Nietzsche’s ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALITY: Three Video Lectures
by Joseph Suglia
The following is a partial transcript of three video lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, also translated as On the Genealogy of Morals. In the German, the title is Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift. The videos were published on YouTube in June 2020.
All of the gods are devils, and “Good” is “Evil.” Morals are already vices—and our so-called “vices” aren’t so bad. These are corollaries that we may derive from the writing of Nietzsche.
This is the first video in the series in which I will be lecturing on Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, translated as On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic by Friedrich Nietzsche, published in 1887.
My name is Joseph Suglia.
This is the very opening of the Preface, Paragraph One: “We are unknown to ourselves, we knowers,” Wir sind uns unbekannt, wir Erkennenden…
That is to say: The core of the human beast goes beyond the perceptual scope of the human beast; the essence of the human beast is inaccessible to the human beast.
No one knows oneself, but free spirits are the ones who know that they do not know ourselves.
Consciousness is only a part of the mind; it is not the entire mind. Indeed, the preponderance of all mental activity is unconscious. The “I,” the Ego, is an illusion—the Ego, which is the self-preserving idealization of the self, is an illusion. What I think that I am is not what I actually am. I might tell myself that I am unconditionally compassionate, but I might not be unconditionally compassionate. The core of my selfhood is inaccessible to my Self. We are all strangers to ourselves, for the core of the human being is the unconscious mind.
In Paragraph Three of the Preface, Nietzsche tells us that, as a thirteen-year-old boy, he playfully described God to be the father of Evil in a schoolboy writing exercise. But later, he tells us, he learned that Good and Evil are inventions, fabrications, human concepts that are not prescribed and preinscribed in the world by the divine. Nietzsche writes, “I no longer searched for the origin of evil beyond the world,” [ich] suchte nicht mehr den Ursprung des Bösen hinter der Welt.
So, Nietzsche’s a priori, his axiom, his absolute premise and presupposition, is that Good and Evil are not objectively given in the world. Now, there are those who are stuck at this stage and believe, because of inherited faiths which they cannot disinherit, that Good and Evil are not confabulations but are objectively real. Nietzsche, of course, does not, and this is his point of departure.
“Good” and “Evil” are much like general customs. Offering water to guests in one’s home is a general custom is certain places of the world. In India and Pakistan, water is offered to guests. But in Pakistan, children give garlands to guests who pass over the threshold of their home. Just as not every culture offers garlands to visitors, not every Good is a Good for every culture.
For instance: Suicide in Ancient Rome was considered as an act of the noble and therefore a “Good”—we prohibit suicide and consider it an “Evil.”
So, this book seeks to answer two questions that English psychologists never pose or pursue, two questions which German psychologists never pose or pursue, including Paul Rée, Nietzsche’s former friend and current enemy, the man who absconded with the woman Nietzsche fell in love with. Paul Rée and Nietzsche had a falling out in 1882 over the woman they both loved, Lou Andreas-Salome. One year after Nietzsche died, Rée died. Rée went hiking in the Swiss Alps, precipitated from a slippery precipice and tumbled into a gorge.
In any event, the book seeks to answer two questions: 1.) Where do moral concepts, such as Good and Evil, come from? 2.) What is the value of moral concepts? In other words, do moral concepts, such as Good and Evil, promote life? Do they intensify life? Do they enhance life? Or are these concepts that are anti-life? Would we be better off without these concepts? Should we dispense with these concepts altogether and think in different categories? In a different language?
The second question puts Nietzsche is close proximity to Aristotle, who believed that what is moral is what promotes human flourishing, eudaemonia.
In Paragraph Five of the Preface, Nietzsche takes a distance, again, from the morality of pity.
Schopenhauer believed that the fundamental proposition of morality, in his 1840 essay “On the Foundations of Morality,” is: “hurt no one, and help others whenever you can.” Schopenhauer regarded pity to be the fundamental affect of morality.
Now, this terrible translation (The Cambridge University Press translation) renders the word Mitleid as “compassion.” The correct translation is not “compassion”; it is “pity.”
What is wrong with pity? Why does it make no sense to make pity the basis of moral judgments? Well, to begin with, asserting one’s superiority over other human beings is a form of cruelty. If you pity someone, you are implying, in a sanctimonious way, that the person you pity is beneath you. We don’t pity our equals; we pity those we consider to be subjacent to us, below our level. We pity wounded dogs, wounded cats, college professors, organisms we think are worthy of our pity and who are therefore not even powerful enough to wound us. The pitiful are incapable of hurting us; they are regarded as being unworthy of becoming our adversaries. Those who are pitied are viewed as undignified by those who think of themselves as dignified enough to bestow pity. And if you have the ability to bestow pity, you also have the ability to withhold pity or to revoke pity.
