/ 3-stars

The Genealogy of Morals

GoodReads: 3 stars

"The Genealogy of Morals" stunned me with its originality. Nietzsche propounds a view that "noble" virtues of strength and pride were long ago subverted by a hateful and self-loathing "slave morality" that forms the root of the Judeo-Christian tradition:

They have taken a lease of virtue absolutely for themselves, have these weaklings and wretched invalids, there is no doubt of it; “We alone are the good, the righteous,” so do they speak... as though health, fitness, strength, pride, the sensation of power, were really vicious things in themselves, for which one would have some day to do penance, bitter penance... how they thirst after being hangmen!

This book - which the editor claims is Nietzche's most coherent work - tackles the evolution of our morality in three essays about slave morality, the origin and uses of guilt, and the relationship of ascetic ideals to the development of the slave morality. While shocking and controversial, I found Nietzsche's style of argumentation to be very difficult to follow. His work is very much a product of its time too - littered with anti-Semitism and chauvinism.

But in spite of these deficiencies, Nietzsche's book does succeed in that most difficult act - an act of completely original creation. I found his theories to be surprising, disturbing, and uncomfortable, yet difficult to refute. I'll have to do some more philosophy reading before I can decide what I think about his ideas.

I was also struck by the influence that Nietzsche's ideas about guilt seem to have had on Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents".

The editor's note at the beginning helps considerably in contextualizing and understanding the structure of this short but very dense book.

My highlights below.

Editor's Note

A few days later he wrote to his old friend and University of Basel colleague Franz Overbeck: “This last bite of life was the hardest I’ve chewed yet, and it is still possible that I will choke on it. I have suffered from the insulting and excruciating memories of this summer as from a madness... If I do not discover the alchemists’ trick of turning even this — dung into gold, I am lost.” It is a tribute to Nietzsche’s strength of mind and character that he did manage this feat of alchemy. He never met Rée or Salomé again, but in the years immediately following, he wrote some of his greatest works, including Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–85), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), and Genealogy of Morals (1887)—all of which (especially Zarathustra, which he began writing not long after his letter to Overbeck) probably owe a good deal of their golden shine and power to this painful episode in his life.

All three essays advance the critique of Christian morality set forth in Beyond Good and Evil.

In the first essay, Nietzsche sets up a contrast between what he calls “master” (or noble) morality and “slave” (or herd) morality.

The distinction between good and evil, on the contrary, came from the slaves, who, out of their resentment of the nobles, saw all aspects of strength and mastery as vices. Against all reason, they promised that the meek would inherit the earth and declared competition, pride, and autonomy to be sins, while their opposites — charity, humility, and obedience — were said to be “good.” In Nietzsche’s mind, this “slave revolt” has had a devastating cultural impact. It has replaced strength and action with passivity, flatness, and reaction, leading to a nihilism that makes people weary of mankind.

Nietzsche’s second essay purports to trace the origins of guilt (or “bad conscience”) and punishment.

And the bad conscience — our tendency to see ourselves as sinners — originated in society’s need to inhibit the basic animal instinct for aggression and cruelty and turn them inward. It is “the serious illness which man was bound to contract under the stress of the most radical change which he has ever experienced” — the change from a life of freedom and autonomy to a life constrained by the dictates of society. “All instincts which do not find a vent without,” he says, with a flash of the psychological insight that made his writings so invaluable to Freud and other psychologists, “turn inwards—this is what I mean by the growing ‘internalisation’ of man: consequently we have the first growth in man, of what subsequently was called his soul.”

“What is the meaning of ascetic ideals?” That is the question Nietzsche poses in his third essay.

The priestly type is the only true advocate for the ascetic ideal; for the ascetic priest, “the lordship over sufferers is his kingdom.”

The nuggets of his thought are too many, too shining. His vision does not progress from A to B, but back and forth, up and down. He is not merely a logician, but a psychologist, a poet — most of all, a searcher for the truth. One of his great strengths is that he is able to see both sides of an issue.

Nietzsche survived for almost another dozen years — much of that time in the care of his virulently anti-Semitic sister, who for the rest of her life did her best to whittle down his image and his philosophy to fit her own tiny, cramped proto-Nazi mold.


Fortunately I soon learned to separate theological from moral prejudices, and I gave up looking for a supernatural origin of evil.

from my answers grew new questions, new investigations, new conjectures, new probabilities; until at last I had a land of my own and a soil of my own, a whole secret world growing and flowering, like hidden gardens of whose existence no one could have an inkling — oh, how happy are we, we finders of knowledge, provided that we know how to keep silent sufficiently long.

The issue for me was the value of morality, and on that subject I had to place myself in a state of abstraction, in which I was almost alone with my great teacher Schopenhauer, to whom that book, with all its passion and inherent contradiction (for that book also was a polemic), turned for present help as though he were still alive.

I realised that the morality of pity which spread wider and wider, and whose grip infected even philosophers with its disease, was the most sinister symptom of our modern European civilisation; I realised that it was the route along which that civilisation slid on its way to — a new Buddhism? — a European Buddhism? — Nihilism? This exaggerated estimation in which modern philosophers have held pity, is quite a new phenomenon: up to that time philosophers were absolutely unanimous as to the worthlessness of pity. I need only mention Plato, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld, and Kant—four minds as mutually different as is possible, but united on one point; their contempt of pity.

The value of these “values” was taken for granted as an indisputable fact, which was beyond all question. No one has, up to the present, exhibited the faintest doubt or hesitation in judging the “good man” to be of a higher value than the “evil man,” of a higher value with regard specifically to human progress, utility, and prosperity generally, not forgetting the future. What? Suppose the converse were the truth! What?

I wished to direct him to the real history of morality, and to warn him, while there was yet time, against a world of English theories that culminated in the blue vacuum of heaven.

as if it really did not pay to take all these things — I mean moral problems — so seriously. I, on the other hand, think that there are no subjects which pay better for being taken seriously; part of this payment is, that perhaps eventually they admit of being taken gaily. This gaiety, indeed, or, to use my own language, this joyful wisdom, is a payment; a payment for a protracted, brave, laborious, and burrowing seriousness, which, it goes without saying, is the attribute of but a few.

