Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Antichrist: Part Two

Nietzsche attacks Christianity and the Christian Church with a vengeance in The Antichrist.  But there is more to his critique than just largely pent-up ravings that are often articulated in previous works. Given the fact that this is the only portion of the grand four-volume revaluation project Nietzsche completed, any hints of what he intended as characteristics of a “free spirit” who actually transforms his or her value system should be highlighted as particularly important.  What select traits does Nietzsche assign to the revaluation? The Antichrist offers glimpses of what are perhaps more established characteristics of his transformed values for cultural health and individual demeanor and style.

Some of the brilliance in the use of language previously commended by R. J. Hollingdale (if sometimes excessive as critiqued by Julian Young) can be found in the following excerpts; much of the phrasing is a perfected blend of philosophy, psychology, and poetry.  For Nietzsche, The Antichirst was an elite form of thinking and relating to life. This, I think, is a key to understanding his revaluation project.  "Honesty to the point of harshness" and being "above" politics and nationalism are among the many revalued traits of the "superman" human.

“This book belongs to the very few.  Perhaps none of them is even living yet.  Possibly they are the readers who understand my Zarathustra: how could I confound myself with those for whom there are ears listening today? - Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously.

“The conditions under which one understands me and then necessarily understands – I know them all to well. One must be honest in intellectual matters to the point of harshness to so much as endure my seriousness, my passion.  One must be accustomed to living on mountains – to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egoism beneath one.  One must have become indifferent, one must never ask whether one is useful or a fatality....Strength which prefers questions for which no one today is sufficiently daring; courage for the forbidden; predestination for the labyrinth.  An experience out of seven solitudes.  New ears for new music.  New eyes for the most distant things.  A new conscience for truths which have hitherto remained dumb.  And the will to economy in the grand style: to keeping one's energy. One's enthusiasm in bounds....Reverence for oneself; love for oneself; unconditional freedom with respect to oneself...” (A, Forward)

“Let us look one another in the face.  We are Hyperboreans – we know how much out of the way we live....Beyond the North, beyond the ice, beyond death - our life, our happiness....We have discovered happiness, we know the road, we have found the exit out of whole millennia of labyrinth'  Who else has found it? - Modern man perhaps? - 'I know not which way to turn' . – sighs modern man; I am everything that knows not which way to turn' – sighs modern man....It is from this modernity that we were ill – from lazy peace, from cowardly compromise, from the whole virtuous uncleanliness of modern Yes and No. This tolerance and largeur of heart which 'forgives' everything because it 'Understands' everything is sirocco to us.  Better to live among ice than among modern virtues and other south winds! … We were brave enough, we spread neither ourselves nor others: but for long we did not know where to apply our courage.  We became gloomy, we were called fatalists,  Our fatality – was the plenitude, the tension, the blocking-up of our forces.  We thirsted for lightning and action, of all things we kept ourselves furthest from the happiness of the weaklings, from 'resignation'....There was a thunderstorm in out air =, the nature which we are grew dark - for we had no road.  Formula for our happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal...” (A, 1)

The revaluation is in some sense societal, ethical, certainly cultural in its intent. But the goal is also intimate and personal, generally a practice of self-revaluation that is a redefinition of attitude, belief, and style.  We can see glimpses of the revalued self in Nietzsche's negative approach to what he intends, defining it by what it is not.

“What is good? - All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.   

“What is bad? - All that proceeds from weakness.

“What is happiness? - The feeling that power increases - that resistance is overcome.

Not contentment, but more power; not peace at all, but war; not virtue, but proficiency (virtue in the Renaissance style, virtu, virtue free of moralic acid).

“The weak and the ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy.  An one shall help them to do so.

“What is more harmful than any vice? - Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity...” (A, 2)

“The problem I raise here is...what type of human being one ought to breed, ought to will, as more valuable. More worthy of life, more certain of the future.  This more valuable type has existed often enough already: but as a lucky accident, as an exception, never as willed.” (A, 3)

Seeking to express and expand one's power, being existentially warrior-like, skillful and dexterous of spirit rather than striving for so-called virtues, these are all qualities of the revalued self that was at the heart of Nietzsche's unfinished great task. Meanwhile, traditional value systems like those developed through Christianity, contrary to popular opinion, have failed to strength western civilization.  Instead Christianity and all religious thinking has led to a frailty of culture.

“Mankind does not represent a development of the better or the stronger or the higher in the way that is believed today.  'Progress' is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea.  The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance strengthening.

“In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and from the most various cultures in which a higher type does manifest itself:  something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman.” (A, 4)

“One should not embellish or dress up Christianity: it has waged a war to the death against this higher type of man, it has excommunicated all the fundamental instincts of this type, it has distilled evil, the Evil One, out of these instincts – the strong human being as the type of reprehensibility, as the 'outcast'.  Christianity has taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted, it has made an ideal out of opposition to the preservative instincts of strong life...” (A, 5)

“ assertion is that all values in which mankind at present summarizes its highest desideratum are decadent values.  

“I call an animal, a species, and individual depraved when it loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers what is harmful to it.  A history of the 'higher feelings', of the 'ideals of mankind' – and it is possible I shall have to narrate it – would almost also constitute an explanation of why man is so depraved.  I consider life itself instinct for growth, for continuance, for accumulation of forces, for power: where the will to power is lacking there is decline.  My assertion is that this will is lacking in all supreme values of mankind, the values of decline, nihilistic values hold sway under the holiest of names. (A, 6)

“Christianity is called the religion of pity. - Pity stands in antithesis to the tonic emotions which enhance the feeling of life: it has a depressive effect.  One loses force when one pities.  The loss of force which life has already sustained through suffering is increased and multiplied even further by pity.  Suffering itself becomes contagious through pity; sometimes it can bring about a collective loss of life and life-energy which stands in an absurd relation to the quantum of its cause ( - the case of the death of the Nazarene). (A, 7)

Nietzsche praises a "quiet, cautious, mistrustful manner" as a fundamental aspect of the revaluation. And it is clear that he associates "power" as the antithesis of "decadence".  The will to power is certainly a fundamental characteristic of the revaluation.

“Let us not undervalue this: we ourselves, we free spirits, are already a 'revaluation of all values', an incarnate declaration of war and victory over all ancient conceptions of 'true' and 'untrue'.  The most valuable insights are methods.  We had the whole pathos of mankind against us – its conception of what truth ought to be;  every 'thou shalt' has hitherto been directed against us....Our objectives, our practices, our quiet, cautious, mistrustful manner – all this appeared utterly unworthy and contemptible to mankind. - In the end one might reasonably ask oneself whether it is not really an aesthetic taste which blinded mankind for so long: it desired a picturesque effect from truth, it desired especially that the man of knowledge should produce a powerful impression on the senses.  It was our modesty which offended their taste the longest....Oh, how well they divined that fact, those turkey-cocks of God - “ (A, 13)

“Wherever the will to power declines in any form there is every time also a physiological regression, a decadence. The divinity of decadence, pruned of all its manliest drives and virtues, from now on necessarily becomes the God of the physiologically retarded, the weak.  They do not call themselves weak, they call themselves 'good'....When the prerequisites of ascending life, when everything strong, brave, masterful, proud is eliminated from the concept of God; when he declines step by step to the symbol of a staff for the weary, a sheet-anchor for all who are drowning; when he becomes the poor people's God, the sinner's God, the God of the sick par excellence, and the predicate 'savior', 'redeemer' as it were remains over as the predicate of divinity as such: of what does this transformation speak?  Such a reduction of the divine?” (A, 17)

Nietzsche dabbled in comparative religion throughout his body of work.  He compared Christianity with Judaism and with Greek philosophy on multiple occasions.  In The Antichrist he compares Christianity and Buddhism.  His understanding of the oriental religion is rudimentary at best, but nevertheless quite enlightened for a European of his time.  Interesting, he finds Buddhism superior to Christianity but nevertheless both perspectives are “decadent.” Nevertheless, even this exercise reveals aspects of Nietzsche's revalued self.

