What Nietzsche Taught

Page 68 of 74

The second part of the first book relates to the will to power in nature, and contains the most complete and lucid explanation of Nietzsche's basic theory to be found anywhere in his writings. This section opens with an argument against a purely mechanical interpretation of the world, and a refutation of the physicists' concept of "energy." The chemical and physical laws, the atomic theory and the mechanical concept of movement, he characterises as "inventions" on the part of scientists and[Pg 306] researchers for the purpose of understanding natural phenomena and therefore of increasing their feeling of power. The apparent sequence of phenomena which constitutes "law" is, according to Nietzsche, only a "relation of power between two or more forces"—a matter of interdependence, a process wherein the "procession of moments do not determine each other after the manner of cause and effect." In these observations we see the process of reasoning with which Nietzsche refutes the current methods of ascertaining facts and the manner in which he introduces the principle of will to power into the phenomena of nature.

It is in this section that Nietzsche discusses at length the points of divergence between his life principle and that of Darwin. And it is here also that he treats of the psychology of pleasure and pain in their relation to the will to power. This latter statement is of great importance in an understanding of the instincts of life as he taught them, for it denies both pleasure and pain a place in the determining of acts. They are both, according to him, but accompanying factors, never causes, and are but second-rate valuations derived from a dominating value. He denies that man struggles for happiness. To the contrary, he holds that all expansion and growth and resistance—in short, all movement—is related to states of pain, and that, although the modern man is master of the forces of nature and of himself, he is no happier than the primeval man. Why, then, does man struggle for knowledge and growth, knowing that it does not bring happiness? Not for existence, because existence is already assured him. But for power, for the feeling of increased mastery. Thus Nietzsche answers the two common explanations of man's will to action—the[Pg 307] need for being and the desire for happiness—by his doctrine of the will to power.

The entire teaching of Nietzsche in regard to classes and to the necessity of divergent moral codes to meet the needs of higher and lower castes, is contained in the third part of the first book. Here again he emphasises the need of two codes and makes clear his stand in relation to the superior individual. As I have pointed out in preceding chapters, Nietzsche did not attempt to do away with the morality of the inferior classes. He saw that some such religious belief as Christianity was imperative for them. His fight was against its application to all classes, against its dominance. I mention this point again because it is the basis of the greatest misunderstanding of Nietzsche's philosophy. Part III is written for the higher man, and if this viewpoint is assumed on the part of the reader, there will be no confusion as to doctrines encountered. The statements in this section are in effect similar to those to be found in Nietzsche's previous works, but in every instance in the present case they are directly related to the will to power. Because of this they possess a significance which does not attach to them in antecedent volumes.

The whole of Nietzsche's art theories are to be found in Part IV, "The Will to Power in Art." It is not merely a system of sthetics that occupies the pages under this section, for Nietzsche never divorces art from life itself; and the artist, according to him, is the superior type, the creator of values. The concepts of beauty and ugliness are the outgrowths of an overflow of Dionysian power; and it is to the great artists of the past, the instinctive higher men, that we owe our current concepts. The principle here is the dominant one in Nietzsche's[Pg 308] philosophy in relation to valuing:—to the few individuals of the race are we indebted for the world of values. To the student who wishes to go deeply into Nietzsche's ideas of art and his conception of the artist, and to know in just what manner the Dionysian and Apollonian figure in his theories, I unhesitatingly recommend Anthony M. Ludovici's book, "Nietzsche and Art."

The first section of the second book in this volume contains some of Nietzsche's finest writing. Its title, "The Order of Rank," explains in a large measure what material comprises it. It is a description of the various degrees of man, and a statement of the attributes which belong to each. No better definition of the different classes of men is to be found anywhere in this philosopher's writings. One part is devoted to a consideration of the strong and the weak, and the way in which they react on one another; another part deals with "the noble man" and contains (in Aphorism 943) a list of the characteristics of the noble man, unfortunately too long a list to be quoted in the present chapter; another part defines "the lords of the earth"; another part delineates "the great man," and enumerates his specific qualities; and still another part treats of "the highest man as law-giver of the future." This section, however, is not a mere series of detached and isolated definitions, but an important summary of the ethical code which Nietzsche advanced as a result of his application of the doctrine of the will to power to the order of individual rank.

The two remaining sections—"Dionysus" and "Eternal Recurrence"—are short, and fail to touch on new ground. There are a few robust and heroic passages in the former section which summarise Nietzsche's definitions of Apollonian and Dionysian; but in the latter[Pg 309] section there is nothing not found in the pamphlet called "The Eternal Recurrence" and in "Thus Spake Zarathustra." I do not doubt that Nietzsche had every intention of elaborating this last section, for he considered the principle of recurrence a most important one in his philosophy. But, as it stands, it is but a few pages in length and in no way touches upon his other philosophical doctrines. If importance it had in the philosophy of the superman, that importance was never shown either by Nietzsche or by his critics.

However, let us not overlook the importance of the doctrine of the will to power either in its relation to Nietzsche's writings or in its application to ourselves. By this doctrine the philosopher wished to make mankind realise its great dormant power. The insistence on the human basis of all things was no more than a call to arms—an attempt to instil courage in men who had attributed all great phenomena to supernatural forces and had therefore acquiesced before them instead of having endeavoured to conquer them. Nietzsche's object was to make man surer of himself, to infuse him with pride, to imbue him with more daring, to awaken him to a full realisation of his possibilities. This, in brief, is the teaching of the will to power reduced to its immediate influences. In this doctrine is preached a new virility. Not the sedentary virility of compromise, but the virility which is born of struggle and suffering, which is a sign of one's great love of living. Nietzsche offered a new set of vital ideals to supplant the decadent ones which now govern us. Resolute faith, the power of affirmation, initiative, pride, courage and fearlessness—these are the rewards in the exercise of the will to power. The strength of great love and the vitality of great deeds, as[Pg 310] well as the possibility of rare and vigorous growth, lie within this doctrine of will. Its object is to give back to us the life we have lost—the life of beauty and plenitude, of strength and exuberance.

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