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Nietzsche is unquestionably a bold thinker, a Faust-like questioner, and a Titan among philosophers. He is a man who understands that the problem of all problems is the question, Is there an authority higher than myself? And having discarded belief in God, he finds no authority except pretensions.
Nietzsche apparently is only familiar with the sanctions of morality and the criterion of good and evil as they are represented in the institutions and thoughts established by history, and seeing how frequently they serve as tools in the hands of the crafty for the oppression of the unsophisticated masses of the people, he discards them as utterly worthless. Hence his truly magnificent wrath, his disgust, his contempt for underling man, for the masses, this muddy stream of present mankind.
If Nietzsche had dug deeper, he would have found that there is after all a deep significance in moral ideals, for there is an authority above the self by which the worth of the self must be measured. Truth is not a mere creature of the self, but is the comprehension of the immutable eternal laws of being which constitute the norm of existence. Our self, "that creating, willing, valuing 'I,' which (according to Nietzsche) is the measure and value of all things," is itself measured by that eternal norm of being, the existence of which Nietzsche does not recognize.
What is true of Nietzsche applies in all fundamental questions also to his predecessor, Max Stirner. It applies to individualism in any form if carried to its consistent and most extreme consequences.
Nietzsche is blind to the truth that there is a norm above the self, and that this norm is the source of duty and the object of religion; he therefore denies the very existence of duty, of conviction, of moral principles, of sympathy with the suffering, of authority in any shape, and yet he dares to condemn man in the shape of the present generation of mankind. What right has he, then, to judge the sovereign self of to-day and to announce the coming of another self in the overman? From the principles of his philosophical anarchism he has no right to denounce mankind of to-day, as an underling; for if there is no objective standard of worth, there is no sense in distinguishing between the underman of to-day and the overman of a nobler future.
On this point, however, Nietzsche deviates from his predecessor Stirner. The latter is more consistent as an individualist, but the former appeals strongly to the egoism of the individual.
Nietzsche is a Titan and he is truly Titanic in his rebellion against the smallness of everything that means to be an incarnation of what is great and noble and holy. But he does not protest against the smallness of the representatives of truth and right, he protests against truth and right themselves, and thus he is not merely Titanic, but a genuine Titan,—attempting to take the heavens by storm, a monster, not superhuman but inhuman in proportions, in sentiment and in spirit. Being ingenious, he is, in his way, a genius, but he is not evenly balanced; he is eccentric and, not recognizing the authority of reason and science, makes eccentricity his maxim. Thus his grandeur becomes grotesque.
The spirit of negation, the mischief-monger Mephistopheles, says of Faust with reference to his despair of reason and science:
"Reason and Knowledge only thou despise,
The highest strength in man that lies!...
And I shall have thee fast and sure."
—Tr. by Bayard Taylor.
Being giant-like, the Titan Nietzsche has a sense only for things of large dimensions. He fails to understand the significance of the subtler relations of existence. He is clumsy like Gargantua; he is coarse in his reasoning; he is narrow in his comprehension; his horizon is limited. He sees only the massive effects of the great dynamical changes brought about by brute force; he is blind to the quiet and slow but more powerful workings of spiritual forces. The molecular forces that are invisible to the eye transform the world more thoroughly than hurricanes and thunderstorms; yet the strongest powers are the moral laws, the curses of wrong-doing and oppression, and the blessings of truthfulness, of justice, of good-will. Nietzsche sees them not; he ignores them. He measures the worth of the overman solely by his brute force.
If Nietzsche were right, the overman of the future who is going to take possession of the earth will not be nobler and better, wiser and juster than the present man, but more gory, more tiger-like, more relentless, more brutal.
Nietzsche has a truly noble longing for the advent of the overman, but he throws down the ladder on which man has been climbing up, and thus losing his foothold, he falls down to the place whence mankind started several millenniums ago.
We enjoy the rockets of Nietzsche's genius, we understand his Faust-like disappointment as to the unavailableness of science such as he knew it; we sympathize with the honesty with which he offered his thoughts to the world; we recognize the flashes of truth which occur in his sentences, uttered in the tone of a prophet; but we cannot help condemning his philosophy as unsound in its basis, his errors being the result of an immaturity of comprehension.
Nietzsche has touched upon the problem of problems, but he has not solved it. He weighs the souls of his fellowmen and finds them wanting; but his own soul is not less deficient. His philosophy is well worth studying, but it is not a good guide through life. It is great only as being the gravest error, boldly, conscientiously, and seriously carried to its utmost extremes and preached as the latest word of wisdom.
It has been customary that man should justify himself before the tribunal of morality, but Nietzsche summons morality itself before his tribunal. Morality justifies herself by calling on truth, but the testimony of truth is ruled out, for truth—objective truth—is denounced as a superstition of the dark ages. Nietzsche knows truth only as a contemptible method of puny spirits to make existence conceivable—a hopeless task! Nietzsche therefore finds morality guilty as a usurper and a tyrant, and he exhorts all esprits forts to shake off the yoke.
