The Twilight of the Idols - The Antichrist

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Among Germans at the present day it does not suffice to have intellect; one is actually forced to appropriate it, to lay claim to it.

Maybe I know the Germans, perhaps I may tell them a few home-truths. Modern Germany represents such an enormous store of inherited and acquired capacity, that for some time it might spend this accumulated treasure even with some prodigality. It is no superior culture that has ultimately become prevalent with this modern tendency, nor is it by any means delicate taste, or noble beauty of the instincts; but rather a number of virtues more manly than any that other European countries can show. An amount of good spirits and self-respect, plenty of firmness in human relations and in the reciprocity of duties; much industry and much perseverance—and a certain inherited soberness which is much more in need of a spur than of a brake. Let me add that in this country people still obey without feeling that obedience humiliates. And no one despises his opponent.

You observe that it is my desire to be fair to the Germans: and in this respect I should not like to be untrue to myself,—I must therefore also state my objections to them. It costs a good deal to[Pg 51] attain to a position of power; for power stultifies. The Germans—they were once called a people of thinkers: do they really think at all at present? Nowadays the Germans are bored by intellect, they mistrust intellect; politics have swallowed up all earnestness for really intellectual things—"Germany, Germany above all."[1] I fear this was the death-blow to German philosophy. "Are there any German philosophers? Are there any German poets? Are there any good German books?" people ask me abroad. I blush; but with that pluck which is peculiar to me, even in moments of desperation, I reply: "Yes, Bismarck!"—Could I have dared to confess what books are read to-day? Cursed instinct of mediocrity!—


What might not German intellect have been!—who has not thought sadly upon this question! But this nation has deliberately stultified itself for almost a thousand years: nowhere else have the two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity, been so viciously abused as in Germany. Recently a third opiate was added to the list, one which in itself alone would have sufficed to complete the ruin of all subtle and daring intellectual animation, I speak of music, our costive and constipating German music. How much peevish ponderousness, paralysis, dampness, dressing-gown languor, and beer is there not in German intelligence!

How is it really possible that young men who[Pg 52] consecrate their whole lives to the pursuit of intellectual ends, should not feel within them the first instinct of intellectuality, the self-preservative instinct of the intellect—and should drink beer? The alcoholism of learned youths does not incapacitate them for becoming scholars—a man quite devoid of intellect may be a great scholar,—but it is a problem in every other respect. Where can that soft degeneracy not be found, which is produced in the intellect by beer! I once laid my finger upon a case of this sort, which became almost famous,—the degeneration of our leading German free-spirit, the clever David Strauss, into the author of a suburban gospel and New Faith. Not in vain had he sung the praises of "the dear old brown liquor" in verse—true unto death.


I have spoken of German intellect. I have said that it is becoming coarser and shallower. Is that enough?—In reality something very different frightens me, and that is the ever steady decline of German earnestness, German profundity, and German passion in things intellectual. Not only intellectuality, but also pathos has altered. From time to time I come in touch with German universities; what an extraordinary atmosphere prevails among their scholars! what barrenness! and what self-satisfied and lukewarm intellectuality! For any one to point to German science as an argument against me would show that he grossly misunderstood my meaning, while it would also prove that he had not read a word of my writings. For seventeen[Pg 53] years I have done little else than expose the de-intellectualising influence of our modern scientific studies. The severe slavery to which every individual nowadays is condemned by the enormous range covered by the sciences, is the chief reason why fuller, richer and profounder natures can find no education or educators that are fit for them. Nothing is more deleterious to this age than the superfluity of pretentious loafers and fragmentary human beings; our universities are really the involuntary forcing houses for this kind of withering-up of the instincts of intellectuality. And the whole of Europe is beginning to know this—politics on a large scale deceive no one. Germany is becoming ever more and more the Flat-land of Europe. I am still in search of a German with whom I could be serious after my own fashion. And how much more am I in search of one with whom I could be cheerful —The Twilight of the Idols: ah! what man to-day would be capable of understanding the kind of seriousness from which a philosopher is recovering in this work! It is our cheerfulness that people understand least.


Let us examine another aspect of the question: it is not only obvious that German culture is declining, but adequate reasons for this decline are not lacking. After all, nobody can spend more than he has:—this is true of individuals, it is also true of nations. If you spend your strength in acquiring power, or in politics on a large scale, or in economy, or in universal commerce, or in parliamentarism, or in military interests—if you dissipate the modicum[Pg 54] of reason, of earnestness, of will, and of self-control that constitutes your nature in one particular fashion, you cannot dissipate it in another. Culture and the state—let no one be deceived on this point—are antagonists: A "culture-state "[2] is merely a modern idea. The one lives upon the other, the one flourishes at the expense of the other. All great periods of culture have been periods of political decline; that which is great from the standpoint of culture, was always unpolitical—even anti-political. Goethe's heart opened at the coming of Napoleon—it closed at the thought of the "Wars of Liberation." At the very moment when Germany arose as a great power in the world of politics, France won new importance as a force in the world of culture. Even at this moment a large amount of fresh intellectual earnestness and passion has emigrated to Paris; the question of pessimism, for instance, and the question of Wagner; in France almost all psychological and artistic questions are considered with incomparably more subtlety and thoroughness than they are in Germany,—the Germans are even incapable of this kind of earnestness. In the history of European culture the rise of the Empire signifies, above all, a displacement of the centre of gravity. Everywhere people are already aware of this: in things that really matter—and these after all constitute culture,—the Germans are no longer worth considering. I ask you, can you show me one single man of brains who could be[Pg 55] mentioned in the same breath with other European thinkers, like your Goethe, your Hegel, your Heinrich Heine, and your Schopenhauer?—The fact that there is no longer a single German philosopher worth mentioning is an increasing wonder.

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