Take, for instance, my Zarathustra; I allow no one to pass muster as knowing that book, unless every single word therein has at some time wrought in him a profound wound, and at some time exercised on him a profound enchantment: then and not till then can he enjoy the privilege of participating reverently in the halcyon element, from which that work is born, in its sunny brilliance, its distance, its spaciousness, its certainty.


Much rather has it been the good themselves, that is, the aristocratic, the powerful, the high-stationed, the high-minded, who have felt that they themselves were good, and that their actions were good, that is to say of the first order, in contradistinction to all the low, the low-minded, the vulgar, and the plebeian. It was out of this pathos of distance that they first arrogated the right to create values for their own profit, and to coin the names of such values: what had they to do with utility?

The pathos of nobility and distance, as I have said, the chronic and despotic esprit de corps and fundamental instinct of a higher dominant race coming into association with a meaner race, an “under race,” this is the origin of the antithesis of good and bad.

The guide-post which first put me on the right track was this question — what is the true etymological significance of the various symbols for the idea “good” which have been coined in the various languages? I then found that they all led back to the same evolution of the same idea — that everywhere “aristocrat,” “noble” (in the social sense), is the root idea, out of which have necessarily developed “good” in the sense of “with aristocratic soul,” “noble,” in the sense of “with a soul of high calibre,” “with a privileged soul” — a development which invariably runs parallel with that other evolution by which “vulgar,” “plebeian,” “low,” are made to change finally into “bad.”

Who can guarantee that modern democracy, still more modern anarchy, and indeed that tendency to the “Commune,” the most primitive form of society, which is now common to all the Socialists in Europe, does not in its real essence signify a monstrous reversion — and that the conquering and master race — the Aryan race, is not also becoming inferior physiologically?)

Above all, there is no exception (though there are opportunities for exceptions) to this rule, that the idea of political superiority always resolves itself into the idea of psychological superiority

The knightly-aristocratic “values” are based on a careful cult of the physical, on a flowering, rich, and even effervescing healthiness, that goes considerably beyond what is necessary for maintaining life, on war, adventure, the chase, the dance, the tourney — on everything, in fact, which is contained in strong, free, and joyous action. The priestly-aristocratic mode of valuation is — we have seen—based on other hypotheses: it is bad enough for this class when it is a question of war! Yet the priests are, as is notorious, the worst enemies — why? Because they are the weakest. Their weakness causes their hate to expand into a monstrous and sinister shape, a shape which is most crafty and most poisonous. The really great haters in the history of the world have always been priests, who are also the cleverest haters — in comparison with the cleverness of priestly revenge, every other piece of cleverness is practically negligible.

It was the Jews who, in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good = aristocratic = beautiful = happy = loved by the gods), dared with a terrifying logic to suggest the contrary equation, and indeed to maintain with the teeth of the most profound hatred (the hatred of weakness) this contrary equation, namely, “the wretched are alone the good; the poor, the weak, the lowly, are alone the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the loathsome, are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them alone is salvation — but you, on the other hand, you aristocrats, you men of power, you are to all eternity the evil, the horrible, the covetous, the insatiate, the godless; eternally also shall you be the unblessed, the cursed, the damned!”

But this is what took place: from the trunk of that tree of revenge and hate, Jewish hate, — that most profound and sublime hate, which creates ideals and changes old values to new creations, the like of which has never been on earth, — there grew a phenomenon which was equally incomparable, a new love, the most profound and sublime of all kinds of love; — and from what other trunk could it have grown? But beware of supposing that this love has soared on its upward growth, as in any way a real negation of that thirst for revenge, as an antithesis to the Jewish hate! No, the contrary is the truth!

While every aristocratic morality springs from a triumphant affirmation of its own demands, the slave morality says “no” from the very outset to what is “outside itself,” “different from itself,” and “not itself”: and this “no” is its creative deed.

typical of “resentment”: the slave-morality requires as the condition of its existence an external and objective world, to employ physiological terminology, it requires objective stimuli to be capable of action at all — its action is fundamentally a reaction. The contrary is the case when we come to the aristocrat’s system of values: it acts and grows spontaneously, it merely seeks its antithesis in order to pronounce a more grateful and exultant “yes” to its own self;

An inability to take seriously for any length of time their enemies, their disasters, their misdeeds — that is the sign of the full strong natures who possess a superfluity of moulding plastic force, that heals completely and produces forgetfulness:

On the other hand, imagine the “enemy” as the resentful man conceives him — and it is here exactly that we see his work, his creativeness; he has conceived “the evil enemy,” the “evil one,” and indeed that is the root idea from which he now evolves as a contrasting and corresponding figure a “good one,” himself — his very self! The method of this man is quite contrary to that of the aristocratic man, who conceives the root idea “good” spontaneously and straight away, that is to say, out of himself, and from that material then creates for himself a concept of “bad”!

This “bad” of aristocratic origin and that “evil” out of the cauldron of unsatisfied hatred — the former an imitation, an “extra,” an additional nuance; the latter, on the other hand, the original, the beginning, the essential act in the conception of a slave-morality — these two words “bad” and “evil,” how great a difference do they mark, in spite of the fact that they have an identical contrary in the idea “good.”

It is the aristocratic races who have left the idea “Barbarian” on all the tracks in which they have marched; nay, a consciousness of this very barbarianism, and even a pride in it, manifests itself even in their highest civilisation (for example, when Pericles says to his Athenians in that celebrated funeral oration, “Our audacity has forced a way over every land and sea, rearing everywhere imperishable memorials of itself for good and for evil”).

Granted the truth of the theory now believed to be true, that the very essence of all civilisation is to train out of man, the beast of prey, a tame and civilised animal, a domesticated animal, it follows indubitably that we must regard as the real tools of civilisation all those instincts of reaction and resentment, by the help of which the aristocratic races, together with their ideals, were finally degraded and overpowered; though that has not yet come to be synonymous with saying that the bearers of those tools also represented the civilisation.

who would not a hundred times prefer to be afraid, when one at the same time admires, than to be immune from fear, at the cost of being perpetually obsessed with the loathsome spectacle of the distorted, the dwarfed, the stunted, the envenomed? And is that not our fate?

