Saturday, January 31, 2015

On Beyond Good and Evil: Part Two

Note: All quotes are from my slightly more modern translation of Beyond Good and Evil dated 1998. All quoted word emphasis is Nietzsche's.

Unfortunately, "Our Virtues," a splendid section of Nietzsche's great work, ends with several misogynistic pages.  Nietzsche believed that it was virtuous of creative free spirits (who were male) to keep women in their rightful (secondary) place.  He prefaces the section as follows: "...perhaps I may be allowed to enunciate some truths about 'women', assuming henceforth people will know form the start how much these are simply - my truths." (231) So he at least qualifies these sexist remarks as being rather personal ones.  He proclaims that autonomy for women is the equivalent of the "uglification" of Europe.  To enlighten a woman is to compromise woman's very being. Women should fear men, this allows their natural instincts to work properly, which ultimately makes them "competent for their first and last profession, the bearing of healthy children."  This is a low point in Nietzsche's philosophic quest and is reason enough for many to consider him as a light-weight or misguided mind.  While I disagree with this brief portion of his work it does not diminish for me the previous remarkable insights and I offer this ridiculousness in passing for the sake of completeness to his biography.  It is what it is.  Nietzsche was a misogynist who was most attracted to feisty feminist women.  Perhaps this fundamental contradiction was symptomatic of whatever it was that drove him mad. But I don't think so.


Similarly, the next section, "Peoples and Fatherlands," is filled with questionable critiques of German, French, and English culture.  There is also a great deal mentioned about classical music, beginning with praise for Richard Wagner's Meistersigner Overture.  In a more prophetic moment, however, Nietzsche argues in this section that the European democratic movement will ultimately breed tyrants - which is precisely what happened when Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin came along about four decades or so after this text was published, after various democratic movements had emerged as forces in European politics. How much "democratization" had to do with the rise of dictatorships is debatable, however.  This is the weakest section of the work and it could have been edited out entirely without any of Nietzsche's principle arguments suffering at all.


Finally, we come to the section which attempts to answer "What is Noble?"  This is a kind of summation of the critically important aspects for the entire work. "In the past, every elevation of the type 'human being' was achieved by an aristocratic society - and this will always be the case: by a society that believes in the great ladder of hierarchy and value differentiation between people and that requires slavery in one sense or another.  Without the grand feeling of distance that grows from inveterate class differences, from the ruling caste's constant view downwards onto its underlings and tools, and from its equally constant practice in obeying and commanding, in holding down and holding at arms length - without this grand attitude, that other, more mysterious attitude could never exist, that longing for ever greater distances within the soul itself, the development of ever higher, rarer, more far-flung, extensive, spacious inner states, in short, the elevation of the type 'human being', the continual 'self-overcoming of the human', to use a moral formula in a supra-moral sense." (257)


"The crucial thing about a good and healthy aristocracy, however, is that it does not feel that it is a function (whether of monarchy or community) but rather its essence and highest justification - and that therefore it has no misgivings in condoning the sacrifice of a vast number of people who must for its sake be oppressed and diminished into incomplete people, slaves, tools. Its most fundamental belief must simply be that society can not exist for its own sake, but rather only as a foundation and scaffolding to enable a select kind of creature to ascend to its higher task and in general to its higher existence..." (258)


"We must...resist all sentimental frailty: life itself in its essence means appropriation, injuring, overpowering those who are foreign and weaker; oppression, harshness. Forcing one's own forms on others, incorporation, and at the very mildest, exploitation..." (259). Nietzsche is all about the confident, powerful, and self-assertive nature of a higher class of value creators and exploiters of those who fail to participate in this psychological form of ethical, moral and aesthetic creativity.  These creative free spirits that force their own forms on others thereby revealing "...the will to power incarnate, it will want to grow, to reach out around itself, pull towards itself, gain the upper hand - not out of some morality or immorality, but because it is alive, because life simply is the will to power."  This is "the fundamental nature of living things, as its fundamental organic function; it is the consequence of the true will to power, which is simply the will to life." (259)


