Towards a Genealogy of Morals
... Squashed down to read in about 20 minutes
"We are ever honey-gatherers of the spirit"
This short book consists of a preface and three essays of 'polemic' which follow on from the concepts of 'goodness' which the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had presented in Beyond Good and Evil, (1886). Here he tries to trace episodes in the evolution of moral concepts and confronts the "moral prejudices" of Christianity and Judaism.
There's more about the Nietzsche here...
Substantially based on the 1897 translation by William A. Hausemann this abridgement reduces the modestly-sized (65,000 words) original to a piffling 3,500 words. Being quite short, many published editions stick other odd bits of Nietzsche, poems or fragmentery notes, at the end after part 3, but these are no part of the original.
By Friedrich Nietzsche
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2016
Under what circumstances did man invent those valuations we call "good" and "evil"; what value have they now? We are indebted to the English psychologists for their attempt to unearth the origin of morality, but do not thank them for finding this in something purely mechanical and accordingly stupid.
The English trace the "good" back to customs which originally were useful to the race but whose utility has been forgotten. But they seek the "good" in the wrong place, since the judgement of what was "good" was not invented by the race, or by those to whom goodness was shown, nor would the race, or herd, ever be able to forget the utility of what they had begun to call the "good."
Now it has been only democratic prejudice which has prevented us from discovering the real genealogy of morals. The idea of the "good" was invented by noble and powerful men who, high-minded and socially elevated, and at a pathos of distance from the mass of men, took upon themselves the right to create values and coin names for them.
The term "good" has no necessary connection with useful and unselfish actions, for these are but expressions peculiar to the herding instinct among men while the essential idea of goodness has something aristocratic about it. The very etymology of our terms, "good" and "bad" reveals this. Whereas the "good" man is the superior and noble person, the "bad" man is he who is simple, as indicated by the German word schlect (bad) which is identical with schlicht (simple). In the matter of race and colour of the skin, the Latin malus (bad) may be placed side by side with the Greek melas (black) thereby indicating the flaxen-haired man in distinction from the black-haired aborigine. The Latin bonus (good) might be traced back to duonos (warrior), the ancient man of quarrel and battle. Such a type man was esteemed originally as the "good" man in whose noble attributes the true values of life were found.
They were the values of Paganism. But a trans-valuation of values set in when the Jews in their vindictiveness turned against the "good" ones as the noble, powerful, beautiful and happy and set up a standard of value according to which the wretched, poor, impotent, and lowly are the good ones. This Jewish valuation, sub hoc signo [under the sign of] Israel, achieved its vengeance on the morality of the noblesse in a roundabout manner by crucifying the seeming adversary and destroyer of Israel so that he with his humane ideals might make appeal to all the world, or to the enemies of Israel.
This was the other origin of the good, or the origin of the other "good," or that of slave-morality in distinction from master-morality. By such means the blond beast was changed into a tame, civilized, domestic animal as though such were the proper course of civilization, but from time to time the noble animal appears again in the form of Homeric heroes and Scandinavian Vikings, in Roman and Arabian, Germanic and Japanese nobility. Thus two antithetical values, "good and bad," "good and evil," have fought a terrible battle lasting thousands of years; the symbol of this struggle appears most clearly in Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome.
The Romans were the strong and noble men of their time; the Jews, a priestly people, filled with resentment and possessed of great ingenuity in morals. By such means was the morality of the masters vanquished for Rome did indeed succumb, although the Renaissance did witness a dazzling reawakening of the classic ideal of life and the one-time noble manner of valuation. But thanks to the German and English Reformation Judea triumphed anew, restored the church and reduced the Roman ideal to sepulchral silence. Judea triumphed anew in the French Revolution, but then the most unexpected thing happened, for the antique ideal of master morality thrust itself out in the person of Napoleon, that synthesis of monster and superman.
The long story of human responsibility has its origin in the task of rearing an animal which can promise. This is the free man whose free will endows him with that superiority which comes from his ability to pledge himself and give his promise. This dominating instinct of man is called his conscience; it has experienced a long history and transmutation of forms until it became the tendency to pledge and say yes to one's self.
The primeval problem of human responsibility was not solved in any delicate but in a frightful way so that it might be burned into the memory. By means of blood, torture, the sacrifice of the first-born, self-mutilations and other barbarous ritual observances the memory of obligation was forever fixed in the mind as that of something which never ceases to hurt. A glance at the German penal code should convey the idea of the effort expended to rear a "nation of thinkers." Here we find punishment by stoning, the rack, piercing the criminal with pales, boiling in oil and wine, cutting flesh out of the breast and the like. The memory of such things was supposed to make people "reasonable" and fix within them the dreary affair called reflection, or conscience. But how did the other dreary affair known as guilt and bad conscience come to make its appearance in earth?
In the genealogy of morals, the fundamental notion of moral "guilt" has its origin in the material idea of "debt." The very secret of it appears in the agreement between creditor and debtor, as old as the existence of law with its legal parties to an agreement and pointing back to the fundamental forms of commerce and intercourse, of buying and selling. Here promises are made so that the problem was to make a memory for him who promised and provide him with a storehouse of all that is stern, cruel and painful. In order to guarantee the promised payment it was necessary for man to impress upon his consciousness such a sacred conception of debt that he will pledge his very body, his wife, his freedom or even the salvation of his soul.