“With my condemnation of Christianity, I should not like to have wronged a kindred religion which even preponderates in the number of its believers: Buddhism.  They belong together as nihilistic religions – they are decadent religions – but they are distinguished from one another in the most remarkable way.  The critic of Christianity is profoundly grateful to Indian scholars that one is now able to compare these two religions. - Buddhism is a hundred times more realistic than Christianity – it has the heritage of cool and objective posing of problems in its composition, it arrives after a philosophical lasting hundreds of years;  the concept of 'God' is already abolished by the time it arrives. Buddhism is the only really positivistic religion history has to show to us, even in its epistemology (a strict phenomenalism -), it no longer speaks of 'the struggle against sin' but, quite in accordance with actuality, 'the struggle against suffering'.  It already has – and this distinguishes profoundly from Christianity – the self-deception of moral concepts behind it – it stands, in my language – beyond good and evil. - The two physiological facts upon which it rests and on which it fixes its eyes are: firstly an excessive excitability of sensibility which expresses itself as a refined capacity for pain, then an overly-intellectuality, a too great preoccupation with concepts and logical procedures under which the personal instinct has sustained harm to the advantage of the 'impersonal' ( – both of them conditions which at any rate some of my readers, the objective ones, will know from experience, as I do). On the basis of these physiological conditions a state of depression has arisen: against this depression Buddha takes hygienic measures.  He opposes it with life in the open air, the wandering life; with moderation and fastidiousness as regards food; with caution towards all emotions which produce gall, which heat the blood; no anxiety, either for oneself or for others.  He demands ideas which produce repose or cheerfulness – he devises means for disaccustoming oneself to others.  He understand benevolence, being kind, as health promoting.

“...his teaching resists nothing more than it resists the feeling of revengefulness, of antipathy, of ressentiment ( - 'enmity is not ended by enmity': moving refrain of the whole of Buddhism...).  And quite rightly; it is precisely these emotions which would be thoroughly unhealthy with regard to the main dietetic objective.  The spiritual weariness he discovered and which expressed itself as an excessive 'objectivity' (that is to say weakening of individual interest, loss of center of gravity, of 'egoism'), he combated by directing even the spiritual interests back to the individual person.  In the teaching of the Buddha egoism becomes a duty: the 'one thing needful', the 'how can you get rid of suffering' regulates and circumscribes the entire spiritual diet...” (A, 20)

“The precondition for Buddhism is a very mild climate, very gentle and liberal customs, no militarism; and that it is the higher and even learned classes in which the movement has its home.  The supreme goal is cheerfulness, stillness, absence of desire, and this goal is achieved.  Buddhism is not a religion in which one merely aspires after perfection: perfection is the normal case.  In Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and oppressed come into the foreground: it is the lowest classes which seek their salvation in it.” (A, 21)

“Buddhism is a religion for late human beings, for races grown kindly, gentle, over-intellectual who feel pain too easily ( - Europe is not nearly ripe for it - ): it leads them back to peace and cheerfulness, to an ordered diet in intellectual things, to a certain physical hardening.  
Christianity desires to dominate beasts of prey; its means for doing so is to make them sick - weakening in the Christian recipe for taming, for 'civilization'.  Buddhism is a religion for the end and fatigue of a civilization, Christianity does not even find civilization in existence – it establishes civilization if need be.” (A, 22)

The idea of "late" humans marks the high-tide of existential decadence. Neither Buddhism nor Christianity offer a sufficient basis for the revaluation of all values. As for specific characteristics of a “revalued” life, Nietzsche reveals much with his discussion of a "noble" and “ascending” style of living. 

“In my Genealogy of Morals I introduced for the first time the psychology of the antithetical concepts of a noble morality and a ressentiment morality, the later deriving from a denial of the former: but this latter deriving from a denial of the former: but this latter corresponds totally to Judeo-Christian morality.  To be able to reject all that represents the ascending movement of life, well-constitutedness, power, beauty, self-affirmation on earth, the instinct of ressentiment here become genius had to invent another world from which that life-affirmation would appear evil, reprehensible as such.” (A, 24)

One of the ironies about The Antichrist is that, for all his rage at Christianity, Nietzsche actually has a great deal of respect for Jesus.

“One could, with some freedom of expression, call Jesus a 'free spirit' – he cares nothing for what is fixed: the word killeth, everything fixed killeth.  The concept, the experience 'life' in the only form he knows it is opposed to any kind of word, formula, law, faith, dogma.  He speaks only of the inmost thing: 'life' or 'truth' or 'light' is his expression for the inmost thing – everything else, the whole of reality, the whole of nature, language itself, possesses for him merely the value of a sign, a metaphor. - On this point one must make absolutely no mistake, however much Christian, that is to say ecclesiastical prejudice, may tempt one to do so: such a symbolist par excellence stands outside of all religion, all conceptions of divine worship, all history, all natural science, all experience of the world, all acquaintances, all politics, all psychology, all books, all art – his 'knowledge' is precisely the pure folly of the fact that anything of this kind exists.” (A, 32)

“If I understand anything of this great symbolist it is that he took for realities for 'truths', only inner realities – that he understood the rest, everything pertaining to nature, time, space, history, only as signs, as occasion for metaphor.  The concept 'the Son of Man' is not a concrete person belonging to history, anything at all individual or unique, but an 'eternal' fact, a psychological symbol freed from the time concept.” (A, 34)

More clues and specifics about the qualities of revaluation: "instinct and passion" make "war" upon the "holy lie"; a "benevolent and curious neutrality"; "discipline of the spirit"; "shameless self-seeking."  

“Only we, we emancipated spirits, possess the prerequisite for understanding something nineteen centuries have misunderstood – that integrity become instinct and passion which makes war on the 'holy lie' even more than on any other lie....One has been unspeakably far from our benevolent and curious neutrality, from that discipline of the spirit through which alone the divining of such strange, such delicate things is made possible: at all times one has, with shameless self-seeking, desired only one's own advantage in these things, one constructed the Church out of the antithesis to the Gospel.” (A, 36)

“If one shifts the center of gravity of life out of life into the 'Beyond' – into nothingness - one had depraved life as such of its center of gravity.  The great lie of personal immortality destroys all rationality, all naturalness of instinct – all that is salutary, all that is life-furthering, all that holds a guarantee for the future in the instincts henceforth excites mistrust. So to live that there is no longer any meaning in living; that now becomes the 'meaning' of life...” (A, 43)

Nietzsche ends with a reiteration of the power of the priests argument he first fully articulated the Genealogy.  It begins with: “Have I been understood?” This question reflects Nietzsche actual state of being at this time of his life.  He was self-searching, self-critiquing.  This would manifest itself magnificently in Ecce Homo but first he has to assign ultimate blame for the decadence of Christianity. 