Master and slave moralities emerge out of this interplay of forces or drives in the expression of the will to power in human form.  But the truly noble person is a creator and a master not a whiner and a dependent.  "'We truthful ones' - that is what the Ancient Greek nobility called themselves. It is obvious that moral value distinctions everywhere are first attributed to people and only later and in a derivative fashion applied to actions: for that reason most historians commit a crass error by starting with questions such as: 'Why do we praise an empathetic action?' The noble type of person feels himself as determining value - he does not need approval, he judges that 'what is harmful to me is harmful per se', he knows that he is the one who causes things to be revered in the first place, he creates values. The noble person reveres the power in himself, and also his power over himself, his ability to speak and to be silent, to enjoy the practice of severity and harshness towards himself and to respect everything that is severe and harsh." (260). This last quote represents Nietzsche defining precise character traits that make up a noble person.  The foundation of these traits, and indeed the whole point of this last section of Beyond Good and Evil, is reverence for the experience and expression of a well-lived life. Reverence takes the form of self-control, articulation, tactfulness, an uncompromising personality embracing hardship.


"...belief in ourselves, pride in ourselves, a fundamental hostility and irony towards 'selflessness' - these are surely a part of a noble morality as caution and a slight disdain towards empathetic feelings and 'warm hearts'.  It is the powerful who understand how to revere, it is their art form, their realm of invention. Most of all, however, the master morality is foreign and embarrassing to current taste because of the severity of its fundamental principle: that we have duties only towards our peers, and that we may treat those of lower rank, anything foreign, as we think best or 'as our heart desires' or in any event 'beyond good and evil' - and pity and the like should be thought of in this context." (260)


"Assuming that the raped, the oppressed, the suffering, the shackled, the weary, the insecure engage in moralizing, what will their moral value judgments have in common? They will probably express pessimistic suspicion about the whole human condition, and they might condemn the human being along with his condition.  The slave's eye does not readily apprehend the virtues of the powerful: he is skeptical and distrustful, he is keenly distrustful of everything that the powerful revere as 'good' - he would like to convince himself that even their happiness is not genuine....this is where pity, a kind, helpful hand, a warm heart, patience, diligence, humility, friendliness are revered - for in this context, these qualities are most useful and practically the only means of enduring an oppressive existence.  Slave morality is essentially a morality of utility." (260)


While the slave morality articulates victimization and oppression and compassion, the master morality emphasizes creativity, reevaluation, and leveraging power as a means to greatness and, fundamentally, self-reverence. "The dangerous and sinister point is reached where the greater, more differentiated, richer life survives beyond the old morality; the 'individual' is left standing, forced to be his own lawgiver, to create his own arts and wiles of self-preservation, self-advancement, self-redemption." (262)


"...there is a joy in the nuances of reverence that hints at a noble origin and habits.  The subtlety, kindness, and greatness of soul are dangerously tested when it encounters something of the first rank, but as yet unprotected by awe of authority against crude, intrusive poking; something unmarked, undiscovered, tentative, perhaps capriciously cloaked or disguised, going its way like a living touchstone. A person who has taken upon himself...to establish the ultimate value of a soul, it's irrevocable, inherent hierarchical position, will make manifold of one particular art among all others: he will test the soul for its instinct for reverence." (263)


In the slave morality the human ego is conflicted and muted and trivialized.  In the master morality, selfish intent emerges out of reverence for the self in creative action within society. "Running the risk of displeasing innocent ears, I would assert that egoism is part of the nature of noble souls - I mean that steadfast belief that other beings must naturally submit to 'our' kind of being and sacrifice themselves to it.  The noble soul accepts its egotistic condition without any sort of question mark, also without any feeling of harshness, coercion, or willfulness, but rather as something that may be based in the primeval law of things...This is one more aspect of the soul's egoism, this subtle self-limitation in the society of its equals (every star is this kind of egoist): in these equals and in the rights that it yields to them, it revers itself;  it has no doubt that mutual reverence and rights are the essence of all society and also part of the natural state of things.  The noble soul gives as it takes, from out of the passionate and excitable instinct of requital that is at its core.  The concept of 'mercy' has no meaning inter pares, no aroma..." (265)