We grant that the self should not be the slave of morality; it should not feel the "ought" as a command; it should identify itself with it and make its requirements the object of its own free will. Good-will on earth will render the law redundant; but when you wipe out the ideal of good-will itself together with its foundation, which is truth and the recognition of truth, the struggle for existence will reappear in its primitive fierceness, and mankind will return to the age of savagery. Let the esprits forts of Nietzsche's type try to realize their master's ideal, and their attempts will soon lead to their own perdition.
We read in Der arme Teufel, a weekly whose radical editor would not have been prevented by conventional reasons from joining the new fad of Nietzscheanism, the following satirical comment on some modern poet of original selfhood:
"'I am against matrimony because I am a poet Wife, children, family life,—well, well! they may be good enough for the man possessed of the herding instinct But I object to trivialities in my own life. I want something stimulating, sensation, poetry. A wife would be prosaic to me, simply on account of being my wife; and children who would call me papa would be disgusting. Poetry I need! Poetry!' Thus he spoke to a friend, and when the latter was gone continued his letter reproaching a waitress for again asking for money and at the same time reflecting upon the purity of her relations to the bartender who, she pretended, was her cousin only...."
If marriage relations were abolished to-day, would not in the course of time some new form of marriage be established? Those who are too proud to utilize the experiences of past generations, will have to repeat them for themselves and must wade through their follies, sins, errors, and suffer all the consequences and undergo their penalties.
Nietzsche tries to produce a Caesar by teaching his followers to imitate the vices of a Catiline; he would raise gods by begetting Titans; he endeavors to give a nobler and better standard to mankind, not by lifting the people higher and rendering them more efficient, but by depriving them of all wisdom and making them more pretentious.
If the ethics of Nietzsche were accepted to-day as authoritative, and if people at large acted accordingly, the world would be benefited in one respect, viz., hypocrisy would cease, and the selfishness of mankind would manifest itself in all its nude bestiality. Passions would have full sway; lust, robbery, jealousy, murder, and revenge would increase, and Death in all forms of wild outbursts would reap a richer harvest than he ever did in the days of prehistoric savage life. The result would be a pruning on a grand scale, and after a few bloody decades those only would survive who either by nature or by hypocritical self-control deemed it best to keep the lower passions and the too prurient instincts of their selfhood in proper check, and then the old-fashioned rules of morality, which Nietzsche declared antiquated, would be given a new trial in the new order of things. They might receive a different sanction, but they would find recognition.
Nietzsche forgets that the present social order originated from that general free-for-all fight which he commends, and that if we begin at the start we should naturally run through the same or a similar course of development to the same or very similar conditions. Will it not be better to go on improving than to revert to the primitive state of savagery?
There are superstitious notions about the nature of the sanction of ethics, but for that reason the moral ideals of mankind remain as firmly established as ever.
The self is not the standard of measurement for good and evil, right and wrong, as Nietzsche claims in agreement with the sophists of old; the self is only the condition to which and under which it applies. There is no good and evil in the purely physical world, there is no suffering, no pain, no anguish—all this originates with the rise of organized animal life which is endowed with sentiency; and further there is no goodness and badness, no morality until the animal rises to the height of comprehending the nature of evil. The tiger is in himself neither good nor bad, but he makes himself a cause of suffering to others; and thus he is by them regarded as bad. Goodness and badness are relative, but they are not for that reason unreal.
It is true that there is no "ought" in the world as an "ought"; nor are there metaphysical ghosts of divine commandments revealing themselves. But man learns the lesson how to avoid evil and reducing it to brief rules which are easily remembered, he calls them "commandments."
Buddha was aware that there is no metaphysical ghost of an "ought," and being the first positivist before positivism was ever thought of, his decalogue is officially called "avoiding the ten evils," not "the ten commandments," the latter being a popular term of later origin.
Granting that there is no metaphysical "ought" in the world and that it finds application only in the domain of animate life through the presence of the self or rather of many selves, we fail to see that the self is the creator of the norm of good and evil. Granting also that there are degrees of comprehending the nature of evil and that different applications naturally result under different conditions, we cannot for that reason argue that ethics are purely subjective and that there is no objective norm that underlies the moral evolution of mankind and comes out in the progress of civilization more and more in its purity.
Nietzsche is like a schoolboy whose teacher is an inefficient pedant. He rebels against his authority and having had but poor instruction proclaims that the multiplication table is a mere superstition with which the old man tries to enslave the free minds of his scholars. Are there not different solutions possible of the same example and has not every one to regard his own solution as the right solution? How can the teacher claim that he is the standard of truth? Why, the very attempt at setting up a standard of any kind is tyranny and the recognition of it is a self-imposed slavery. There is no rightness save the rightness that can be maintained in a general hand-to-hand contest, for it is ultimately the fist that decides all controversies.
