rise to the suspicion that all explanations may perhaps be false). The Buddhistic feature: a yearning for nonentity (Indian Buddhism has no fundamentally moral development at the back of it; that is why Nihilism in its case means only morality not overcome; existence is regarded as a punishment and conceived as an error; error is thus held to be punishment—a moral valuation). Philosophical attempts to overcome the “moral God” (Hegel, Pantheism). The vanquishing of popular ideals: the wizard, the saint, the bard. Antagonism of “true” and “beautiful” and “good.”
4. Against “purposelessness” on the one hand, against moral valuations on the other: how far has all science and philosophy been cultivated heretofore under the influence of moral judgments? And have we not got the additional factor—the enmity of science, into the bargain? Or the prejudice against science? Criticism of Spinoza. Christian valuations everywhere present as remnants in socialistic and positivistic systems. A criticism of Christian morality is altogether lacking.
5. The Nihilistic consequences of present natural science (along with its attempts to escape into a Beyond). Out of its practice there finally arises a certain self-annihilation, an antagonistic attitude towards itself—a sort of anti-scientificality. Since Copernicus man has been rolling away from the centre towards x.
6. The Nihilistic consequences of the political and politico-economical way of thinking, where all principles at length become tainted with the atmosphere of the platform: the breath of mediocrity, insignificance, dishonesty, etc. Nationalism. Anarchy, etc. Punishment. Everywhere the deliverer is missing, either as a class or as a single man—the justifier.
7. Nihilistic consequences of history and of the “practical historian,” i.e., the romanticist. The attitude of art is quite unoriginal in modern life. Its gloominess. Goethe’s so-called Olympian State.
8. Art and the preparation of Nihilism. Romanticism (the conclusion of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung).
1. Nihilism As an Outcome of the Valuations and Interpretations of Existence Which Have Prevailed Heretofore.
What does Nihilism mean?—That the highest values are losing their value. There is no bourne. There is no answer to the question: “to what purpose?”
Thorough Nihilism is the conviction that life is absurd, in the light of the highest values already discovered; it also includes the view that we have not the smallest right to assume the existence of transcendental objects or things in themselves, which would be either divine or morality incarnate.
This view is a result of fully developed “truthfulness”: therefore a consequence of the belief in morality.
What advantages did the Christian hypothesis of morality offer?
(1) It bestowed an intrinsic value upon men, which contrasted with their apparent insignificance and subordination to chance in the eternal flux of becoming and perishing.
(2) It served the purpose of God’s advocates, inasmuch as it granted the world a certain perfection despite its sorrow and evil—it also granted the world that proverbial “freedom”: evil seemed full of meaning.
(3) It assumed that man could have a knowledge of absolute values, and thus granted him adequate perception for the most important things.
(4) It prevented man from despising himself as man, from turning against life, and from being driven to despair by knowledge: it was a self-preservative measure.
In short: Morality was the great antidote against practical and theoretical Nihilism.
But among the forces reared by morality, there was truthfulness: this in the end turns against morality, exposes the teleology of the latter, its interestedness, and now the recognition of this lie so long incorporated, from which we despaired of ever freeing ourselves, acts just like a stimulus. We perceive certain needs in ourselves, implanted during the long dynasty of the moral interpretation of life, which now seem to us to be needs of untruth: on the other hand, those very needs represent the highest values owing to which we are able to endure life. We have ceased from attaching any worth to what we know, and we dare not attach any more worth to that with which we would fain deceive ourselves—from this antagonism there results a process of dissolution.
This is the antinomy: In so far as we believe in morality, we condemn existence.
The highest values in the service of which man ought to live, more particularly when they oppressed and constrained him most—these social values, owing to their tone-strengthening tendencies, were built over men’s heads as though they were the will of God or “reality,” or the actual world, or even a hope of a world to come. Now that the lowly origin of these values has become known, the whole universe seems to have been transvalued and to have lost its significance—but this is only an intermediate stage.
The consequence of Nihilism (disbelief in all values) as a result of a moral valuation:—We have grown to dislike egotism (even though we have realised the impossibility of altruism);—we have grown to dislike what is most necessary(although we have recognised the impossibility of a liberum arbitrium and of an “intelligible freedom”). We perceive that we do not reach the spheres in which we have set our values—at the same time those other spheres in which we live have not thereby gained one iota in value. On the contrary, we are tired, because we have lost the main incentive to live. “All in vain hitherto!”