“The beginning of the Bible contains the entire psychology of the priest. - The priest knows only one great danger: that is science – the sound conception of cause and effect....The concept of guilt and punishment, including the doctrine of 'grace', of 'redemption', of 'forgiveness' - lies through and through and without any psychological reality – were invented to destroy the causal sense of man: they are an outrage on the concept cause and effect! ...When the natural consequences of an act are no longer 'natural' but thought of as effected by the conceptual ghosts of superstition. By 'God', by 'spirits', by 'souls', as merely 'mortal' consequences, as reward, punishment, sign, chastisement, then the precondition for knowledge has been destroyed - then one has committed the greatest crime against humanity. - Sin, to say it again, that form par excellence of the self-violation of man, was invented to make science, culture, every kind of elevation and nobility impossible: the priest rules through the invention of sin.” (A, 49)

For Nietzsche these priests not only satisfy his requirement on the importance of the will to power but it also declares that the abolition (or at least change in perspective) of the concept and experience of "sin" is a characteristic of the revalued self. Nietzsche's revalued ideal banishes sin and guilt. Believe in yourself, be free of all guilt and sin, find yourself free, be yourself.  That is possibly where we were headed with the revaluation.  We will never know.  The rest of the "great task" was undeveloped, scattered in notebooks he never intended anyone to read.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Antichrist: Part One

With The Antichrist Nietzsche, at last, gets down to the business of crafting his “great task”, intended as the culminating work of his life. It is almost universally agreed upon that this book was originally intended as the first of a four-volume magnum opus to critique basic western values and advocate a revaluation for higher (elitist) culture with greater personal creative freedom and expression.  As is pointed out below, after its completion Nietzsche came to consider this singular work as the sum and the whole of his masterwork - personally, I see this as indicative of his mental decline and increased delusional thinking. 

“Throughout 1888 Nietzsche regards himself as 'at war', engaged in a spiritual 'war to the knife' against 'the present', but more specifically against the German present; against German chauvinism and anti-Semitism and the decay of its culture.  On September 30 he finished fashioning one of his major pieces, The Antichrist (or The Antichristian – the German has both meanings), which at the time he regarded as Book I of the projected four-book, masterwork (now re-titled Revaluation of all Values). By mid-November, however, he had come to regard it as constituting the totality of the masterwork.  This makes it an important document, in a sense, Nietzsche's last will and testament.

The Antichrist is an uneven work in both tone and content.  Some passages, the accounts of the historical Jesus, for instance, are as fine as anything he wrote.  But others amount to little more than a rage against Christianity that goes on much too long and says nothing that has not been said before.  The subtitle, 'A Curse on Christianity', added at the last moment as Nietzsche was dipping into insanity, captures the quality of his rage.  Gone is the former judicious weighing up of Christianity's 'pros' and 'cons'; in its place is simply the crude judgment that Christianity is 'the greatest corruption conceivable'.

“The essential thing about Christianity, writes Nietzsche, is its Jewish origins.  It was the Jews that invented 'slave morality', the 'morality of ressentiment.  Originally invented in the Babylonian Exile, it was subsequently adopted by the Christians in the early Roman Empire.  The Antichrist now proceeds to offer an account of the origin of slave morality in ressentiment which, since he refers us back to that, he clearly believes to be no more than an expansion of the account presented in the Genealogy's first essay.

“Originally, then, we now learn, slave morality was just theater. A 'noble lie' that the Jewish priests used to disempower their Babylonian oppressors.  By encouraging and validating the decadent instincts of the nobles, they persuaded them to transfer their allegiance from 'm  aster' to 'slave' morality and so cease their oppression.” (Young, page 510)

Curtis Cate sees three pillars to Nietzsche's attack on Christainity: “The three main thrusts of this new work were Nietzsche's contentions that Christianity, far from representing a radical 'break' with official Judaism, was essentially a morbid perpetuation of Jewish 'defeatism'; that its founder Jesus Christ, remained a baffling psychological enigma; and that what seems to have been his teaching was from the outset vulgarized and distorted by his insufficiently sophisticated disciples and, with the help of the former rabbi, Paul, transformed from an incipient form of neo-Buddhism into a seditious instrument of social agitation against the Roman Empire.” (page 528)

Young is more specific: “Crucial is the fact that The Antichrist is talking about, not the Christian revolt against the Romans, but Judaism's revolt against the Babylonians. Nietzsche portrays these early Jewish priests as, though naturally resentful of their oppression by their Babylonian masters, not infected by the poison of ressentiment. The reason they are not, evidently, is that they do something - something effective - about their oppression, and so 'assuage', vent, their ressentiment....They view their oppressors as enemies, to be sure, even hate them, but they do not poison their souls with the unvented hatred that is ressentiment.

“When we return to the later Jewish priests, however, the Christian ones, the story is very different.  What makes it different is the fact that the Christian priests internalized slave morality: what for their predecessors was mere 'theater' is for them the ultimate truth.  And that demands, of course, that one 'turn the other cheek'; it forbids them the practice of health-restoring revenge.

“The crucial contrast, then, is between the priests of Judaism and the priests of Christianity.  That The Antichirst calls 'Jewish priests' healthy while the Genealogy calls 'Jewish priests' sick is not a contradiction since the former focuses on priests of Judaism while the later focuses on priests of Christianity.  The Antichrist is, I think, making this point when it says that, while priests of Judaism are 'the opposite of decadents', 'the Christianity of Paul is a movement of decadence.” (page 511)

Cate agrees: “It was from the religiously 'polluted' soil of a theocracy directed by cringing bigots, a 'totally unnatural ground', that Christianity arose – like a blighted plant.  A revolt against a fatally corrupted, decadent form of religion is apt itself to be flawed in its very origins, and this, Nietzsche argued, was what happened to Christianity.  The revolt against the established order against the dominant priesthood, assumed a wildly utopian form, in the course of which the humblest and poorest elements of society were explicitly exalted (the reference here is to Christ's 'Sermon on the Mount'), while the key collective notion of a 'chosen people', which had hitherto provided the people of Israel with a strong residual sense of identity and cohesion, was allowed to evaporate into a totally unrealistic notion of individual perfection ('the Kingdom of God is within you').” (page 529)

Young summarizes Nietzsche's perspective on the historical, human Jesus: “The real, historical Jesus, Nietzsche claims, had nothing to do with ideas of sin and punishment. Afflicted by a neurotic oversensitivity to suffering, he preached a doctrine of universal love, of never resisting, always 'turning the other cheek'. Presumably the suffering, here, is the suffering of division, of enmity.  If one loves, forgives, everyone then whatever they do they can never be one's enemy. Nietzsche calls this a kind of hedonism, closely related to Epicurianism.  Both Jesus and Epicurus are decadent, on the grounds, evidently, that they lack the will that craves 'victories' and therefore 'enemies'. They lack, in a word, the will to power.  (page 511)

“The real Jesus was no metaphysician, had no supernatural beliefs whatsoever.  For him, 'the kingdom of heaven' is a 'state of the heart'.  Jesus taught by parable and by example.  His death was not an expiration of human sins but rather the ultimate demonstration of his doctrine of nonresistance, He was, in short, a kind of Buddhist, Buddhism being also a non-metaphysical life-practice engendered by hypersensitivity to pain.” (page 511 – 512))

“In the immediate aftermath of Jesus' death, Nietzsche continues, the traumatized disciples asked: who killed him? The answer was: the Jewish upper classes.  Gripped by ressentiment, they quickly began to misunderstand Jesus as a radical opponent of the Jews.  Jesus's death could not, therefore, be the end of the matter: there would be a 'second coming', judgment and punishment.  This is the torch soon passed to that 'priestly tyrant' Paul, who, welding Jewish notions of judgment to Plato's metaphysics, invented Christianity as we know it: original sin, a supernatural heaven and hell, an all-powerful judge, and Christ's human vanity, the idea of personal immortality. This proved the trump card in the spread of Christianity.” (page 512)

R.J. Hollingdale interprets Nietzsche's critique of the birth of Christianity this way: “The heart of Jesus' doctrine, Nietzsche maintains, is the adjuration to total pacifism, and the doctrine must have been the expression of a certain state of being: a morbidly exaggerated sensitivity to suffering.  If this state were at all general in men, whatever value mankind has produced – indeed, 'mankind' itself – would never have appeared, since the evolution of the higher has been brought about by conflict, between individuals and within individuals, within one 'soul'.  He therefore feels entitled to call Jesus a 'decadent', partly on physiological grounds – i.e. he thinks that Jesus' nervous system must have been pathologically excitable – and partly on the more general ground that his doctrine, if universally followed, would lead to the decay of mankind.  Secondly, he criticizes the Christian Church, not because it institutionalizes the teachings of Jesus – which it self-evidently did not do – but because it was a reversion to a primitive miracle-and-salvation religion of the kind Jesus himself had left behind.  Freed from the excessive rhetoric of The Anti-Christ Nietzsche's objection to the religion of the Western world can be seen to rest on rational grounds and to follow from the premises of his own philosophy.” (page 209)

According to Young, Nietzsche declares eight fundamental objections to Christianity in The Antichrist.  They are: idealistic arrogance, promoting guilt and self-hatred, destroying all “life-enhancing instincts”, advocating equality for everyone, disguising hate as love with its belief in hell and damnation, modern Christian theologians promote “holy lies”, and finally Christianity has “cheated us out of the fruits of ancient culture.”