So, “hurt no one”? Neminem laede? That sounds good on the surface, but if you pity someone, you are hurting the person you are pitying, and the person who is being pitied probably knows it. It is insulting to be pitied.
Even worse, the pitier takes pleasure in pitying the pitiful.
Now, Kant has a different problem with making pity the basis of morality—Nietzsche cites Kant as a philosopher who thought that pity may not be the basis of morality.
According to Kant, whenever we are making moral decisions, reason must refer to itself absolutely, it must give itself its own law (such is the autonomy of reason: reason legislates independently, purely). The affect of pity is external to pure reason.
In order for any action to be moral, it must be performed without the interposition of any feeling, except for the one pure feeling, which is respect (Achtung), according to Kant.
Again, Nietzsche will be addressing two questions in this book: What are the origins of the fabrications “Good” and “Evil”? Secondly, what is the value of the concepts “Good” and “Evil”—if they have any value at all?
Why choose “Good” over “Evil”? Is “Good” always good? Is “Evil” necessarily “evil”? Are there cases in which what is called “Good” is not good? Are there cases in which “Evil” is not necessarily evil?
Nietzsche is not some Mephistopheles who comes from the abysses of the underworld and declares, “Let Evil be my Good!” He is wondering, from a place of disequilibrium: Why are the most vigorous, life-affirming, and creative human beings nominated as “evil”? Are they necessarily evil? Why are the meekest, weakest, and the most passive called “good”? Are they necessarily good?
Killing is wrong, most would agree, but would it have been wrong to kill Hitler before he became dictator?
Is obedience to authority always an absolute good? Is obedience a universal and necessary good? “Universal” meaning “occurring everywhere” and “necessary” meaning “occurring at all times.”
Is it thinkable, could it be the case that morality is preventing humankind from vaulting to and reaching its highest heights, from evolving into overhumanity, der Übermensch? Is conventional morality (and is there any kind of morality other than the conventional variety?) restraining humanity in the way that the swingletree restrains the horse?
* * * * *
In the first essay, Nietzsche sets up a typology between two kinds of dominant morality, two moralities: There is patrician morality, and there is plebeian morality. The patricians are the rulers of a society; the plebeians are the commoners, the common people, the common run of humanity.
The patricians are those who belong to the ruling classes, they belong to the dominant and often domineering classes. They name themselves “good.” So, “Good,” in Greek and Roman Antiquity, means “dignified,” “distinguished,” “distinctive,” “elegant,” “sophisticated,” “noble.”
In Paragraph 45 of Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Menschliches allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für Freigeister, we learn that the hierarchical class, the aristocracy, is “good” because it nominates itself as “good”—but the enemy of the Good is not evil because the enemy can requite the good. The enemy is our equal and therefore good, insofar as the enemy also comes from another ruling class. So, the Ancient Greek did not regard the Trojan as “evil,” but as “good,” even though the Trojan is the enemy of the Ancient Greek. In the Corinthian War, the Spartans did not describe the Athenians as “bad,” even though the Athenians were the adversaries of the Spartans. The Spartans recognized their Athenian adversaries as “good” in the same way that they recognized themselves as good. Aristomenes of Messenia was the supreme enemy of Sparta, but I doubt that the Spartans characterized him as “bad,” much less as “evil.” Aristomenes was of high enough standing to be named the enemy of Sparta, which made him not “bad,” but “good.”
The enemy, the opponent, the competitor, the rival, the adversary is good because she or he is our equal. What was considered “bad” in Greek Antiquity was whatever or whoever was regarded as lowly, contemptible, dust under the feet of the hierarchical, ruling classes. The plebeians were considered “bad” because they were ignoble, low, undistinguished, servile, undistinctive, unvornehm.
For the first time in my brief YouTube career, I will deploy a visual aid.
Sie kleiden sich schlicht. = They dress simply (or plainly or modestly).
Sie kleiden sich schlecht. = They dress badly.
Sie sprechen schlicht. = They speak simply (or plainly or modestly).
Sie sprechen schlecht. = They speak badly.
Schlicht (“plain,” “modest,” “unassuming,” “unadorned,” “unembellished”) is etymologically related to schlecht (“bad”).
Nietzsche also mentions schlechtweg (“plainly”) and schlechterdings (“simply”), but he does not mention schlechthin (“as such,” “per se,” “as it is”), for some reason.