“Pessimism as a preparatory state to Nihilism.”
A. Pessimism viewed as strength—in what respect? In the energy of its logic, as anarchy, Nihilism, and analysis.
B. Pessimism regarded as collapse—in what sense? In the sense of its being a softening influence, a sort of cosmopolitan befingering, a “tout comprendre,” and historical spirit.
Critical tension: extremes make their appearance and become dominant.
The logic of Pessimism leads finally to Nihilism: what is the force at work?—The notion that there are no values, and no purpose: the recognition of the part that moral valuations have played in all other lofty values.
Result: moral valuations are condemnations, negations; morality is the abdication of the will to live....
The Collapse of Cosmopolitan Values.
Nihilism will have to manifest itself as a psychological condition, first when we have sought in all that has happened a purpose which is not there: so that the seeker will ultimately lose courage. Nihilism is therefore the coming into consciousness of the long waste of strength, the pain of “futility,” uncertainty, the lack of an opportunity to recover in some way, or to attain to a state of peace concerning anything—shame in one’s own presence, as if one had cheatedoneself too long.... The purpose above-mentioned might have been achieved: in the form of a “realisation” of a most high canon of morality in all worldly phenomena, the moral order of the universe; or in the form of the increase of love and harmony in the traffic of humanity; or in the nearer approach to a general condition of happiness; or even in the march towards general nonentity—any sort of goal always constitutes a purpose. The common factor to all these appearances is that something will be attained, through the process itself: and now we perceive that Becoming has been aiming at nothing, and has achieved nothing. Hence the disillusionment in regard to a so-called purpose in existence,as a cause of Nihilism; whether this be in respect of a very definite purpose, or generalised into the recognition that all the hypotheses are false which have hitherto been offered as to the object of life, and which relate to the whole of “Evolution” (man no longer an assistant in, let alone the culmination of, the evolutionary process).
Nihilism will manifest itself as a psychological condition, in the second place, when man has fixed a totality, a systematisation, even an organisation in and behind all phenomena, so that the soul thirsting for respect and admiration will wallow in the general idea of a highest ruling and administrative power (if it be the soul of a logician, the sequence of consequences and perfect reasoning will suffice to conciliate everything). A kind of unity, some form of “monism”:’ and as a result of this belief man becomes obsessed by a feeling of profound relativity and dependence in the presence of an All which is infinitely superior to him, a sort of divinity. “The general good exacts the surrender of the individual ...” but lo, there is no such general good! At bottom, man loses the belief in his own worth when no infinitely precious entity manifests itself through him—that is to say, he conceived such an All, in order to be able to believe in his own worth.
Nihilism, as a psychological condition, has yet a third and last form. Admitting these two points of view: that no purpose can be assigned to Becoming, and that no great entity rules behind all Becoming, in which the individual may completely lose himself as in an element of superior value; there still remains the subterfuge which would consist in condemning this whole world of Becoming as an illusion, and in discovering a world which would lie beyond it, and would be a real world. The moment, however, that man perceives that this world has been devised only for the purpose of meeting certain psychological needs, and that he has no right whatsoever to it, the final form of Nihilism comes into being, which comprises a denial of a metaphysical world, and which forbids itself all belief in a real world. From this standpoint, the reality of Becoming is the only reality that is admitted: all bypaths to back-worlds and false godheads are abandoned—but this world is no longer endured, although no one wishes to disown it.
What has actually happened? The feeling of worthlessness was realised when it was understood that neither the notion of “Purpose“ nor that of “Unity“ nor that of “Truth“ could be made to interpret the general character of existence. Nothing is achieved or obtained thereby; the unity which intervenes in the multiplicity of events is entirely lacking: the character of existence is not “true,” it is false; there is certainly no longer any reason to believe in a real world. In short, the categories, “Purpose,” “Unity,” “Being,” by means of which we had lent some worth to life, we have once more divorced from it—and the world now appears worthless to us....
