My rating: 97/100
See Book Notes for other books I have read. If you like my notes, go buy it!
- Mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man.
- That every will must consider every other will its equal – would be a principle hostile to life.
- The evolution of a thing as it progresses toward a goal is not by the shortest route or the smallest expenditure of force, but independent processes encountering resistances which result in partial destruction and diminution of utility. These sacrifices are the conditions for actual progress toward a achievement of greater power.
- Bad conscience occurred when man found himself in a society of peace … adapted to wilderness, war, adventure, suddenly all their natural instincts were disvalued.
- Nietzsche posits an origin of sacrifice and “God”: in tribal communities, the ancestors made accomplishments that their children needed to “pay back” somehow, which lead to the giving of sacrifices eventually leading to the highest concept of sacrifice to the ultimate ancestor – God.
- Separate the artist from their work. Take his work more seriously than the man himself. The man is sometimes merely the manure out of which grows the art itself.
- King Vishvamitra built a new heaven through millennia of self-torture … whoever has built a new heaven has found the power to do so only in his own hell.
- The “No” that the ascetic says to life brings to light, as if by magic, an abundance of tender (my note: also larger and fewer) “Yesses”; even when he wounds himself, this master of self-destruction – the very wound itself afterward compels him to live.
- The sick represent the greatest danger for the healthy; it is not the strongest but the weakest who spell disaster for the strong. (My note: perhaps we should induce more sickness)
- A strong and well-constituted man digests his experiences (his deeds and misdeeds included) as he digests his meals, even when he has to swallow some tough morsels.
- The philosopher’s struggle against the feeling of displeasure – when pain is proved to be in error, in the naïve supposition that pain is bound to vanish as soon as the error in it is recognized; but behold! it refuses to vanish.
- The strong are as naturally inclined to separate as the weak are to congregate.
- Science never creates values.
- Apart from the ascetic ideal, man had no meaning so far. Behind every great human destiny there sounded as a refrain a yet greater “in vain!” His problem was not suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, “why do I suffer?” Man, accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far – and the ascetic ideal offered man meaning!
- The ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the sense, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself – all this means – let us dare to grasp it – a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will! … And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will.
Nietzsche had an almost pathological weakness for one particular kind of ambiguity … he loved words and phrases that mean one thing out of context and almost the opposite in the context he gives them.
Pariah – outcast
The first essay contrasts “Good and Evil” with “Good and Bad,” juxtaposes master and slave morality; the second essay considers the “guilt,” the “bad conscience,” and related matters; and the third, ascetic ideals. The most common misunderstanding of the book is surely to suppose that Nietzsche considers slave morality, the bad conscience, and the ascetic ideals evil; that he suggests that mankind would be better off if only these things had never happened.
It is not Nietzsche’s concern in the Genealogy to tell us that master morality is good, while slave morality is evil; or to persuade us that the bad conscience and ascetic ideals are bad, while a brutish state antedating both phenomena is good.
Goethe … fought the mutual extraneousness of reason, senses, feeling, and will … he disciplined himself into wholeness, he created himself … Such a spirit who has become free stands amid the cosmos with a joyous and trusting fatalism, in the faith … that all is redeemed and affirmed in the whole – he does not negate any more. Such a faith, however, is the highest of all possible faiths: I have baptized it with the name of Dionysus.” – Twilight of Idols section 49
On the Genealogy of Morals – A Polemic
First Essay – “Good and Evil,” “Good and Bad”
What was the real etymological significance of the designations for “good” coined in the various languages? … Everywhere “noble,” “aristocratic” in some social sense, is the basic concept from which “good” in the sense of “with aristocratic soul,” “noble,” “with a soul of higher order,” “with a privileged soul” necessarily devloped: a development which always runs parallel with that other in which “common,” “plebian,” “low” are finally transformed into the concept “bad.”
My note: How does all of this fit into the memes of spiral dynamics? Does it fit?
The priests are the most evil enemies – but why? Because they are the most impotent.
with the Jews there begins the slave revolt in morality.
While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside.”
… absurd to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.
Second Essay – “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like
It was in this sphere of legal obligations, that the moral conceptual world of “guilt,” “conscience,” “duty,” “sacredness of duty” had its origin.
To ask it again: to what extent can suffering balance debts or guilt?
My note: I don’t think it can alone, but what it can do is provide the motivation to pay the debt back.
