Nietzsche's conception of the Will to Power may seem to have brought us back by a long circuit to Hobbes's definition of human nature as "a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceaseth only in death;" but in reality there is a whole world between the two. In the levelling principles against which Hobbes directed his theory of government there was little or nothing of that notion of sympathy which is rooted in Locke's naturalism and has its flower in German romanticism; nor, on the other hand, is there in the Hobbian picture of the natural state of mankind as a warfare of self-interests any touch of that morbid of the ego which developed as an inevitable concomitant of romantic sympathy.

At the heart of Nietzsche's philosophy there is, in fact, a colossal self-deception which has no counterpart in Hobbism, and to which we shall find no key unless we bear in mind the long and regular growth of ideas from Locke to the present day. Nietzsche looked upon himself as, if not the actual Superman, at least an imperfect type of what the Superman was to be; he thought of his rebellion as an exemplification of the Will to Power; whereas the hated taint of decadence had struck deep into his body and mind, while his years of philosophizing were one long fretful disease. He has himself, with the intermittent clairvoyance of the morbid brain, pointed to the confusion of phenomena which has led his followers to admire his intellectual productivity as a proof of fundamental health. "History," he observes "discloses the terrible fact that the exhausted have always been confounded with those of the most abundant resources.... How is this confusion possible? When he who was exhausted stood forth with the bearing of a highly active and energetic man (when degeneration implied a certain excess of spiritual and nervous discharge), he was mistaken for the resourceful man. He inspired terror."

By a similar illusion Nietzsche regarded the self-assertive Superman as a true reaction against the prevalent man of sympathy and as a cure for the disease of the age. That much of Nietzsche's protest against the excesses of humanitarianism was sound and well directed, I for one am quite ready to admit. He saw, as few other men of our day have seen, the danger that threatens true progress in any system of education and government which makes the advantage of the average rather than the distinguished man its first object. He saw with terrible clearness that much of our most admired art is not art at all in the higher sense of the word, but an appeal to morbid sentimentality. There is a humorous aspect to his quarrel with Wagner, which was at bottom caused by the clashing of two insanely jealous egotisms. Nevertheless, there is an element of truth in his condemnation of Wagner's opera as typical of certain degenerative tendencies in modern society; and many must agree with him in his statement that Wagner "found in music the means of exciting tired nerves, making it thereby sick." Not without cause did Nietzsche pronounce himself "the highest authority in the world on the question of decadence." But the cure proposed for these evils was itself a part of the malady. The Superman, in other words, is a product of the same naturalism which produced the disease it would counteract; it is the last and most violent expression of the egotism, or self-interest, which Hume and all his followers balanced with sympathy as the two springs of human action. Sympathy, as we saw, gradually usurped the place of self-interest as the recognized motive of virtue and the source of happiness, but here this strange thing will be observed: where sympathy has been proclaimed most loudly in theory, self-interest has often been most dominant in practice. Sympathy first came to excess in the sentimental school, and the sentimentalists were notorious for their morbid egotism. There may be some injustice to Sterne in Byron's sneering remark that he preferred weeping over a dead ass to relieving the want of a living mother, but in a general way it hits exactly the character of which the author of the Sentimental Journey was a type. I came by chance the other day upon a passage in an anonymous book of that age, which expresses this contrast of theory and practice in the clearest terms:--

By this system of things [that is, the sentimental system] it is that strict justice is made to give way to transient fits of generosity; and a benevolent turn of mind supplants rigid integrity. The sympathetic heart, not being able to behold misery without a starting tear of compassion, is allowed, by the general suffrage, to atone for a thousand careless actions, which infallibly bring misery with them. In commercial life, the Rich oppress the poor, and contribute to hospitals; a monopolizer renders thousands and tens of thousands destitute in the course of traffic; but cheerfully solicits or encourages subscriptions to alleviate their distress. [4]

As for Rousseau, the great apostle of humanity, it is notorious that the principal trait of his disposition was an egotism which made it impossible for him to live at peace with his fellow men. "Benevolence to the whole species, said Burke, having Rousseau in mind, "and want of feeling for every individual with whom the professors come in contact, form the character of the new philosophy." No one who has read the annals of the romantic group of Germany need be told how their pantheistic philosophy was contradicted by the utterly impractical individualism of their lives. Nor is the same paradox absent from the modern socialistic theories that have sprung from romanticism; it would be possible, I believe, in many cases to establish from statistics a direct ratio between the spread of humanitarian schemes of reform and the increase of crime and suicide.

The truth is, this inconsistency is inherent in the very principles of romantic naturalism. In a world made up of passions and desires alone, the attempt to enter into the personal emotions of others will react in an intensifying of our own emotions, and the effort to lose one's self in mankind will be balanced by a morbid craving for the absorption of mankind in one's self. The harsh contrast of sympathy and egotism is thus an inevitable consequence of romanticism, nor is it a mere chance that Tolstoy, with his exaltation of Rousseauism and of absolute non-resistance and universal brotherhood, should have been the contemporary of a philosopher who made Napoleon his ideal and preached war and the Superman as the healthy condition of society. Nietzshe himself, in one of his moments of insight, recognizes this coexistence of extremes as a sign of decadence. That they spring from the same source is shown by the unexpected resemblance they often display beneath their superficial opposition. Perhaps the book that comes closest to Zarathustra in its fundamental tone is just the Leaves of Grass, which in its avowed philosophy of life would seem to stand at the remotest distance. Nietzsche denounces all levelling processes and proclaims a society based frankly on differences of power; Walt Whitman, on the contrary, denies all differences whatsoever, and glorifies an absolute equality: yet as both start from the pure flux of naturalism, so they both pass through a denial of the distinction of good and evil based on the old ideals and end in an egotism which brings aristocrat and democrat together in a strange and unwilling brotherhood.

Part VII

4. John Buncle, junior, Gentleman. 2 volumes. London, 1776, 1778. The hero is supposed to be the son of Amory's John Buncle.

Revised February 3, 2001