Friday, October 31, 2014

On Beyond Good and Evil: Part One

Note: All quotes are from my slightly more modern translation of Beyond Good and Evil dated 1998.

Section One of Beyond Good and Evil is entitled "On the Prejudices of Philosophers." Essentially, Nietzsche argues that the traditional approach to philosophy is all wrong.  Past philosophers have taken for granted an "instinct for knowledge" (Kaufmann translates this as "drive for knowledge") that is too restrictive when considering the vast forces in play that philosophy attempts to define and contemplate.  "Thus," he writes, "I do not believe that an 'instinct for knowledge' is the father of philosophy, but rather that here as elsewhere a different instinct has merely made use of knowledge (and kNOwledge) as its tool." (Aphorism 6, the strange spelling by the translator reflects Nietzsche's often joking play on words which, in this case, means "misunderstanding".)

Nietzsche critiques traditional metaphysical approaches as too narrow and based upon incomplete value judgments.  In other words, there is more to the philosophical quest than the quest for knowledge and understanding.  Philosophy up to now has limited itself to a tyrannically singular drive when, in truth, there are other forces are at work.  Somewhat equating instinct (drive) with common human willpower, he writes: "let us say that in every act of willing there is first of all a multiplicity of feelings..." The person who wills " commanding a Something in himself that obeys, or that thinks he is obeying." (19) What is being obeyed?  What is the "different instinct" besides the drive for knowledge itself that is the "father of philosophy?"  It is none other than the "evolutionary theory of the will to power." (22, Nietzsche's emphasis)

The section concludes most importantly with the interesting contention that psychology is now the superior route to contextualizing the quest for knowledge and understanding, the issue of human instinctual behavior and willpower, claiming that "Never yet has a deeper world of insight been opened to bold travelers and adventurers...psychology be recognized once again as the queen of the sciences, which other sciences exist to serve and anticipate.  For psychology has once again become the way to basic issues." (23)

"The Free Spirit" is the work's second section, wherein Nietzsche attempts to define a style of living or a posture toward life that is superior to traditional philosophical inquiry.  Of special significance is that this style is an inspirational way to live.  "There are heights of the soul from which vantage point even tragedy ceases to have a tragic effect; and taking all pain of the world together, who could dare to decide whether the sight of it should necessarily seduce and coerce us to feel pity in particular, thus redoubling the pain?  What serves to nourish and refresh the higher type of person must be almost poison to a very diverse and inferior type." (30)

Here Nietzsche argues against the almost universal prejudice that truth must lead, basically, to human goodness or happiness.  I personally find this one of the most compelling aspects to his philosophy.  "Happiness and virtue cannot be used as arguments.  But we like to forget, even the thoughtful spirits among us, that whatever makes us unhappy or evil can no more be used as a counter-argument.  Something might be true, even if it is also harmful and dangerous in the highest degree; indeed, it might be part of the essential nature of existence that to understand it completely would lead to our own destruction.  The strength of a person's spirit would then be measured by how much 'truth' he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, falsified." (39) Questioning this prejudice that human contentment and peace is at the core of infinite truth is unsettling but worthy and relevant and a startlingly pertinent skepticism.  This is Nietzsche at his finest.

Not all free spirits are equal.  Some weaker ones attempt to follow this philosophic prejudice of goodness and happiness.  "What they are trying with all their strength to achieve is a common green pasture of happiness for the herd, with safety, security, comfort, ease of life for everyone;  their two most often recited tunes and teachings are 'Equal rights' and 'Compassion for all suffering' - and they take suffering itself as something that must be eliminated....the plant 'human being'...we are of the opinion that this has always happened under the opposite conditions: that the precariousness of the plant's situation had first to increase enormously; that its power of invention and disguise (its 'spirit') had to become subtle and dating through long periods of pressure and discipline; that its life-will had to be intensified into an unconditional power-will." (44)

By equating human experience as a type of flora Nietzsche is pointing out the dynamic aspect of the human condition while simultaneously placing human life in its proper context, as nothing special on this earth, as just another life form with commonality to lowly vegetative matter.  Plants do not "think" and yet are just as philosophically relevant as humans.  This further serves his purpose of undermining the "tyranny" of rationality and emotion in the quest for legitimate truth.

The third section, "The Religious Disposition," expands the critique beyond philosophy to the domain of religion.  Of course, Nietzsche defines all religious understanding as a "naïveté" and as a "neurosis" which leads to little of value to higher free spirits.  Nevertheless, religion is invaluable to the common herd of humanity, bringing contentment to them.  This contentment is ruinous to the higher being, but absolutely necessary for the herd.  "There is perhaps nothing so admirable about Christianity and Buddhism as their skill in showing even the lowliest people how piety can place them within an illusionary higher order of things and this enables them to remain content with the real order, within which they certainly live a harsh (and harshness is exactly what is needed!) life." (61)

A section of short aphorisms entitled "Epigrams and Interludes" follows.  These are mostly random ideas probably jotted down in his pocket notepad during his frequent long afternoon walks and hikes.  There are several among them of an erotic nature, indicating this ancillary thread of Nietzsche was still somewhat prominent even in 1886.  "The degree and nature of a person's sexuality extends into the highest pinnacle of his spirit." (75) "The tremendous anticipation of sexual love and the shame in this anticipation spoil any sense of perspective in women from the start." (114) "The feeling of the tragic decreases and increases along with sensuality." (155) "Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love." (175)

But there is also one of those "sound bite" moments that Nietzsche tends of have in his greatest works:  "Anyone who fights with monsters should take care that he does not in the process become a monster.  And if you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you." (146)  A cold, clear assessment from the razor's edge.  Don't become the monster you are fighting.  Realize the abyss is a force that can see you.  Both of these are very profound and highly relevant pieces of advice for expressing a higher cultural style.