It is not surprising that the lambs should bear a grudge against the great birds of prey, but that is no reason for blaming the great birds of prey for taking the little lambs.

To require of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a wish to overpower, a wish to overthrow, a wish to become master, a thirst for enemies and antagonisms and triumphs, is just as absurd as to require of weakness that it should express itself as strength.

The subject (or, to use popular language, the soul) has perhaps proved itself the best dogma in the world simply because it rendered possible to the horde of mortal, weak, and oppressed individuals of every kind, that most sublime specimen of self-deception, the interpretation of weakness as freedom, of being this, or being that, as merit.

“And the impotence which requites not, is turned to ‘goodness,’ craven baseness to meekness, submission to those whom one hates, to obedience (namely, obedience to one of whom they say that he ordered this submission—they call him God). The inoffensive character of the weak, the very cowardice in which he is rich, his standing at the door, his forced necessity of waiting, gain here fine names, such as ‘patience,’ which is also called ‘virtue’; not being able to avenge one’s self, is called not wishing to avenge one’s self, perhaps even forgiveness (for they know not what they do — we alone know what they do). They also talk of the ‘love of their enemies’ and sweat thereby.”

These cellar-beasts, full of revenge and hate — what do they make, forsooth, out of their revenge and hate? Do you hear these words? Would you suspect, if you trusted only their words, that you are among men of resentment and nothing else? “I understand, I prick my ears up again (ah! ah! ah! and I hold my nose). Now do I hear for the first time that which they have said so often: ‘We good, we are the righteous’ — what they demand they call not revenge but ‘the triumph of righteousness’; what they hate is not their enemy, no, they hate ‘unrighteousness,’ ‘godlessness’; what they believe in and hope is not the hope of revenge, the intoxication of sweet revenge (—‘sweeter than honey,’ did Homer call it?), but the victory of God, of the righteous God over the ‘godless’; what is left for them to love in this world is not their brothers in hate, but their ‘brothers in love,’ as they say, all the good and righteous on the earth.”

Thomas of Aquinas, the great teacher and saint. “Beati in regno celesti,” says he, as gently as a lamb, “videbunt pœnas damnatorum, ut beatitudo illis magis complaceat.”

The symbol of this fight, written in a writing which has remained worthy of perusal throughout the course of history up to the present time, is called “Rome against Judæa, Judæa against Rome.” Hitherto there has been no greater event than that fight, the putting of that question, that deadly antagonism. Rome found in the Jew the incarnation of the unnatural, as though it were its diametrically opposed monstrosity, and in Rome the Jew was held to be convicted of hatred of the whole human race: and rightly so, in so far as it is right to link the well-being and the future of the human race to the unconditional mastery of the aristocratic values, of the Roman values. What, conversely, did the Jews feel against Rome? One can surmise it from a thousand symptoms, but it is sufficient to carry one’s mind back to the Johannian Apocalypse, that most obscene of all the written outbursts, which has revenge on its conscience. (One should also appraise at its full value the profound logic of the Christian instinct, when over this very book of hate it wrote the name of the Disciple of Love, that self-same disciple to whom it attributed that impassioned and ecstatic Gospel — therein lurks a portion of truth, however much literary forging may have been necessary for this purpose.) The Romans were the strong and aristocratic; a nation stronger and more aristocratic has never existed in the world, has never even been dreamed of; every relic of them, every inscription enraptures, granted that one can divine what it is that writes the inscription. The Jews, conversely, were that priestly nation of resentment par excellence, possessed by a unique genius for popular morals: just compare with the Jews the nations with analogous gifts, such as the Chinese or the Germans, so as to realise afterwards what is first rate, and what is fifth rate.

Which of them has been provisionally victorious, Rome or Judæa? but there is not a shadow of doubt; just consider to whom in Rome itself nowadays you bow down,

Like a final sign-post to other ways, there appeared Napoleon, the most unique and violent anachronism that ever existed, and in him the incarnate problem of the aristocratic ideal in itself — consider well what a problem it is: — Napoleon, that synthesis of Monster and Superman.

“What indication of the history of the evolution of the moral ideas is afforded by philology, and especially by etymological investigation?”


How thoroughly, in order to be able to regulate the future in this way, must man have first learnt to distinguish between necessitated and accidental phenomena, to think casually, to see the distant as present and to anticipate it, to fix with certainty what is the end, and what is the means to that end; above all, to reckon, to have power to calculate — how thoroughly must man have first become calculable, disciplined, necessitated even for himself and his own conception of himself, that, like a man entering a promise, he could guarantee himself as a future.

The immense work of what I have called, “morality of custom” (cp. Dawn of Day, Aphs. 9, 14, and 16), the actual work of man on himself during the longest period of the human race, his whole prehistoric work, finds its meaning, its great justification (in spite of all its innate hardness, despotism, stupidity, and idiocy) in this fact: man, with the help of the morality of customs and of social strait-waistcoats, we made genuinely calculable.

It might even be said that wherever solemnity, seriousness, mystery, and gloomy colours are now found in the life of the men and of nations of the world, there is some survival of that horror which was once the universal concomitant of all promises, pledges, and obligations. The past, the past with all its length, depth, and hardness, wafts to us its breath, and bubbles up in us again, when we become “serious.” When man thinks it necessary to make for himself a memory, he never accomplishes it without blood, tortures and sacrifice; the most dreadful sacrifices and forfeitures (among them the sacrifice of the first-born), the most loathsome mutilation (for instance, castration), the most cruel rituals of all the religious cults (for all religions are really at bottom systems of cruelty)—all these things originate from that instinct which found in pain its most potent mnemonic.

How much blood and cruelty is the foundation of all “good things”!