7 – topic: suffering
What really arouses indignation against suffering is not suffering as such but the senselessness of suffering.
The lawbreaker is above all a “breaker,” a breaker of his contract and his word with the whole in respect to all the benefits and comforts of communal life of which he has hitherto had a share. The lawbreaker is a debtor who has not merely failed to make good the advantages and advance payments bestowed upon him but has actually attacked his creditor: therefore he is not only deprived henceforth of all these advantages and benefits, as is fair – he is also reminded what these benefits are really worth. The wrath of the disappointed creditor, the community, throws him back again into the savage and outlaw state which he has hitherto been protected.
As its power increases, a community ceases to take the individual’s transgressions so seriously.
Increasingly treat every crime as in some sense dischargeable, and thus at least to a certain extent to isolate the criminal and his deed from one another … penal law always becomes more moderate.
It is not unthinkable that a society might attain such a consciousness of power that it could allow itself the noblest luxury possible to it – letting those who harm it go unpunished!
My note: Enron!
The justice which began with, “everything is dischargeable, everything must be discharged,” ends by winking and letting those incapable of discharging their debt to go free: it ends, as does every good thing on earth, by overcoming itself. This self-overcoming of justice: one knows the beautiful name it has given itself – mercy; it goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or better, his – beyond the law.
When it really happens that the just man remains just even toward those who have harmed him (and not merely cold, temperate, remote, indifferent: being just is always a positive attitude), when the exalted, clear objectivity, as penetrating as it is mild, of the eye of justice and judging is not dimmed even under the assault of personal injury, derision, and calumny, this is a piece of perfection and supreme mastery on earth.
Wherever justice is practiced and maintained one sees a stronger power seeking a means of putting an end to the senseless raging of ressentiment among the weaker powers that stand under it.
“Just” and “unjust” exist, accordingly, only after the institution of the law … To speak of just or unjust in itself is quite senseless; in itself, of course, no injury, assault, exploitation, destruction can be “unjust,” since life operates. essentially, that is in its basic functions, through injury, assault, exploitation, destruction and simply cannot be thought of at all without this character.
A legal order thought of as sovereign and universal, not as a means in the struggle between power complexes but as a means of preventing all struggle in general – perhaps after the communistic cliche of Duhring, that every will must consider every other will its equal – would be a principle hostile to life, an agent of the dissolution and destruction of man, an attempt to assassinate the future of man, a sign of weariness, a secret path to nothingness.
My thoughts: I believe Nietzsche is challenging Duhring’s comments here by saying that if every will were considered equal, then entities such as the state and judicial systems would need to be considered equal in respect to even the lowliest of citizens. In that case, the state would be powerless to enforce any kind of law or order. The fact that the will of the state is so overwhelmingly greater than that of any citizen enables it to enforce its power without argument. Individuals, organizations, and companies will argue with the state regarding the nuanced legality and severity of certain crimes – but no one argues that the state has a right to enforce and exert its will on its unruly citizens, as a fact. This act of disagreement could only begin to be considered by another state with equal or greater power.
The “evolution” of a thing, a custom, an organ is thus by no means it’s progressus toward a goal, even less a logical progressus by the shortest route and with the smallest expenditure of force – but a succession of more or less profound, more or less mutually independent processes of subduing, plus the resistances they encounter, the attempts at transformation for the purpose of defense and reaction, and the results of successful counteractions. PP The case is the same even within each individual organism: with every real growth in the whole, the “meaning” of the individual organs also changes; in certain circumstances their partial destruction, a reduction in their numbers (for example, through the disappearance of intermediary members) can be a sign of increasing strength and perfection. It is not too much to say that even a partial diminution of utility, an atrophying and degeneration, a loss of meaning and purposiveness – in short, death – is among the conditions of an actual progressus, which always appears in the shape of a will and way to greater power and is always carried through at the expense of numerous smaller powers. The magnitude of an “advance” can even be measured by the mass of things that had to be sacrificed to it; mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man – that would be an advance.
My notes: the rest of this section talks about will to power/activity/evolution vs mere adaptation. Nietzsche argues that evolution is superior to adaptation.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), the English biologist and writer, fought tirelessly for the acceptance of Darwinism. In 1869 he coined the word agnosticism, which Spencer took over from him. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), the author of Brave New World (1932), and Julian Huxley (born (1897), the biologist, are T.H. Huxley’s grandsons.