Admitting that we have recognised the impossibility of interpreting world by means of these three categories, and that from this standpoint the world begins to be worthless to us; we must ask ourselves whence we derived our belief in these three categories. Let us see if it is possible to refuse to believe in them. If we can deprive them of their value, the proof that they cannot be applied to the world, is no longer a sufficient reason for depriving that world of its value.
Result: The belief in the categories of reason is the cause of Nihilism—we have measured the worth of the world according to categories which can only be applied to a purely fictitious world.
Conclusion: All values with which we have tried, hitherto, to lend the world some worth, from our point of view, and with which we have therefore deprived it of all worth (once these values have been shown to be inapplicable)—all these values, are, psychologically, the results of certain views of utility, established for the purpose of maintaining and increasing the dominion of certain communities: but falsely projected into the nature of things. It is always man’sexaggerated ingenuousness to regard himself as the sense and measure of all things.
Nihilism represents an intermediary pathological condition (the vast generalisation, the conclusion that there is no purpose in anything, is pathological): whether it be that the productive forces are not yet strong enough—or thatdecadence still hesitates and has not yet discovered its expedients.
The conditions of this hypothesis:—That there is no truth; that there is no absolute state of affairs—no “thing-in-itself.” This alone is Nihilism, and of the most extreme kind. It finds that the value of things consists precisely in the fact that these values are not real and never have been real, but that they are only a symptom of strength on the part of the valuer, a simplification serving the purposes of existence.
Values and their modification are related to the growth of power of the valuer.
The measure of disbelief and of the “freedom of spirit” which is tolerated, viewed as an expression of the growth of power.
“Nihilism” viewed as the ideal of the highest spiritual power, of the over-rich life, partly destructive, partly ironical.
What is belief? How is a belief born? All belief assumes that something is true.
The extremest form of Nihilism would mean that all belief—all assumption of truth—is false: because no real world is at hand. It were therefore: only an appearance seen in perspective, whose origin must be found in us (seeing that we are constantly in need of a narrower, a shortened, and simplified world).
This should be realised, that the extent to which we can, in our heart of hearts, acknowledge appearance, and the necessity of falsehood, without going to rack and ruin, is the measure of strength.
In this respect, Nihilism, in that it is the negation of a real world and of Being, might be a divine view of the world.
If we are disillusioned, we have not become so in regard to life, but owing to the fact that our eyes have been opened to all kinds of “desiderata.” With mocking anger we survey that which is called “Ideal“: we despise ourselves only because we are unable at every moment of our lives to quell that absurd emotion which is called “Idealism.” This pampering by means of ideals is stronger than the anger of the disillusioned one.
To what extent does Schopenhauerian Nihilism continue to be the result of the same ideal as that which gave rise to Christian Theism? The amount of certainty concerning the most exalted desiderata, the highest values and the greatest degree of perfection, was so great, that the philosophers started out from it as if it had been an a priori and absolute fact: “God” at the head, as the given quantity—Truth. “To become like God,” “to be absorbed into the Divine Being"—these were for centuries the most ingenuous and most convincing desiderata (but that which convinces is not necessarily true on that account: it is nothing more nor less than convincing. An observation for donkeys).
The granting of a personal-reality to this accretion of ideals has been unlearned: people have become atheistic. But has the ideal actually been abandoned? The latest metaphysicians, as a matter of fact, still seek their true “reality” in it—the “thing-in-itself” beside which everything else is merely appearance. Their dogma is, that because our world of appearance is so obviously not the expression of that ideal, it therefore cannot be “true"—and at bottom does not even lead back to that metaphysical world as cause. The unconditioned, in so far as it stands for that highest degree of perfection, cannot possibly be the reason of all the conditioned. Schopenhauer, who desired it otherwise, was obliged to imagine this metaphysical basis as the antithesis to the ideal, as “an evil, blind will”: thus it could be “that which appears,” that which manifests itself in the world of appearance. But even so, he did not give up that ideal absolute—he circumvented it....
(Kant seems to have needed the hypothesis of “intelligible freedom,” in order to relieve the ens perfectum of the responsibility of having contrived this world as it is, in short, in order to explain evil: scandalous logic for a philosopher!).