Have these current genealogists of morals ever allowed themselves to have even the vaguest notion, for instance, that the cardinal moral idea of “ought” originates from the very material idea of “owe”? Or that punishment developed as a retaliation absolutely independently of any preliminary hypothesis of the freedom or determination of the will? — And this to such an extent, that a high degree of civilisation was always first necessary for the animal man to begin to make those much more primitive distinctions of “intentional,” “negligent,” “accidental,” “responsible,” and their contraries, and apply them in the assessing of punishment. That idea — “the wrong-doer deserves punishment because he might have acted otherwise,” in spite of the fact that it is nowadays so cheap, obvious, natural, and inevitable, and that it has had to serve as an illustration of the way in which the sentiment of justice appeared on earth, is in point of fact an exceedingly late, and even refined form of human judgment and inference; the placing of this idea back at the beginning of the world is simply a clumsy violation of the principles of primitive psychology. Throughout the longest period of human history punishment was never based on the responsibility of the evil-doer for his action, and was consequently not based on the hypothesis that only the guilty should be punished; — on the contrary, punishment was inflicted in those days for the same reason that parents punish their children even nowadays, out of anger at an injury that they have suffered, an anger which vents itself mechanically on the author of the injury — but this anger is kept in bounds and modified through the idea that every injury has somewhere or other its equivalent price, and can really be paid off, even though it be by means of pain to the author. Whence is it that this ancient deep-rooted and now perhaps ineradicable idea has drawn its strength, this idea of an equivalency between injury and pain? I have already revealed its origin, in the contractual relationship between creditor and ower, that is as old as the existence of legal rights at all, and in its turn points back to the primary forms of purchase, sale, barter, and trade.

It is then in this sphere of the law of contract that we find the cradle of the whole moral world of the ideas of “guilt,” “conscience,” “duty,” the “sacredness of duty,” — their commencement, like the commencement of all great things in the world, is thoroughly and continuously saturated with blood.

To put the question yet again, why can suffering be a compensation for “owing”? — Because the infliction of suffering produces the highest degree of happiness, because the injured party will get in exchange for his loss (including his vexation at his loss) an extraordinary counter-pleasure: the infliction of suffering — a real feast

In my opinion it is repugnant to the delicacy, and still more to the hypocrisy of tame domestic animals (that is, modern men; that is, ourselves), to realise with all their energy the extent to which cruelty constituted the great joy and delight of ancient man, was an ingredient which seasoned nearly all his pleasures, and conversely the extent of the naïveté and innocence with which he manifested his need for cruelty, when he actually made as a matter of principle “disinterested malice” (or, to use Spinoza’s expression, the sympathia male-volens) into a normal characteristic of man — as consequently something to which the conscience says a hearty yes.

At any rate the time is not so long past when it was impossible to conceive of royal weddings and national festivals on a grand scale, without executions, tortures, or perhaps an auto-da-fé, or similarly to conceive of an aristocratic household, without a creature to serve as a butt for the cruel and malicious baiting of the inmates. (The reader will perhaps remember Don Quixote at the court of the Duchess: we read nowadays the whole of Don Quixote with a bitter taste in the mouth, almost with a sensation of torture, a fact which would appear very strange and very incomprehensible to the author and his contemporaries—they read it with the best conscience in the world as the gayest of books; they almost died with laughing at it.)

Without cruelty, no feast: so teaches the oldest and longest history of man — and in punishment too is there so much of the festive.

The darkening of the heavens over man has always increased in proportion to the growth of man’s shame before man.

Perhaps in those days (this is to solace the weaklings) pain did not hurt so much as it does nowadays: any physician who has treated negroes (granted that these are taken as representative of the prehistoric man) suffering from severe internal inflammations which would bring a European, even though he had the soundest constitution, almost to despair, would be in a position to come to this conclusion. Pain has not the same effect with negroes.

What really raises one’s indignation against suffering is not suffering intrinsically, but the senselessness of suffering; such a senselessness, however, existed neither in Christianity, which interpreted suffering into a whole mysterious salvation-apparatus, nor in the beliefs of the naïve ancient man, who only knew how to find a meaning in suffering from the standpoint of the spectator, or the inflictor of the suffering. In order to get the secret, undiscovered, and unwitnessed suffering out of the world it was almost compulsory to invent gods and a hierarchy of intermediate beings, in short, something which wanders even among secret places, sees even in the dark, and makes a point of never missing an interesting and painful spectacle.

What final meaning have at bottom the Trojan War and similar tragic horrors? It is impossible to entertain any doubt on the point: they were intended as festival games for the gods, and, in so far as the poet is of a more godlike breed than other men, as festival games also for the poets.

To talk of intrinsic right and intrinsic wrong is absolutely nonsensical; intrinsically, an injury, an oppression, an exploitation, an annihilation can be nothing wrong, inasmuch as life is essentially (that is, in its cardinal functions) something which functions by injuring, oppressing, exploiting, and annihilating, and is absolutely inconceivable without such a character.

Perhaps there is no more pregnant principle for any kind of history than the following, which, difficult though it is to master, should none the less be mastered in every detail. — The origin of the existence of a thing and its final utility, its practical application and incorporation in a system of ends, are toto cœlo opposed to each other — everything, anything, which exists and which prevails anywhere, will always be put to new purposes by a force superior to itself, will be commandeered afresh, will be turned and transformed to new uses;

But all ends and all utilities are only signs that a Will to Power has mastered a less powerful force, has impressed thereon out of its own self the meaning of a function;

life itself has been defined (by Herbert Spencer) as an increasingly effective internal adaptation to external circumstances. This definition, however, fails to realise the real essence of life, its will to power.

Punishment is supposed to have the value of exciting in the guilty the consciousness of guilt; in punishment is sought the proper instrumentum of that psychic reaction which becomes known as a “bad conscience,” “remorse.” But this theory is even, from the point of view of the present, a violation of reality and psychology: and how much more so is the case when we have to deal with the longest period of man’s history, his primitive history! Genuine remorse is certainly extremely rare among wrong-doers and the victims of punishment; prisons and houses of correction are not the soil on which this worm of remorse pullulates for choice — this is the unanimous opinion of all conscientious observers, who in many cases arrive at such a judgment with enough reluctance and against their own personal wishes.