"Towards a Natural History of Morals" touches upon the Master-Slave Morality that will dominate Nietzsche's next book.  It is part of the prejudice of philosophers that morality itself has never been seen as "problematic", that is, philosophy addresses defined moral problems but no one questions the general worth of so-called morality principles.  Traditional morals have historically been a "constraint of the spirit" holding humanity back from its full expression and potential for new values.  Instead, we live in "an age of disintegration."

"Certain strong and dangerous instincts, such as adventurousness, recklessness, vengefulness, slyness, rapacity, lust for power, were previously not only honored (by names other than the ones above, of course) as beneficial to the community, but they also had to be cultivated and bred, because people continually had need of them in their common danger against common enemies.  But now (when there are no drainage channels for them) these same instincts are felt to be doubly dangerous and are gradually stigmatized and slandered as immoral." (201)

"When an individual's highest and strongest instincts break forth with a passion, driving him far above and beyond the average, beyond the lowlands of the herd conscience, the community's self-regard is destroyed as a result; its beliefs in itself, its backbone, so to speak, is shattered: and that is why people do well to stigmatize and slander just these instincts above all.  Exalted, self-directed spirituality, a will to solitude, even great powers of reason are felt as a danger; everything that raises an individual above the herd and causes his neighbor to fear him is henceforth called evil; a proper, modest, conforming, equalizing mentality, what is average on the scale gains a moral name and respect." (201)

Against this vast force of modernity Nietzsche cries for revaluation of every moral foundation.  Bold "new philosophers" will "reverse 'eternal values'" and "forge the necessary link to force a thousand-year-old will onto new tracks.  They will teach humans that their future is their will, that the future depends upon human will, and they will prepare the way for great risk-taking and joint experiments in discipline and breeding in order to put an end to that terrible reign of nonsense and coincidence that until now has been known as 'history'." (203)  Nietzsche might seem naive here believing that a class of free spirits will rise up and create higher culture.  But, when we recall that in this book Nietzsche uses "philosophy" in a reevaluated sense to encompass "psychology" and even aesthetics, then we understand that he is not talking about philosophers as great academic teachers or writers.  That is the tyranny which must be overcome.  He is talking about new values created through new ways of expressing higher philosophy.

Exactly who these "new philosophers" are is the subject of Section Six, "We Scholars."  The qualities possessed by these individuals, beyond a sense of adventure and excitement about living a life of creation, include: "a critic and a sceptic and a dogmatist and an historian." Additionally, they will be "a poet and collector and traveller and puzzle-solver and moralist and seer and 'free spirit' and nearly all things, so that he can traverse the range of human values and value-feelings and be able to look with many kinds of eyes and consciences from heights into every distance, from the depths into every height, from the corners into every wide expanse.  But all these are but preconditions for his task: the task itself calls for something else - it calls for him to create values.  It is the task of those philosophical workers in the noble mold of Kant and Hegel to establish and press into formulae some large body of value judgments (that is, previous value-assumptions, value-creations that have become dominant and are for a time called 'truths'), whether in the realm of logic or of politics (morals) or of aesthetics," (211). Again, new areas of cultural force await for philosophy to work its magic through free spirits in our world.  It does not seem such an impossible project given the dispersed nature of philosophy and its effects that Nietzsche envisions.  He is not discussing an organized social movement so much as the way the will to power works as human society evolves.

Greater clarification comes in the following section, "Our Virtues."  Here Nietzsche discusses some forms of morality, such a pity and compassion, in the context of "we Europeans of the day after tomorrow."  Morality should "bow down" to the natural hierarchy of creative free spirits.  A new kind of pity should emerge, one that pities "how human beings are being reduced" by various forces of modernity.  Rather than seeking to "abolish suffering" we should embrace suffering.

"The discipline of suffering, great suffering - don't you know that this discipline alone has created all human greatness to date?  The tension of the soul in unhappiness, which cultivates its strength; its horror at the sight of the great destruction; its inventiveness and bravery in bearing, enduring, interpreting, exploiting unhappiness, and whatever in the way of depth, mystery, mask, spirit, cleverness, greatness of heart has been granted - has it not been granted them through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering? In the human being, creature and creator are united: the human being is matter, fragment, excess, clay, filth, nonsense, chaos; but the human being is also creator, sculptor, hammer-hardness, observer-divinity, and the Seventh Day - do you understand this opposition? Do you understand that your pity is for the 'creature in the human being', that which must be formed, broken, forged, torn, burned, annealed, purified - that which necessarily has to suffer and should suffer? And our pity - do you not understand whom our reversed pity is intended for, when it resists your pity as the worst of all possible self-indulgences and weaknesses?  Pity versus pity, then! But to repeat, there are more important problems than all those concerning pleasure and suffering and pity; and any philosophy the confines itself only to these is naive." (225).  Nietzsche apparently makes a big deal about a supposedly small thing.  But, to me, this passage represents some of Nietzsche at his best.

Surely among these "more important problems" is what he enumerates next, "to fit new things into old orders." "Almost everything that we call 'high culture' is based on the deepening and spiritualizing of cruelty - this is my tenet.  That 'wild beast' has not been killed off at all, it lives and thrives, it has only - made a divinity of itself.  It is cruelty that constitutes the painful voluptuousness of tragedy;" (229) "That imperious something that the common people call 'spirit' wants to be the master, in itself, around itself, and to feel its mastery: it has the will to go from multiplicity to simplicity, a will that binds together, subdues, a tyrannical the truly masterful will.  In this regard, its needs and capacities are the same as those the physiologists claim for everything that lives, grows, and reproduces.  The spirit's energy in approaching what is foreign to it is revealed by its strong tendency to make the new resemble the old, to simplify multiplicity, to overlook or reject whatever is completely contradictory; the spirit likewise arbitrarily underlines, emphasizes, or distorts certain qualities and contours in everything that is foreign to it or of the 'outer world'. Its intention in doing so is to incorporate new 'experiences', to fit new things into old orders - to grow, then; and more specifically, to feel growth, to feel an increase in strength." (230)

Being the free spirit, creator of values (redefined ethical aesthetics) and understanding a multiplicity of things in order "to look with many kinds of eyes and consciences" are two of Nietzsche's greatest insights. The psychological and aesthetic basis for his philosophy is distinctive throughout Beyond Good and Evil.  But this free spirit is also aggressive, ruthless, not necessarily tied to any established morality, in fact often tied to what might be generally considered as immoral.