On the other hand, the creditor by punishing the debtor shares the privilege of masters and is thus inspired by the lofty feeling of being able to despise and maltreat some one lower than himself, or of seeing the debtor properly despised and maltreated by the authorities. In such a cradle of moral concepts is to be found "guilt," "conscience" and "duty," whose origins were thoroughly saturated with blood. The act of making another suffer by way of compensation for a debt unpaid seems to have produced the highest kind of pleasure, as it were a kind of festival, and to have ended in a kind of disinterested malignity.
And yet because we had not come to feel ashamed of its cruelty, life on earth was more pleasant than it is now. In connection with the feeling of "guilt," thus understood as debtor-creditor relationship, person stood face to face with person, and person weighed itself with person whence the idea of value arose. Man named himself as the being which weighs values and thus became the valuing animal as such. Then came man's great generalization-that all things have their price and that everything can be paid off.
Thus arose a naïve canon of justice and equity. In primeval times, it was the community which stood in the relation to its member-debtors and to it were all the members bound, to it all were naturally pledged. Now if these members do not pay their obligations, what will happen? As the disappointed creditor, the community will have to be indemnified for the breach of contract on the part of him who is now a criminal. For he is a debtor toward the whole community whose common weal he shared, and in his failure to meet his obligations he is repudiated by the community, which is now in open hostility to him.
As its power increases, the community attaches less and less weight to the transgressions of the individual as such and tends to think more of the wrong done than of the wrongdoer. Thus the community makes an effort to localize the case and, compromising with the anger of those immediately suffering from the misdeed, it seeks to guard against further crimes.
It is a mistake on the part of false genealogists of morals to attribute to punishment the desire for revenge for while such a desire does exist in man it cannot be taken as the origin of law and justice. In fact the idea of punishment is not to be traced back to any one principle but to a variety of these. Punishment may be regarded as a means of rendering the criminal harmless so that the equilibrium of the community may not be disturbed. Or punishment is used as a means of inspiring others with the fear of it, or may be taken as a kind of equivalent for the advantages the criminal enjoyed but did not pay for, as when he is used as a slave in the quarries. Or it is perhaps a festival celebrated when victory over the violator of the law has been achieved. Among still other things, punishment may be used to make a memory for one who suffers it, as also for the spectator who witnesses an execution.
Punishment is really brimful of utilities of every sort. Yet in the long list of utilities peculiar to punishment, we fail to find that feeling of guilt which is known as bad conscience. In fact, punishment itself may retard the development of that very feeling. Since in both the long prehistoric as well as in that of civilization remorse among criminals is such a rare thing, it must appear that punishment was not the instrument by which bad conscience was produced, for punishment tends to harden the heart, strengthens the power of resistance and increases the feeling of estrangement from the community. Bad conscience, this most dismal and yet most interesting plant in our subterranean vegetation, could not have sprung up from such a soil. How then did the remorse of conscience arise?
Man himself became the inventor of bad conscience when, having shifted from instinct to reflection, from nature to the community, he found himself locked within the ban of society and peace. It was as though a water-animal to avoid perishing became a land-animal which was expected to go on its own feet instead of simply being carried by the water, the abrupt change having the effect of unharnessing their instincts and rendering them worthless. Those instincts, however, were still there but, no longer rejoicing in the power to discharge themselves outwardly, they received an inward direction whereby they produced the internalization of man. With political bulwarks like those of punishment all about the instincts of freedom, these turned inward against man himself, so that enmity, cruelty, persecution and destruction were thus directed at man's own nature.
After man had broken violently with his past animal history with all its terribleness and cruelty, he began to make war upon himself in the form of self-antagonism and a cruelty directed toward himself. Hence the original instinct of freedom, suppressed and imprisoned within consciousness, vents and discharges itself inwardly upon itself. Now this is the origin of bad conscience. To return to the original relation of debtor to creditor, it may he pointed out that man's terrible feeling of obligation will direct itself towards all who are living at a given time, but not to them only but also to those who have lived in the past, or to one's ancestors to whom hardly enough can be given in the way of good, festivals, temples, obedience and the like. This sense of a debt to the past continues until at last it is directed toward God, the Great Progenitor; and it is this sense of obligation toward Godhead which has grown greater the more elevated the idea of Godhead has become.
The sublimest stroke in all this feeling of obligation came about in Christianity in which God Himself pays the age-old debt by sacrificing Himself for the guilt of mankind.
What do ascetic ideals mean to artists, philosophers, priests and saints? The ascetic ideal means much to man and is a necessity for his will, which so abhors a vacuum and so needs a goal that it would rather will nothingness than not will at all. This negation assumes the form of the hypnotic subduing of all sensibility; of machinal activity against depression; and the degradation of man by modern science, which itself is the latest and noblest form of the ascetic ideal on earth.