The aristocracy will be replaced by the priestly caste, the clerical class.
Nietzsche does not specifically name Byzantium, but I surmise that he is thinking partly of Byzantium, which was rechristened by the Emperor-Pope Constantine in the year of 330 C.E. as Nova Roma, The New Rome. Byzantium was a theocratic, caesaropapistic state—a state in which religion and politics were one.
Arguably, the priest is the most significant figure in this book. The book begins with the priest and ends with the priest, approximately speaking.
The priest is the one who transforms the previous morality. What is “good” becomes “evil,” and what is “bad” becomes “good.”
The sneering unconcernedness of the patrician, the blithe, ironic indifference of the patrician, the worldliness of the patrician—all of these qualities are now decried as “evil” by the priest. The priest is the megaphone of the mob.
The patrician is hated because she or he is preponderant and she or he displays one’s preponderancy, one’s superiority, one’s sovereignty, one’s majesty, one’s prestigiousness, one’s transcendence in relation to the plebeian. This reason enough to hate anyone, I suppose—the ostentatious self-display of the patrician’s magnificence.
Here is a citation in which Nietzsche makes this point clear (in Essay One, Paragraph Two):
“The pathos of distinction and distance… the continuing and dominating feeling of complete and fundamental superiority of a higher ruling kind in relation to a lower kind, to those ‘below’—that is the origin of the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘bad.’”
Das Pathos der Vornehmheit und Distanz… das dauernde und dominirende Gesammt- und Grundgefühl einer höheren herrschenden Art im Verhältniss zu einer niederen Art, zu einem “Unten”—das ist der Ursprung des Gegensatzes “gut” und “schlecht.”
The priest, fraught with hatred, hates the aristocrat, hates the patrician. What is distinguished is now diabolized, as if to say: “You might have worldly power, O rich man, but you will be poor in the underworldly afterdeath!”
What is sophisticated is demonized, and what is mediocre is angelized.
And the mediocre shall inherit the Earth.
The priest inverts the values of the noble classes—this the famous Nietzschean inversion of values or transvaluation of values. Now, the common, the plebeian, the undifferentiated, and the unindividuated are valorized, and the exceptional, the patrician, the distinguished, and the individuated are deposed.
Nietzsche clearly sides with the distinguished, the vornehm, which he associates with creativity, fertility, strength, vigorousness. Again, the distinguished, the patrician, the intelligent, the complexly minded are codified as “evil” with the rise of the priestly classes.
What is “good” today is not what was “good” yesterday, and what is “good” tomorrow will be different from today’s “good.” Of course, if Nietzsche had his way, there would be neither “Good” nor “Evil”; we would think in a different language altogether.
The “good” are now the meek, the mediocre, the ordinary, the boring, the unintelligent, the simple and the simple-minded simpletons. This does not mean that the common people are unintelligent and that the rich are intelligent. It does mean that unintelligence is praised as a virtue in plebeian morality, however. Why? Because there is only so much intelligence to go around. Genius is rare; therefore, genius cannot be a common value.
No value can be common, for value is based on scarcity.
According to Nietzsche, most human beasts are herd beasts, “mobsters,” if you like, members of the mob. Crowd animals. For that reason, they identify the “Good” with the “Plain,” the “Unassuming,” the “Unremarkable,” the “Mediocre.”
Again, according to the patrician, what is plain is bad.
The hieratic class emerges as regnant and with it, plebeian morality.
How destructive does Nietzsche think the priest is? To cite the text directly:
“Priests make everything more dangerous,” Bei den Priestern wird eben Alles gefährlicher [Essay One, Paragraph Six].
Why is this? Why does everything become “more dangerous”? Because the concept of Evil comes in the world for the first time through the mediacy of the priest, through sacerdotalism.
It was the priest who upholds “that shuddering paradox of a god on the Cross,” jener schauerlichen Paradoxie eines ‘Gottes am Kreuze,’ as Nietzsche phrases it in Book One: Paragraph Eight. It is the priest who espouses the concept of kenosis—that is to say, the humanization, finitization, and mortalization of the Christian God. The encarnalization of God.
(This is something that Karl Barth writes about in his magisterial book The Epistle to the Romans.)
So, this is the revenge of the priest: The priest endorses undignified self-debasements and self-annihilations before the divine. But this is nothing more than the attempted display of the priest’s holiness! This, again, is the revenge of the priest. The patrician will be from now on described as “evil.” The revenge of the priest is the hatred of the powerless for the powerful. It is ressentiment.