It should be noted that such ruthlessness is an existential and intellectual experience.  It is not a physically violent display, that is far too crude for Nietzsche's higher culture sensibilities.  It is, rather, a managed firmness expressed with complete self-control.  Exploitation of others of lesser ethical aesthetics is part of being a creative free spirit but this merely reflects a hierarchy of values and psychological entitlements granted by the will to power as drive and force is directed inwardly and outwardly.  The tangible characteristics for all this is particularly defined in the work's final section which I will look at in detail in my next post.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Prelude to an Unfinished Project

I have two translations of Beyond Good and Evil in my library.  One is the classic by Walter Kaufmann published in 1966.  The other is "a new translation" by Mario  Faber published initially in 1998.  The subtitle for the work is important: "Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future."  As Rudiger Safranski points out, Beyond Good and Evil was part of a multifaceted effort by Nietzsche to create a much broader and complex work which, as I pointed out previously, was never ultimately realized by Nietzsche.

From 1885 to 1888 Nietzsche assembled a vast collection of notes, ideas, and unfinished sections of books with the original intent of writing a reevaluation of all cultural values under the working title "The Will to Power".  "Although Nietzsche did not even come close to using all of the material from the preliminary work on these books, he did express what he considered the most significant ideas in Beyond Good and Evil, the fifth book of The Gay Science (1886), the new prefaces, On the Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols, and The Antichrist." (page 285)

To that extent Beyond Good and Evil is meant as an introduction, a change in direction, to a new way of looking at humanity and the universe;  hence his perspective of seeing this book as a "prelude" to the larger project about the future.  Before I post about what I find most insightful and useful in the work, I want to look at what the translators have to say about this philosophical effort, perhaps the finest of Nietzsche's life.  I will quote extensively from the introductions of the two translations beginning with Faber.

"More than his previous aphoristic writings Beyond Good and Evil is coherent as a totality as well as in its individual parts. Although it covers the gamut of themes that find expression in Nietzsche's mature philosophy, it is controlled and composed text, comparable to and intricate piece of music of a finely woven tapestry.  It rarely displays the frenetic, driving power of his last works, written on the brink of insanity, or the prophetic tones of Zarathustra, or the enthusiastic naïveté of his earliest writings, but perhaps for precisely these reasons, it is the most concise and compelling of Nietzsche's philosophical expositions." (page xi)

"Concepts are not givens, but inventions; antitheses are actually falsifications, since reality consists of gradations, not oppositions; and sensations and experiences, rather than being captured by language, are levels and distorted by it, made common and generalizable.  Nietzsche therefore insists that we are posing the wrong questions of philosophy. Instead of interrogating foundational concepts, we should be asking what function they play, why they are necessary, and how they are live-preserving or life-promoting.

"Nietzsche leaves no doubt that a free spirit is a superior human being 'delivered from the crowd, the multitude, the majority, where he is allowed to forget the rule of 'humanity', being the exception to it'." (pp. xii-xiii)

"Nietzsche here suggests that our modern penchant for science or nihilism, as atheistic as it appears at first glance, is merely a replacement for religious belief. Nietzsche is not unaware of the advantages that religion has brought to human society, even as it has debased human nature.  It helped humankind to endure an otherwise intolerable existence and has assisted us in constructing a viable social order by demanding that we love each other." (page xv)

"In general, however, Nietzsche's attitude towards religion is that it represents a stage of human development that must be overcome.  Christianity, in particular, has led to a 'degeneration of the European race', and the persistence of Christian belief is a sign that the human being has not developed into a creature that is strong enough to achieve the type of self-contained nobility of spirit Nietzsche envisions." (page xvi)

"Morality, in a sense, has become 'natural' or necessary for the human being, even though it violates basic human nature and instincts.  Without morality human society in general and European culture in particular would have been impossible.  But we should not confuse the necessity for some kind of morality with the naturalness of any particular moral system since in their essence all moral judgments are ultimately based on capriciousness, irrationality, and the violation of natural biological drives." (page xvii)

"Nietzsche hopes that the future will bring a radical revaluation of this herd morality that will teach humans' that their future is their will, that the future depends on their human will, and they will prepare the way for great risk-taking and joint experiments in discipline and breeding in order to put an end to that terrible reign of nonsense and coincidence that until now has been known as 'history'." (page xviii)

"The free spirit of tomorrow will no longer subscribe to the truths of today; he will reject the average and the norm and validate the exception and the extraordinary.  He will disabuse himself of the illusion of a disinterested and objective knowledge, understanding that knowing is at bottom a function of the will to dominate.  He will rid himself of moralities that preach equality, democracy, the general welfare, and utilitarian values, and affirm instead the natural hierarchy Nietzsche captures repeatedly in the term Rangordnung.

"More problematically Nietzsche propagates a human being that will not feel compassion with the oppressed and the unfortunate in society, and that will not seek to do away with suffering, including his own suffering. Rather, the pity this future man feels will involve the disdain for the manner in which the human race has made itself small and petty, and he will nourish suffering as the aid to 'depth, mystery, mask, spirit, cleverness, greatness'.  In a controversial aphorism Nietzsche even ventures a reconsideration of cruelty as an essential part of human nature.  All higher culture, all great tragedy, everything sublime, all knowledge, he contends, are ultimately based on cruelty, either towards ourselves or towards others.

