What Nietzsche Taught

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Nietzsche's best definition of what he calls the "free spirit," namely: the thinking man, the intellectual aristocrat, the philosopher and ruler, is contained in the twenty-six pages of the second chapter of "Beyond Good and Evil." In a series of paragraphs—longer than is Nietzsche's wont—the leading characteristics of this superior man are described. The "free spirit," however, must not be confused with the superman. The former is the "bridge" which the present-day man must cross in the process of surpassing himself. In the delineation[Pg 179] and analysis of him, as presented to us here, we can glimpse his most salient mental features. Heretofore, as in "Thus Spake Zarathustra," he has been but partially and provisionally defined. Now his instincts and desires, his habits and activities are outlined. Furthermore, we are given an explanation of his relation to the inferior man and to the organisms of his environment. The chapter is an important one, for at many points it is a subtle elucidation of many of Nietzsche's dominant philosophic principles. By inference, the differences of class distinction are strictly drawn. The slave-morality (sklavmoral) and the master-morality (herrenmoral), though as yet undefined, are balanced against each other; and the deportmental standards of the masters and slaves are defined by way of differentiating between these two opposing human factions. While the serving class is constantly manifesting its need of a guiding dogma, the ruling class is constantly approaching the state wherein the arbitrary moral mandates are denied. Nietzsche sees a new order of philosophers appearing—men who will stand beyond good and evil, who will be not only free spirits, "but something more, higher, greater, and fundamentally different." In describing these men of the future, of which the present free men are the heralds and forerunners, Nietzsche establishes an individualistic ideal which he develops fully in later chapters.

A keen and far-reaching analysis of the various aspects assumed by religious faith constitutes a third section of "Beyond Good and Evil." Though touching upon various influences of Christianity, this section is more general in its religious scope than even "The Antichrist," many indications of which are to be found here. This chapter has to do with the numerous inner experiences of man,[Pg 180] which are directly or indirectly attributable to religious doctrines. The origin of the instinct for faith itself is sought, and the results of this faith are balanced against the needs of the individuals and of the race. The relation between religious ecstasy and sensuality; the attempt on the part of religious practitioners to arrive at a negation of the will; the transition from religious gratitude to fear; the psychology at the bottom of saint-worship;—to problems such as these Nietzsche devotes his energies in his inquiry of the religious mood. The geographical considerations which enter into the character and intensity of religious faith form an important basis for study; and the differences between Comte's sociology and Sainte-Beuve's anti-Jesuit utterances are explained from a standpoint of national influences. Nietzsche examines the many phases of atheism and the principal anti-Christian tendencies of all philosophy since Descartes. There is an illuminating exposition of the important stages in religious cruelty and of the motives underlying the various forms of religious sacrifices. Again we run upon the doctrine of eternal recurrence, but here, as elsewhere, it may be regarded, not as a basic element in Nietzsche's philosophical scheme, but as a by-product of his thought. Nietzsche emphasises the necessity of idleness in all religious lives, and shows how the adherence to the religious mood works against the activities, both of mind and of body, which make for the highest efficiency.

A very important phase of Nietzsche's teaching is contained in this criticism of the religious life. The detractors of the Nietzschean doctrine, almost without exception, base their judgments on the assumption that the universal acceptation of his theories would result in social chaos. As I have pointed out before, Nietzsche desired[Pg 181] no such general adoption of his beliefs. In his bitterest diatribes against Christianity, his object was not to shake the faith of the great majority of mankind in their idols. He sought merely to free the strong men from the restrictions of a religion which fitted the needs of only the weaker members of society. He neither hoped nor desired to wean the mass of humanity from Christianity or any similar dogmatic comfort. On the contrary, he denounced those superficial atheists who endeavoured to weaken the foundations of religion. He saw the positive necessity of such religions as a basis for his slave morality, and in the present chapter he exhorts the rulers to preserve the religious faith of the serving classes, and to use it as a means of government—as an instrument in the work of disciplining and educating. In paragraph 61 he says: "The selecting and disciplining influence—destructive as well as creative and fashioning—which can be exercised by means of religion is manifold and varied, according to the sort of people placed under its spell and protection." Not only is this an expression of the utilitarian value of religious formulas, but a definite voicing of one of the main factors in his philosophy. His entire system of ethics is built on the complete disseverance of the dominating class and the serving class; and his doctrine of "beyond good and evil" should be considered only as it pertains to the superior man. To apply it to all classes would be to reduce Nietzsche's whole system of ethics to impracticability, and therefore to an absurdity.

Passing from a consideration of the religious mood, Nietzsche enters a broader sphere of ethical research, and endeavours to trace the history and development of morals. He accuses the philosophers of having avoided[Pg 182] the real problem of morality, namely: the testing of the faith and motives which lie beneath moral beliefs. This is the task he sets for himself, and in his chapter, "The Natural History of Morals," he makes an examination of moral origins—an examination which is extended into an exhaustive treatise in "The Genealogy of Morals." However, his dissection here is carried out on a broader and far more general scale than in his previous books, such as "Human, All-Too-Human" and "The Dawn of Day." Heretofore he had confined himself to codes and systems, to acts of morality and immorality, to judgments of conducts. In "Beyond Good and Evil" he treats of moral prejudices as forces working hand in hand with human progress. In addition, there is a definite attitude of constructive thinking here which is absent from his earlier work. He outlines the course to be taken by the men of the future, and points to the results which have accrued from the moralities of modern nations. He offers the will to power in place of the older "will to belief," and characterises the foundations of acceptance for all moral codes as "fictions" and "premature hypotheses." He defines the racial ideals which have grown up out of moral influences, and, applying them to the needs of the present day, finds them inadequate and dangerous. The conclusion to which his observations and analyses point is that, unless the rulers of the race take a stand beyond the outposts of good and evil and govern on a basis of expediency divorced from all moral influences, the individual is in constant danger of being lowered to the level of the gregarious conscience.

In the chapter, "We Scholars," Nietzsche continues his definition of the philosopher, whom he holds to be the highest type of man. Besides being a mere description[Pg 183] of the intellectual traits of this "free spirit," the chapter is also an exposition of the shortcomings of those modern men who pose as philosophers. In the path of these new thinkers Nietzsche sees many difficulties both from within and from without, and points out methods whereby these obstacles may be overcome. Also the man of science and the man of genius are analyzed and weighed as to their relative importance in the community. In fact, we have here Nietzsche's most concise and complete definition of the individuals upon whom rests the burden of progress. These valuations of the intellectual leaders are important to the student, for by one's understanding them, along with the reasons for such valuations, a comprehension of the ensuing volumes is facilitated. Nietzsche hereby establishes the qualities of those entitled to the master-morality code; and, by thus drawing the line of demarcation in humanity, he defines at the same time that class whose constitutions and predispositions demand the slave-morality. In addition, he affixes, according to his philosophical formula, a scale of values to such mental attributes as objectivity, power to will, scepticism, positivity and constraint.

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