If we consider those millennia before the history of man, we may unhesitatingly assert that it was precisely through punishment that the development of the feeling of guilt was most powerfully hindered … the judicial and executive procedures prevents the criminal from considering his deed, the type of his action as such, reprehensible: for he sees exactly the same kind of actions practiced in the service of justice and approved of and practiced with a good conscience: spying, deception, bribery, setting traps, the whole cunning and underhand art of police and prosecution, plus robbery, violence, defamation, imprisonment, torture, murder…
punishment tames men, but it does not make them “better” – one might with more justice assert the opposite
My own hypothesis concerning the origin of the “bad conscience” … I regard the bad conscience that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace. … Well adapted to the wilderness, to war, to prowling, to adventure: suddenly all their instincts were disvalued and “suspended”.
All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward – thus it was that man first developed what was later called his “soul.”
Punishments belong among these bulwarks – brought about that all those instincts of wild, free, prowling man turned backward against man himself.
The existence on earth of an animal should turned against itself, taking sides against itself, was something so new, profound, unheard of, enigmatic, contradictory, and pregnant with a future that the aspect of the earth was essentially altered. Indeed, divine spectators were needed to do justice to the spectacle that thus began.
He who can command, he who is by nature “master,” he who is violent in act and bearing – what has he to do with contracts!
This instinct for freedom forcibly made latent pushed back and repressed, incarcerated within and finally able to discharge and vent itself only on itself: that, and that alone, is what the bad conscience is in its beginnings.
only the will to self-maltreatment provided the conditions for the value of the unegoistic. (my note: selflessness etc.)
The bad conscience is an illness, there is no doubt about that, but an illness as pregnancy is an illness.
My note: Nietzsche here equates the present generation with debtors and our ancestors as the creditors.
Within the original tribal community it is only through the sacrifices and accomplishments of the ancestors that the tribe exists – and that one has to pay them back with sacrifices and accomplishments … feasts, music, honors; above all, obedience … can one ever give them enough?
The ancestors of the most powerful tribes are bound eventually to grow to monstrous dimensions through the imagination of growing fear and to recede into the darkness of the divinely uncanny and unimaginable: in the end the ancestor must necessarily be transfigured into a god. Perhaps this is even the origin of gods.
The advent of the Christian God, as the maximum god attained so far, was therefore accompanied by the maximum feeling of guilty indebtedness on earth.
My note: combine this idea with our new-found homo sapien brains ability to see into the future and the debt only grows larger, even beyond what Nietzsche states here. Not only do we owe our ancestors but we owe our future selves, aged and weak, and must work now to relieve that burden.
… a madness of the will which is absolutely unexampled: the will of man to find himself guilty and reprehensible to a degree that can never be atoned for.
My note: But in a way, isn’t death itself a sort of guilt that can never be atoned for? With the concept of eternal life in mind (or at least ensuring a longer, more prosperous life) then we are guilty of not meeting its demands. We fall short, and in fact, could never ever meet its demands.
24-25 no notes
Third Essay: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals
My notes: Here Nietzsche in this essay discusses the major theme of ascetic ideals. By this he is referring to the leashing of human desires and will in the name of some other, higher purpose.
The basic fact of the human will … it needs a goal – and it would rather will nothingness than not will.
My view is that one does best to separate an artist from his work, not taking him as seriously as his work. He is, after all, only the precondition of his work, the womb, the soil, sometimes the dung and manure on which, out of which, it grows – and therefore in most cases something one must forget if one is to enjoy the work itself.
My thoughts on this: What an incredible road of thought to walk down and have a look at the scenery! I have been conflicted in my spirit before when I find out a particular artist has done some act of which I disapprove, or they are not the upstanding citizen that I thought they were. This type of movement is happening now with the so called “cancel culture” of the hyper-liberals where they are “cancelling” historical figures such as Christopher Columbus. It aggravates me to no end that, apocryphally misjudged by todays standards of right and wrong, he is thrown into an utterly downcast position of history. The reality is that, despite his pillaging, despite his apparent ignorance, despite his many other character flaws, he was willing to take the journey into the unknown, into the chaos, into the land of the Leviathan and potential disaster, so that he might find a land filled with riches. How many of our cancel-culture friends have taken such a risk?
