Monday, October 12, 2015
Friedrich Nietzsche by J.M. Wheeler 1895
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I DEARLY love a crank. Not because "Great wits are sure to madness near allied, And thin partitions do their bounds divide," for the better opinion is that of Lamb, that "the greatest wits will ever be found to be the sanest writers," for which the names of Aristophanes, Lucian, Rabelais, Shakespeare, and Voltaire may suffice. But in your crank there are always vague possibilities. He gives scope for the larger hope. One who wanders out of the common road may open up new prospects. We may profit from his errors. Sanity is only the balance of the faculties, and the balance may be over-weighted by a preponderance of the higher qualities, as well as of the lower ones. When Dr. Max Nordau instances men like Tolstoi and Ruskin as types of "degeneration," we may say there is a kind of insanity which rises above the common level, as well as an imbecility that sinks beneath it. Jesus, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Francis d'Assissi, Jacob Boehme, George Fox, Emanuel Swedenborg, were all insane. They were visionaries who, in varying degrees, contrived to infuse into others the contagion of their own insanity.
A madman of a different stamp is Dr. Friedrich Nietzsche, for he has had a training in science, art, literature, and philosophy. On that account his madness is the more dangerous to this age. That he is mad few could read his latest and greatest work, Also Sprach Zarathrustra (Berlin; 1883-91)-"Thus spake Zoroaster" (which he calls "a book for all and none") without admitting. But it is the work of a madman of genius. The king says in Hamlet: " Madness in great ones must not unwatched go." That of Nietzsche is claiming much attention. At Jena, H. Tuerck writes on F. Nietzsche and His Philosophical Errors. At Berlin, L. Stein has a book on F. Nietzshe's View of the World and its Dangers. Even at Glasgow a German teacher announces a work, From Darwin to Nietzsche, showing that he regards the latter as summing up the doctrine of the survival of the fittest; while the Anarchists are calling for an English edition of Nietzsche's works.
Dr. Nietzsche is a Saxon of Polish descent, born at Rucken, October 15, 1844. His father was a clergyman in Naumberg, but he lost him while young, and was brought up by his mother and sisters-a spoilt child, evidently. He studied under the noted philologist, Ritschl, at Bonn and Leipsic, and was, by his recommendation, appointed Professor of Classical Philology at Basel, when hut in his
twenty-fourth year. He had early thrown aside Christianity for Paganism, and his well-attended lectures showed preference for such subjects as Greek literature, Greek tragedy, and the dawn of Greek philosophy.
He already displayed a tendency to scepticism, cynicism, and an intellectual self-exaltation, which I should call egomania-a disease which has finally sent him into seclusion; for in 1889 it was reported he was dead, the fact being that he was insane. In his portrait you can see the man of genius and the madman. His face is clear cut, of the German aristocratic type, with lofty forehead, heavy brows, deep eyos, wide nostrils; a head expressing proud, self-reliant hateur, deep thought, and keen sensitiveness; the head of a musician, poet, philosopher, and crank. Nietzsche is all these. He gives the impression of a high-mettled, vicious horse, that will not bear the traces-a superb animal, but one that needs breaking in before he can run in harness. Alas, he is not broken in, but broken down. May be recover, having learnt the virtue of humility, the beauty of compassion, tne worth of human service!