The most general sign of modern times: in his own estimation, man has lost an infinite amount of dignity. For a long time he was the centre and tragic hero of life in general; then he endeavoured to demonstrate at least his relationship to the most essential and in itself most valuable side of life—as all metaphysicians do, who wish to hold fast to the dignity of man, in their belief that moral values are cardinal values. He who has let God go, clings all the more strongly to the belief in morality.
Every purely moral valuation (as, for instance, the Buddhistic) terminates in Nihilism: Europe must expect the same thing! It is supposed that one can get along with a morality bereft of a religious background; but in this direction the road to Nihilism is opened. There is nothing in religion which compels us to regard ourselves as valuing creatures.
The question which Nihilism puts, namely, “to what purpose?” is the outcome of a habit, hitherto, to regard the purpose as something fixed, given and exacted from outside—that is to say, by some supernatural authority. Once the belief in this has been unlearned, the force of an old habit leads to the search after another authority, which would know how to speak unconditionally, and could point togoals and missions. The authority of the conscience now takes the first place (the more morality is emancipated from theology, the more imperative does it become) as a compensation for the personal authority. Or the authority of reason. Or the gregarious instinct (the herd). Or history with its immanent spirit, which has its goal in itself, and to which one can abandon oneself. One would like to evade the will, as also the willing of a goal and the risk of setting oneself a goal. One would like to get rid of the responsibility (Fatalism would be accepted). Finally: Happiness and with a dash of humbug, the happiness of the greatest number.
It is said:—
(1) A definite goal is quite unnecessary.
(2) Such a goal cannot possibly be foreseen. Precisely now, when will in its fullest strength were necessary, it is in the weakest and most pusillanimous condition. Absolute mistrust concerning the organising power of the will.
The perfect Nihilist.—The Nihilist’s eye idealises in an ugly sense, and is inconstant to what it remembers: it allows its recollections to go astray and to fade, it does not protect them from that cadaverous coloration with which weakness dyes all that is distant and past. And what it does not do for itself it fails to do for the whole of mankind as well—that is to say, it allows it to drop.
Nihilism. It may be two things:—
A. Nihilism as a sign of enhanced spiritual strength: active Nihilism.
B. Nihilism as a sign of the collapse and decline of spiritual strength: passive Nihilism.
Nihilism, a normal condition.
It may be a sign of strength; spiritual vigour may have increased to such an extent that the goals toward which man has marched hitherto (the “convictions,” articles of faith) are no longer suited to it (for a faith generally expresses the exigencies of the conditions of existence, a submission to the authority of an order of things which conduces to the prosperity, the growth and power of a living creature ...); on the other hand, a sign of insufficient strength, to fix a goal, a “wherefore,” and a faith for itself.
It reaches its maximum of relative strength, as a powerful destructive force, in the form of active Nihilism.
Its opposite would be weary Nihilism, which no longer attacks: its most renowned form being Buddhism: as passive Nihilism, a sign of weakness: spiritual strength may be fatigued, exhausted, so that the goals and values which have prevailed hitherto are no longer suited to it and are no longer believed in—so that the synthesis of values and goals (upon which every strong culture stands) decomposes, and the different values contend with one another: Disintegration,then everything which is relieving, which heals, becalms, or stupefies, steps into the foreground under the cover of various disguises, either religious, moral, political or æsthetic, etc.
Nihilism is not only a meditating over the “in vain!"—not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys. This, if you will, is illogical; but the Nihilist does not believe in the necessity of being logical.... It is the condition of strong minds and wills; and to these it is impossible to be satisfied with the negation of judgment: the negation by deeds proceeds from their nature. Annihilation by the reasoning faculty seconds annihilation by the hand.
Concerning the genesis of the Nihilist. The courage of all one really knows comes but late in life. It is only quite recently that I have acknowledged to myself that heretofore I have been a Nihilist from top to toe. The energy and thoroughness with which I marched forward as a Nihilist deceived me concerning this fundamental principle. When one is progressing towards a goal it seems impossible that “aimlessness per se“ should be one’s fundamental article of faith.
The Pessimism of strong natures. The “wherefore” after a terrible struggle, even after victory. That something may exist which is a hundred times more important than the question, whether we feel well or unwell, is the fundamental instinct of all strong natures—and consequently too, whether the others feel well or unwell. In short, that we have a purpose, for which we would not even hesitate to sacrifice men, run all risks, and bend our backs to the worst: this is the great passion.
