What Nietzsche Taught

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Contrary to the general belief, Nietzsche was not simply a destructive critic and a formulator of impossible and romantic concepts. His doctrine of the superman, which seems to be the principal stumbling block in the way of a rationalistic interpretation of his philosophy, is no vague dream unrelated to present humanity. Nor was his chief concern with future generations. Nietzsche devoted his research to immediate conditions and to the origin of those conditions. And—what is of greater importance—he left behind him a very positive and consistent system of ethics—a workable and entirely comprehensible code of conduct to meet present-day needs. This system was not formulated with the precision which no doubt would have attached to it in its final form had he been able to complete the plans he had outlined. Yet there are few points in his code of ethics—and they are of minor importance—which cannot be found, clearly conceived and concisely stated, in the main body of his works. This system of conduct embraces every stage of society; and for the rulers to-day—the people for whom Nietzsche directly voiced his teachings—he outlines a method of outer conduct and a set of inner ideals which meet with every modern condition. His proposed ethical routine is not based on abstract reasoning and speculative conclusions. It is a practical code which has its foundation implanted in the dominating instincts of the organic and inorganic world. It is directly opposed to the[Pg 12] prevailing code, and has for its ideal the fulness of life itself—life intensified to the highest degree, life charged with a maximum of beauty, power, enthusiasm, virility, wealth and intoxication. It is the code of strength and courage. Its goal is a race which will possess the hardier virtues of strength, confidence, exuberance and affirmation.

This ideal has been the source of many misunderstandings, and it is the errors which have arisen from the vicious and inept dissemination of his teachings, that I have striven to rectify in the present book. I have hoped to accomplish this by presenting the whole of Nietzsche's philosophy, as far as possible, in his own words. This has not been so difficult a matter. His writings, more than those of any other modern philosopher, offer opportunities for such treatment. There is no point in his entire system not susceptible to brief and clear quotation. Furthermore, his thought developed consistently and logically in straight-away, chronological order, so that at the conclusion of each book we find ourselves just so much further along the route of his thinking. Beginning with "Human, All-Too-Human," his first destructive volume, we can trace the gradual and concise pyramiding of his teachings, down to the last statement of his cardinal doctrine of will as set forth in the notes which comprise the second volume of "The Will to Power." Each one of the intervening books embodies new material: it is a distinct, yet co-ordinated, division in the great structure of his life's work. These books overlap one another in many instances, and develop points raised speculatively in former books, but they organise each other and lead one surely, if at times circuitously, to the crowning doctrines of his thought.

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The majority of critics have chosen to systematise Nietzsche's teachings by separating the ideas in his different books, and by drawing together under specific captions (such as "religion," "the state," "education," etc.,) all the scattered material which relates to these different subjects. In many cases they have succeeded in offering a very coherent and consistent rsum of his thought. But Nietzsche's doctrines were inherently opposed to such arbitrary dividing and arranging, because beneath the various sociological points which fell under his consideration, were two or three general motivating principles which unified the whole of his thought. He did not work from modern institutions back to his doctrines; but, by analysing the conditions out of which these institutions grew, he arrived at the conclusions which he afterward used in formulating new methods of operation. It was the change in conditions and needs between ancient and modern times that made him voice the necessity of change between ancient and modern institutions. In other words, his advocacy of new methods for dealing with modern affairs was evolved from his researches into the origin and history of current methods. For instance, his remarks on religion, society, the state, the individual, etc., were the outcome of fundamental postulates which he described and elucidated in terms of human institutions. Therefore an attempt to reach an explanation of the basic doctrines of his philosophy through his applied teachings unconsciously gives rise to the very errors which the serious critics have sought to overcome: this method focuses attention on the application of his doctrines rather than on the doctrines themselves.

Therefore I have taken his writings chronologically, beginning with his first purely philosophical work—[Pg 14]"Human, All-Too-Human"—and have set down, in his own words, every important conclusion throughout his entire works. In this way one may follow Nietzsche throughout every step in the development of his teachings—not only in his abstract theories but also in his application of them. There is not a single important point in the entire sweep of his thought not contained in these pages. Naturally I have been unable to give any of the arguments which led to these conclusions. The quotations are in every instance no longer than has been necessary to make clear the idea: for the processes of thought by which these conclusions were reached the reader must go direct to the books from which the excerpts are made. Also I have omitted Nietzsche's brilliant analogies and such desultory critical judgments, literary and artistic, as have no direct bearing on his philosophy; and have contented myself with setting down only those bare, unelaborated utterances which embody the positive points in his thought. By thus letting Nietzsche himself state his doctrines I have attempted to make it impossible for anybody who goes carefully through these pages to misunderstand those points which now seem clouded in error.

In order to facilitate further the research of the student and to make clear certain of the more obscure selections, I have preceded each chapter with a short account of the book and its contents. In these brief essays, I have reviewed the entire contents of each book, set down the circumstances under which it was written, and attempted to weigh its individual importance in relation to the others. Furthermore, I have attempted to state briefly certain of the doctrines which did not permit of entirely self-explanatory quotation. And where Nietzsche indulged in research, such as in tracing the origin[Pg 15] of certain motives, or in explaining the steps which led to the acceptance of certain doctrines, I have included in these essays an abridged exposition of his theories. In short, I have embodied in each chapter such critical material as I thought would assist the reader to a clear understanding of each book's contents and relative significance.

This book is frankly for the beginner—for the student who desires a survey of Nietzsche's philosophy before entering upon a closer and more careful study of it. In this respect it is meant also as a guide; and I have given the exact location of every quotation so that the reader may refer at once to the main body of Nietzsche's works and ascertain the premises and syllogisms which underlie the quoted conclusion.

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