The Twilight of the Idols - The Antichrist

Page 39 of 51


—The notion that martyrs prove anything at all in favour of a thing, is so exceedingly doubtful, that I would fain deny that there has ever yet existed a martyr who had anything to do with truth. In the very manner in which a martyr flings his little parcel of truth at the head of the world, such a low degree of intellectual honesty and such obtuseness in regard to the question "truth" makes itself felt, that one never requires to refute a martyr. Truth is not a thing which one might have and another be without:[Pg 208] only peasants or peasant-apostles, after the style of Luther, can think like this about truth. You may be quite sure, that the greater a man's degree of conscientiousness may be in matters intellectual, the more modest he will show himself on this point To know about five things, and with a subtle wave of the hand to refuse to know others. ... "Truth" as it is understood by every prophet, every sectarian, every free thinker, every socialist and every church-man, is an absolute proof of the fact that these people haven't even begun that discipline of the mind and that process of self-mastery, which is necessary for the discovery of any small, even exceedingly small truth.—Incidentally, the deaths of martyrs have been a great misfortune in the history of the world: they led people astray.... The conclusion which all idiots, women and common people come to, that there must be something in a cause for which someone lays down his life (or which, as in the case of primitive Christianity, provokes an epidemic of sacrifices),—this conclusion put a tremendous check upon all investigation, upon the spirit of investigation and of caution. Martyrs have harmed the cause of truth. ... Even to this day it only requires the crude fact of persecution, in order to create an honourable name for any obscure sect who does not matter in the least What? is a cause actually changed in any way by the fact that some one has laid down his life for it? An error which becomes honourable, is simply an error that possesses one seductive charm the more: do you suppose, dear theologians, that we shall give you the chance of acting the martyrs for your lies?—A thing is refuted by being laid[Pg 209] respectfully on ice, and theologians are refuted in the same way. This was precisely the world-historic foolishness of all persecutors; they lent the thing they combated a semblance of honour by conferring the fascination of martyrdom upon it.... Women still lie prostrate before an error to-day, because they have been told that some one died on the cross for it Is the cross then an argument?—But concerning all these things, one person alone has said what mankind has been in need of for thousands of years,—Zarathustra.

"Letters of blood did they write on the way they went, and their folly taught that truth is proved by blood.

"But blood is the very worst testimony of truth; blood poisoneth even the purest teaching, and turneth it into delusion and into blood feuds.

"And when a man goeth through fire for his teaching—what does that prove? Verily, it is more when out of one's own burning springeth one's own teaching."[10]


Do not allow yourselves to be deceived: great minds are sceptical. Zarathustra is a sceptic. Strength and the freedom which proceeds from the power and excessive power of the mind, manifests itself through scepticism. Men of conviction are of no account whatever in regard to any principles of value or of non-value. Convictions are prisons. They never see far enough, they do not look down from a sufficient height: but in order to have any[Pg 210] say in questions of value and non-value, a man must see five hundred convictions beneath him,—behind him.... A spirit who desires great things, and who also desires the means thereto, is necessarily a sceptic. Freedom from every kind of conviction belongs to strength, to the ability to open one's eyes freely.... The great passion of a sceptic, the basis and power of his being, which is more enlightened and more despotic than he is himself, enlists all his intellect into its service; it makes him unscrupulous; it even gives him the courage to employ unholy means; in certain circumstances it even allows him convictions. Conviction as a means: much is achieved merely by means of a conviction. Great passion makes use of and consumes convictions, it does not submit to them—it knows that it is a sovereign power. Conversely; the need of faith, of anything either absolutely affirmative or negative, Carlylism (if I may be allowed this expression), is the need of weakness. The man of beliefs, the "believer" of every sort and condition, is necessarily a dependent man;—he is one who cannot regard himself as an aim, who cannot postulate aims from the promptings of his own heart The "believer" does not belong to himself, he can be only a means, he must be used up, he is in need of someone who uses him up. His instinct accords the highest honour to a morality of self-abnegation: everything in him, his prudence, his experience, his vanity, persuade him to adopt this morality. Every sort of belief is in itself an expression of self-denial, of self-estrangement. ... If one considers how necessary a regulating code of conduct is to the majority of people, a[Pg 211] code of conduct which constrains them and fixes them from outside; and how control, or in a higher sense, slavery, is the only and ultimate condition under which the weak-willed man, and especially woman, flourish; one also understands conviction, "faith." The man of conviction finds in the latter his backbone. To be blind to many things, to be impartial about nothing, to belong always to a particular side, to hold a strict and necessary point of view in all matters of values—these are the only conditions under which such a man can survive at all. But all this is the reverse of, the antagonist of, the truthful man,—of truth.... The believer is not at liberty to have a conscience for the question "true" and "untrue": to be upright on this point would mean his immediate downfall. The pathological limitations of his standpoint convert the convinced man into the fanatic—Savonarola, Luther Rousseau, Robespierre, Saint-Simon,—these are the reverse type of the strong spirit that has become free. But the grandiose poses of these morbid spirits, of these epileptics of ideas, exercise an influence over the masses,—fanatics are picturesque, mankind prefers to look at poses than to listen to reason.


