The Twilight of the Idols - The Antichrist

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Nietzsche must have started upon the "Antichrist," immediately after having dispatched the "Idle Hours of a Psychologist" to the printers, and the work appears to have been finished at the end of September 1888. It was intended by Nietzsche to form the first book of a large work entitled "The Transvaluation of all Values"; but, though this work was never completed, we can form some idea[Pg xi] from the substance of the "Antichrist" and from the titles of the remaining three books, which alas! were never written, of what its contents would have been. These titles are:—Book II. The Free Spirit. A Criticism of Philosophy as a Nihilistic Movement. Book III. The Immoralist. A Criticism of the most Fatal Kind of Ignorance,—Morality. Book IV. Dionysus. The Philosophy of Eternal Recurrence.

Nietzsche calls this book "An Attempted Criticism of Christianity." Modest as this sub-title is, it will probably seem not quite modest enough to those who think that Nietzsche fell far short of doing justice to their Holy Creed. Be this as it may, there is the solution of a certain profound problem in this book, which, while it is the key to all Nietzscheism, is also the justification and the sanctification of Nietzsche's cause. The problem stated quite plainly is this: "To what end did Christianity avail itself of falsehood?"

Many readers of this amazing little work, who happen to be acquainted with Nietzsche's doctrine of Art and of Ruling, will probably feel slightly confused at the constant deprecation of falsehood, of deception, and of arbitrary make-believe, which seems to run through this book like a litany in praise of a certain Absolute Truth.

Remembering Nietzsche's utterance in volume ii. (p. 26) of the Will to Power, to wit:—"The prerequisite of all living things and of their lives is: that there should be a large amount of faith, that it should be possible to pass definite judgments on things, and that there should be no doubt at all[Pg xii] concerning values. Thus it is necessary that something should be assumed to be true, not that it is true;"—remembering these words, as I say, the reader may stand somewhat aghast before all those passages in the second half of this volume, where the very falsehoods of Christianity, its assumptions, its unwarrantable claims to Truth, are declared to be pernicious, base and corrupt.

Again and again, if we commit the error of supposing that Nietzsche believed in a truth that was absolute, we shall find throughout his works reasons for charging him with apparently the very same crimes that he here lays at the door of Christianity. What then is the explanation of his seeming inconsistency?

It is simple enough. Nietzsche's charge of falsehood against Christianity is not a moral one,—in fact it may be taken as a general rule that Nietzsche scrupulously avoids making moral charges, and that he emains throughout faithful to his position Beyond Good and Evil (see, for instance Aph. 6(Antichrist) where he repudiates all moral prejudice in charging humanity with corruption). A man who maintained that "truth is that form of error which enables a particular species to prevail," could not make a moral charge of falsehood against any one, or any institution; but he could do so from another standpoint He could well say, for instance, "falsehood is that kind of error which causes a particular species to degenerate and to decay."

Thus the fact that Christianity "lied" becomes a subject of alarm to Nietzsche, not owing to the fact that it is immoral to lie, but because in this particular[Pg xiii] instance, the lie was harmful, hostile to life, and dangerous to humanity; for "a belief might be false and yet life-preserving" (Beyond Good and Evil, pp. 8, 9).

Suppose, therefore, we say with Nietzsche that there is no absolute truth, but that all that has been true in the past which has been the means of making the "plant man flourish best"—or, since the meaning of "best" is open to some debate, let us say, flourish in a Nietzschean sense, that is to say, thanks to a mastery of life, and to a preponderance of all those qualities which say yea to existence, and which suggest no flight from this world and all its pleasure and pain. And suppose we add that, wherever we may find the plant man flourishing, in this sense, we should there suspect the existence of truth?—I If we say this with Nietzsche, any sort of assumption or arbitrary valuation which aims at a reverse order of things, becomes a dangerous lie in a super-moral and purely physiological sense.

With these preparatory remarks we are now prepared to read aphorism 56 with a complete understanding of what Nietzsche means, and to recognise in this particular aphorism the key to the whole of Nietzsche's attitude towards Christianity. It is at once a solution of our problem, and a justification of its author's position. Naturally, it still remains open to Nietzsche's opponents to argue, if they choose, that man has flourished best under the sway of nihilistic religions—religions which deny life,—and that consequently the falsehoods of Christianity are not only warrantable but also in the highest degree blessed; but, in any case, the aphorism in[Pg xiv] question completely exonerates Nietzsche from a charge of inconsistency in the use of the terms "truth" and "falsehood" throughout his works, and it moreover settles once and for all the exact altitude from which our author looked down upon the religions of the world, not only to criticise them, but also to place them in the order of their merit as disciplinary systems aiming at the cultivation of particular types of men.

Nietzsche says in aphorism 56:—"After all, the question is, to what end are falsehoods perpetrated? The fact that, in Christianity, 'holy' ends are entirely absent, constitutes my objection to the means it employs. Its ends are only bad ends: the poisoning, the calumniation and the denial of life, the contempt of the body, the degradation and self-pollution of man by virtue of the concept sin,—consequently its means are bad as well."

Thus, to repeat it once more, it is not because Christianity availed itself of all kinds of lies that Nietzsche condemns it; for the Book of Manu—which he admires—is just as full of falsehood as the Semitic Book of Laws; but, in the Book of Manu the lies are calculated to preserve and to create a strong and noble type of man, whereas in Christianity the opposite type was the aim,—an aim which has been achieved in a manner far exceeding even the expectations of the faithful.

This then is the main argument of the book and its conclusion; but, in the course of the general elaboration of this argument, many important side-issues are touched upon and developed, wherein Nietzsche reveals himself as something very much[Pg xv] more valuable than a mere iconoclast. Of course, on every page of his philosophy,—whatever his enemies may maintain to the contrary,—he never once ceases to construct, since he is incessantly enumerating and emphasising those qualities and types which he fain would rear, as against those he fain would see destroyed; but it is in aphorism 57 of this book that Nietzsche makes the plainest and most complete statement of his actual taste in Sociology, and it is upon this aphorism that all his followers and disciples will ultimately have to build, if Nietzscheism is ever to become something more than a merely intellectual movement.

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