In this last criticism Nietzsche refers to both ancient India and ancient Rome.  Regarding the Hindu Law of Manu, which he apparently appropriated from the book written by his friend Paul Deussen in 1887, “...Nietzsche writes, was an attempt to '”eternalize” the supreme condition for a thriving life, a great organization of society'.” (page 513)

But this society, too, is not a perfect model for the future because it created slave morality through establishing an “untouchable” class.  “The same is true of a much finer example of the effort to 'eternalize' the conditions of the thriving life, the Roman Empire: 'In this society, the revenue of reason from long ages of experiment and uncertainty should have been invested for the greatest long-term advantage, and the greatest, richest, most perfect crop should have been harvested'. (page 514) But it did not turn out that way because, according to Nietzsche, the slave morality of the underclass corrupted Rome from within.

Nietzsche proclaims that “every healthy society” contains a hierarchy of types of people based upon their “psychological type.”  A healthy society produces philosophically spiritual people are above all other types. Young points out that this reasoning is seems like “plagiarism” from Plato's Republic.  But there is a difference: “For Plato, the reason philosophers must rule is that they alone have knowledge of the 'Forms': the eternal and perfect paradigms of justice and virtue, knowledge which is the prerequisite of being a wise ruler.  But Nietzsche dismisses this 'true world' as a 'fable'.  And so he offers something else as a condition of leadership:

“'The highest caste – which I call the few - being the perfect caste also has the privilege of the few: this includes being [exemplary] models of happiness, beauty, goodness on earth.  Only the most spiritual human beings are be [morally] beautiful: only among them is goodness not a weakness...'The world is perfect' - this is how the instinct of the most perfect speaks, the yes-saying instinct.
“If one rejects democracy, as both Nietzsche and Plato do, if one believes – to call a spade a spade - in dictatorship, the question arises of how to ensure it is a benevolent dictatorship.  Plato's answer is not available to Nietzsche since the Forms are a myth. More broadly, it seems to me, Nietzsche does not believe that the most essential thing to good politics is any kind of cognitive expertise....What we need are leaders who are genuinely 'good', those in whom 'goodness is not a weakness', those who are 'the kindest' and who 'treat the average more delicately than they treat themselves or their equals'.” (page 516)

“Nietzsche argues that the fatal design flaw in both the society of Manu and in the Roman Empire was the creation of a 'Chandala' class: by allowing the development of an alienated underclass both societies sowed the seeds of their own downfall.  He needs, therefore, to be able to demonstrate that his own future society is free of this design flaw.

“Each of the three castes has, he says, a kind of happiness specific to itself....An 'average' type, for instance, would be 'crushed' by the burden of leadership and ascetic life-style that is the happiness of the spiritual type: 'life becomes increasingly difficult the higher one goes – it gets colder, there are more responsibilities'.  For the average, those with average desires and abilities, 'being average is happiness'.  For one born in an 'intelligent machine', a 'wheel' in the system, living the life of a wheel (or cog) is happiness.  This is a principal objection to socialism – it makes those it purports to benefit unhappy, 'undermines workers' instincts and pleasures, their feelings of modesty about their little existences'. 'Injustice', concludes Nietzsche, endorsing, exactly, Plato's definition of justice as everyone's adhering to the station in society to which they are, by nature, suited, 'is never a matter of unequal rights but it is a matter of claiming “equal” rights'.” (page 517)

“Healthy societies of the past have had, then, gods who allowed them, in one way or another, to celebrate themselves.  'There has never been a [successful] people without a religion' he writes in his notebooks; 'culture' means 'the gods'.  And a healthy society of the future will be the same: 'Almost two thousand years a no new god!' he laments.  That we have had only the same old 'mono-theism' says very little for Europe's 'skill in religion'.

“Notice the gesture, here, towards Greek polytheism: since Judaism, like Christianity (and Islam), is monotheistic, Yahweh will not, in the end, count as an ideal god.  Since the principal function of healthy gods is to be exemplary embodiments of the virtues of the community, and since Nietzsche insists that virtue, like happiness, is relative to one's station in the social totality, there must be, in the end, no 'one size fits all' kind of god but rather, as in Greece, a plurality – and presumably a hierarchy – of gods.

“The return of the 'Greek' gods in and through the rebirth of Greek tragedy was, of course, the aspiration of Nietzsche's first book.  With respect to the gods, it is clear, nothing essentially has changed.” (page 518)

“To make a hero of Jesus! […] Our whole concept, our cultural concept 'spirit' had no meaning whatever in the world Jesus lived in.  To speak with the precision of the physiologist a quite different world be in place here: the word idiot.” (A, 29)  While in some ways Nietzsche admires Jesus the man (...only Christian practice, a life such as he who died on the Cross lived, is Christian” A, 39), he nevertheless finds him more idiotic than heroic.  But what exactly inspired this rather crude name calling?  Cate explains:

“In writing these devastating sentences Nietzsche was clearly referring to Dostoevsky's novel, The Idiot - the pathetic story of a kindly, mystically inclined Russian prince (Myshkin), who ends up looking like a simpleton in trying to be kind-hearted and benevolent, in trying to love and love like a genuine Christian.  And indeed, a little further on, Nietzsche explicitly regretted that there should not have existed among Jesus's contemporaries a man of Dostoevsky's acute psychological insight, capable of fathoming the baffling complexities of his personality and exposing the crude naivete of his followers.  What Jesus really was, Nietzsche suggested, was a supreme irrealist, quite possibly the greatest irrealist the world has known and, for that very reason perhaps, the only absolutely genuine Christian there has ever been.  For, unlike Moses or Mohammed, who had their feet firmly planted on the ground and who were quite specific in their social recommendations, Jesus brought a message of 'glad tidings' that belonged to no specific time or place, that was atemporal and asocial.  Any 'Christian', eager to follow in the footsteps of the Master in the naive belief that the Kingdom of God is within one, ends up living in a religio-autistic world, totally severed from everyday reality.  This inner world is inherently 'subversive' in that it owes allegiance to no established institution, whether Church or other.  In this way the human individual is partly 'deified', divinized, delivered from the 'normal, natural' bonds of society.  This was the basic Christian element underlying Rousseau's political philosophy. Man is born free (because the 'Kingdom of God' is within him), but in the wicked world of everyday reality, he is everywhere in chains.  Normal, collective 'society' is thus demonized.

“When it became a faith, Christianity was transformed into something radically different: not a life of 'blessedness' as it is actually experienced here and now, as much as a belief in life as it ought to be lived with an eye to future rewards and punishments to be distributed in a radiantly celestial or darkly hellish future.” (Cate, page 530) 

It should be noted that, as with many of his previous works, Nietzsche's “psychological” reconstruction of “history” was inspired by his background in philology. But, his musings are often completely conjectural, without the benefit of empirical data or historical facts to back them up.  His interpretations as presented in The Antichrist are little more than astute observations leading to factually unsupported conclusions.  This does not diminish the power and application of his philosophy.  It merely emphasizes that the specifics of Nietzsche's interpretation of history are not founded in historical research but are, rather, free-form deductions that support his vision of the revaluation of the present to build a stronger future.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twilight of the Idols: Part Two

Perhaps more so than in any previous work, Nietzsche is the quintessential warrior-philosopher in Twilight of the Idols. But we should take care in interpreting this. For him this is a style of living that is non-violent. Rather, Nietzsche advocates an aggressive, creative personal as well as cultural confidence and inner strength.  It is, paradoxically perhaps, a source of joy. For the most part I will present aspects of the work not referenced by Julian Young in the prior post.