Now, at American colleges and universities, Nietzsche’s phrase “man of ressentiment” is often garbled as “man of resentment.” But ressentiment does not mean “resentment” or “resentfulness.” The man of ressentiment is not a man of resentfulnesss.
Resentment is spiteful, envious bitterness.
So, what is ressentiment?
Ressentiment is a deep, tarantula-like, pathological desire for revenge on the dominating classes who equate goodness to distinguishedness and who equate distinguishedness to beauty and happiness. Ressentiment is the aggrievement of the mediocre. Ressentiment goes beyond mere grudge-holding, bitterness, and envy. Ressentiment is the revengefulness of the weak or, to phrase it slightly differently, the will to exact revenge on the strong.
The person of ressentiment cannot let anything go. One’s every action is a reaction to the words and the acts of the powerful.
This is precisely what Nietzsche writes: Plebeian morality needs external stimuli in order to act at all—“its action is basically a reaction,” ihre Aktion ist von Grund aus Reaktion [Essay One: Paragraph Ten].
The person of ressentiment adheres to, clings to, gloms on to the “It Was,” the Before, the Used-to-Be, one’s youth, one’s past-life. Because the Before is irrecoverable, is irretrievable, is beyond the scope of his mastery. One might be able to do almost anything one pleases, but one lacks the ability to revise or to recover the past. One cannot alter one’s youth or the errors that one made in one’s youth. The person of ressentiment is the first one who would reject the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. The Spirit of Revenge comes from the feeling of impotence that we have from changing the past; the way of emancipating oneself from the past is by joyfully affirming the past and wishing to repeat it endlessly. This is the Nietzschean categorical imperative: “Act in such a way that your actions will recur eternally.”
The man of ressentiment finds his meaningfulness through those who are superjacent to him. He is the fragile, priestly type who is dependent on the strong and the sophisticated. He requires the recognition of the patrician in order to love himself. Nietzsche, through his Zarathustra, teaches us to love ourselves, and self-love gives meaningfulness—and that is all that matters.
The man of ressentiment seeks causes of offence in advance.
The real problem is when the man of ressentiment turns creative and invents values. These values are known as “virtues.” Why do virtues exist? Virtues exist to make human beings tame, to turn them into domesticated, submissive, slavish herd beasts. Consider the virtues of obedience, chastity, piety. If you consider obedience, obedience exists in order to restrict the self-assertion of the self and to keep people in line. Chastity is a war against one’s natural impulses. Piety is the negation of the self in relation to God; instead of learning to love oneself, one loves God and exists in a state of undignified self-debasement in relation to God. Self-control is also a virtue, but so is modesty. What are these but forms of self-minimization, perhaps even forms of self-hatred? Passivity, meekness, modesty—these are virtues. Virtues actively negate human self-esteem, human self-worth. Self-rapture is certainly not a conventional virtue.
Patrician morality is the morality of the ironically and playfully unconcerned, the morality of the distinguished, the active, the spontaneous, the creative, the fertile, the self-sufficient.
Plebeian morality is the morality of the passive, the dependent, the reactive; essentially, it is the morality of the crowd.
The concept of “Bad” is an invention of patrician morality; the concept of “Evil” is an invention of plebeian morality. The concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Bad” is not the same concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Evil.” The concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Bad” is distinguishedness, die Vornehmheit. The concept of “Good” which is opposed to the concept of “Bad” is commonness, die Gemeinheit.
In Paragraph Thirteen of Essay One, Nietzsche gives us his own fable of a little lamb, which represents the man of ressentiment, and the raptor, the bird of prey, which represents the patrician, the person of distinction.
To quote the text: “It is not strange that the lambs should bear a grudge against the great birds of prey, but that is no reason for blaming the great birds of prey for snatching up the little lambs. And when the lambs say among themselves, ‘These birds of prey are evil, and whoever is as far removed from being a bird of prey, who is rather its opposite, a lamb—is that lamb not good?’ then there is nothing to cavil at in the setting up of this ideal, though it may also be that the birds of prey will regard it a little sneeringly, and perchance say to themselves, ‘We bear no grudge against them, these good lambs, we even like them: Nothing is tastier than a tender lamb.’”