"Above all, however, the 'very free spirits' Nietzsche conjures up for his readers will be genuine revelers of knowledge, the knowledge that we have repressed and neglected in civilized Europe.  The task Nietzsche assigns his free spirits is 'to return to nature;  to master the many conceited and gushing interpretations and secondary meanings that have heretofore been scribbled and painted over that eternal original text homo natura.'  In terms of present values Nietzsche's free spirit will thus prove to be an 'immoralist' who affirms life and aspires to the heights of culture and creativity." (pp. xix - xx)

"The German term for noble is vornehm, a word that has the connotation of superior rank, of privilege by virtue of birth and distinction, or of some natural superiority. Nietzsche makes it obvious that genuine nobility in his sense has been damaged and made undistinguishable 'as the rule of rabble begins, under this heavy, cloudy sky that makes everything opaque and leaden'.  But he also emphasizes that the type of noble human being he envisions is desirable,  indeed that human society without noble men would be a miserable, inartistic, uncreative wasteland. His fears about the disappearance of nobility are therefore the flip side of his critique of modernity, which has led to the leveling of creativity and distinction because of the democratizing trend and the demand for equal rights. 

"Nietzsche, continuing his anti-modernist polemic, opens this section by affirming the need for 'a great ladder of hierarchy and value differentiation between people'. Searching for a time when nobility reigned in human affairs as well as an explanation for the demise of aristocratic regimes, he describes conflicting systems of values: one, associated with a hierarchy based upon natural superiority, is the product of the nobility itself.  The other, the result of the slaves, has endeavors to debase everything grand in the human spirit.

"Nietzsche's vision may have some historical foundation - although he gives few genuine historical illustrations to support his claims - but it is shocking nonetheless. Life itself, he asserts at one point, 'in its essence means appropriating, injuring, overpowering, those who are foreign and weaker; oppression, harshness, forcing one's own forms on others, incorporation, and at the very least at the very mildest, exploitation'. Nietzsche's argument is that these words evoke in us repulsion because of our own adherence to a morality that has degraded noble values, which he consistently regards as more natural and more life-affirming, more creative and more vital.

"When Nietzsche's advocacy of nobility is interpreted simple as a call for more freedom and creativity, for an end to repression and leveling of individual differences, his philosophy quite rightly meets with general approval.  But the darker side of Nietzsche's views should not be ignored: at times he affirms a return to an aristocratic social order in which the happiness of the vast majority would be sacrificed for an elite caste that will produce and enjoy a European cultural renaissance." (page xxii - xxiii)

By way of qualification, Julian Young, it should be recalled, has already indicated that when Nietzsche is discussing his ambitions of a return to an aristocratic basis of society he does not mean an aristocracy based upon birthright. Rather, he means a human hierarchy based upon values and creative spirit, naturally at the expense of anyone who does not share these new values and does not possess the capacity for such creativity.

Walter Kaufmann is considered one of the preeminent authorities of Nietzsche.  His insights into the work help contextualize some of the specific critique by Faber above. He places the work alongside other worthy philosophical and religious efforts.

"One reasonable perspective for Beyond Good and Evil is to see it somewhere between Kierkegaard and Ibsen on the one hand and Freud and Sartre on the other. And considering how much Nietzsche has to say about 'nobility' on this book, it is good to recall that the old Freud said in a letter about Nietzsche: 'In my youth he signified a nobility which I could not attain.'

"It would be foolish for a translator, and even for a commentator, to attempt to foist his own estimate of a book with which he has been living for some time on those who will henceforth share his experience to some extent. But in the spirit of Zarathustra's 'This is my way; where is yours?' I shall venture a suggestion.

"This is one of the great books of the nineteenth century, indeed of any century, despite much with which the modern reader might disagree.  There is much in it with which I too do not agree; but that is also true of Plato's and Aristotle's writings, of all great philosophical works and, making due allowances for the different genre, of Dante's and Dostoevsky's ideas and of the Bible.  There are some passages that strike me as blemishes without which the book would be better; for example, the tedious remarks about women, the mercifully briefer comments on the English, and the poem at the end.

"It is possible to say briefly what makes the book great:  the prophetic independence of its spirit; the hundreds of doors it opens for the mind, revealing new vistas, problems, and relationships; and what it contributes to our understanding of much of recent thought and literature and history. Readers might ask, for example, about the relation of various passages to psychoanalysis, to analytical philosophy, or to existentialism.  But even a far longer list would not do justice to the book.  There remains another dimension. This is one of those rare books in which one encounters not only a great thinker but also a fascinating human being of exceptional complexity and integrity.

"One final caution.  Beyond Good and Evil is not a collection of aphorisms for browsing.  Each of the nine major parts, with the possible exception of part four, is meant to be read straight through.  Each pursues one complex of problems, and what is said in one section is frequently qualified decisively in the next, or a few pages later.  The often surprising developments of an idea constitute one of the major charms of this work. And it is in part on their account that this book, like all great books - for this is part of their definition or, as Nietzsche might say, a criterion for the order of rank - needs to be read more than once.  It is a book to be reread and live with." (pp. xvi-xvii)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Ways of Weakness and Strength

Although the general tone is the same, Julian Young's analysis of Beyond Good and Evil is a bit broader and takes in more source material than Curtis Cate (see previous post).  While Young for the most part agrees with Cate, he offers a sharpened context for understanding Nietzsche's powerful and controversial critique of modernity. Christianity, democracy, feminism, socialism, and other cultural forces threaten the "degeneration" (as opposed to the elevation) of humanity.  They are cancerous forces without essential positive effect.  They all contribute to the rise of 'the herd' and the absurd, to Nietzsche, power of 'slave morality' as a force in culture.