If at that period there was a critique of action, the criterion was prudence: the real effect of punishment is unquestionably chiefly to be found in a sharpening of the sense of prudence, in a lengthening of the memory, in a will to adopt more of a policy of caution, suspicion, and secrecy; in the recognition that there are many things which are unquestionably beyond one’s capacity; in a kind of improvement in self-criticism. The broad effects which can be obtained by punishment in man and beast, are the increase of fear, the sharpening of the sense of cunning, the mastery of the desires: so it is that punishment tames man, but does not make him “better” — it would be more correct even to go so far as to assert the contrary (“Injury makes a man cunning,” says a popular proverb: so far as it makes him cunning, it makes him also bad. Fortunately, it often enough makes him stupid).

I regard the bad conscience as the serious illness which man was bound to contract under the stress of the most radical change which he has ever experienced — that change, when he found himself finally imprisoned within the pale of society and of peace.

it was this fool, this homesick and desperate prisoner — who invented the “bad conscience.” But thereby he introduced that most grave and sinister illness, from which mankind has not yet recovered, the suffering of man from the disease called man, as the result of a violent breaking from his animal past, the result, as it were, of a spasmodic plunge into a new environment and new conditions of existence, the result of a declaration of war against the old instincts, which up to that time had been the staple of his power, his joy, his formidableness.

I used the word “State”; my meaning is self-evident, namely, a herd of blonde beasts of prey, a race of conquerors and masters, which with all its warlike organisation and all its organising power pounces with its terrible claws on a population, in numbers possibly tremendously superior, but as yet formless, as yet nomad. Such is the origin of the “State.” That fantastic theory that makes it begin with a contract is, I think, disposed of. He who can command, he who is a master by “nature,” he who comes on the scene forceful in deed and gesture — what has he to do with contracts? Such beings defy calculation, they come like fate, without cause, reason, notice, excuse, they are there as the lightning is there, too terrible, too sudden, too convincing, too “different,” to be personally even hated.

So much provisionally for the origin of “altruism” as a moral value, and the marking out the ground from which this value has grown: it is only the bad conscience, only the will for self-abuse, that provides the necessary conditions for the existence of altruism as a value.

Each step towards race decay, all disastrous events, all symptoms of degeneration, of approaching disintegration, always diminish the fear of the founders’ spirit, and whittle away the idea of his sagacity, providence, and potent presence.

(The whole history of ethnic fights, victories, reconciliations, amalgamations, everything, in fact, which precedes the eventual classing of all the social elements in each great race-synthesis, are mirrored in the hotch-potch genealogy of their gods, in the legends of their fights, victories, and reconciliations. Progress towards universal empires invariably means progress towards universal deities; despotism, with its subjugation of the independent nobility, always paves the way for some system or other of monotheism.)

Atheism and a kind of second innocence complement and supplement each other.

suddenly we stand before that paradoxical and awful expedient, through which a tortured humanity has found a temporary alleviation, that stroke of genius called Christianity: — God personally immolating himself for the debt of man, God paying himself personally out of a pound of his own flesh, God as the one being who can deliver man from what man had become unable to deliver himself—the creditor playing scapegoat for his debtor, from love (can you believe it?), from love of his debtor!

This is a kind of madness of the will in the sphere of psychological cruelty which is absolutely unparalleled: — man’s will to find himself guilty and blameworthy to the point of inexpiability, his will to think of himself as punished, without the punishment ever being able to balance the guilt, his will to infect and to poison the fundamental basis of the universe with the problem of punishment and guilt, in order to cut off once and for all any escape out of this labyrinth of “fixed ideas,” his will for rearing an ideal — that of the “holy God” — face to face with which he can have tangible proof of his own unworthiness. Alas for this mad melancholy beast man!

“How foolish they are,” so thinks he of the misdeeds of mortals — and “folly,” “imprudence,” “a little brain disturbance,” and nothing more, are what the Greeks, even of the strongest, bravest period, have admitted to be the ground of much that is evil and fatal. — Folly, not sin, do you understand?


In point of fact, the position is that even if he conceived he were such an object, he would certainly not represent, conceive, express it. Homer would not have created an Achilles, nor Goethe a Faust, if Homer had been an Achilles or if Goethe had been a Faust.

Up to the present what great philosophers have been married? Heracleitus, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant, Schopenhauer—they were not married, and, further, one cannot imagine them as married. A married philosopher belongs to comedy, that is my rule; as for that exception of a Socrates — the malicious Socrates married himself, it seems, ironice, just to prove this very rule.

We know what are the three great catch-words of the ascetic ideal: poverty, humility, chastity; and now just look closely at the life of all the great fruitful inventive spirits — you will always find again and again these three qualities up to a certain extent.

he who thinks in words, thinks as a speaker and not as a thinker (it shows that he does not think of objects or think objectively, but only of his relations with objects — that, in point of fact, he only thinks of himself and his audience).

A philosopher is recognised by the fact that he shuns three brilliant and noisy things — fame, princes, and women: which is not to say that they do not come to him.

After all, they demand little enough, do these philosophers, their favourite motto is, “He who possesses is possessed.” All this is not, as I must say again and again, to be attributed to a virtue, to a meritorious wish for moderation and simplicity; but because their supreme lord so demands of them, demands wisely and inexorably; their lord who is eager only for one thing, for which alone he musters, and for which alone he hoards everything — time, strength, love, interest. This kind of man likes not to be disturbed by enmity, he likes not to be disturbed by friendship, it is a type which forgets or despises easily. It strikes him as bad form to play the martyr, “to suffer for truth” — he leaves all that to the ambitious and to the stage-heroes of the intellect, and to all those, in fact, who have time enough for such luxuries (they themselves, the philosophers, have something to do for truth). They make a sparing use of big words; they are said to be adverse to the word “truth” itself: it has a “high falutin’” ring.

Every artist knows the harm done by sexual intercourse on occasions of great mental strain and preparation; as far as the strongest artists and those with the surrest instincts are concerned, this is not necessarily a case of experience—hard experience—but it is simply their “maternal” instinct which, in order to benefit the growing work, disposes recklessly (beyond all its normal stocks and supplies) of the vigour of its animal life; the greater power then absorbs the lesser.