To quote the German: Dass die Lämmer den grossen Raubvögeln gram sind, das befremdet nicht: nur liegt darin kein Grund, es den grossen Raubvögeln zu verargen, dass sie sich kleine Lämmer holen. Und wenn die Lämmer unter sich sagen “diese Raubvögel sind böse; und wer so wenig als möglich ein Raubvogel ist, vielmehr deren Gegenstück, ein Lamm,—sollte der nicht gut sein?” so ist an dieser Aufrichtung eines Ideals Nichts auszusetzen, sei es auch, dass die Raubvögel dazu ein wenig spöttisch blicken werden und vielleicht sich sagen: “wir sind ihnen gar nicht gram, diesen guten Lämmern, wir lieben sie sogar: nichts ist schmackhafter als ein zartes Lamm.”
The point here, I think, is that the raptor is not responsible for its predations; nor is the lamb responsible for its desire for revenge on the raptor. Both the person of ressentiment and the patrician are nodal points of the will-to-power. The will-to-power precedes the individuals through which it manifests itself.
In other words: It is a linguistic seduction to personalize the predation. There is no reason to say that the raptor is responsible for its predation or that the lamb is responsible for resenting the raptor. Predation is not the deed of a subject; it is a pure doing without a doer.
To elucidate what he means, Nietzsche gives us the famous example of lightning. Excuse me, who is doing the lightninging? Lightning is an asubjective phenomenon. There is no subject who is responsible for the lightning. Es blitzt, IT is lightninging.
Nietzsche writes, in Essay One: Paragraph Thirteen: “Just exactly as the people separate the lightning from its flash, and interpret the latter as a thing done, as the working of a subject which is called lightning, so also does the popular morality separate strength from the expression of strength, as though behind the strong person there existed some indifferent neutral substratum, which enjoyed a free position as to whether or not it should express strength. But there is no such substratum, there is no ‘being’ behind doing, working, becoming; ‘the doer’ is a mere appanage to the action—the action is everything.”
In the German: Ebenso nämlich, wie das Volk den Blitz von seinem Leuchten trennt und letzteres als Thun, als Wirkung eines Subjekts nimmt, das Blitz heisst, so trennt die Volks-Moral auch die Stärke von den Äusserungen der Stärke ab, wie als ob es hinter dem Starken ein indifferentes Substrat gäbe, dem es freistünde, Stärke zu äussern oder auch nicht. Aber es giebt kein solches Substrat; es giebt kein “Sein” hinter dem Thun, Wirken, Werden; »der Thäter« ist zum Thun bloss hinzugedichtet,—das Thun ist Alles.
Let me adduce my own example of a subjectless statement that is more common in English: “It is raining”
Who is doing the raining? No one! It is raining, es regnet.
Both the man of ressentiment and the patrician belong to the pure willing of the will-to-power. They are not free agents; they are not autonomous subjects.
So, what is the will-to-power? That will have to wait for another video.
One of the fundamental lessons of Essay One of On the Genealogy of Morality is that nothing on Earth has ever been given its rightful name. Let me say that again.
Nothing on Earth has ever been given its rightful name.
Follow your natural inclinations, and you will be tormented by an incubus of the conscience.
Hello, everyone. My name is Joseph Suglia, and I will lecturing today on Essay Two of On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift by Friedrich Nietzsche.
The dominant questions of Essay Two are the following (this is my own language): 1.) How are responsible subjects constructed? 2.) Secondly, how is it that irresponsible, unrestrained, untrammeled subjects come into the world?
There is a new typology that is set up in Essay Two: There is, on the one hand, the reactive human animal and, on the other hand, there is the spontaneous human animal.
Let me begin by discussing the reactive type of human beast.
The reactive type is obligated to keep promises. This kind of person is geared not toward the past, but toward the future. The point is that the reactive human being is trained to keep promises and thus is turned into a servile, subservient, manipulated herd animal.
The reactive human being is trained, manipulated, into obeying the norms of culture and the laws of society, whatever society that might be.
So, if I am a reactive human animal, I must keep my promises in the future—I will have been obligated. I promise to avoid transgressing social laws and cultural norms, and it is incumbent upon me to do so.
How do society and culture train the individual subject to be submissive, subordinate, servile, subjugable, obedient?
How do society and culture compel the reactive type to obey their laws and norms?
By imprinting their laws and norms on the body of the human animal (all human beings are animals). “Justice” is implemented by means of punishment.
Hideous techniques of torture have been employed for centuries to inculcate plebeian morality within the reactive subject. The scar of “I don’t want to,” ich will nicht [Essay Two: Paragraph Three] is indelibly imprinted in the body and in the memory by means of torture: “I do not want to steal because if I steal, somebody is going to torture me. I will be tortured because my thieving ancestors were tortured.” Centuries of torture—centuries of religious cruelty and legal cruelty—have evolved the responsible human subject. Nietzsche is a forerunner of evolutionary psychology as we know it today.