“To stay cheerful when involved in a gloomy and exceedingly responsible business is no inconsiderable art: yet what could be more necessary than cheerfulness? Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part.  Only excess of strength is proof of strength. - A revaluation of all values, this question-mark so black, so huge it casts a shadow over him who sets it up – such a destiny of a task compels one every instant to run out into the sunshine so as to shake off a seriousness grown all too oppressive.  Every expedient for doing so is justified, every 'occasion' a joyful occasion.  Above all, war.  War has always been the grand sagacity of every spirit which has grown too inward and too profound; its curative power lies even in the wounds one receives.

“This little book is a grand declaration of war; and as regards the sounding-out of idols, this time they are not idols of the age but eternal idols which are here touched with the hammer as with a tuning fork – there are no more ancient idols in existence....Also none more hollow....That does not prevent there being the most believed in; and they are not, especially in the most eminent case, called idols...” (from the Forward dated 30 September 1888)

As in the Genealogy, Nietzsche seeks to attack and annihilate the unquestioned assumptions of western civilization.  Even though he considered Twilight a “recreation,” he nevertheless deals with topics that were going to be at the foundation of the revaluation project.  His intent is to critique art, culture, religion, capitalism, democracy, among other major philosophical issues.  This aggression can be seen in the choice of subtitle for the book: “How to Philosophize with a Hammer”.  It is equally apparent in his title for the section of short sayings which opens the work - “Maxims and Arrows”, which contain some of his most famous remarks.

“Which is it?  Is man only God's mistake or God only man's mistake?” (I, 7)

From the military school of life. - What does not kill me makes me stronger.” (I, 8)

“If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how. - Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that.” (I, 12)

“How little is needed for happiness! The note of a bagpipe. - Without music life  would be a mistake. The German even thinks of God as singing songs.” (I, 33)

Nietzsche begins his attack upon the unquestioned assumptions that lead to basic falsehoods in modern society by analyzing language and its relationship to the human 'ego' itself.  “Language belongs in its origin to the age of the most rudimentary form of psychology: we find ourselves in the midst of a rude fetishism when we call to mind the basic presuppositions of the metaphysics of language – which is to say, of reason.  It is this which sees everywhere deed and doer; this which believes in will as cause in general; this which believes in the 'ego' , in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and which projects its belief in the ego-substance on to all things – only thus does it create the concept of 'thing'....Being is everywhere thought in, foisted on, as cause; it is only from the conception 'ego' that there follows, derivatively, the concept of 'being'....At the beginning stands the great fateful error that the will is something which produces an effect - that will is a faculty....Today we know it is merely a word....” (III, 5)

He dismisses the probability that there is an “apparent” world, a “better” world than this, as “phantasmagoria”. Such thinking leads of decadence of every kind.  Against this, the “tragic artist is not a pessimist – it is precisely he who affirms all that is questionable and terrible in existence, he is Dionysian...” (III, 6)  Fundamentally, not only accepting but embracing the uncertainty and difficulty of this life in this world gives the discerning reader a glimpse that the revaluation project is fundamentally Dionysian in nature.

Nietzsche follows this section of Twilight with “How the 'Real World' at last Became a Myth.”  This is a very brief thought experiment consisting six progressive theses.  First, the “real world” is attainable to the wise and virtuous, Next, it is unattainable but promised to the wise and virtuous.  Thirdly, the real world becomes “a consolation, a duty” because it is not unattainable but undemonstrative. Next, it becomes fundamentally unknowable and our “duty” to it is questionable.  Fifth, the real world has no use, there is nothing to have duty toward and it should be abolished. Finally, the real world is abolished and, along with it, the apparent world.

The warrior-philosopher criticizes the popular (and largely unquestioned) assumption that our well-being should direct us toward peace and tranquility.  Rather than a legitimate goal for the benefit of humanity he sees such things as a harmful weakness. “Nothing has grown more alien to us than that desideratum of former times 'peace of the soul', the Christian desideratum; nothing arouses less envy in us than the moral cow and the fat contentment of the good conscience....One has renounced grand life when one renounces war....

“'Peace of soul' can, for example, be the gentle radiation of a rich animality into the moral (or religious) domain.  Or the beginning of weariness, the first of the shadows which evening, every sort of evening, casts.  Or a sign that the air is damp, that south winds are on the way.  Or unconscious gratitude for a good digestion (sometimes called 'philanthropy'). Or the quiescence of the convalescent for whom all things have a new taste and who waits....Or the condition which succeeds a vigorous gratification of our ruling passion, the pleasant feeling of a rare satiety.  Or the decrepitude of our will, our desires, our vices.  Or laziness persuaded by vanity to deck itself out as morality.  Or the appearance of a certainty, even a dreadful certainty, after the protracted tension and torture of uncertainty.  Or the expression of ripeness and mastery in the midst of action, creation, endeavor, volition, a quiet breathing, 'freedom of will' attained....Twilight of the Idols: who knows? Perhaps that too is a kind of 'peace of the soul'...” (V, 3)

Nietzsche critiques moral authority and whether traditional morality is beneficial or harmful.  He advocates the style of the "immoralist".  This is not an outright "wicked" person in the traditional sense.  It is a warrior who questions morality as it interferes with "higher" society, as it attempts to restrain instinctual human diversity.  “Let us consider finally what naivety it is to say 'man ought to be thus and thus!'  Reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types, the luxuriance of a prodigal play and change of forms: and does some pitiful journeyman moralist say at the sight of it: 'No! Man ought to be different?' ... In so far as morality condemns as morality and not with regard to the aims and objects of life ... it is a specific error with which one should show no sympathy, an idiosyncrasy of the degenerate which has caused an unspeakable amount of pain! … We others, we immoralists, have on the contrary opened wide our hearts to every kind of understanding, comprehension, approval.  We do not readily deny, we seek our honor in affirming.  We have come more and more to appreciate that economy which needs and knows how to use all that which the holy lunacy of the priests, the diseased reason of the priest rejects; that economy in the law of life which derives advantage even from the repellent species of the bigot, the priest, the virtuous man - what advantage? - But we ourselves, we immoralists, are the answer to that...” (V, 6)

In “The Four Great Errors” Nietzsche delineates fundamental assumptions humans make about reality that are untrue and are the basis for all kinds of confused behavior and interpretation of experience in western civilization.  The first is “The error of confusing cause and consequence.  There is no more dangerous error than that of mistaking the consequence for the cause: I call it reason's intrinsic form of corruption.  Nonetheless, this error is among the most ancient and most recent habits of mankind: it is even sanctified among us, it bears the names 'religion' and 'morality'.  Every proposition formulated by religion and morality contains it; priests and moral legislatures are the authors of this corruption of reason.” (VI, 1)

Though Twilight is not 'officially' part of the revaluation project, Nietzsche takes the opportunity in the work to proclaim the very first revaluation: “The most general formula at the basis of every religion and morality is: 'Do this and this, refrain from this and this – and you will be happy!  Otherwise...' Every morality, every religion is this imperative – I call it the great original sin of reason, immortal unreason. In my mouth this formula is converted into its reverse - first example of my 'revaluation of all values': a well-constituted human being, a 'happy one', must perform certain actions and instinctively shrinks from other actions, he transports the order of which he is the physiological representative into his relations with other human beings and with things.  In a formula: his virtue is the consequence of his actions.