“That is beautiful,” said Kant, “which gives us pleasure without interest.” Without interest! Compare with this definition one framed by a genuine “spectator” and artist – Stendhal, who once called the beautiful une promesse de bonheur. (A promise of happiness) Who is right, Kant or Stendhal? PP If our aestheticians never weary of asserting in Kant’s favor that, under the spell of beauty, one can even view undraped female statues “without interest,” one may laugh a little at their expense.
My note: Nietzsche makes the point that philosophers never marry.
The philosopher sees in it an optimum condition for the highest and boldest spirituality and smiles – he does not deny “existence,” he rather affirms his existence and only his existence.
The desert where the strong, independent spirits withdraw and become lonely…
A voluntary obscurity perhaps; an avoidance of oneself; a dislike of noise, honor, newspapers, influence; a modest job, an everyday job, something that conceals rather than exposes one; and occasional association with harmless, cheerful beasts and birds whose sight is refreshing; mountains for company, but not dead ones, mountains with eyes ( that is, with lakes); perhaps even a room in a full, utterly commonplace hotel, where one is certain to go unrecognized and can talk to anyone with impunity – that is what “desert” means here. … for we philosophers need to be spared one thing above all: everything to do with “today.”
My note: this reminds me of my annual review. I often book a remote hotel, unplug from my daily society, and write for hours a day.
Whoever thinks in words thinks as an orator and not as a thinker … he is really thinking of himself and his listeners).
A spirit that is sure of itself, however, speaks softly; it seeks concealment, it keeps people waiting.
A philosopher may be recognized by the fact that he avoids three glittering and loud things: fame, princes, and women.
His “material” instinct directs him toward situations in which he is relieved of the necessity of thinking of himself.
Children … philosophers in ancient India expressed themselves even more immodestly: “why should he desire progeny whose soul is the world?” There is nothing in this of chastity from any kind of ascetic scruple or hatred of the senses, just as it is not chastity when an athlete or jockey abstains from women: it is rather the will of their dominating instinct, at least during their periods of great pregnancy. Every artist knows what a harmful effect intercourse has in states of great spiritual tension and preparation; those with the greatest power and the surest instincts do not need to learn this by experience, by unfortunate experience – their “maternal” instinct ruthlessly disposes of all other stores and accumulations of energy, of animal vigor, for the benefit of the evolving work: the greater energy then uses up the lesser.
jus primae noctis – my note: This is the “right of the first night”, where a priest would have the right to have sex with a newlywed bride on the first night of marriage. A majority of historians have concluded this idea is a myth. Does this undermine Nietzsche’s premise? He makes the point that marriage for a long time seemed to be a transgression against society, and I think his particular example breaks down, but the weight of his original argument (all good things were formerly bad things) holds water for me.
“Nothing has been bought more dearly,” I say there, “than the modicum of human reason and feeling of freedom that are now our pride. It is this pride, however, that makes it almost impossible for us today to empathize with that vast era of the ‘morality of mores’ which preceded ‘world history’ as the truly decisive history that determined the character of mankind: when suffering was everywhere counted as virtue, cruelty as a virtue, dissembling as a virtue, revenge as a virtue, slander of reason as a virtue, and when on the other than well-being was counted as a danger, thirst for knowledge as a danger, peace as a danger, madness as divine, change as the very essence of immorality and pregnant with disaster.”
I recall the famous story of King Vishvamitra, who through millennia of self-torture acquired such a feeling of power and self-confidence that he endeavored to build a new-heaven – the uncanny symbol of the most ancient and most recent experience of philosophers on earth: whoever has at some time built a “new heaven” has found the power to do so only in his own hell.
… the philosophic spirit always had to use as a mask and cocoon the previously established types of the contemplative man – priest, sorcerer, soothsayer, and in any case a religious type – in order to be able to exist at all.
One who fights for his existence against those who deny that ideal.
My note: this section reminds me of a comment from Peter Kreeft on one of Pascal’s Pensees: “I fast, therefore I am.”
Read from a distant star, the majuscule script of our earthly existence would perhaps lead to the conclusion that the earth was the distinctively ascetic planet, a nook of disgruntled, arrogant, and offensive creatures filled with a profound disgust at themselves, at the earth, at all life, who inflict as much pain on themselves as they possibly can out of pleasure in inflicting pain.
