Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Triumph of Judea

Curtis Cate's analysis of On the Genealogy of Morals (GM) does not stress the "will to power" to the extent that Hollingdale did (see previous post).  Instead he emphasizes other strands of Nietzsche's thought (amor fati and various positions first enunciated in his "Untimely Meditations", for example) threaded into the work.  Cate agrees with Hollingdale, however, that GM is an extension and clarification of Beyond Good and Evil.  Let's begin with an understanding of how spontaneously Nietzsche completed the core of the work, indicative of his writing style since the first part of Zarathustra was completed four years earlier.

"On July 17, barely two weeks after beginning, Nietzsche informed Naumann, who must have been astonished by the 'half-blind' professor's prolixity, that he had completed a small Streitschrift (polemic pamphlet) intended to amplify and elucidate Beyond Good and Evil.  The title he had chosen was Zur Genealogie der Moral (On the Genealogy of Morals).

"More compact, strictly disciplined, and less diffuse than any of the books he had written since the four 'Untimely Meditation', the text Nietzsche now sent to Naumann consisted of two essays, each composed of a number of sections.  At the risk of being simplistic - all too easy in analyzing Nietzsche's writings - one could say that the first, titled 'Good and Evil, Good and Bad', was essentially an exercise in linguistic etymology applied to moral values, while the second essay, 'Guilt, Bad Conscience, and the Like', was an attempt to develop an 'anthropology of morals'.

"Nietzsche began, in the first essay, by expressing a grudging admiration for 'English psychologists' - by whom he meant Hebert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and other proponents of 'Utilitarianism' - who had at least tried to bring notions like 'good' and 'bad' down to earth from imaginary empyrean where they had been placed by Plato and after him by Christian theologians. But these would-be 'historians of morality' had arbitrarily decided that the notion if 'good' from the point of view of those who benefited from them. But in so doing, Nietzsche argued, these British 'psychologists' were yielding to sentimentality. In reality the criterion of what is 'good' was not based on 'others', on those to whom 'goodness' is shown.  It was invented by a dominant caste, imbued with the 'pathos of distinction and distance', in contradistinction to what members of the dominant caste regarded as 'bad' - as low-minded, mean and 'vulgar' (in German, pobelhaft, 'rabble-like' - a favorite word with Nietzsche, the pejorative force of which is attenuated by the usual English translation of 'plebeian'.)  What is 'good', in those distant times, was what the ruling caste decided was 'good' and imposed on the rest of society.  Only when aristocratic values began to lose their force and were challenged by the 'herd-instinct' of the ruled, did 'good' come to be associated with 'unselfish', 'unegotistical', and the term 'bad' with 'selfishness'.

Nietzsche draws upon his expertise as a former professor of philology to make assertions about morality as revealed in the roots of various languages. For him, language is a key revelation into the evolution of basic human moral expression.  He then parlays this linguistic exploration to make some highly conjectural thought experiments into the nature of "good" and "bad", relying heavily on an examination of ancient Greece and Rome and Judaism. 

"This was followed by a fascinating etymological analysis (sections 4 and 5) of various adjectives invented by aristocratic ruling classes to distinguish the 'good', the 'noble', the 'brave' - the Sanskrit arya the Greek esthlos and agathos the Latin bonus, the German gut, the Gaelic fin - from their 'bad', 'common', 'craven' opposites: the German schlecht (bad), the Greek words kakos and deilo (the 'vile' or 'craven' antithesis of agathos, the Latin malus (derived from the Greek melas, meaning 'dark' or 'black', an adjective applied to the blond conquerors to the darker-skinned, darker haired inhabitants of pre-Aryan Italy) etc.

"How then did the term 'good' closely associated with nobility and courage, come to have an entirely different connotation?  Nietzsche's answer (section 6) was that this semantic transformation was essentially the work of priests, and in particular of triumphant priesthoods, for whom robust manliness, virility and courage were less important than 'cleanliness' and 'purity'.  There was always, he claimed, something unhealthy in such priestly aristocracies. The 'cures' - everything from avoidance of meat, fasting and sexual abstinence to the autohypnosis of fakirs and Buddhistic concentration on nothing - were more dangerous than the 'maladies' they were supposed to cure." (pp. 499 - 500) 

"Now applying the criterion of 'underdog' or 'slave resentment' which he had unveiled in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche went on to contrast the 'knightly-aristocratic' mode of valuation - with its healthy love of war, adventure, hunting, dancing and war-games - with the sickly ethos of priests, born of hatred and a sense of impotence.  For, he declared roundly, 'the truly great haters in the history of the world have always been priests, and likewise the most ingenious haters'.  Already, in Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche had called the Jews 'great haters,' but now, throwing caution to the winds with an intrepidity  that was to earn him the title of the 'Thunderer of Sils-Maria', he went much further:

"'All that has been done on earth against 'the nobles', 'the mighty', 'the overlords', 'the power-wielders' is as nothing compared to what the Jews did against them: the Jews, the priestly people who were only able to obtain satisfaction against their enemies and conquerors through a radical revaluation of the latter's values, that is, by an act of the most spiritual revenge.  This befitted a priestly people, this people of the most deeply repressed priestly vengefulness. It was the Jews who with awe-inspiring logical consistency dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = beloved of God) and who clung to it with the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence), saying 'the wretched alone are the good ones; the poor, the helpless, the lowly are alone the good ones; the sufferers, the have-nots, the sick, the ugly are also the only devout ones, the only God-blessed, for them alone is blessedness - whereas you, you who are powerful and noble, are to all eternity the evil ones, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless, and forever will you be the unblessed, the accused and the damned!'