A serious historical investigation shows the bond between the ascetic ideal and philosophy to be still much tighter and still much stronger.

(To say nothing at all of Reason, which even Luther chose to call Frau Klüglin, the sly whore.)

All good things were once bad things; from every original sin has grown an original virtue. Marriage, for example, seemed for a long time a sin against the rights of the community; a man formerly paid a fine for the insolence of claiming one woman to himself (to this phase belongs, for instance, the jus primæ noctis, today still in Cambodia the privilege of the priest, that guardian of the “good old customs”).

The soft, benevolent, yielding, sympathetic feelings — eventually valued so highly that they almost became “intrinsic values,” were for a very long time actually despised by their possessors: gentleness was then a subject for shame, just as hardness is now (compare Beyond Good and Evil, Aph. 260). The submission to law: oh, with what qualms of conscience was it that the noble races throughout the world renounced the vendetta and gave the law power over themselves! Law was long a vetitum, a blasphemy, an innovation; it was introduced with force like a force, to which men only submitted with a sense of personal shame.

Every one who has ever built anywhere a “new heaven” first found the power thereto in his own hell...

The philosophic spirit had, in order to be possible to any extent at all, to masquerade and disguise itself as one of the previously fixed types of the contemplative man, to disguise itself as priest, wizard, soothsayer, as a religious man generally: the ascetic ideal has for a long time served the philosopher as a superficial form, as a condition which enabled him to exist.... To be able to be a philosopher he had to exemplify the ideal; to exemplify it, he was bound to believe in it. The peculiarly etherealised abstraction of philosophers, with their negation of the world, their enmity to life, their disbelief in the senses, which has been maintained up to the most recent time, and has almost thereby come to be accepted as the ideal philosophic attitude — this abstraction is the result of those enforced conditions under which philosophy came into existence, and continued to exist; inasmuch as for quite a very long time philosophy would have been absolutely impossible in the world without an ascetic cloak and dress, without an ascetic self-misunderstanding. Expressed plainly and palpably, the ascetic priest has taken the repulsive and sinister form of the caterpillar, beneath which and behind which alone philosophy could live and slink about...

The reading from the vantage of a distant star of the capital letters of our earthly life, would perchance lead to the conclusion that the earth was the especially ascetic planet, a den of discontented, arrogant, and repulsive creatures, who never got rid of a deep disgust of themselves, of the world, of all life, and did themselves as much hurt as possible out of pleasure in hurting — presumably their one and only pleasure.

Let us consider how regularly, how universally, how practically at every single period the ascetic priest puts in his appearance: he belongs to no particular race; he thrives everywhere; he grows out of all classes. Not that he perhaps bred this valuation by heredity and propagated it — the contrary is the case. It must be a necessity of the first order which makes this species, hostile, as it is, to life, always grow again and always thrive again. — Life itself must certainly have an interest in the continuance of such a type of self-contradiction. For an ascetic life is a self-contradiction: here rules resentment without parallel, the resentment of an insatiate instinct and ambition, that would be master, not over some element in life, but over life itself, over life’s deepest, strongest, innermost conditions; here is an attempt made to utilise power to dam the sources of power; here does the green eye of jealousy turn even against physiological well-being, especially against the expression of such well-being, beauty, joy; while a sense of pleasure is experienced and sought in abortion, in decay, in pain, in misfortune, in ugliness, in voluntary punishment, in the exercising, flagellation, and sacrifice of the self.

There is only a seeing from a perspective, only a “knowing” from a perspective, and the more emotions we express over a thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we train on the same thing, the more complete will be our “idea” of that thing, our “objectivity.” But the elimination of the will altogether, the switching off of the emotions all and sundry, granted that we could do so, what! would not that be called intellectual castration?

For man is more diseased, more uncertain, more changeable, more unstable than any other animal, there is no doubt of it — he is the diseased animal: what does it spring from? Certainly he has also dared, innovated, braved more, challenged fate more than all the other animals put together; he, the great experimenter with himself, the unsatisfied, the insatiate, who struggles for the supreme mastery with beast, Nature, and gods, he, the as yet ever uncompelled, the ever future, who finds no more any rest from his own aggressive strength, goaded inexorably on by the spur of the future dug into the flesh of the present...

The sick are the great danger of man, not the evil, not the “beasts of prey.” They who are from the outset botched, oppressed, broken, those are they, the weakest are they, who most undermine the life beneath the feet of man, who instil the most dangerous venom and scepticism into our trust in life, in man, in ourselves.

Here teem the worms of revenge and vindictiveness; here the air reeks of things secret and unmentionable; here is ever spun the net of the most malignant conspiracy — the conspiracy of the sufferers against the sound and the victorious; here is the sight of the victorious hated. And what lying so as not to acknowledge this hate as hate!

They have taken a lease of virtue absolutely for themselves, have these weaklings and wretched invalids, there is no doubt of it; “We alone are the good, the righteous,” so do they speak, “we alone are the homines bonæ voluntatis.”They stalk about in our midst as living reproaches, as warnings to us — as though health, fitness, strength, pride, the sensation of power, were really vicious things in themselves, for which one would have some day to do penance, bitter penance. Oh, how they themselves are ready in their hearts to exact penance, how they thirst after being hangmen!

The sick woman especially: no one surpasses her in refinements for ruling, oppressing, tyrannising. The sick woman, moreover, spares nothing living, nothing dead; she grubs up again the most buried things

They are all men of resentment, are these physiological distortions and worm-riddled objects, a whole quivering kingdom of burrowing revenge, indefatigable and insatiable in its outbursts against the happy, and equally so in disguises for revenge, in pretexts for revenge: when will they really reach their final, fondest, most sublime triumph of revenge?