“My restored reason says: when a people is perishing, degenerating psychologically, vice and luxury (that is to say the necessity for stronger and stronger and more and more frequent stimulants, such as every exhausted nature is acquainted with) follow therefrom.  A young man grows prematurely pale and faded.  His friends say: this and that illness is to blame.  I say: that he became ill, that he failed to resist the illness, was already the consequence of an impoverished life, an hereditary exhaustion....My higher politics says: a party which makes errors like this is already finished – it is no longer secure in its instincts.  Every error, of whatever kind, is a consequence of degeneration of instinct, degeneration of will: one has thereby virtually defined the bad. Everything good is instinct – and consequently easy, necessary, free.  Effort is an objection, the god is typically distinguished from the hero (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity.” (VI, 2)

“The error of false causality” and “The error of imaginary causes” follow.  Nietzsche sees western values as subject to “phantoms and false lights” and the best example of the confusion over cause and consequence is traditional morality and religion itself. “Morality and religion fall entirely under the psychology of error: in every single case cause is mistaken for effect;  or the effect of what is believed true is mistaken for the truth;  or a state of consciousness is mistaken for the causation of this state.” (VI, 6)

Then we come to “The error of free will.”  Essentially, Nietzsche discusses the importance of “free will” to the Christian concept of “guilt” - a life freely willed is a life that makes guilt and punishment possible.  But Nietzsche destroys the concept of free will as a fiction, thereby there is no basis for “guilt” or for any accountability whatsoever. Instead: “We invented the concept of 'purpose': in reality purpose is lacking … One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole – there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole....But nothing exists apart from the whole!” (VI, 8)

We have touched on this before but it bears repeating, by denying the existence of a free will Nietzsche runs into a potential inconsistency in his philosophy.  How can the “free spirit” or the “ubermensch” aspire to “higher culture” with no will of their own?  Nowhere does Nietzsche seem to consider the problematic nature of his position and perhaps he did not view it as an issue at all.

After Nietzsche's hammer smashes traditional morality in section VII by declaring “there are no moral facts whatever”, he proceeds to critique German culture as a problem of higher education.  The key to the future, for Germany and otherwise, is to be educated in how to properly think, that is, to develop a kind of plasticity of mind.  “Who among Germans still knows from experience that subtle thrill which the possession of intellectual light feet communicates to the muscles! … For dancing in any form cannot be divorced from a noble education, being able to dance with the feet, with concepts, with words: do I still have to say that one has to be able to dance with the pen - that writing has to be learned.”  (VIII, 7)

Next Twilight arrives at what I consider to be the core of the work, section IX “Expeditions of an Untimely Man”, the longest section of the work.  The title alone suggests that, as throughout his body of work, Nietzsche views himself as ahead of his time; of communicating concepts that are beyond modernity to whatever comes next.  Nietzsche is an explorer into realms of reality that lie beyond the well-worn cultural paths of traditional religion, philosophy, and psychology.  A higher person keeps their eye on the higher overall goal for society as a whole.  This person is inherently creative (in some form), the "grand style" for living emerges out of a euphoria of abundance.

“To experience from a desire to experience – that's no good.  In experiencing, one must not look back towards oneself, or every glance becomes an 'evil eye'. A born psychologist instinctively guards against seeing for the sake of seeing; the same applies to the born painter.  He never works 'from nature' – he leaves it to his instinct, his camera obscura to sift and strain 'nature', the 'case', the 'experience'....He is conscious only of the universal, the conclusion, the outcome: he knows nothing of that arbitrary abstraction from the individual case.” (IX, 7)

Towards a psychology of the artist. - For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.  Intoxication must first have heightened the excitability of the entire machine: no art results before that happens.  All kinds of intoxication, however different their origin, have the power to do this: above all, intoxication of sexual excitement, the oldest and most primitive form of intoxication....The essence of intoxication is the feeling of plenitude and increased energy.  From out of this feeling one gives to things, one compels them to take, one rapes them – one calls this procedure idealizing.  Let us get rid of a prejudice here: idealization does not consist, as is commonly believed, in a subtracting or deducting of the petty and secondary.  A tremendous expulsion of the principle features rather is the decisive thing, so that thereupon the others too disappear.” (IX, 8)

“In this condition one enriches everything out of one's own abundance: what one sees, what one desires, one sees swollen, pressing, strong, overladen with energy. The man in this condition transforms things until they mirror his power – until they are reflections of his perfection.  This compulsion to transform into the perfect is – art.” (IX, 9)

“The most powerful men have always been inspired architects; the architect has always been influenced by power.  Pride, victory over weight and gravity, the will to power, seek to render themselves visible in a building; architecture is a kind of rhetoric of power, now persuasive, even cajoling in form, now bluntly imperious.  The highest feeling of power and security finds expression in that which possesses grand style.  Power which no longer requires proving; which disdains to please; which is slow to answer; which lives oblivious of the existence of any opposition; which reposes in itself, fatalistic, a law among laws: that is what speaks of itself in the form of grand style. (IX, 11)

“Every individual may be regarded as representing the ascending or descending line of life.  When one has decided which, one has thereby established a canon for the value of his egoism.  If he represents the ascending line his value is in fact extraordinary – and for the sake of the life-collective, which with him takes a step forward, the care expended on his preservation, on the creation of optimum conditions for him, may even be extreme.  For the individual, the 'single man', as people and philosophers have hitherto understood him, is an error: he does not constitute a separate entity, an atom, a 'link in the chain', something merely inherited from the past – he constitutes the entire single line 'man' up to and including himself....If he represents the descending development, decay, chronic degeneration, sickening ( - sickness is, broadly speaking, already a phenomenon consequent upon decay, not the cause of it), then he can be accorded little value, the elementary fairness demands that he takes away as little as possible from the well-constituted.  He is not better than a parasite on them...” (IX, 33)

A criticism of decadence morality. - An 'altruistic' morality, a morality under which egoism languishes - is under all circumstances a bad sign.  This applies to individuals, it applies especially to peoples.  The best are lacking, when egoism begins to be lacking.  To choose what is harmful to oneself. To be attracted by 'disinterested' motives, almost constitutes the formula for decadence....Disintegration of the instincts! - Man is finished when he becomes altruistic. - Instead of saying simply 'I am no longer worth anything', the moral lie in the mouth of the decadent says: 'Nothing is worth anything - life is not worth anything'....Such a judgment represents, after all, a grave danger, it is contagious – on the utterly morbid soil of society it soon grows luxuriously, now in the form of religion (Christianity), now in that of philosophy (Schopenhauerism). (IX, 35) 

“Our softening of customs – this is my thesis, my innovation if you like – is a consequence of decline; stern and frightful customs can, conversely, be a consequence of a superabundance of life.  For in the latter case much may be risked, much demanded and much squandered.  What was formerly a spice of life would be poison to us....We are likewise too old, too belated, to be capable of indifference – also a form of strength: our morality of pity, against which I was the first to warn. That which one might call l'impressionisme morale, is one more expression of the physiological over-excitability pertaining to everything decadent.