I find that Nietzsche is not as 'free' of cultural influences as he would like would like to believe.  He has an orthodox Prussian mentality, as I have noted several times previously in this blog (see here, here, and here).  His criticism of women and the feminist movement, for example, is incompatible with his theory of power and of being a free spirit.  There is no reason why, outside of herd-like culture, women cannot be equal participants with men in higher culture.  Nietzsche's misogynistic view is tainted by his pitiful experiences with women in terms of love and sex, particularly in light of the Lou Salome affair. Nevertheless, there is more to admire than to dismiss in Beyond Good and Evil.  In a nutshell, the work proclaims that it is time for humanity to transcend cultural norms and create a society of bold (higher, stronger, better) individuals seeking to create values and not be victimized by established value traditions.

"Nietzsche's concept of the 'will to power', which comes, in Beyond Good and Evil, to a prominence it possesses in no other published work, is conceived as a modification of Darwinism.  What was devastatingly problematic for the late nineteenth century in general, and for Nietzsche in particular, was not merely the 'death of God' but rather the fact that what takes the place of divine providence is 'survival of the fittest'.

"...'the lust for power and sensuality', is, in fact, the reality of life and the world.  Christian morality, that is to say, tells us that we ought to be 'selfless', ought to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But 'Darwinian' science tells us, not that we occasionally fall shot of that ideal, but that, as a matter of scientific necessity, we always do, that the true motives on which we always act are in fact always the opposite of the motives on which we ought to act, that we act always out of the selfish lust for power.

"...the primary aim of Beyond Good and Evil is to overcome moral dualism, the gap between 'ought' and the 'is' would appear to be unalterable, it follows that the 'ought' has to be changed.  A fundamental 'revaluation of values' needs to take place." (page 408)

"First, there is no room in Nietzsche's thought for postmodernist skepticism about truth: what generates its central problem is the fact that Darwinian science is true - more exactly, it is our best understanding of truth about the world and as such demands rational acceptance. Second, there is no room for trying to airbrush the will to power.  Sometimes, in order to make Nietzsche less shocking, scholars suggest that 'will to power' just means 'will over oneself'.  But this misses the fundamental point that Nietzsche wants to be shocking.  When he says that the 'overpowering' and 'exploiting' of the weaker by the stronger belongs to the essence of life, he means exactly what he says." (page 410)

"...Nietzsche's low esteem for common sense which he views as based on a naive faith in sense perception and grammar as faithful reflections of the nature and structure of reality.  The common sense image of the world in 'plebeian', greatly inferior to the scientific image.  That natural science is preferable to common sense does not mean, however, that it is the final arbiter of truth: 'physics is only an interpretation and arrangement of the the world (according to ourselves, if I may say so) and not an explanation of the world'." (page 413)

"Nietzsche's claim, in other words, is that the fundamental drive of every organism, including every human being, is 'power'.  Evidently, however, since existence is a precondition of power, there is a subsidiary drive to existence.  Schopenhauer and Darwin are subsumed under a more fundamental view of the world." (page 414)

"Intellectual 'honesty' is, he says, the cardinal virtue of 'we free spirits' - of philosophers such as himself.  We have already seen him arguing the need to be ruthlessly honest about the world that is the object of investigation.  But equally, he insists, we need to be ruthlessly honest about ourselves as investigators, bout the limitations of our capacity to gain knowledge of that world.

"Since perspectivism is a 'condition of life' so is 'uncertainty': to reject uncertainty is to reject life.  To love life is to love 'error', by which, Nietzsche does not mean 'falsehood' but simply 'belief that is less than certainly true'." (page 416)

"Modern humanity, says Nietzsche, has a 'hybrid, mixed soul'.  It treats history as a storage closet of 'costumes' which it is constantly trying on but finding none that quite fits.  What Nietzsche is talking about is essentially globalization, multiculturalism, and the 'postmodern' mixing of styles, all of them the effects of the new technology of railways and electronics communications.

"Nietzsche calls our 'plebeian curiosity' about everything under the sun an ignoble lack of 'good taste'.  Whereas we have a taste for everything, a 'Nobel and self-sufficient' culture is marked by the 'very precise yes or no of their palate, their ready disgust, their hesitant reserve about everything strange and exotic'.  Nietzsche calls modernity a 'half-barbarism': 'half' because we have civilization - plumbing and police - 'barbarism' because we lack culture.  'Culture', recall, is defined as 'unity of artistic style in all the expressions of the life of a people'; a unified conception of the beautiful, including the beautiful (i.e., good) life." (page 417)

"The masters' value distinction was been 'good and bad', between 'noble' types such as themselves and the 'bad' types, the contemptible slave-types whom they had conquered.  Master morality was, then, self-focused. Slavery morality, by contrast, was other-focused.  It was based on hatred and fear of the slaves' oppressors.  So it was that the hate-filled word 'evil' replaced 'bad', the expression, merely, of contempt. In the ethical 'revolt' of the slaves the good-evil dichotomy came to replace the good-bad dichotomy of the masters.  The hard qualities of the masters were given new names - 'self-confidence' becomes 'arrogance', 'resoluteness' becomes 'ruthlessness', and so on - and were designated as 'evil'.  Simultaneously, the formerly despised 'soft' qualities were also given new names - 'powerlessness' became 'humility', 'cowardice' became 'friendliness', and so on - and were elevated to the status of virtues." (pp. 418-419)

"The 'high independent spirit', a 'high and hard and self-reliant nobility', is viewed as 'offensive' and 'dangerous'; the 'lamb' or even better 'sheep', the 'herd animal', continues to be the ideal.  The equality on which modern, liberal thinkers agree is equality of desert: all human beings are equally deserving of moral respect and concern.  When dividing up social goods it is immoral to say, People with IQs of less than 90 get nothing.  Nietzsche claims that this notion of equality hinders the nurturing of genius because it denies 'all special claims, special rights, special privileges'. But that, surely, is mistaken.  Equality of concern does not entail equality of treatment." (page 420)

"Democracy, socialism, and feminism are, for Nietzsche, essentially negative, destructive values. This is due to the negative, reactive nature of the 'slave revolt' in which modern liberalism has its roots: whereas the masters created values by glorifying themselves, the slaves simply negated those values.  In a clear sense, slave morality creates nothing.  So democracy, socialism, feminism, and so on are,  really, nothing but the 'policies of envy'.  'Modern ideas', in short, seek to overthrow the 'rank-ordering' of the old morality, but can do nothing to overcome the resulting 'chaos' since they have nothing positive, no positive ideal, to put in its place.  This point is implicit in Nietzsche's habitual treatment of 'socialism' as synonymous with 'anarchism'.