It must indeed be in the interest of life itself that such a self-contradictory type does not die out. For an ascetic life is a self-contradiction: here rules a ressentiment without equal, that of an insatiable instinct and power-will that wants to become master not over something in life but over life itself (my note here: Jesus, Socrates, etc.), over its most profound, powerful, and basic conditions.
It will look for error precisely where the instinct of life most unconditionally posits truth.
My note: Life must fight for its existence, for it couldn’t be otherwise. If life did not seek to maintain and propagate itself then it, by definition, by cause and effect, would cease to exist! But is this enough reason to establish a moral prerogative such as “suicide is illegal”? I don’t think so.
This ascetic priest, this apparent enemy of life, this denier – precisely he is among the greatest conserving and yes-creating forces of life.
The No he says to life brings to light, as if by magic, an abundance of tender (my note: also larger and fewer) Yesses; even when he wounds himself, this master of destruction, of self-destruction – the very wound itself afterward compels him to live.
The sick represent the greatest danger for the healthy; it is not the strongest but the weakest who spell disaster for the strong.
My note: Perhaps even within the individual we need to recognize particular sicknesses and make them even sicker to induce actual change. The most antithetical concept to life is not suffering, it is boredom, it is indifference, and it is disinterest.
The sick are man’s greatest danger; not the evil, not the “beasts of prey.”
But no greater or more calamitous misunderstanding is possible than for the happy, well-constituted, powerful in soul and body, to begin to doubt their right to happiness in this fashion. … That the sick should not make the healthy sick … should surely be our supreme concern on earth; but this requires above all that the healthy should be segregated from the sick, guarded even from the sight of the sick. … Or is it their task, perhaps, to be nurses or physicians? PP But no worse misunderstanding and denial of their task can be imagined: the higher ought not to degrade itself to the status of an instrument of the lower.
My note: How might this even be possible – to separate the sick from the unsick? An impossible and fruitless task! On this point of Nietzsche’s I disagree. The sick should be made well to whatever extent possible because they cannot be separated, lest they be … eliminated?! In order to achieve separation there would need to be a severe restriction of freedoms, which we have found to be detrimental to entire societies, a principle which stands independent of the current moral and ethical trends.
Every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering.
“Someone or other must be to blame for my feeling ill” – this kind of reasoning is all too common in the sick.
The suffering are one and all dreadfully eager and inventive in discovering occasions for painful affects; they enjoy being mistrustful and dwelling on nasty deeds and imaginary slights; they scour the entrails of their past and present for obscure and questionable occurrences that offer them the opportunity to revel in tormenting suspicions and to intoxicate themselves with the poison of their own malice: they tear open their oldest wounds, they bleed from long-healed scars, they make evildoers out of their friends, wives, children, and whoever else stands closest to them. “I suffer: someone must be to blame for it” – thus thinks every sickly sheep. But his shepherd, the ascetic priest, tells him: “Quite so, my sheep! someone must be to blame for it: but you yourself are this someone, you alone are to blame for it – you alone are to blame for yourself!” – This is brazen and false enough: but one thing at least is achieved by it, the direction of ressentiment is altered.
When someone cannot get over a “psychological pain,” that is not the fault of his “psyche” but, to speak more crudely, more probably even that of his belly (speaking crudely, to repeat, which does not mean that I want to be heard crudely or understood crudely -). A strong and well-constituted man digests his experiences (his deeds and misdeeds included) as he digests his meals, even when he has to swallow some tough morsels.
Christianity in particular may be called a great treasure house of ingenious means of consolation: it offers such a collection of refreshments, palliatives, and narcotics; it risks so much that is most dangerous and audacious; it has displayed such refinement and subtlety, such southern subtlety, in guessing what stimulant affects will overcome, at least for a time, the deep depression, the leaden exhaustion, the black melancholy of the physiologically inhibited.
My note: this is a precursor to Marx’s “opiate of the masses” concept
a grand struggle against the feeling of displeasure is attempted; …. (I here ignore altogether, as seems reasonable, the philosophers’ struggle against this feeling, which is usually waged at the same time: it is interesting enough but too absurd, too practically ineffective, too much the work of web-spinners and idlers – as when pain is proved to be an error, in the naïve supposition that pain is bound to vanish as soon as the error in it is recognized; but behold! it refuses to vanish.
Neither in the Indian nor in the Christian conception is “redemption” attainable through virtue, through moral improvement .
“For the man of knowledge there are no duties.”
18 (Cures for depression)
The strong are as naturally inclined to separate as the weak are to congregate.