“Strong ages, noble cultures, see in pity, in 'love of one's neighbor', in a lack of self and self-reliance, something contemptible.  Ages are to be assessed according to their positive forces - and by this assessment the age of the Renaissance, so prodigal and so fateful, appears as the last great age, and we, we moderns with our anxious care for ourselves and love of our neighbor, with our virtues of work, of unpretentiousness, of fair play, of scientifically – acquisitive, economical, machine-minded – appear as a weak age....Our virtues are conditioned, are demanded by our weakness....'Equality', a certain actual rendering similar of which the theory of 'equal rights' is only an expression, belongs essentially to decline: the chasm between man and man, class and class, the multiplicity of types, the will to be oneself, to stand out – that which I call pathos of distance - characterizes every strong age.” (IX, 38)

Nietzsche believes that the highest form of human freedom is to be found in the individuals who overcome the greatest personal challenges. In my opinion, he is completely correct in this regard. Seeking freedom in "liberty" and "rights" is a hollow shell upon which all manner of cultural errors occur. “One would have to seek the highest type of free man where the greatest resistance is constantly being overcome: five steps from tyranny, near the threshold of the danger of servitude.  This is true psychologically when one understands by 'tyrants' pitiless and dreadful instincts, to combat which demands the maximum of authority and discipline towards oneself – finest type Julius Ceasar...” (IX, 38)

Genuine individual and cultural strength comes from affirming and overcoming the challenges of life. “The psychology of the orgy as an overflowing feeling of life and energy within which even pain acts as a stimulus provided me with the key to the concept of the tragic feeling, which was misunderstood as much by Aristotle as it especially was by our pessimists.  Tragedy is so far from providing evidence of pessimism among the Hellenes in Schopenhauer's sense that it has to be considered the decisive repudiation of that idea and the counter-verdict to it.  Affirmation of life even in its strangest and sternest problems, the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustibility through the sacrifice of its highest types - that is what I call Dionysian, that is what I recognized as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet.  Not so as to get rid of pity and terror, not so as to purify oneself of a dangerous emotion through its vehement discharge – it was thus Aristotle understood it – but, beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming – that joy which also encompasses joy in destruction....And with that I again return to the place from which I set out - Birth of Tragedy was my first revaluation of all values: with that I again plant myself in the soil out of which I draw all that I will and can - I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus – I, the teacher of eternal recurrence...” (X, 5)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Twilight of the Idols: Part One

Like The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche's next work, Twilight of the Idols, was considered by its author as a “relaxation” from the revaluation project, though it is perhaps more accurate to describe Twilight as yet another (one could count Beyond Good and Evil as well) prelude to the project. He addresses many of the themes intended for the project and specifically mentions the "revaluation of all values" a few times throughout the course of the work.  Still, it was apparently not structured in a way that Nietzsche intended for the project itself.  Twilight is a "free-form" or in some sense "casual" approach to the issues involving the project rather than a work consisting of a series of critiques and ideas progressing one upon the other, as is more the case with The Antichrist.  

“It was begun, as Nietzsche reports, on August 18 and finished twenty days later on September 7.  Though it incorporates notebook material that was originally intended for his masterwork, there are no notebook sketches of this specific work, so Nietzsche's implication that it was a work of inspiration rather than prescription is partially correct.

“Originally it was to have had the rather downbeat title Idleness of a Psychologist.  But it took little effort on Koselitz's part to persuade Nietzsche that this was inadequate to the major significance of the content....So the work became Twilight of the Idols. Though this brilliant pun on Wagner's Twilight of the Gods was intended to allow the work to follow The Wagner Case in cashing in on the Wagner market – he called it a 'twin' of that work, which should be published in a format that made this clear – it is actually a somewhat misleading title since, for once, Wagner hardly appears.

“As the Preface puts it, though the subtitle is, 'How One Philosophizes with a Hammer', the hammer that 'sounds out' the idols is used as if it were a tuning fork.” (Julian Young, page 497)

“The majority of his most famous epigrams come from Twilight.  One suspects that the euphoria of release from the unrewarding slog on the masterwork produced a moment of effortless creative intensity.” (page 498)

As with several earlier works, fundamental topics of Twilight of the Idols are the nature of reality (as a foundation for revaluation), as well as the affects of "ressentiment" and "decadence" upon modern culture. Here Nietzsche is a hard realist. “...since there is no 'true' world, it makes no sense to call 'this' one a merely 'apparent' world.  There is only one world and 'this' is it.

“But what is 'this' world?  Nietzsche continues to promote scientific over commonsense realism.  It is not just the 'true world' that is a fable; 'things' are as well, a projection of our inner life.  We mistakenly think there is a thing called the 'I' which causes our actions (the Genealogy argues that this is an illusion of grammar) and then extend this schema to the outer world so that it becomes populated with a whole lot of 'I'-like things causing 'actions' to happen.  But this is mere projection.  Things in general, including material atoms, not to mention Kant's 'thing in itself', are projections.  Boscovitch's conception of a world of forces remains our best account of the nature of fundamental reality.

“But what is the character of these forces? At the time of writing Beyond Good and Evil the concept of force needed 'supplementing' by the notion of the will to power. Yet in Twilight Nietzsche is strangely reticent. There is no mention of supplementation, indeed the very phrase 'will to power' only occurs four times in the entire work, and never in conjunction with natural forces.  The suggestion arises, once again, that the grand metaphysics of reality as 'will to power and nothing else' has been abandoned, leaving us to understand forces purely in terms of their effects.” (pp. 498-499)
Nietzsche also explores human freedom in the work. While he rejects the idea of 'free will' as misguided, he nevertheless believes in a certain flavor of freedom. “'My idea of freedom', he writes, is that it is a matter of 'being responsible for oneself', maintaining one's 'distance', 'becoming indifferent to hardship', 'being prepared to sacrifice people to your cause, yourself included'.  To be free means that 'the instincts which take pleasure in war and victory have gained control over other instincts', the instinct to 'happiness', for instance, happiness, at least, as conceived by 'grocers, Christians, cows, females, Englishmen, and other democrats'.  Freedom is not a birthright.  Rather one 'becomes free' by being a 'warrior' on the internal battlefield of the soul.  The degree of freedom one possesses is measured by the degree of 'resistance one has overcome, the amount of effort it costs to stay on top'.” (page 499)

The authentic nature of human happiness is also a major theme in Twilight.  “'Formula for my happiness', he writes, 'a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal; in other words, a life-defining cause.  This point emerges in one of Twilight's most memorable aphorisms: 'If you have your why? in life you can put up with almost any how?  Man does not strive for happiness, only the Englishman does.'  The 'Englishman' here is John Stuart Mill, a  protagonist of the 'Utilitarian' principle that we should all seek to produce 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'.  True happiness, is always a by-product of one's 'work', of active commitment to the 'straight line' of one's life, one's life-defining 'goal'.

“More, however, than focused commitment is required for happiness.  As Nietzsche emphasizes – over emphasizes – a socialist may be committed to the cause of the worker's revolution, yet be consumed by ressentiment against capitalist oppressors and so far be far from happy. Happiness requires the overcoming of ressentiment, of repressed hatred and lust for revenge: one must 'redeem' evils done to one in the past (for example, the Salome affair) by showing that, as Nietzsche's most famous (but not best) epigram puts it, 'What does not kill me makes me stronger'.  And it requires too the overcoming of guilt.  If you want to be happy, Twilight instructs, 'Don't be cowardly about your actions! Don't abandon them afterwards! The pang ('bite' in German) of conscience is obscene'.  As one must redeem evils done to one, so one must redeem actions done by one.  In short, the 'straight line' that defines both one's goal and one's identity must 'narrate' one's life in such a way that everything that is done to or by one finds its justification, its 'redemption', within one's life as a whole.

