What Nietzsche Taught

Page 52 of 74

In "Skirmishes in a War with the Age," the longest section in the book, Nietzsche gives us much brilliant and incisive criticism of men, art and human attributes. He is here at his best, both in clarity of mind and in his manner of expression. This passage, one of the last things to come from his pen, contains the full ripeness of his nature, and is a portion of his work which no student can afford to overlook. It contains the whole of the Nietzschean philosophy applied to the conditions of his age. Because it is not a direct voicing of his doctrines it does not lend itself to mutilation except where it touches on principles of conduct and abstract aspects of morality. Many of the most widely read passages of all of Nietzsche's work are contained in it. But here again, as in the case of "Thus Spake Zarathustra," one regrets that the surface brilliance of its style attracted readers in England and America before these nations were acquainted with the books which came before. The casual reader, unfamiliar with the principles underlying Nietzsche's ethic, will see only a bold and satanic flippancy in his definition of Zola—"the love of stinking," or in his characterisation of George Sand as "the cow with plenty of beautiful milk," or in his bracketing of "tea-grocers, Christians, cows, women, Englishmen and other democrats." Yet it is significant that Nietzsche did not venture upon these remarks until he had the great bulk of his life's work behind him.

In this chapter are discussions of Renan, Sainte-Beuve, George Eliot, George Sand, Emerson, Carlyle, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Goethe and other famous men and women. In the short essays devoted to these writers[Pg 237] we have, however, more than mere detached valuations. Beneath all the criticisms is a rationale of judgment based on definite philosophical doctrines. This same basis of appreciation is present in the discussion of art and artists, to which subjects many pages are devoted. In fact, "The Twilight of the Idols" contains most of the art theories and sthetic doctrines which Nietzsche advanced. He defines the psychology of the artist, and draws the line between the two concepts, Apollonian and Dionysian, as applied to art. He analyses the meaning of beauty and ugliness, and endeavours to show in what manner the conceptions of these qualities are related to the racial instincts. He also inquires into the doctrine of "l'art pour l'art" and points out wherein it fails in its purpose. A valuable explanation of "genius" is put forth in the theory that the accumulative power of generations breaks forth in the great men of a nation, and that these great men mark the end of an age, as in the case of the Renaissance.

The most significant brief essay in this section is an answer made to certain critics who, in reviewing "Beyond Good and Evil," claimed a superiority for the present age over the older civilisations. Nietzsche calls this essay "Have We Become Moral?" and proceeds to make comparisons of contemporaneous virtues with those of the ancients. He denies that to-day, without our decrepit humanitarianism and our doctrines of weakness, we would be able to withstand, either nervously or muscularly, the conditions that prevailed during the Renaissance. He points out that our morals are those of senility, and that we have deteriorated, physically as well as mentally, as a result of an adherence to a code of morality invented to meet the needs of a weak and impoverished[Pg 238] people. Our virtues, he says, are determined and stimulated by our weakness, so that we have come to admire the moralities of the slave, the most prominent among which is the doctrine of equality. In the decline of all the positive forces of life Nietzsche sees only racial decadence. In this regard it is important to take note of one of the passages relative to the discussion of this decadence, namely: the one wherein he characterises the anarchist as "the mouthpiece of the decaying strata of society." The appellation of "anarchist" has not infrequently been applied to Nietzsche himself by those who have read him superficially or whose acquaintance with him has been the result of distorted hearsay. I know of no better analysis of anarchistic motives or of no keener dissection of anarchistic weakness than is set forth here. Nor do I know of any better answer to those critics who have accused Nietzsche of anarchy, than the criticism contained in this passage.

In a final chapter, under the caption of "Things I Owe to the Ancients," Nietzsche outlines the inspirational source of many of his doctrines and literary habits. This chapter is important only to the student who wishes to go to the remoter influences in Nietzsche's writings, and for that reason I have omitted from the following excerpts any quotation from it.


Man thinks woman profound—why? Because he can never fathom her depths. Woman is not even shallow. 5

The trodden worm curls up. This testifies to its caution. It thus reduces its chances of being trodden upon again. In the language of morality: Humility. 5-6

The Church combats passion by means of excision of[Pg 239] all kinds: its practise, its "remedy," is castration. It never inquires "how can a desire be spiritualised, beautified, deified?"—In all ages it has laid the weight of discipline in the process of extirpation (the extirpation of sensuality, pride, lust of dominion, lust of property, and revenge).—But to attack the passions at their roots, means attacking life itself at its source: the method of the Church is hostile to life. 27

Only degenerates find radical methods indispensable: weakness of will, or more strictly speaking, the inability not to react to a stimulus, is in itself simply another form of degeneracy. Radical and mortal hostility to sensuality, remains a suspicious symptom: it justifies one in being suspicious of the general state of one who goes to such extremes. 27

A man is productive only in so far as he is rich in contrasted instincts; he can remain young only on condition that his soul does not begin to take things easy and to yearn for peace. 28-29

All naturalism is morality—that is to say, every sound morality is ruled by a life instinct—any one of the laws of life is fulfilled by the definite canon "thou shalt," "thou shalt not," and any sort of obstacle or hostile element in the road of life is thus cleared away. Conversely, the morality which is antagonistic to nature—that is to say, almost every morality that has been taught, honoured and preached hitherto, is directed precisely against the life-instincts.... 30

Morality, as it has been understood hitherto, is the instinct of degeneration itself, which converts itself into an imperative: it says: "Perish!" It is the death sentence of men who are already doomed. 31

Morality, in so far it condemns per se, and not out of[Pg 240] any aim, consideration or motive of life, is a specific error, for which no one should feel any mercy, a degenerate idiosyncrasy, that has done an unutterable amount of harm. 32

Every mistake is in every sense the sequel to degeneration of the instincts to disintegration of the will. This is almost the definition of evil. 35

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