The chief trick the ascetic priest permitted himself for making the human soul resound with heart-rending, ecstatic music of all kinds was, as everyone knowns, the exploitation of the sense of guilt. … “Sin” – for this is the priestly name for the animal’s “bad conscience” (cruelty directed backwards) – has been the greatest event so far in the history of the sick soul … behold! he receives a hint, he receives from his sorcerer, the ascetic priest, the first hint as to the “cause” of his suffering: he must seek it in himself, in some guilt, in a piece of the past, he must understand his suffering as a punishment.
Wherever the strength of a faith is very prominently displayed, we infer a certain weakness of demonstrability, even the improbability of what is believed. We, too, do not deny that faith “makes blessed”: that is precisely why we deny that faith proves anything – a strong faith that makes blessed raises suspicion against that which is believe; it does not establish “truth,” it establishes a certain probability – of deception.
ephetic – the propensity to suspend judgement
Footnote: “Faith makes blessed: consequently it lies”
abrogate – to abolish by authoritative action; annul
secretum – a private seal; medieval Latin – past participle of secernere – to separate, distinguish
order of Assassins – order of free spirits par excellence
secretum: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” – Very well, that was freedom of spirit; in that way the faith in truth itself was abrogated. … Has any European, and Christian free spirit ever strayed into this proposition and into its labyrinthine consequences? has one of them ever known the Minotaur of this cave from experience? – I doubt it.
Footnote: The Assassins’ slogan is often mistaken for Nietzsche’s coinage and derived from Dostoyevsky: e.g., by Danto: it “must surely be a paraphrase of the Russian novelist he so admired” PP In Dostoyevsky’s Brother Karamazov we encounter the idea that, if mankind lost the belief in God and immortality, “everything would be permitted.” But what matters to Nietzsche in this section is the first half of his quotation, “nothing is true,” which has no parallel in Dostoyevsky. Moreover, the quotation from The Brothers is not particularly profound: it “works” in its context in the novel but expresses no great insight, taken by itself. … Incidentally, Nietzsche never read The Brothers.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as science “without any presuppositions.”
A philosophy, a “faith,” must always be there first of all, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right to exist.
From the moment faith in the God of the ascetic ideal is denied, a new problem arises: that of the value of truth. … The will to truth requires a critique – let us thus define our own task – the value of truth must for once be experimentally called into question.
Science … requires in every respect an ideal of value, a value-creating power, in the service of which it could believe in itself – it never creates values.
To place himself in the service of the ascetic ideal is therefore the most distinctive corruption of an artist that is at all possible.
“modern science” is the best ally the ascetic ideal has at present.
man … has become an animal … he who was, according to his old faith, almost God.
Or does modern historiography perhaps display an attitude more assured of life and ideals? Its noblest claim nowadays is that it is a mirror; it rejects all teleology; it no longer wishes to “prove” anything; it disdains to play the judge and considers this a sign of good taste … all this is to a high degree ascetic; but at the same time it is to an even higher degree nihilistic.
The ascetic ideal has at present only one kind of real enemy capable of harming it: the comedians of this ideal – for they arouse mistrust of it.
All great things bring about their own destruction through an act of self-overcoming.
Apart from the ascetic ideal, man the human animal, had no meaning so far. His existence on earth contained no goal; “why man at all?” – was a questions without an answer; the will for man and earth was lacking; behind every great human destiny there sounded as a refrain a yet greater “in vain!” This is precisely what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking , that man was surrounded by a fearful void – he did not know how to justify, to account for, to affirm himself; he suffered from the problem of his meaning. He also suffered otherwise, he was in the main a sickly animal: but his problem was not suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, “why do I suffer?”
Man, the bravest of animals and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far – and the ascetic ideal offered man meaning! It was the only meaning offered so far; any meaning is better than none at all; the ascetic ideal was in every sense the “faute de mieux” (lack of anything better) par excellence so far. In it, suffering was interpreted; the tremendous void seemed to have been filled; the door was closed to any kind of suicidal nihilism. This interpretation – there is no doubt of it – brought fresh suffering with it, deeper, more inward, more poisonous, more life-destructive suffering: it placed all suffering under the perspective of guilt.
But all this notwithstanding – man was saved thereby, he possesses a meaning which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the sense, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself – all this means – let us dare to grasp it – a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will! … And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will.