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Thus it was the condemnation of modern values, together with the thought of man's being able to surpass himself, which gave Nietzsche the grounds and the necessary strength for abandoning pessimism and embracing that wise optimism which characterises the whole of his works after The Joyful Wisdom.
True, God was dead; but that ought only to make man feel more self-reliant, more creative, prouder. Undoubtedly God was dead: but man could now hold himself responsible for himself. He could now seek a goal in manhood, on earth, and one that was at least within the compass of his powers. Long enough had he squinted heavenwards, with the result, that he had neglected his task on earth.
"Dead are all Gods!" Nietzsche cries, "now we will that Superman live!"
We are now before Nietzsche the evolutionist, and we must define him, relatively to those other evolutionists with whom we, as English people, are already familiar.
To begin with, then, let us dispose of the fundamental question: Nietzsche's concept of life. We have had life variously defined for us by our own writers, and perhaps one among Nietzsche's greatest contemporaries in England—Herbert Spencer—defined it in the most characteristically English fashion. Spencer said: "Life is activity," or "the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations." Now there is absolutely nothing in either of these definitions, no suggestion or hint, which would lead the most suspicious to conjecture what life really is. (Activity) reveals nothing of life's passions, its hate, its envy, its covetousness, its hard, inexorable principles; the process of the continual adjustments of internal relations to external relations might mean the serpent's digestion of its prey, or the training of an opera singer's voice, and it might also be a scientific formula for a "moral order of things." Both definitions are delightfully unheroic and vague; though they do not compromise the writer they compromise with everything else, and to start out with them is to shelve the question in a way which allows of our subsequently weaving all the romance and sweetness possible into life, and of making it as pretty as a little nursery story.
Nietzsche, always eager for a practical and tangible idea, naturally could not accept these two definitions as expressing anything profound about life at all. Looking into the race of nature, and reading her history from the amoeba with its predatory pseudo-podia, to the lion with its murderous prehensile claws, he defined life practically, uprightly, and bravely, as "appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of its own forms, incorporation, and, at least, putting it mildest, exploitation."
Thus, as we see, from the start Nietzsche closes his eyes at nothing, he does not want life to be a pretty tale if it is not one. He wants to know it as it is: for he is convinced that this is the only way of arriving at sound principles as to the manner in which human existence should be led.
"Appropriation," then, he takes as a fact: he does not argue it away, any more than he tries to argue away "injury," "conquest of the strange and weak," "suppression," and "incorporation." These things are only too apparent, and he states them bravely in his definition. We know life is all this; but how much more comfortable it is, when we are sitting in our soft easy-chairs before our cheerful fires, to think that life is merely activity!
To believe that there is a moral order in the universe is to believe that these unpleasant things in Nietzsche's definition will one day be overcome. This was the position Christianity assumed from the start. Put, though it was excusable in a religion fighting for power, and compelled to use nice and attractive words for its followers, to suppose that all the misery on earth will one day be transformed by God's wisdom into perfect bliss; such an attitude is quite unpardonable in the case of a philosopher or even of a poet. When Browning chanted smugly: "God's in His heaven: All's right with the world," he confessed himself a mediocre spirit with one stroke of the pen. And when Spencer wrote that the blind process of evolution "must inevitably favour all changes of nature which increase life and augment happiness," he did the same. We may now perhaps understand Nietzsche's impatience of his predecessors and contemporaries, who refused to see precisely what he saw in the face of nature.
But even in his extended definition of life, the modern biologist brings himself no nearer to Nietzsche's honest standpoint, and for the following reasons:—
The modern biologist says, this "activity" he speaks of has a precise meaning. It connotes "the struggle for existence," or in other words "self-defence." (Again he is looking at life through moral or Christian glasses; because if every thing on earth is done in self-defence, even the devil himself is argued out of existence, and God remains creator of the "good" alone.) Nietzsche replies by denying this flatly. He says that the definition is again inadequate. He warns us not to confound Malthus with nature. He admits that the struggle occurs, but only as an exception. "The general aspect of life is not a state of want or hunger; it is rather a state of opulence, luxuriance, and even absurd prodigality—where there is a struggle, it is a struggle for power." —Will to power and not will to live is the motive force of life.
"Wherever I found living matter," he says, "I found will to power, and even in the servant I found the yearning to be master.
"Only where there is life, there is will: though a not will to live, but thus I teach thee—WILL TO POWER."
Is there no aggression without the struggle for existence? Is there no voluptuousness in a position of power for us own sake? Of course there is! And one wonders how these English biologists could ever have been schoolboys without noticing these facts. As Nietzsche points out, however, they are every one of them labouring under the Christian ideal still—in spite of all their upsetting of the first chapter of Genesis, and in spite of all their blasting of the miracles. Put, if life is the supreme aim of all, how is it that many things are valued higher than life by living beings? If the will to live sometimes finds itself overpowered by another will—more particularly in great warriors, great prophets, great artists, and great heroes—what is this mightier force which thus overpowers it? We have heard what Nietzsche calls it—it is the Will to Power.
"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."
In spite of everything we have already said, Nietzsche's disagreement with our own biologists may still seem to many but a play upon words. A moment's meditation, however—more particularly over the passage just quoted—will show that it is really much deeper than this. It is one thing to regard an animal as a mere automaton, prowling around to satisfy its hunger, and happy to remain inactive when the sensation of hunger is appeased, and quite another to regard an animal as a battery of accumulated forces which must be discharged at all costs (and for good or evil), with only temporary lapses of purely self-preservative desires and self-preservative actions. All the different consequences of these two views will occur to the thinker in an instant.