"In short, as he has already pointed out in section 195 of Beyond Good and Evil, it was with the Jews that there began the 'slave revolt in morality', a revolt with 2,000 years of history behind it which had gradually vanished from sight precisely because it had ended up victorious." (pp. 500 - 501)

"Indeed, Nietzsche fearlessly and, it must be said, recklessly added that underlying all noble races one could not but recognize 'the beast of prey, the magnificent blond beast lustily prowling in search of spoils and victory; from time to time an explosion is needed from this inner core, the animal must break out again, must return to the wilderness - the Roman, Arabic, Germanic, Japanese aristocracies, Homeric heroes, Scandinavian Vikings were all alike in [satisfying] this need.'

"These dangerous words, which certain Nazis were to take quite literally as a philosophical justification for their bestial behavior, were written at Sils-Maria during the month of July 1887.  And the question that arises is why Nietzsche felt the need to hammer home this point (in the crucial 11th section) and even to repeat the expression 'blond-Bestie' a little further on, in referring to the 'deep, icy mistrust that the German arouses as soon as he comes to power', this being the psychological aftermath of 'that inextinguishable horror with which for centuries Europe watched the raging of the blond Germanic beast'.  Clearly embarrassed, Walter Kaufmann, in commenting on this passage in his book on Nietzsche, claimed that the 'blondness' here was not derived from any notion of Aryan racial superiority - Nietzsche regarded such theories as socio-historical claptrap - but referred to the tawny 'blondness' of the Lion, the animal chosen in Zarathustra's first speech to symbolize the second, essentially destructive stage in human development, in which necessary destruction precedes a new creativity.  The association of 'blond' color and tawny beast may well have existed in Nietzsche's mind; but the point he was stressing here concerned historical facts, at any rate as he interpreted them, with relation to what most interested him: the past, present, and future of Europe." (pp. 502 - 503)

"This brings us back to Nietzsche's concept of amor fati (love of fate), first enunciated in the fourth part of The Joyous Science, as a wise encouragement to accept the world as it is and not as we would like it to be, or to have been.  What we experience as 'the world' of 'life' is not simply the fleeting present;  it is also the remembered past, which alone offers us a reliable guide for the future - provided that its 'lessons' are properly interpreted and not distorted by visionary fantasies or moral prejudices.  In Zarathustra II Nietzsche had denounced the tendency to reinterpret and rewrite the 'savage' in accordance with standards of a soft, squeamish, effeminate and not least of all revolutionary pseudo-Christian 'morality'. The feudal order, based on 'outrageous inequalities' and 'injustice', was for these reasons fundamentally 'evil', 'unprogressive'.  The turbulent fifth to eighth centuries AD, when the lawlessness was at it height, had accordingly been denigrated as the 'Dark Ages'.  Nothing was more childish and insidiously pernicious than this peremptory condemnation of the past by 'modern' and thus 'superior' human beings for not having seen what it should have been (a smug, self-righteous sitting in judgment on the past which Nietzsche has criticized in his second 'Untimely Meditation').

"That the Jacobin revolutionaries of 1789 who had destroyed the ancien regime in France were hate-filled 'men of ressentiment' hardly needed to be proved.  Still draped in the sacred garments of pious hypocrisy, on the other hand, was the popular illusion that Christianity was still, as it had always been, a religion founded on Faith, on Love, on Hope. 'In faith of what?  In love of what?  In hope of what?' Nietzsche asked, in a section (15) whose ferocity matched his devastating critique of St. Paul in Morgenrote.

"In the millennial struggle between Rome and Judea, Judea had triumphed.  Centuries later, at the time of the Renaissance, it looked for a moment as though the miraculous had occurred and that the old Roman virtues were about to be resurrected.  But once again Judea triumphed - thanks to that fundamentally vulgar, plebeian German and English movement of ressentiment known as the 'Reformation'. This, however, was merely a foretaste of what was to come.  For, as Nietzsche concluded, Judea triumphed yet again, and in a deeper and more decisive sense, with the French Revolution.

"In the second essay Nietzsche set out to do what Paul Ree had failed to achieve with a short book published in 1885: provide a rational explanation for the historical origins of two related sentiments - the sense of 'guilt' and that of 'bad conscious' - which had played such a paramount role in the development of modern man.  This anthropological explanation for such deeply rooted sentiments was totally at variance with the prevailing belief, popularized by Christianity, that human beings, from the time of Creation on, were all born with innate 'conscience' and instinctive notion of 'good' and 'bad'." (pp. 504 - 505)

"Nietzsche's 'pre-historical' investigation was greatly influenced by the German word for 'guilt' (Schuld), which also means 'debt'.  One of his theses - for as usual there were many separate strands, tied into a bundle - was that the notion of 'guilt' in primitive societies was intimately associated with the notion of indebtedness, not only towards human 'creditors' but also towards one's ancestors and gods.