2. Further Causes of Nihilism.
The causes of Nihilism: (1) The higher species is lacking, i.e., the species whose inexhaustible fruitfulness and power would uphold our belief in Man (think only of what is owed to Napoleon—almost all the higher hopes of this century).
(2) The inferior species ("herd,” “ass,” “society") is forgetting modesty, and inflates its needs into cosmic and metaphysical values. In this way all life is vulgarised: for inasmuch as the mass of mankind rules, it tyrannises over theexceptions, so that these lose their belief in themselves and become Nihilists.
All attempts to conceive of a new species come to nothing ("romanticism,” the artist, the philosopher; against Carlyle’s attempt to lend them the highest moral values).
The result is that higher types are resisted.
The downfall and insecurity of all higher types. The struggle against genius ("popular poetry,” etc.). Sympathy with the lowly and the suffering as a standard for the elevation of the soul.
The philosopher is lacking, the interpreter of deeds, and not alone he who poetises them.
Imperfect Nihilism—its forms: we are now surrounded by them.
All attempts made to escape Nihilism, which do not consist in transvaluing the values that have prevailed hitherto, only make the matter worse; they complicate the problem.
The varieties of self-stupefaction. In one’s heart of hearts, not to know, whither? Emptiness. The attempt to rise superior to it all by means of emotional intoxication: emotional intoxication in the form of music, in the form of cruelty in the tragic joy over the ruin of the noblest, and in the form of blind, gushing enthusiasm over individual men or distinct periods (in the form of hatred, etc.). The attempt to work blindly, like a scientific instrument; to keep an eye on the many small joys, like an investigator, for instance (modesty towards oneself); the mysticism of the voluptuous joy of eternal emptiness; art “for art’s sake” ("le fait"), “immaculate investigation,” in the form of narcotics against the disgust of oneself; any kind of incessant work, any kind of small foolish fanaticism; the medley of all means, illness as the result of general profligacy (dissipation kills pleasure).
(1) As a result, feeble will-power.
(2) Excessive pride and the humiliation of petty weakness felt as a contrast.
The time is coming when we shall have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years: we are losing the equilibrium which enables us to live—for a long while we shall not know in what direction we are travelling. We are hurling ourselves headlong into the opposite valuations, with that degree of energy which could only have been engendered in man by an overvaluation of himself.
Now, everything is false from the root, words and nothing but words, confused, feeble, or over-strained.
(a) There is a seeking after a sort of earthly solution of the problem of life, but in the same sense as that of the final triumph of truth, love, justice (socialism: “equality of persons").
(b) There is also an attempt to hold fast to the moral ideal (with altruism, self-sacrifice, and the denial of the will, in the front rank).
(c) There is even an attempt to hold fast to a “Beyond”: were it only as an antilogical x; but it is forthwith interpreted in such a way that a kind of metaphysical solace, after the old style, may be derived from it.
(d) There is an attempt to read the phenomena of life in such a way as to arrive at the divine guidance of old, with its powers of rewarding, punishing, educating, and of generally conducing to a something better in the order of things.
(e) People once more believe in good and evil; so that the victory of the good and the annihilation of the evil is regarded as a duty (this is English, and is typical of that blockhead, John Stuart Mill).
(f) The contempt felt for “naturalness,” for the desires and for the ego: the attempt to regard even the highest intellectuality of art as a result of an impersonal and disinterested attitude.
(g) The Church is still allowed to meddle in all the essential occurrences and incidents in the life of the individual, with a view to consecrating it and giving it a loftier meaning: we still have the “Christian State” and the “Christian marriage.”
There have been more thoughtful and more destructively thoughtful times than ours: times like those in which Buddha appeared, for instance, in which the people themselves, after centuries of sectarian quarrels, had sunk so deeply into the abyss of philosophical dogmas, as, from time to time, European people have done in regard to the fine points of religious dogma. “Literature” and the press would be the last things to seduce one to any high opinion of the spirit of our times: the millions of Spiritists, and a Christianity with gymnastic exercises of that ghastly ugliness which is characteristic of all English inventions, throw more light on the subject.