"That the values of modernity are all 'should nots' rather than 'shoulds' is the reason the notes of the period characterize the condition of modernity as one of 'nihilism', a term which means, Nietzsche says, 'that the highest values devalue themselves'.  'The aim is lacking, the "Why?" finds no answer'.  Beyond Good and Evil makes this point by pointing out that, in the post-death-of God world, the 'Where to?' and 'What for?' - a positive conception of the good life - are missing." (page 421)

"Nietzsche's 'motley' critique of modernity leads to the conclusion that we need a new 'game plan': a new shared understanding of the right way to live that will give us the 'harness, uniformity, and simplicity of form' necessary to be successful competitors in a socially Darwinistic world.  For this we require the appearance of 'spiritual colonizers and shapers of new states and communities'.  Although the resurgence of the slave revolt in the form of 'modern ideas' threatens the appearance of such types, we have not yet reached the condition of being the 'last men'.  It is still possible for us to 'give birth to a star'.   What we need, then, are new leaders who will 'teach humanity its future'- 'the image of such a leader hovers before our eyes'."(page 422)

Nietzsche was tired of philosophers that simply sat around and pondered things or pontificated upon the nature of life. The academic know-nothings.  Nietzsche sought, first and foremost, to create a select group of human beings that would serve as a collective active force in the world.  The will to power projected into the world as a phenomenon to transcend traditional think and to Become something more relevant and innovative.

"Whereas old-style philosophers have merely sought to understand the world, the new style seeks to change it, seeks to 'dominate' the future: philosophy in the new style is an expression of the philosopher's will to power. This means that the philosopher must get his hands dirty, 'play the rough game'.  Though 'untimely', he must intellectually engaged with his times rather than retreating to Spinoza's 'icy heights', the disengaged heights of the mere onlooker.  Neither will he indulge in mere skepticism, mere criticism, or mere scholarship.  And though he needs to have a philosophy, it need not be one he puts, or can put, into books." (page 423)

The new philosophers would form the basis for a new higher rank of human being.  This would be a rank based upon sophistication and merit, not one based upon hereditary characteristics.  This is an important distinction. Nietzsche had as little use for traditional "aristocrats" as he had for advocates of democracy.  There would be an aristocracy in Nietzsche's ideal culture, but it would have nothing to do with family lineage. 

"Nietzsche does not endorse aristocracy in the standard sense of the word.  It is important to notice that the concluding Part 9 of the book in which section 258 occurs is not called 'What is Aristocracy?' But rather 'What is Noble?' The relevant difference appears in his final letter to Brandes: 'If we win', he writes, 'we have overcome the absurd boundaries between race, nation, and classes: there exists from now on only order of rank between human beings'.  The difference between rank and class is the difference between ability and birth.  What Nietzsche seeks is a hierarchy not of blood but of natural ability and aptitude." (page 427)

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil is filled with diatribes against modernity.  Against emancipation for women, against the influences of the Christian church, against both democratic and socialistic political movements.  Much can be classified as hubris. Nevertheless, Nietzsche's critique is insightful in that it points toward fundamental forces within modernity. He could see a force there, a power, at work, in his opinion, in a weakening way.  High culture could not thrive under these conditions.  The best of humanity was not that way, according to Nietzsche.  He might have been wrong about that.  But, he was spectacularly right also in Beyond Good and Evil. Values are up for consideration. Free spirits create their own.  Tradition is not so much a guide as it is a yardstick for the power of transcending. Becoming a person who risks everything for truth, who dares to be self-empowering and free and joyful in the reality of things and not in hopes and wishes is about as relevant as anyone can possibly be in this life.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Harsh Truths for a "Squeamish Age"

Curtis Cate gives us a good overview of the primary areas covered in Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. It should be noted that the secondary title "Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future" reveals that Nietzsche intended this work as the starting point for a grander philosophic project that was ultimately never completed.  Nietzsche aimed to develop a new basis for high culture, societal values, and personal style by clarifying how the mechanics for existing culture and morality actually work.  Beyond Good and Evil discusses many of these basic mechanics in an often provocative way.

Nietzsche continued to build upon many of his earlier fundamental constructs. For example, the relevant and insightful concept of being a "free-spirit" is still very much present in his new work. "The very title, Beyond Good and Evil, summed up what had long been a cardinal tenet of Nietzsche's Freigeisterei: the ability of any 'free-spirited' thinker must display to rise above the level of moral and prejudices which, partly thanks to Plato (Sections 1,2,3), lie concealed in contrasts such as 'true' or 'false', 'good' or 'bad', 'beautiful' and 'ugly', 'useful' and 'useless', and which are embedded in the grammatical structure of everyday speech (Section 24).  In a 'multicolored' world that is full of nuances, to judge everything in black and white terms is to display the simple-minded 'faith of governesses' and to blind oneself to the 'brighter and darker shadows and tonalities of appearance...' (Section 34)." (page 472)

"While Freigeisterei - free-spiritedness and the ability to rise above the normal level of prejudice and faith - is an essential quality on those who are all philosophically inclined, religion in the past has proven itself to be an invaluable asset in permitting an incipient ruling class to establish dominion over subjects who are offered spiritual solace, 'manifold peace of the heart', and contentment with their humble lot.  Nietzsche was even willing to admire 'asceticism and puritanism are almost unavoidable means of education and ennoble meant when a race seeks to establish its mastery over it rabble origins and works its way up towards its future domination' (Section 61).