"Let us, for the sake of brevity, concentrate on this single strand of thought, arbitrarily disregarding the many interesting things Nietzsche had to say on the nature, necessity, efficacy and ineffectiveness of punishment, and not least of all self-punishment (essential to the development of culture - a fascinating anticipation of Freud's famous essay on Civilization and its Discontents.  In primitive societies punishment was not meted out to the committer of the crime because he was deemed 'guilty'; it was meted instinctively, much as an angry parent slaps a child.  The wrong committed was thus righted.  The notion of 'personal responsibility' - meaning the wrong-doer was 'free' and could have acted differently - appeared fairly late in the development of primitive societies (section 4)....As communities grew more secure, the collective wrath against malefactors became accentuated.  Out of this there grew a system of 'justice' and a penal system based on compositio - the settlement of grievances between the offended party and the 'offender'." (page 506)

"In primeval times all tribal communities tended to revere their ancestors and in particular the 'founders' of their tribe.  They felt that they owed them a debt of thanks for having displayed their heroism and tenacity needed to survive (section 13).  These debts were settled through various sacrifices: offerings of food, the slaughtering of animals, even human sacrifices.  As the tribe grew stronger, so did the stature of their legendary 'founders', whose prestige kept growing until they became colossal figures, demigods, and finally gods.  Along with basic concepts such as 'good' and 'bad', which were imposed on them by the master-caste of 'rulers', the great majority of subjects inherited this sense of indebtedness to certain deities and, finally, after the establishment of empires (like those of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar) to a single, autocratic God." (page 507)

"In Human, All Too Human Nietzsche had already declared that the notion of 'sin' was a pernicious invention of semitic thought.  Now he claimed that the ancient, 'lion-hearted' Greeks had kept this inhibiting, tormenting, joy-destroying notion of 'bad conscience' at arm's length by having their gods regard the misdeeds of mortals not as 'sinful' but as acts of foolishness, of momentary 'disturbances of the mind'. In this way the ancient Greek gods had helped to exonerate the misdeeds of human beings, being themselves the causes of evil and thereby assuming responsibility not for the punishment but - something far nobler and more distinguished - for the guilt.

"Exactly when 'modern man' would finally put an end to this 'conscience-vivisection', to this self-inflicted 'cruelty to human animals', Nietzsche could not say. But in the culminating section (24), which rose to a Zarathustran crescendo, he expressed his sublime conviction that one day a new savior, a 'redeeming man of great love and scorn', would surely appear to deliver mankind from 'the great disgust, the will to nothingness, nihilism'; and at the 'bell-stroke of midday and the great decision' he would 'restore its goal to the earth and hope to Man, this anti-Christian and anti-nihilist, this victor over God and nothingness' - yes, 'he must one day come'. (pp. 507 - 508)

Nietzsche engages in pure conjecture throughout much of GM.  There is little in the way of truly "scientific" (archaeological, anthropological, etc.) in his writing here. As such we might be tempted to dismiss his reasoning as overly speculative. Nevertheless, the basic premises of the work reveal themselves in our current world, so we must avoid the temptation to discredit them outright.  As with Hollingdale's analysis in the prior post, Cate affords us a basis for evaluating the validity of Nietzsche's ideas as the modern world has evolved in the past century since his death. 

Today we can easily see the legitimacy of Nietzsche's critique of "ressentiment" (resentment) in our absurd culture of political correctness.  The number of "victims" of society is ever-growing.  What is more, being a democratic society (something Nietzsche rightly appraised as herd-like), the victims validate one another through the political process.  Slave morality has never been stronger.  Master morality, while still expressing itself in ways mentioned at the conclusion of the previous post in addition to elitist forms of art and music and "high" or exclusive memberships, clubs and culture, is an accepted target of slave revolt. "Privilege" is fair-game for attacks and condemnation by mediocrity; it is seen in classic slave morality as a great "No" - the fullness of human potential and its resulting expression of elitism is damned by the mainstream perspective.  So, while Nietzsche's interpretation of how the Master-Slave Morality might have worked through history seems a bit sketchy, there is little denying that it is working today just as Nietzsche describes in GM.

The difficulty comes with Nietzsche's "faith" that some "redeeming savior" will emerge to address the unnatural imbalance created by slave morality over master morality. This strikes me as highly "romantic" in its logic, showing that Nietzsche could not escape the essence of his times no matter how radical his ideas seemed.  In the unfolding reality of current events, there is no indication that the question of morality will be readdressed by any forthcoming "master" or morality.  Instead, as before with Hollingdale, it seems to me that the "savior" is a dispersed force within a multitude cultural expressions.  Again, my examination of this possibility awaits a future post.