European Pessimism is still in its infancy—a fact which argues against it: it has not yet attained to that prodigious and yearning fixity of sight to which it attained in India once upon a time, and in which nonentity is reflected; there is still too much of the “ready-made,” and not enough of the “evolved” in its constitution, too much learned and poetic Pessimism; I mean that a good deal of it has been discovered, invented, and “created,” but not caused.
Criticism of the Pessimism which has prevailed hitherto. The want of the eudæmonological standpoint, as a last abbreviation of the question: what is the purpose of it all? The reduction of gloom.
Our Pessimism: the world has not the value which we believed it to have,—our faith itself has so increased our instinct for research that we are compelled to say this to-day. In the first place, it seems of less value: at first it is felt to be of less value,—only in this sense are we pessimists,—that is to say, with the will to acknowledge this transvaluation without reserve, and no longer, as heretofore, to deceive ourselves and chant the old old story.
It is precisely in this way that we find the pathos which urges us to seek for new values. In short: the world might have far more value than we thought—we must get behind the naïveté of our ideals, for it is possible that, in our conscious effort to give it the highest interpretation, we have not bestowed even a moderately just value upon it.
What has been deified? The valuing instinct inside the community (that which enabled it to survive).
What has been calumniated? That which has tended to separate higher men from their inferiors, the instincts which cleave gulfs and build barriers.
Causes effecting the rise of Pessimism:—
(1) The most powerful instincts and those which promised most for the future have hitherto been calumniated, so that life has a curse upon it.
(2) The growing bravery and the more daring mistrust on the part of man have led him to discover the fact that these instincts cannot be cut adrift from life, and thus he turns to embrace life.
(3) Only the most mediocre, who are not conscious of this conflict, prosper; the higher species fail, and as an example of degeneration tend to dispose all hearts against them—on the other hand, there is some indignation caused by the mediocre positing themselves as the end and meaning of all things. No one can any longer reply to the question: “Why?”
(4) Belittlement, susceptibility to pain, unrest, haste, and confusion are steadily increasing—the materialisation of all these tendencies, which is called “civilisation,” becomes every day more simple, with the result that, in the face of the monstrous machine, the individual despairs and surrenders.
Modern Pessimism is an expression of the uselessness only of the modern world, not of the world and existence as such.
The “preponderance of pain over pleasure” or the reverse (Hedonism); both of these doctrines are already signposts to Nihilism....
For here, in both cases, no other final purpose is sought than the phenomenon pleasure or pain.
But only a man who no longer dares to posit a will, a purpose, and a final goal can speak in this way—according to every healthy type of man, the worth of life is certainly not measured by the standard of these secondary things. And apreponderance of pain would be possible and, in spite of it, a mighty will, a saying of yea to life, and a holding of this preponderance for necessary.
“Life is not worth living”; “Resignation”; “what is the good of tears?"—this is a feeble and sentimental attitude of mind. “Un monstre gai vaut mieux qu’un sentimental ennuyeux.“
The philosophie Nihilist is convinced that all phenomena are without sense and are in vain, and that there ought to be no such thing as Being without sense and in vain. But whence comes this “There ought not to be?"—whence this “sense” and this standard? At bottom the Nihilist supposes that the sight of such a desolate, useless Being is unsatisfying to the philosopher, and fills him with desolation and despair. This aspect of the case is opposed to our subtle sensibilities as a philosopher. It leads to the absurd conclusion that the character of existence must perforce afford pleasure to the philosopher if it is to have any right to subsist.
Now it is easy to understand that happiness and unhappiness, within the phenomena of this world, can only serve the purpose of means: the question yet remaining to be answered is, whether it will ever be possible for us to perceive the “object” and “purpose” of life—whether the problem of purposelessness or the reverse is not quite beyond our ken.
The development of Nihilism out of Pessimism. The denaturalisation of Values. Scholasticism of values. The values isolated, idealistic, instead of ruling and leading action, turn against it and condemn it.
Opposites introduced in the place of natural gradations and ranks. Hatred of the order of rank. Opposites are compatible with a plebeian age, because they are more easy to grasp.
The rejected world is opposed to an artificially constructed “true and valuable” one. At last we discover out of what material the “true” world was built; all that remains, now, is the rejected world, and to the account of our reasons forrejecting it we place our greatest disillusionment.