"But having made this 'utilitarian' concession, Nietzsche hastened to add, in the next section (62), that religions become dangerous when they cease to serve a sound philosophical purpose and become supreme and sovereign, choosing to forget that all societies are ruled by minorities, and espouse the cause of the suffering majority.  Nothing had contributed more to the 'deterioration of the European race' than this willful forgetfulness, this refusal to recognize 'the abysmal chasm in the Order of Rank which separates man from man' - displayed by those who, in coining the slogan 'equal before God', had ended up producing a 'diminished, almost ludicrous type, herd-animal, something obliging, sickly and mediocre...the European of today'." (page 474)

"What is true of religion is no less true of morality.  In a mini-masterpiece of an essay (Section 188), Nietzsche pointed out that Morality, like genuine Art, is a form of necessary tyranny imposed upon the lawlessness and extravagance of Nature, and consequently is the very opposite of laissez-aller.  The stern restrictions and constraints imposed  by every strong morality - by Stoicism, Puritanism, as in the severe Catholicism of Pascal's Port-Royal - were not fundamentally different from the strict rules and disciplines that have made languages what they are: necessary instruments of grammatical coercion offering freedom of expression along with solid strength; just as what made poetry possible was 'metrical compulsion, the tyranny of rhyme and rhythm'.  These 'laws' and 'principles' may seem arbitrary and capricious - as certain utilitarian blockheads and freedom-loving anarchists now claim - but it is they that made possible music, dance, 'rhetoric and persuasion', poetry and the arts in general. What fashioned the 'European spirit' over the centuries was precisely this discipline and drilling, imposed within the framework of 'guiding rules' laid down by ecclesiastical authorities or noble courts, or according to Aristotelian precepts.

"In this process of disciplining and rearing, a great deal of 'strength and spirit' was suppressed and stifled; but that is how it is with Nature in her prodigal and indifferent magnificence, 'which is infuriating but distinguished.... Nature it is that teaches us to hate all forms of laissez-aller, excessive freedom, and 'which implants the need for limited horizons, for immediate tasks - which teaches the narrowing of perspectives and thus in a sense stupidity as a condition of life and development.

"Typical of the 'drift' was the ever-growing hue and cry, voiced not least of all by 'male flatheads' for the 'emancipation of women' (Sections 238 and 239).  The result was certain to be the defeminization of the 'weaker sex'. For what, Nietzsche now declared in more trenchant terms than ever before, from time immemorial and in all 'higher cultures' had always characterized Woman was her fear of Man.  When she loses her 'protected' status, she ceases to be a companion and becomes a rival.  The 'woman as clerk' ideal - today we would call it the 'woman in the office' - was a sure sign of the extent to which a new industrial ethos was now subverting and corrupting age-old aristocratic and military values.  Traditionally, when men were still men, they had looked upon Woman as a 'delicate, curiously wild, and often agreeable domestic animal which had to be maintained, looked after, protected, and spared'.  This essentially 'slave-like' condition was taken for granted , since no 'higher culture' has been able to exist without an element of slavery." (pp. 474 -475)

It is interesting to note that in many ways Nietzsche's "philosophy of the future" seems to be based upon notions of the past, specifically upon the revitalization of the classical period with its acceptance of class privilege, enslavement, and misogynistic values. Whether or not I agree with his perspective, I nevertheless respect the fact that Nietzsche possessed a clear and distinctive understanding of the forces at play between the classical period in competition with the so-called "progress" of modernity.  

To shift focus briefly, Julian Young clarifies Nietzsche's contextualization of the classical period with modernity. "The revival of Western culture is, then, a matter of rediscovering classical values, and, of course, reinterpreting them so that hey make sense in the modern is important to keep in mind as a corrective to the impression he sometimes gives that he is a 'decisionist', that he adheres to the - self-determining - thesis that ultimate values are a matter of ungrounded, and hence arbitrary choice.  Really, it seems to me this is not at all what he believes.  When he asks us to 'give style to' our characters and culture, what he means is classical style." (page 403)

I find Nietzsche's critique of individuals who consider being a "free-spirit" as a way to an easy, gentle, and harmonious style of living to be particularly insightful and relevant.  La-La land is not the answer to the strict demands of attaining a higher sense of humanity. 

"In Europe and America, a species of bogus 'free spirits' has arisen who were preaching an easy-going, pain-avoiding, pain-eliminating 'philosophy' which had found favor with the 'herd'.  Theirs was the cult of  facility, of the 'green pasture happiness of the herd'.  They preached and promised security, lack of danger, cosy comfort, and their two great maxims were 'Equality of Rights' and 'Pity for all who Suffer'. The dominant and indeed the only tolerated type in Europe was now the 'herd-animal', who had to be pampered by 'leaders' smitten by a guilty conscience.

"In this general climate of aristocratic abdication and bourgeois laissez-aller, in which the last vestiges of moderation and tasteful refinement were being thrown to the winds, Nietzsche could not help wondering where European culture would end up in its mad haste to unburden itself of all 'old-fashioned restraints....A sense of measure is alien to us, let us admit it; our thrill is precisely the thrill of the infinite, the measured.  Like the rider on his snorting, onward-galloping steed, we let fall the reins before the infinite, we modern men, we semi-barbarians - and only attain our highest bliss there - where we are also most in danger' (Section 224)" (page 476)

Nietzsche found the forces of democracy to be more corrosive than beneficial to the cause of higher culture and personal achievement.  In fact, they were down-right harmful to society as a whole. 