One step further in the psychology of conviction of "faith." It is already some time since I first thought of considering whether convictions were not perhaps more dangerous enemies of truth than lies ("Human All-too-Human," Part I, Aphs. 54 and 483). Now I would fain put the decisive question:[Pg 212] is there any difference at all between a lie and a conviction?—All the world believes that there is, but what in Heaven's name does not all the world believe! Every conviction has its history, its preliminary stages, its period of groping and of mistakes: it becomes a conviction only after it has not been one for a long time, only after it has scarcely been one for a long time. What? might not falsehood be the embryonic form of conviction?—At times all that is required is a change of personality: very often what was a lie in the father becomes a conviction in the son.—I call a lie, to refuse to see something that one sees, to refuse to see it exactly as one sees it: whether a lie is perpetrated before witnesses or not is beside the point.—The most common sort of lie is the one uttered to one's self; to lie to others is relatively exceptional. Now this refusal to see what one sees, this refusal to see a thing exactly as one sees it, is almost the first condition for all those who belong to a party in any sense whatsoever: the man who belongs to a party perforce becomes a liar. German historians, for instance, are convinced that Rome stood for despotism, whereas the Teutons introduced the spirit of freedom into the world: what difference is there between this conviction and a lie? After this is it to be wondered at, that all parties, including German historians, instinctively adopt the grandiloquent phraseology of morality,—that morality almost owes its survival to the fact that the man who belongs to a party, no matter what it may be, is in need of morality every moment?—"This is our conviction: we confess it to the whole[Pg 213] world, we live and die for it,—let us respect every thing that has a conviction!"—I have actually heard antisemites speak in this way. On the contrary, my dear sirs! An antisemite does not become the least bit more respectable because he lies on principle.... Priests, who in such matters are more subtle, and who perfectly understand the objection to which the idea of a conviction lies open—that is to say of a falsehood which is perpetrated on principle because it serves a purpose, borrowed from the Jews the prudent measure of setting the concept "God," "Will of God," "Revelation of God," at this place. Kant, too, with his categorical imperative, was on the same road: this was his practical reason.—There are some questions in which it is not given to man to decide between true and false; all the principal questions, all the principal problems of value, stand beyond human reason.... To comprehend the limits of reason—this alone is genuine philosophy. For what purpose did God give man revelation? Would God have done anything superfluous? Man cannot of his own accord know what is good and what is evil, that is why God taught man his will.... Moral: the priest does not lie, such questions as "truth" or "falseness" have nothing to do with the things concerning which the priest speaks; such things do not allow of lying. For, in order to lie, it would be necessary to know what is true in this respect. But that is precisely what man cannot know: hence the priest is only the mouthpiece of God.—This sort of sacerdotal syllogism is by no means exclusively Judaic or Christian; the right[Pg 214] to lie and the prudent measure of "revelation" belongs to the priestly type, whether of decadent periods or of Pagan times (—Pagans are all those who say yea to life, and to whom "God" is the word for the great yea to all things). The "law," the "will of God," the "holy book," and inspiration.—All these things are merely words for the conditions under which the priest attains to power, and with which he maintains his power,—these concepts are to be found at the base of all sacerdotal organisations, of all priestly or philosophical and ecclesiastical governments. The "holy lie," which is common to Confucius, to the law-book of Manu, to Muhamed, and to the Christian church, is not even absent in Plato. "Truth is here"; this phrase means, wherever it is uttered: the priest lies....

Free Learning Resources