But there could not possibly be a greater and more fatal misunderstanding than that of the happy, the fit, the strong in body and soul, beginning in this way to doubt their right to happiness. Away with this “perverse world”! Away with this shameful soddenness of sentiment! Preventing the sick making the healthy sick — for that is what such a soddenness comes to — this ought to be our supreme object in the world

The ascetic priest must be accepted by us as the predestined saviour, herdsman, and champion of the sick herd: thereby do we first understand his awful historic mission. The lordship over sufferers is his kingdom, to that points his instinct, in that he finds his own special art, his master-skill, his kind of happiness. He must himself be sick, he must be kith and kin to the sick and the abortions so as to understand them, so as to arrive at an understanding with them; but he must also be strong, even more master of himself than of others, impregnable, forsooth, in his will for power, so as to acquire the trust and the awe of the weak, so that he can be their hold, bulwark, prop, compulsion, overseer, tyrant, god. He has to protect them, protect his herds — against whom? Against the healthy, doubtless also against the envy towards the healthy.

He brings with him, doubtless, salve and balsam; but before he can play the physician he must first wound; so, while he soothes the pain which the wound makes, he at the same time poisons the wound. Well versed is he in this above all things, is this wizard and wild beast tamer, in whose vicinity everything healthy must needs become ill, and everything ill must needs become tame.

if you wish to comprise in the shortest formula the value of the priestly life, it would be correct to say the priest is the diverter of the course of resentment.

“I suffer: it must be somebody’s fault” — so thinks every sick sheep. But his herdsman, the ascetic priest, says to him, “Quite so, my sheep, it must be the fault of some one; but thou thyself art that same one, it is all the fault of thyself alone — it is the fault of thyself alone against thyself ”: that is bold enough, false enough, but one thing is at least attained; thereby, as I have said, the course of resentment is — diverted.

I am proceeding, as you see, in this essay, from an hypothesis which, as far as such readers as I want are concerned, does not require to be proved; the hypothesis that “sinfulness” in man is not an actual fact, but rather merely the interpretation of a fact, of a physiological discomfort, — a discomfort seen through a moral religious perspective which is no longer binding upon us. The fact, therefore, that any one feels “guilty,” “sinful,” is certainly not yet any proof that he is right in feeling so, any more than any one is healthy simply because he feels healthy. Remember the celebrated witch-ordeals: in those days the most acute and humane judges had no doubt but that in these cases they were confronted with guilt, - the “witches” themselves had no doubt on the point, — and yet the guilt was lacking.

It is only the actual suffering, the discomfort of the sufferer, which he combats, not its cause, not the actual state of sickness — this needs must constitute our most radical objection to priestly medication. [NOTE: echoes of opiate epidemic]

Christianity in particular should be dubbed a great treasure-chamber of ingenious consolations, — such a store of refreshing, soothing, deadening drugs has it accumulated within itself; so many of the most dangerous and daring expedients has it hazarded; with such subtlety, refinement, Oriental refinement, has it divined what emotional stimulants can conquer, at any rate for a time, the deep depression, the leaden fatigue, the black melancholy of physiological cripples

it may be a wrong diet (the alcoholism of the Middle Ages, the nonsense of vegetarianism—which, however, have in their favour the authority of Sir Christopher in Shakespeare);

That dominant depression is primarily fought by weapons which reduce the consciousness of life itself to the lowest degree. Wherever possible, no more wishes, no more wants; shun everything which produces emotion, which produces “blood” (eating no salt, the fakir hygiene); no love; no hate; equanimity; no revenge; no getting rich; no work; begging! as far as possible, no woman, or as little woman as possible; as far as the intellect is concerned, Pascal’s principle, “il faut s’abêtir.” To put the result in ethical and psychological language, “self-annihilation,” “sanctification”; to put it in physiological language, “hypnotism” — the attempt to find some approximate human equivalent for what hibernation is for certain animals, for what œstivation is for many tropical plants, a minimum of assimilation and metabolism in which life just manages to subsist without really coming into the consciousness. An amazing amount of human energy has been devoted to this object — perhaps uselessly?

“Good and Evil,” quoth the Buddhists, “both are fetters. The perfect man is master of them both.” “The done and the undone,” quoth the disciple of the Vedânta, “do him no hurt; the good and the evil he shakes from off him, sage that he is; his kingdom suffers no more from any act; good and evil, he goes beyond them both.”

“In deep sleep,” say similarly the believers in this deepest of the three great religions, “does the soul lift itself from out this body of ours, enters the supreme light and stands out therein in its true shape: therein is it the supreme spirit itself, which travels about, while it jests and plays and enjoys itself, whether with women, or chariots, or friends; there do its thoughts turn no more back to this appanage of a body, to which the ‘prâna’ (the vital breath) is harnessed like a beast of burden to the cart.” None the less we will take care to realise (as we did when discussing “redemption”) that in spite of all its pomps of Oriental extravagance this simply expresses the same criticism on life as did the clear, cold, Greekly cold, but yet suffering Epicurus.

I mean mechanical activity. It is indisputable that a suffering existence can be thereby considerably alleviated. This fact is called to-day by the somewhat ignoble title of the “Blessing of work.” The alleviation consists in the attention of the sufferer being absolutely diverted from suffering, in the incessant monopoly of the consciousness by action, so that consequently there is little room left for suffering — for narrow is it, this chamber of human consciousness!

The ascetic priest prescribes, though in the most cautious doses, what is practically a stimulation of the strongest and most life-assertive impulse — the Will for Power. The happiness involved in the “smallest superiority” which is the concomitant of all benefiting, helping, extolling, making one’s self useful, is the most ample consolation, of which, if they are well-advised, physiological distortions avail themselves

All sick and diseased people strive instinctively after a herd-organisation, out of a desire to shake off their sense of oppressive discomfort and weakness; the ascetic priest divines this instinct and promotes it; wherever a herd exists it is the instinct of weakness which has wished for the herd, and the cleverness of the priests which has organised it, for, mark this: by an equally natural necessity the strong strive as much for isolation as the weak for union: when the former bind themselves it is only with a view to an aggressive joint action and joint satisfaction of their Will for Power, much against the wishes of their individual consciences; the latter, on the contrary, range themselves together with positive delight in such a muster — their instincts are as much gratified thereby as the instincts of the “born master” (that is, the solitary beast-of-prey species of man) are disturbed and wounded to the quick by organisation.