Use of others to achieve one's revered goals is a given in master morality.  "A person striving for great things will regard anyone he meets upon his path either as a means or as a postponement and an obstacle - or else as a temporary resting place. His particular, characteristic, highly constituted kindness to his fellow humans is possible only when he has reached his highest level and is in command. Impatience and his awareness that he is meanwhile condemned to play-acting ruins all company for him: this kind of person knows solitude and knows the most poisonous thing about it." (273)


The noble person is first and foremost a master of himself. "To go through life with tremendous, proud calmness; always beyond...To feel or not to feel our emotions, our Pros and Cons, as we see fit, to condescend to them for hours at a time; to sit upon them, as we do upon a horse, and often an ass - for we need to know how to capitalize on their stupidity as well as their fire.  To hold on to our three hundred foreground reasons; also our dark glasses, for there are times when no one may look into our eyes, and even less into our 'reasons'.  And to choose to keep company with that roguish and cheerful vice Courtesy. And to remain master of our four virtues: courage, insight, sympathy, solitude.  For we think solitude is a virtue, a sublime, exceeding need for cleanliness, born from knowing what unavoidably unclean things must transpire when people touch one another ('in company').  Somehow, somewhere, sometime, every commonality make us - 'common'." (284)


"What is noble?  What meaning does the word 'noble' still have for us today?  As the rule of the rabble begins, under this heavy, cloudy, sky that makes everything opaque and leaden, how is a noble person revealed, by what do we recognize him?  It is not his actions that identify him (actions are always ambiguous, always unfathomable).  Nor is it his 'works'.  There are plenty of artists and scholars these days whose works reveal that they are motivated by a great desire to be noble: but just this very need for nobility is fundamentally different from the needs of the noble soul itself, and virtually the eloquent and dangerous sign of its absence.  It is not works, it is faith that is decisive here and establishes a hierarchy, to take up an old religious formula again in a new and deeper sense: some fundamental certainty of a noble soul about itself, something that cannot be sought or found or, perhaps, lost. The noble soul revers itself." (287)


So, add narcissistic to misogynistic as a criticism of Nietzsche. Many also criticize Nietzsche in terms of being a sociopath or psychopath, incapable of empathy and and abhorring pity.  Certain passages from Beyond Good and Evil lend themselves to this interpretation.  But, as this blog as attempted to show over and over again, Nietzsche's actual living of life, even among his few friends and others during this semi-reclusive time, is in no way psychotic. He enjoyed his friendships and he got along very well with a number of people, often being described as humorous, gentle, and a good listener. His teachings are sometimes sensationally abrasive, but so are those of many other philosophical and religious teachers, as Kaufmann previously pointed out.  (In fairness, he exhibits a much more pronounced neurotic pathology by 1888, but that comes later in this blog.)


Do not reduce the Nietzsche of 1886 to his weaknesses. He is tempered thereby but not extinguished.  What he is boldly pointing out is that humility, compassion, and beauty should be subject to critique as much as anything else and that power is a honest basis for human understanding and relationships. Nobility reveres itself precisely to the degree that it expresses power, the ennobled human Being.  You and I might disagree with this assessment but that does not dismiss the perspective. Happiness and peace of mind are an insufficient rebuttal to the ways of power within the human condition.


Confidence, calm, goal-oriented, sociable but with a preference for solitude, intimately insightful and selectively sympathetic, inherently joyful and passionate about life, adventurous, harsh and firm toward oneself and toward others, seeking uncommon persons and things, seeking to make use of the common person, an artistic commitment to creative originality, a respect for hierarchy and power, with a deep and fundamental sense of appreciation and reverence for the experience of it all, that is what Nietzsche classifies and distinguishes as higher human Being in the section "What Is Noble?"  Despite the obvious weaknesses, this central Nietzschean nobility is something worthy of rank alongside any other human spirituality.