“Nietzsche sums all this up with a panegyric to Goethe – the human personality he admires more than any other.  A spirit like Goethe, he says, 'who has become free, stands in the middle of the world with a joyful and trusting fatalism, in the faith that only what is individual is reprehensible, that everything, is redeemed and affirmed in the whole - he does not negate any more...a faith like this is the highest of all possible faiths: I have christened it with the name Dionysus'.  This 'highest faith' is of course the faith that constitutes amor fati (love of fate), the faith that allows one to will eternal return.  Perfect happiness is the ability to will eternal return.” (pp. 500-501)

According to Young, Nietzsche goes into some detail as to what makes eternal return specifically a Dionysian concept. “...cognitive insight occurs in the Dionysian state.  In the state, one guarantees to oneself 'eternal life' by rising above 'all death and change'.  One transcends life as an individual by identifying with, identifying oneself as, 'the overall continuation of life'.  This 'being oneself the eternal joy in becoming', is the state in which one identifies with, understands, what one's 'true life' is....a great deal of Nietzsche's philosophy has been a preparation for this validation of Dionysian feeling, for validation of the idea that one's 'true' self is universal, that individual life is 'untrue'...this anatta, no-self ontology, as well as the broader rejection of 'things' in general, is a meeting point between Nietzschean and Buddhist ontology. But it is grounded in solid Western philosophizing, in the thinking of 'the philosopher, Dionysus', the thinking of all those who follow Heraclitus (in whose company Nietzsche feels 'warmer and in better spirits than anywhere else') in rejecting being and beings as 'an empty fiction'.

“Saying 'the triumphal yes to life' even in the face of its most terrible aspects is, of course, willing the eternal return.  So, to return to our original question, in calling 'Goethe's faith', willing the eternal return, 'Dionysian', Nietzsche's point is that it can only be achieved through transcendence of the ego, identification with the totality of existence.” (page 503)

Of course, throughout Twilight Nietzsche continues to frame a favorite topic of his (expressed more fully in his next work The Antichrist), namely the psychological harm Christianity does to Western civilization.  “Christian indoctrination directs one to become, like Christ, free of 'negative' drives such as aggression and (especially) sexual lust.  To the extent one has such drives (even if one's adultery is only 'in the heart'), one s supposed to feel bad. The ultimate aim is their 'castration', becoming unable ever to experience them again.  'Castration' is the preferred technique of the weak-willed in general.  Trappists have so little faith in their ability to be corrupted by worldly things that they have to leave the worldly world entirely.  The disastrous, incredibly wasteful, mistake underlying 'castration', however, is its failure ever to ask how the passions might be 'spiritualized, beautified, deified':

“'The spiritualization of sensuality is called love.  It is a great triumph over Christianity.  Another triumph is our spiritualization of hostility.  It consists in a deep appreciation of the value of having enemies: in brief, one comes to act in the opposite way to the way one used to act.' (TI V 3)

“One values one's enemies, Nietzsche continues, because one only discovers one's identity when faced with opposition.  This is as true of individuals as of political parties.

“Spiritualization, sublimation, is a matter of providing a drive with a new, spiritual expression in place of its old, crudely physical one, so that it becomes no longer harmful. Notice, however, an element in Nietzsche's conception of sublimation not previously made fully explicit: sublimation does not merely vent the dangerous drive (so that it becomes something merely neutral, as when aggression is vented on a football field) but rather transforms it into something that is the 'opposite' of what it used to be, something positively beneficial.  Thus – this presumably is what Nietzsche's cryptic remark means – the setting of the sex-drive in the context of love transforms the 'other' from a sex object to be used into a person to be respected and cared for.  And the spiritualization of hostility becomes a kind of competitive friendship.” (page 504)

“Spiritualization is the response then, to the charge that Nietzsche offers nothing to deal with the harmful effects of human drives and passions.  At the center of 'all religions and moralities', says Nietzsche, is the idea that virtue is the path to happiness: 'do this, don't do that – and then you'll be happy!  Otherwise...'.  We, however, he continues, say exactly the opposite: '...a well-formed person, a 'happy one', has to perform certain acts and will instinctively avoid others.  In a word: his virtue is the effect of his happiness.'

“Nietzsche emphasizes the importance of this insight by calling it the first example of his 'revaluation of all values', meaning, presumably, that the first injunction of his new morality is: Become a 'happy', 'well-formed', (his favorite terminology) 'healthy' person!

“The 'selfishness' of fully healthy people has, says Nietzsche, 'extraordinary value' since 'the whole of life advances through them'.  Healthy, happy people benefit us all.  Who are they?  The answer to this question we know already: they are people like Goethe and Mirabeau who, the Genealogy observes, being free form the 'worm' of ressentiment, exhibit true love of their neighbors. The people who benefit us all are those who are never motivated by guilt, fear, hatred, or ressentiment, people who, 'trusting' that even the most repellent things and persons contribute to some greater good, display an extraordinary and universal benevolence towards the world that 'negates' nothing.  The more like Goethe we become, the greater the value of our (unselfish) selfishness.” (page 505)

Nietzsche remains highly skeptical and critical of German society in Twilight.  He felt that the imperial aspirations of Bismarck and the Reich traded the potential of an elevated culture for the all-too-human crudeness of power politics. “As always, a major focus of Nietzsche's critique of the current German scene is higher education....he observes that whereas the true goal of the university is to create fine human beings, those of both outstanding intellect and character, the university of the Reich has become a factory for turning men into machines, machines designed for civil service.

“A final strand in Nietzsche's critique of modern Germany, and by implication Western modernity in general, a critique of what he takes to be a developing trend, is his rejection of 'liberal institutions' – by 'liberal' he seems to mean institutions governed by the idea of 'equal rights for all', which makes this critique part of the ongoing critique of 'equal rights'.  'Liberal institutions' would thus seem to include women's emancipation, universal education, parliamentary democracy, social welfare, trade unions, and the like.

“...Nietzsche's theory of communal health: along with the occasional 'random mutation', a thriving community requires a powerful 'will to tradition', a tough, authoritarian conservatism that makes departure from tradition difficult. This is where 'liberal institutions' fail.  Take marriage.  It used to be 'indissoluble for life' with sole 'juridical authority' invested in the husband, a clarity in the chain of command which gave it a 'center of balance'.  Now, however, it is based on love, a notoriously fickle foundation on which to base anything at all.  And with 'equal rights' for women its former clarity of purpose is gone.  Instead of walking, modern marriage 'limps along on both legs'.  It is, consequently, disappearing social degeneration (the decay of 'family values', a similar spirit would say today) is the effect.” (pp. 507-508)

“Evidently, Twilight's better society will be one of illiberal institutions.  It will be a society that, while supporting elitist educational institutions that nurture the exceptional types who carry the seeds of its future development, will at the same time make it difficult for them to carry out their task.  It will be, moreover, a society of firmly maintained hierarchy.  Take the question of the workers.  What the modern machine economy demands is, effectively, industrial slaves. But at the same time, wishy-washy liberalism insists on providing them with education, the right to vote and the right to unionize.  The result is that they develop the desire to become themselves the masters. And the consequent of that is social strife and misery. 'If you want slaves', Nietzsche concludes, 'it is stupid to train them to become masters.'

“What any society needs, he continues, is a stratum of 'modest and self-sufficient types, Chinese types'....the basic shape of society needs to be the 'pyramid' of Plato's Republic with a stratum of workers forming the 'broad base'.  Within that basic shape, however, there will be many fine-grained distinctions.  Since 'reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types' it is stupid to say, as 'moralists' do, that 'man ought to be thus and thus!' to 'paint a picture on the wall and say ecce homo'.  Whatever morality the new society possesses, it will have differential rights and duties for different kinds of people.  Though hierarchical, it will be the opposite of homogeneous.” (page 508)

“'Every healthy morality', Nietzsche asserts, every 'natural' morality, serves 'some rule of life'.  It is, we know, 'the voice of a people's will to power', its will to live and thrive. And so too, we have just seen, is its art.  There is thus a coincidence between healthy art and healthy morality: the 'valuations' that are validated by a community's art are the valuations of its morality.  This takes us back to the task assigned to art in Human, All-Too-Human of 'imaginatively developing' shining images of the 'great and beautiful soul', back to the 'monumental' figures of the second Untimely Meditation and, ultimately, back to Wagner and The Birth of Tragedy's assertion that, 'art and people, myth and morality' are 'necessarily and closely intertwined' in a healthy community.  On the connection between art and society nothing has changed.” (page 509)