There is always lurking beneath every oligarchy — such is the universal lesson of history — the desire for tyranny. Every oligarchy is continually quivering with the tension of the effort required by each individual to keep mastering this desire.

The guilty methods spell one thing: to produce emotional excess — which is used as the most efficacious anæsthetic against their depressing state of protracted pain; this is why priestly ingenuity has proved quite inexhaustible in thinking out this one question: “By what means can you produce an emotional excess?”

Speaking generally, the ascetic ideal and its sublime-moral cult, this most ingenious, reckless, and perilous systematisation of all methods of emotional excess, is writ large in a dreadful and unforgettable fashion on the whole history of man, and unfortunately not only on history. I was scarcely able to put forward any other element which attacked the health and race efficiency of Europeans with more destructive power than did this ideal; it can be dubbed, without exaggeration, the real fatality in the history of the health of the European man. At the most you can merely draw a comparison with the specifically German influence: I mean the alcohol poisoning of Europe, which up to the present has kept pace exactly with the political and racial predominance of the Germans

I do not like the “New Testament; it almost upsets me that I stand so isolated in my taste so far as concerns this valued, this over-valued Scripture; the taste of two thousand years is against me; but what boots it! “Here I stand! I cannot help myself” — I have the courage of my bad taste. The Old Testament — yes, that is something quite different, all honour to the Old Testament! I find therein great men, an heroic landscape, and one of the rarest phenomena in the world, the incomparable naïveté of the strong heart; further still, I find a people.

How dare any one make so much fuss about their little failings as do these pious little fellows! No one cares a straw about it — let alone God.

With all their noisy agitator-babble, however, they effect nothing with me; these trumpeters of reality are bad musicians, their voices do not come from the deeps with sufficient audibility, they are not the mouthpiece for the abyss of scientific knowledge — for to-day scientific knowledge is an abyss — the word “science,” in such trumpeter-mouths, is a prostitution, an abuse, an impertinence. The truth is just the opposite from what is maintained in the ascetic theory. Science has to-day absolutely no belief in itself, let alone in an ideal superior to itself, and wherever science still consists of passion, love, ardour, suffering it is not the opposition to that ascetic ideal, but rather the incarnation of its latest and noblest form.

If I am in any way a reader of riddles, then I will be one with this sentence: for some time past there have been no free spirits; for they still believe in truth.

“Nothing is true, everything is allowed,” — in sooth, that was freedom of thought, thereby was taking leave of the very belief in truth. Has indeed any European, any Christian freethinker, ever yet wandered into this proposition and its labyrinthine consequences?

Judged strictly, there does not exist a science without its “hypotheses,” the thought of such a science is inconceivable, illogical: a philosophy, a faith, must always exist first to enable science to gain thereby a direction, a meaning, a limit and method, a right to existence. (He who holds a contrary opinion on the subject — he, for example, who takes it upon himself to establish philosophy “upon a strictly scientific basis” — has first got to “turn upside-down” not only philosophy but also truth itself — the gravest insult which could possibly be offered to two such respectable females!)

[Science] itself never creates values.

Art, I am speaking provisionally, for I will treat it on some other occasion in greater detail, — art, I repeat, in which lying is sanctified and the will for deception has good conscience on its side, is much more fundamentally opposed to the ascetic ideal than is science

Plato versus Homer, that is the complete, the true antagonism — on the one side, the whole-hearted “transcendental,” the great defamer of life; on the other, its involuntary panegyrist, the golden nature.

The preponderance of the mandarins never signifies any good, any more than does the advent of democracy, or arbitration instead of war, equal rights for women, the religion of pity, and all the other symptoms of declining life.

Has there not been since the time of Copernicus an unbroken progress in the self-belittling of man and his will for belittling himself? Alas, his belief in his dignity, his uniqueness, his irreplaceableness in the scheme of existence, is gone — he had become animal, literal, unqualified, and unmitigated animal, he who in his earlier belief was almost God (“child of God,” “demi-God”). Since Copernicus man seems to have fallen on to a steep plane — he rolls faster and faster away from the centre — whither? into nothingness? into the “thrilling sensation of his own nothingness”? — Well! this would be the straight way — to the old ideal?

Or, perchance, does the whole of modern history show in its demeanour greater confidence in life, greater confidence in its ideals? Its loftiest pretension is now to be a mirror; it repudiates all teleology; it will have no more “proving”; it disdains to play the judge, and thereby shows its good taste — it asserts as little as it denies, it fixes, it “describes.” All this is to a high degree ascetic, but at the same time it is to a much greater degree nihilistic; make no mistake about this!

What, I put the question with all strictness, has really triumphed over the Christian God? The answer stands in my Joyful Wisdom, Aph. 357: "the Christian morality itself, the idea of truth, taken as it was with increasing seriousness, the confessor-subtlety of the Christian conscience translated and sublimated into the scientific conscience into intellectual cleanness at any price."

After Christian truthfulness has drawn one conclusion after the other, it finally draws its strongest conclusion, its conclusion against itself; this, however, happens, when it puts the question, “what is the meaning of every will for truth?” And here again do I touch on my problem, on our problem, my unknown friends (for as yet I know of no friends): what sense has our whole being, if it does not mean that in our own selves that will for truth has come to its own consciousness as a problem? — By reason of this attainment of self-consciousness on the part of the will for truth, morality from henceforward — there is no doubt about it — goes to pieces: this is that great hundred-act play that is reserved for the next two centuries of Europe, the most terrible, the most mysterious, and perhaps also the most hopeful of all plays.

He suffered also in other ways, he was in the main a diseased animal; but his problem was not suffering itself, but the lack of an answer to that crying question, “To what purpose do we suffer?”

Not suffering, but the senselessness of suffering was the curse which till then lay spread over humanity — and the ascetic ideal gave it a meaning!

and to say at the end that which I said at the beginning—man will wish Nothingness rather than not wish at all.

Max Nova

Max Nova

I love books! My reading theme for 2017 is "The Integrity of Western Science." I'm also the founder of www.SilviaTerra.com.

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