Nietzsche, like Scbopenhauer and many another pessimist genius, was born out of due time into a world unworthy of him. Haters of modern society are usually conservative reactionaries, lamenting the good old times, when their class lived in secure comfort, because the masses were ignorant; or radical Utopists, contrasting the existing social state with their ideal of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Nietzsche is neither. He despises the old regime. Individualistic and aristocratic by birth, training, and temperament, this Neo-Cynic allows that democracy is a defence against the pest of tyranny; but his bete noir is der Pobel, the mob, the crowd of vulgar, sordid canaille, glorified as "the people." Equality, be declares, is not a fact; fraternity is a dream; and the only liberty he cares for is the liberty to develop into the Superior Man, and to rule inferiors. He would not go back to monarch or priest rule, but forward to a new aristocracy developed through
Anarchism-the rule of the Higher Men, the Uebermenscben. He announces the death of God, the birth of the Superior Man. God is dead. He died through compassion for suffering he could neither prevent nor cure. The trouble is that the Superior Men are not of age and power to step into His shoes and take up all His deserted functions. So we lie twixt two worlds-one dead, the other powerless to be born. Man is a cable over an abyss, along which the animal may pass to the Uebermenschen. What is great in man is that be is a bridge, and not an end. Our business is to push on, whoever falls over. Patient sodentariness (Der Sitzfleisch) is the sin against the Holy Ghost. We must keep moving. For Schopenhauer's "Will," or blind instinct for life, he substitutes Wille fur
Machte-will for power. What is the strongest medicine he asks. Victory. Only the great ones count, he says; the rest are der Pobel. A people is but a circumlocution of prolific nature to arrive at six or seven great ones. It would be well to sweep away a whole species to produce one better specimen. "What," he asks, "causes more sorrow in the world than compassion?" Among the cowardly it is bad form to say anything against bravado, and callous men cannot endure anything said against compassion."
Nietzsche is, frankly anti-Christian. He says, in effect: Blessed are the arrogant, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the strong, for theirs is the kingdom of man. Be strong, for to be weak is to be miserable. He dislikes philanthropists who cultivate the rotten potatoes of society. He scorns the weakness of compassion. Stamp out the unfit. Nothing bas done us more harm than the extravagances of the compassionate. It is the petty men who are masters and preach up the petty virtues which enable them to thrive. The Superior Man disregards and disdains alike the petty morality and the petty immorality of mediocrities. "Who would be Creator must work in Good and Evil alike. He must first be a Negator. Evil belongs to the highest good-the creative." Nietzsche
despises humility. Christian morality is that of slaves and the sick-the negation of life, the morality of the hospital. The morality of the Superior Man is affirmative, not negative. It is the symbol of prosperous, vigorous life, of the will for power become the principle of life. The one communicates of its fulness, enriches, brightens, and adds to the joy of the world; the other impoverishes, enfeebles, and disparages the world. Christianity is a malady, a denial of the Ego; but the morality of nature is a triumphant affirmation of the Ego. Christianity he regards, as Tacitus did, as a pernicious superstition; or with the aversion which Goethe expressed for "the cross and bugs." The cross is, in his expression, "the most venomous of the trees planted on earth." Priests are but invalids turned doctors, seeking to soothe their clients' sufferings by opiates and syrups, which never touch the root of the disease, and who would be promptly dismissed were the patients permitted to return to natural health. Christianity, he says, gave Love (Eros) poison. It did not kill, but turned it into Vice. In his hatred of hypocrisy, humbug, and conventionality, he appears, like Moses at sight of tbe golden calf, ready to break all the Decalogue. He extols the motto of the Assassins, "Nothing is true; all is permissible." He girds at "Cowardice which masks as Virtue." To the Philistine he appears a dreadful apostle of intellectual pride and moral anarchy-the conscienceless assailant of all that is holy. This is wrong. Nietzsche says: "Laugh warmly, mischievously; but with good conscience." Beneath his cynicism surges an earnest, restless seeking after the best. He contemns the Pharisaic hypocrisy of tne "unco guid," but preaches sincerity, courage, and self-relianre. Be yourself, bad as you may be, this will be the first step onward.
Many of his utterances are mere sportive malice. He writes in oracular aphorisms, full of cynical wit and paradox. Thus be says that Messiahs always get to their kingdom riding on asses. He asks: "Is man but one of the mistakes of God, or is God but one of the mistakes of men?" "Where the tree of knowledge is, there is always Paradise-so says the oldest and the youngest serpent."