"...Nietzsche (Section 242) returned to his pet theme:  the present leveling and 'democratization' of society was producing a type of 'useful, hard-working, deft and highly adaptable herd-animal type of man' - something that was likely to give rise to 'exceptional human beings of a most dangerous and attractive species'. Why so?  Simply because the democratization of Europe was bound to mass-produce highly malleable and will-less human beings who needed to be ruled;  and the strong men who undertook to rule them, being uninhibited by age-old (i.e. aristocratic) restraints, would become formidable despots.  In short, as Nietzsche summed it up, 'the democratization of Europe is at the same time an involuntary arrangement for the rearing of tyrants - taking the word in all of its meanings, even the most spiritual sense'.  A somber prediction that was dramatically fulfilled in the next fifty years by the appearance on the European stage of four of the most awesome tyrants the continent had ever seen: Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin." (page 477)

An extended section of the work is devoted to a critique of various cultures, with emphasis on Germanic and English society, the later being soundly (and unfairly in my view) condemned.

"It is regrettable the Nietzsche should have shown himself less indulgent towards the English.  Had he known that the motto chosen for the first 'public school' to have been established in England (at Winchester, in 1382, more than 100 years before Pforta) was 'Manners Makyth Man', he who valued good manners above all else might have been less severe and intemperate with his judgments.  But he was unquestionably right on considering the English, as represented by their most famous thinkers - Bacon, Hobbes, Hume, Locke - as not being a 'philosophical race'.  The trouble with British empiricism was that, willy-nilly, it elevated 'common sense' and everyday 'sense data' to the status of valid criteria for judging Truth and Falsehood.

"What Nietzsche found most objectionable about the English was the stubbornness with which they clung to religion. John Wesley and his 'Methodists' had, typically 'English clumsiness and peasant seriousness', sought to popularize and demean the 'language of Christian gestures' through prayers and psalm-singing.  They had made it acceptable to a 'herd of drunks and rakes', before inventing the Salvation Army in a kind of 'penitential spasm', which, all things considered, might be regarded by some as 'the highest achievement of "humanity".'" (page 478)

Nietzsche felt the forces at work in modern society were making culture weak and unworthy.  I agree with much of his reasoning here.  Simultaneously, I acknowledge that this is yet another example of what I have been calling throughout this blog as his Prussian cultural nature.  Nietzsche is probably not as free of his up-bringing as he would like to believe.  Still, ours is a world where everything seems to have been dumbed-down for the sake of the lowest common denominator often at the expense of focusing upon rising the best and brightest to their fullest potential. Kitsch is a manifestation of simpletons in power, for example.  "Equality" means no one gets "left behind" but at the same time (theoretically) no one gets to "rise above", at least not without being singled out for massive progressive critique and disdain.  Everything is (theoretically) leveled for the sake of the mediocrity of the herd.  

"The harsh truth, Nietzsche roundly declared, from which almost everyone in an increasingly squeamish age was now recoiling, was that every enhancement and elevation of the type of 'Man' had so far been the work of aristocratic society: of a society displaying a 'long ladder in the Order of Rank' based on an implicit recognition of a 'pathos of distance, of significant differences between men and mans, one therefore requiring a certain degree of slavery. In and absolutely egalitarian society, in which all human beings enjoy the same status, there is no inner incentive for the individual to strive to 'improve himself' and to attain a higher level of 'manhood', since the longed-for 'goal', for the 'common man', has, at any rate in theory, already been reached.

"The truth, Nietzsche continued, is harsh, and anyone brave enough to look facts in the face should not yield to 'humanitarian illusions'.  Every higher culture that has so far existed on earth resulted from an initial act of aggression. Men with a 'still natural nature', which is to say 'barbarians in every frightful sense of the word, men of prey still possessing an unbroken strength of will and lust of power, hurled themselves upon weaker, better mannered, more peaceful races, perhaps traders or cattle raisers, or upon old, decaying civilizations whose last signs of vitality were flickering out in brilliant fireworks of wit and depravity'." (page 479)

"For what is absolutely vital in any good, thriving aristocracy is that it should not feel itself to be a mere function, whether of a monarchy or of a commonwealth, but its very raisin d'être, its supreme significance and justification. The basic belief of any truly healthy aristocracy, Nietzsche declared without beating about the bush, was not that it should exist for the advantage and benefit of society as a whole, but, quite the contrary, that society should exist for its sake, as the necessary foundation and framework of a social system in which members of a select elite could fulfill 'higher tasks' and thus attain a supreme form of being." (Page 480)

Most famously, Nietzsche for the first time explores the dynamics of "democratic" morality, and how those dynamics work politically to the detriment of individual (noble) human achievement.   

"'Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, the overcoming of what is alien and weaker, subjugation, harshness, the forcible imposition of one's own forms, incorporation and, at the very least and mildest, exploitation' - a term which (thanks to Karl Marx and his followers) had come to acquire a stupidly 'slanderous' connotation.  Any truly living body - and this was true of every healthy aristocracy - 'will have to be incarnate will to power, it will want to grow, enlarge itself, attract, and acquire predominance - not because of any morality, Nietzsche went on (Section 260), he had come to realize that, despite all sorts of variations, there have always existed two basic types that are radically distinct.  The first he robustly asserted is a master-morality, the second a slave-morality - although, he hasten to add, in all higher and mixed cultures attempts have been made to reconcile the two only to often giving the rise to misunderstandings, not only in society in general but within the individual.  The salient characteristic of a master-morality is self-confidence and a feeling of superiority...

"Diametrically opposed to the basic tenets of the 'master-morality' were the characteristics of the 'slave-morality'. These were rooted on a general lack of confidence and a 'pessimistic' suspicion of everything 'superior' in human behavior.  This suspicion and distrust, on the part of those who feel themselves to be abused, oppressed, and thus 'unfree', is directed against everything regarded as 'good' by the 'master-caste', the real creator of all values. Compassion, the obliging hand, the warm heart, patience, industry, humility, friendliness are honored, for these are the most useful qualities for the suffering and oppressed." (page 481)

Nietzsche would expand upon his Master-Slave Morality concept in his next work.  Indeed, it would serve as a cornerstone for this phase of his philosophic life.