Now all this is the perfectly correct statement of a half-truth, as any one must admit who is familiar with the religious history of Alexandria; it is largely correct also as regards the romantic revival of Alexandrianism, which in Nietzsche's eyes made up the whole of modern Christianity. The fact is that his mind was really concerned with certain aspects of society as it existed about him, and his hostility to the past was not to the dead centuries in themselves, but to what remained over from them in the present -- for what, after all, is there for any man in the past to hate or fear, except as it lives and will not be put away? In the sickness of his soul looked abroad over the Western world, and saw, or thought he saw, everywhere futility and purposelessness and pessimistic uncertainty of the values of life. An ideal, as he sees it, is embraced only when a man's grip on the real world and its good has been weakened; in the end such supernatural ideals, as they are without foundation in fact, lose their hold on the human mind, and mankind, having sacrificed its sense of actual values and having nursed the cause of decay, is left helpless and joyless. This condition he calls Nihilism. "People have not yet seen what is so perfectly obvious," he says, -- "namely, that Pessimism is not a problem but a symptom -- that the term ought to be replaced by 'Nihilism'; that the question, 'to be or not to be,' is itself an illness, a sign of degeneracy, an idiosyncrasy." And in the first part of The Will to Power he unfolds this modern disease in all its hideousness. The restless activities of our life he interprets as so many attempts to escape from the gloom of purposelessness, as so many varieties of self-stupefaction. No one can read his list of these efforts without shuddering recollection of what decadent music and literature and painting have produced:--
In one's heart of hearts, not to know, whither? Emptiness. The attempt to rise superior to it all by means of emotional intoxication: emotional intoxication in the form of music, in the form of cruelty in the tragic joy over the ruin of the noblest, and in the form of blind, gushing enthusiasm over individual men or distinct periods (in the form of hatred, etc.). The attempt to work blindly, like a scientific instrument; to keep an eye on the many small joys, like an investigator, for instance (modesty towards one's self); ... the mysticism of the voluptuous joy of eternal emptiness; art "for art's sake" ("le fait"), "immaculate investigation," in the form of narcotics against the disgust of one's self; any kind of incessant work, any kind of small foolish fanaticism.
The attempt to maintain Christianity amidst a nihilistic society which has lost even its false ideals, can have only one result. As these supernatural ideals were evoked by the weaker mass of the race to cover its subjection to the few stronger individuals, so when belief in the other world has perished, the only defence that remains is the humanitarian exaltation of the humble and common and undistinguished in itself as a kind of simulacrum of Christianity, the unideal sympathy of man for man as a political law, the whole brood of socialistic schemes which are based on the notion of universal brotherhood. These, the immediate offspring of Rousseauism and German romanticism, are, as Nietzsche saw, the actual religion of the world to-day; and against these, and against the past as the source of these, his diatribes are really directed. His protest is against "sympathy with the lowly and the suffering as a standard for the elevation of the soul."
Christianity [he exclaims] is a degenerative movement, consisting of all kinds of decaying and excremental elements.... It appeals to the disinherited everywhere; it consists of a foundation of resentment against all that is successful and dominant: it is in need of a symbol which represents the damnation of everything successful and dominant. It is opposed to every form of intellectual movement, to all philosophy; it takes up the cudgels for idiots, and utters a curse upon all intellect. Resentment against those who are gifted, learned, intellectually independent: in all these it suspects the elements of success and domination.
All this is merely Nietzsche's spasmodic way of depicting the uneasiness of the age, which has been the theme of innumerable poets of the nineteenth century -- of Matthew Arnold, to take an instance, in his gloomy diagnosis of the modern soul. And to a certain point the cause of this Nihilism, to use Nietzsche's word, is the same for him as for Arnold. They both attribute it to the shattering of definite ideals that had so long ruled the world, and especially to the waning of religious faith. But here the two diagnosticians part company. Arnold looked for health to the establishing of new ideals and to the growth of a fresh and sounder faith in the Eternal, though he may have failed in his attempt to define this new faith. Nietzsche, on the contrary, regarded all ideals and all faith as themselves a product of decadence and the sure cause of deeper decay. "Objection, evasion, joyous distrust, and love of irony," he says, "are signs of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology." Nihilism, as the first of the loss of ideals, may be a state of hideous anarchy, but it is also the necessary transition to health. If, instead of relapsing into the idealistic source of evil, the eyes of mankind are strengthened to look boldly at the facts of existence, then will take place what he calls the Transvaluation of all Values, and truth will be founded on the naked, imperishable reality. There is no eternal calm at the centre of this moving universe; "all is flux;" there is nothing real "but our world of desires and passions," and "we cannot sink or rise to any other 'reality' save just the reality of our impulses -- for thinking itself is only a relation of these impulses to one another." So be it! When a man has faced this truth calmly and bravely and definitely, then the whole system of morality which has been imposed upon society by those who regarded life as subordinate to an eternal ideal outside of the flux and contrary to the stream of human desires and passions -- then the whole law of good and evil which was evolved by the weak to protect themselves against those who were fitted to live masterfully in the flux, crumbles away; that man has passed Beyond Good and Evil.
Mankind is thus liberated from the herd-law, the false values have been abolished, but what new values take their place? The answer to this question found by going to Darwinism and raising the evolutionary struggle for existence into new significance; he would call it, not the Schopenhauerian will to live, but the Will to Power. He thus expresses the new theory in the mouth of Zarathustra:--
Wherever I found a living thing, there found I Will to Power; and even in the will of the servant found I the will to be master....
This is Nietzsche's transvaluation of all values, the change from the morality of good and evil depending on supernatural rewards to the non-morality of the purely natural Will to Power. And as the former idealism resulted in the suppression of distinction and in the supremacy of the feeble, so the regime of the Will to Power must bring back into society the sharp division of those who have power and those who have it not, of the true philosophers who have the instinct to surpass and the slaves whose function it is to serve and obey. The philosopher, to use Nietzsche's famous term, is the Superman, the Uebermensch. He has passed beyond good and evil, and often describes him in language which implies the grossest immorality; but this is merely an iconoclast's way of emphasizing the contrast between his perfect man and the old ideal of the saint, and it would be unfair to take these ebullitions of temper quite literally. The image of the Superman is, in fact, left in the hazy uncertainty of the future; the only thing certain about him is his complete immersion in nature, and his office to raise the level of society by rising on the shoulders of those who do the menial work of the world. At the last analysis the Superman is merely a negation of humanitarian sympathy and of the socialistic state of indistinguished equality.
Revised February 3, 2001