His characterisations of men are sharp and cynical. Pascal be calls the "self-murderer of Reason"; Rousseau "the return to Nature in impuris naturalibus." Spinoza's Pantheism is "hocus pocus"; Kant he calls "cant"; Comte he terms "that clever Jesuit," Victor Hugo "the Pharos on the Sea of Insanity," Michelet "Ecstasy out of the Rock," Schiller "the moral trumpeter," Carlyle "the
heroic moral interpreter of dyspepsia." Elsewhere he sneers at Carlyle as "an English Atheist who thinks it an honor not to be one." J. S. Mill is "clothed lucidity"; Renan represents "the loss of Reason through original sin " (his training as a Christian priest); Zola is "the love of stinks," Liszt "the school of feminine fluency." First a disciple of Wagner, Nietzsche afterwards preferred the author of" Carmen." Bizet, he says, is Mercury; Wagner, Thor or Zeus; and the gods have light feet. His favorite authors are Machiavelli, Voltaire, Galiani, Emerson, and de Stendhal (Henri Beyle), whom he calls "the last great physiologist,' and whose saying, "What excuses God is that he does not exist," is after his own heart. Schopenhauer he called the last German worth consideration. But "the first duty of a philosopher is to get beyond his day;" so as soon as heroes become popular he gives them up. Schopenhauer gives way before Zarathrustra Nietzsche, who proclaims that he has given the Germans the most profound books they possess, and adds that he has good reason to believe that the Germans do not comprehend a word of them.
I have been unable to find any mention of two writers who appear to me to have much influenced Nietzsche-viz., "Max Stirner " (Kaspar Schmidt), Anarchist, author of Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthum, and "Philipp Mainlaender"(P. Batz 1), pessimist, author of Die Philosophie der Erlosung. Both these are profound but little-known writers, who have scattered seeds bound to grow and fructify wherever they find fit soil. Nietzsche owes most to Stirner; but where Stirner is critical, even in proclaiming "I am the measure of Truth, and what I call my right is, in truth, only my might," Nietzsche is dogmatical-not the less so because he proclaims that his judgments are his alone, and need have value for no one else. In the saying of Mainlaender, "God is dead, and his death was the life of the world," we have the keynote of some of Nietzsche's own philosophy.
The higher race that is to take the place of the defunct deity hardly seems to include woman. Nietzsche, like Schopenhauer, appears a misogynist. In his paradoxical fashion he says "Man has created woman-whence, from one of God's ribs-his own ideal." "There is over something deceptive in love," he says; "but, then, there is always some reason in deception." He couples "the eternal feminine" with "the eternal fool." Feminine love is a kind of parasitism, always costly to the host. The Higher Man is above all that. He is, in short, a god, above the common needs of humanity.
Such, if I understand it-which is doubtful, for Nietzsche is more a poet than a philosopher, and delights in paradox, phantasy, and the oracular opaqueness of a new revelation - is the gospel according to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Its dynamite is not less dangerous because hidden in darkness. It seems to logically include the abolition of conventional morality, the elimination of the unfit, the erection of a system of caste, and the rule of a new aristocracy. The militarism of Germany has made this possible as the program of one of its most original though most cranky thinkers.
My voice can hardly reach Dr. Nietzsche in his seclusion, or I might say: My afllicted brother, are you not learning that we are all dependent on the offices of the humblest; that for us not only the great ones fought and thought, but the poor ones have toiled and suffered? Is a sick person necessarily a parasite on society who should no longer be let live? Was Caesar Borgia, that type of the "will for power," really greater than the unknown fireman or nurse who dies trying to save others? We are not gods, but men, among men, dependent, from our first breath, upon others. Think of all we owe to the past. Dive we ever so deep, soar we ever so high, we cannot escape our duty to our kind. Surely humility, compassion, brotherly love, and brotherly service befit us. We all need to partake of the holy human sacrament of sympathy. I, too, own _ni Dieu ni maitre_; but let us not throw away the baby along with the dirty water. J. M. WHEELER.
For more Nietzsche go to The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche - 100 Books on CDrom