Nietzsche calls himself an atheist; he denies the existence of God in any form, and thus carries atheism to an extreme where it breaks down in self-contradiction. We understand by God (whether personal, impersonal, or superpersonal) that something which determines the course of life; the factors that shape the world, including ourselves; the law to which we must adjust our conduct. Nietzsche enthrones the self in the place of God, but for all practical purposes his God is blunt success and survival of the fittest in the crude sense of the term; for according to his philosophy the self must heed survival in the struggle for existence alone, and that, therefore, is his God.
Nietzsche's God is power, i. e., overwhelming force, which allows the wolf to eat the lamb. He ignores the power of the still small voice, the effectiveness of law in the world which makes it possible that man, the over-brute, is not the most ferocious, the most muscular, or the strongest animal. Nietzsche regards the cosmic order, in accommodation to which ethical codes have been invented, as a mere superstition. Thus it will come to pass that Nietzsche's type of the overman, should it really make its appearance on earth, would be wiped out as surely as the lion, the king of the beasts, the proud pseudo-overbrute of the animals, will be exterminated in course of time. The lion has a chance for survival only behind the bars of the zoölogical gardens or when he allows himself to be tamed by man, that weakling among the brutes whose power has been built up by a comprehension of the sway of the invisible laws of life, physical, mental and moral.
What is the secret of Nietzsche's success? While other men of greater consistency, among them his predecessor Stirner, failed, he attained an unparalleled fame, and his philosophy exercised an extraordinary influence upon large classes of people not only in Germany but also abroad, in Russia, in France, in the United States and even in conservative England.
We must concede that Nietzsche possesses a poetic power of oratory; he appeals to sentiment; he is not much of a thinker, not a philosopher, but a leader and a prophet, and as such he stands for the most extreme egoism. Nietzsche attempts to establish the absolute sovereignty of the individual and grants a most irresponsible freedom to the man who dares; and this principle of doing away with moral maxims has made him popular.
The truth is that our moral sanctions are no longer accepted. People still believe in God, in the authority of church and state, but their belief is no longer a living faith. Whatever they may think of God, the old God, the God of traditional dogmatism, is gone. He is no longer a living power in the hearts of the people; and so, large masses rejoice to have the proclamation frankly stated that God is dead, that they need no longer fear hell, and that the chains of their slavery are broken.
Nietzsche is consistent in his denial of the traditional sanctions. He understands not only that there are no gods, that the powers of nature as personifications do not exist, but that the laws of nature are mere abstract generalizations. We need no longer believe in Hephaestos, the god of fire; there is no use to bow the knee to him or do homage to his divinity. Nor is there any truth in the existence of a phlogiston, a metaphysical fire-stuff, or any fire essence; there are only scattered facts of burning. Everything else is mere superstition. Generalizations exist only in our imagination, and so we should get rid of the idea that there is any truth at all. Science is a pretender which is apt to make cowards of us. That man is wise who is not hampered by scruple or doubt of any kind and simply follows the bent of his mind, subjecting to himself every thing he finds, including his fellow human beings.
This bold and reckless proposition appeals to egoism and it seems so true that abstract formulas and generalizations are empty. Weight exists; there is gravity; there are particular phenomena of masses in mutual attraction, but gravitation, the law of these actual happenings, is a mere formula, an imaginary quantity, a mere thought about which we need not worry. The law of gravitation is a human invention and has no real existence in the realm of facts.
And the same would of course be true about the interrelations among human beings in their social intercourse, too. All the several maxims of conduct, which are called moral and constitute our code of ethics, are built upon generalizations. There is no sanction for them. The gods who were formerly supposed to be responsible for the several domains of facts have died long ago. The Jewish deity called Elohim, the Lord, entered upon the inheritance of the ancient gods, but he too had to die. Thereupon his place was taken by metaphysical essences, pale ghosts of a mysterious nature, but they too died and so the last shadow of anything authoritative is gone. We are en face du rien; therefore let us boldly enjoy our freedom. Let us be ourselves; let our passions take their course; let us do wrong if it suits us; let us live without consideration of anything, just as we please. There is no sanction of moral maxims to be respected; there is no authority of conduct; there is no judge; there is no evil, no wrong.
This seems pretty plausible to our modern generation raised in the traditions of nominalism, but would we really ignore the law of gravitation because the Newtonian formula is a man-made abstraction and a mere generalization? Yet, if we do not give heed to it we fall, and the same is true of any law of nature. Our sciences are mental constructions; they are mind-made, and so far as they are built out of the material of our experience they tally with facts and we call them true. Our social interrelations, too, constitute conditions observable in experience; they can be formulated in Jaws and applied to practical life; they can be expressed in maxims of conduct and have received various sanctions successively, the sanctions of religion, the sanctions of metaphysics, the sanctions of science. In the age of savagery the sanction of moral maxims was offered us in a mythological dress. With the rise of monotheism our moral sanction came to us as the command of a supreme ruler of the universe; in the age of abstract philosophy as metaphysical principles, and in the age of science these should be recognized as lessons of experience.
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