At this point Nihilism is reached; the directing values have been retained—nothing more!
This gives rise to the problem of strength and weakness:—
(1) The weak fall to pieces upon it;
(2) The strong destroy what does not fall to pieces of its own accord;
(3) The strongest overcome the directing values.
The whole condition of affairs produces the tragic age.
3. The Nihilistic Movement As an Expression of Decadence.
Just lately an accidental and in every way inappropriate term has been very much misused: everywhere people are speaking of “Pessimism,” and there is a fight around the question (to which some replies must be forthcoming): which is right—Pessimism or Optimism?
People have not yet seen what is so terribly-obvious—namely, that Pessimism is not a problem but a symptom,—that the term ought to be replaced by “Nihilism,"—that the question, “to be or not to be,” is itself an illness, a sign of degeneracy, an idiosyncrasy.
The Nihilistic movement is only an expression of physiological decadence.
To be understood:—That every kind of decline and tendency to sickness has incessantly been at work in helping to create general evaluations: that in those valuations which now dominate, decadence has even begun to preponderate, that we have not only to combat the conditions which present misery and degeneration have brought into being; but that all decadence, previous to that of our own times, has been transmitted and has therefore remained an active forceamongst us. A universal departure of this kind, on the part of man, from his fundamental instincts, such universal decadence of the valuing judgment, is the note of interrogation par excellence, the real riddle, which the animal “man” sets to all philosophers.
The notion “decadence”:—Decay, decline, and waste, are, per se, in no way open to objection;they are the natural consequences of life and vital growth. The phenomenon of decadence is just as necessary to life as advance or progress is: we are not in a position which enables us to suppress it. On the contrary, reason would have it retain its rights.
It is disgraceful on the part of socialist-theorists to argue that circumstances and social combinations could be devised which would put an end to all vice, illness, crime, prostitution, and poverty.... But that is tantamount to condemningLife ... a society is not at liberty to remain young. And even in its prime it must bring forth ordure and decaying matter. The more energetically and daringly it advances, the richer will it be in failures and in deformities, and the nearer it will be to its fall. Age is not deferred by means of institutions. Nor is illness. Nor is vice.
Fundamental aspect of the nature of decadence: what has heretofore been regarded as its causes are its effects.
In this way, the whole perspective of the problems of morality is altered.
All the struggle of morals against vice, luxury, crime, and even against illness, seems a naïveté, a superfluous effort: there is no such thing as “improvement“ (a word against repentance).
Decadence itself is not a thing that can be withstood: it is absolutely necessary and is proper to all ages and all peoples. That which must be withstood, and by all means in our power, is the spreading of the contagion among the sound parts of the organism.
Is that done? The very reverse is done. It is precisely on this account that one makes a stand on behalf of humanity.
How do the highest values created hitherto stand in relation to this fundamental question in biology? Philosophy, religion, morality, art, etc.
(The remedy: militarism, for instance, from Napoleon onwards, who regarded civilisation as his natural enemy.)
All those things which heretofore have been regarded as the causes of degeneration, are really its effects.
But those things also which have been regarded as the remedies of degeneration are only palliatives of certain effects thereof: the “cured” are types of the degenerate.
The results of decadence: vice—viciousness; illness—sickliness; crime—criminality; celibacy—sterility; hysteria—the weakness of the will; alcoholism; pessimism, anarchy; debauchery (also of the spirit). The calumniators, underminers, sceptics, and destroyers.
Concerning the notion “decadence.” (1) Scepticism is a result of decadence: just as spiritual debauchery is.
(2) Moral corruption is a result of decadence (the weakness of the will and the need of strong stimulants).
(3) Remedies, whether psychological or moral, do not alter the march of decadence, they do not arrest anything; physiologically they do not count.
A peep into the enormous futility of these pretentious “reactions”; they are forms of anæsthetising oneself against certain fatal symptoms resulting from the prevailing condition of things; they do not eradicate the morbid element; they are often heroic attempts to cancel the decadent man, to allow only a minimum of his deleterious influence to survive.
(4) Nihilism is not a cause, but only the rationale of decadence.
(5) The “good” and the “bad” are no more than two types of decadence: they come together in all its fundamental phenomena.
(6) The social problem