Take the case of Richard Wagner and ask yourself what it means when, in the eve of his life, he gives an ovation to chastity. In the best and strongest, most joyful and most courageous period of his life, Wagner contemplated an opera on "Marriage of Luther," which would combine chastity and sensuality, as happens in every marriage, every true love affair. But instead of such a work, Wagner wrote "The Master Singers." In consummating his career as artist, Wagner should have turned to something cheerful or at least satiric, which would have been in keeping with the career of a great tragedian, but with Wagner it was Parsival. Was this final work meant to be an anathema on the senses and intellect and a return to sickly, obscurantist ideals? All his life he had striven after the highest spiritualizing and highest sensualizing of his art, and here was the self-negation, the self-annulment of the artist. Evidently the older Wagner unlearned his former creed. From being modern indeed he had to revert to mediaeval antitheses and fall into a kind of intellectual perversity. It is greatly to be wished that the artist had taken farewell from us in a different manner, in a manner more victorious, more self-confident, more Wagnerian; less misleading, less double-dealing, less nihilistic.
What do ascetic ideals mean to an artist? Nothing!
Now it was from the philosopher Schopenhauer that the artist Wagner got his idea of music as an art which speaks the universal language of the will and reality, as though it were a telephone from another world. Schopenhauer, following Immanuel Kant, looked upon the beauty of art as that which pleases us without our having any interest in it, and it was the "disinterested" that both these philosophers exalted as the very essence of beauty.
Compare this ideal with the contrary one of Stendhal, who styles beauty "a promise of pleasure," and appreciate the enormous difference between them. The ascetic ideal of beauty finds rapt expression in the philosophy of this German youth, who referred to the sense of beauty as "the painless state which Epicurus praised as the highest good and as the state of the gods, for we are for that moment set free from the vile striving of the will."
Vile striving of the will, indeed! What vehemence of language! What pictures of torture! With Stendhal, it is the function of beauty to stimulate the will by the promise of pleasure, or by means of the very "interest" which Schopenhauer disowned. Now what does it mean when a philosopher renders homage to the ascetic ideal? He gives us a hint; he wishes to get rid of a torture. All ascetic philosophers in their aerial asceticism are willing to practice a certain amount of renunciation for the sake of their pure and unruffled contemplation, but they are not unbiased witnesses since they think only of themselves.
This is not the case with the ascetic priest, the saint. In his case we find an earnest representation of the ascetic ideal. His valuation of life is such that he is forced to turn against life itself, and so influential is he that viewed from afar our earth must look like an essentially ascetic star. For some reason, the life-inimical species of priestly ascetics continues to flourish, suggesting that, although asceticism is against life, it is pursued with an interest in life. The ascetic ideal is prompted by what is self-protective and self-preservative, for by means of this ideal, life is struggling against death so that it is really an artifice for the preservation of life.
Since the ascetic priest wishes for a state of being different from and higher than that which now is, hence it is his wish for life which makes of him a tool for bringing about more favourable conditions. Thus the Nay which he pronounces upon life brings to light the Yea of a better and more abundant life. Now the sick are the greatest danger for the sound; the sick, not the evil nor the beasts of prey. Then come the priestly ascetics. who consider themselves alone the good and just, the men of goodwill; they come and take care of the sick. This is his vast, historic mission - to be the saviour and herdsman of the sick herd. As a physician he has his salves and balms, but his poison also to pour into the wound, but in this appears his greatest value. He changes the direction of resentment. The sick and afflicted naturally desire to blame some one for their plight and reek vengeance upon him. Here the ascetic priest does admit that some one is to blame for the sufferer's sad plight but points out that it is the sufferer himself who is to blame. The resentment which otherwise might have gone out into the world and done harm is thus turned inward upon the sick man.
In addition to such hypnotic subduing of sensibility we find machinal activity as a remedy for states of depression. This may be called "the blessings of labour," with such appurtenances as absolute regularity, punctuality, obedience with the natural effect of filling up one's time, making one impersonal and generating the ideal of self-contempt. To these man's machinal activity adds herd organization, interest in the community and even love of neighbour. Asceticism can be found in science as well as in society. Science, which seems to believe in itself but really does not, is the latest form of the ascetic ideal.
The particular labourers in this field are worthy enough but that does not prove that science itself has a goal, a will or an ideal. It is really a subterfuge for every kind of discontent, unbelief, self-contempt and bad conscience. Thus it stands in need of a vindication; it is the best ally of the ascetic ideal, since it is the most secret, most subterranean. The poor in spirit and the scientific adversaries of that ideal have acted in concert, hence let people guard themselves against the idea that the scientists are really different, or that they are the rich in spirit. They have so worked for the self-diminution of man that ever since Copernicus man has been sliding down an inclined plane into the Nothing.
The result is self-contempt in place of man's one-time self-esteem. In the last analysis, all such asceticism is centred in the ethics of Christianity but this, as a moral code, must perish. We stand on the threshold of that event, that grand drama of one hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries of Europe; the most questionable and perhaps also the most hopeful of all dramas. In his growing horror of life, man wills the will to the Nothing, but he would rather will the Nothing than not will at all.
Nietzsche's grave in Röcken Churchyard, Germany
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