(Why do we feel a chill of apprehension when we enter an unknown, dark, cavernous space? Because our ancestors lacked artificial coruscation. Why are so many of us afraid of snakes, even though the preponderance of snakes are non-venomous? Because our ancestors were ophidiophobes, perhaps for good reason.)
Centuries of religious and legal cruelty has trained us to be “good,” docile subjects.
“Keep your promise to be lawful, or you will be tortured”: Generations of human beings have been trained, manipulated, programmed to think in this reactive fashion.
So, the reactive type unconsciously, physically, corporeally knows the logic of equivalence between transgression and penalty, “the idea of equivalence between injury [to society] and pain” [Essay Two: Paragraph Four]: “If you transgress the law, you will suffer a penalty.” But the body of the human animal is trained to know this; it is a physiological knowledge, not a conscious knowledge.
A relationship between creditor and debtor is installed. The reactive human beast is the debtor; society is the creditor.
So, turn the subject into a debtor—one who owes society, one who is responsible for paying back to society what one owes. I am thinking of, for example, military conscription, in which young people are willing to pay the ultimate debt to the societies into which they were born. I am thinking, as well, of taxation, suffrage, census completion, volunteerism, civil service. I am thinking also of the ideology that expects the young to become married and produce a family.
The human animal is perpetually in debt to society—and the word for “debt” in German is Schuld, which also means “guilt.”
So, the reactive obedient subject is instilled with the consciousness of guilt, the memory of guilt, and is forced into the position of debtor—the who is indebted to the laws of the society.
Thus, the feeling of guilt is what powers the responsible subject to follow the laws of society and the norms of culture—you will feel guilty if you do not do so, and the feeling of guilt is the affective mark of the indebtedness of the responsible subject to the society to which one belongs.
Is the feeling of guilt, the feeling of indebtedness, connatural? For Nietzsche, it certainly is not. It is a feeling that is inculcated within us, after centuries of breeding.
Who invented guilt? Nietzsche gives us an answer rather late in the second essay.
It was the person of ressentiment who invented guilt, the reactive sentiment par excellence. Justice comes from the active individual, to whom we shall soon return, not from the person of ressentiment, who is seething with the lust for revenge.
Nietzsche has changed his mind about justice. In Also Sprach Zarathustra (1883-1885), Nietzsche believes that justice is the sublimation of revenge. Justice is just another name for revenge. Strangely, in 1887, Nietzsche no longer believes this. In 1887, with On the Genealogy of Morality, his thought has undergone a change. The 1887 Nietzsche does not think that justice is derived from the sphere of ressentiment, from the sphere of revengefulness.
The person of ressentiment invents guilt and the bad conscience, not justice.
How is indebtedness to society enforced? How is the reactive subject made responsible? (The self-responsible subject will be discussed later; the reactive subject is not the self-responsible subject.)
When the criminal breaks one’s promise to society, the consequence is punishment.
The origin of the concept of responsibility is blood.
The history of responsibility is drenched, bedraggled, supersaturated with blood.
If you do violence to the creditor, which is society, you are not keeping your promise—and the penalty is pain. (First, it is corporeal pain; then, the pain will become psychological.)
“If you break your promise, you will feel pain”: This is the message that is indelibly burned into the mind of the responsible subject—but also:
The legislators and administrators of pain must take pleasure in inflicting pain in order for the programming of the responsible subject to be effective.
The creditor takes pleasure in exacting repayment from the debtor. The creditor takes pleasure in inflicting the pain of punishment. If there were no pleasure, the system of justice would fall apart.
The pain that is inflicted on the responsible subject is not the effect of an act of revenge—it is a positive, active, formative pleasure in the spectacle of suffering. Judiciary pleasure comes from the eroticization of pain—the pain of the criminal, who is the promise-breaker.
This is Nietzsche’s a priori supposition, and it runs throughout all of his works: Human beings have an innate taste for cruelty. We can see this in the love that so many have for horror films, for tragedies and tragic dramas, we can see it in the Crucifixion of Christianity and in the crucifixion of thousands of slaves in Roman Antiquity, we can see it in the Roman Circus, we can see it in tauromachy (bullfighting), we can see it in the televisual sadism of “Reality Television,” we can see it in the videographic sadism of “fail” and “cringe” videos on YouTube, which have millions of views. Why else is it that so many take delight in the misfortunes of others? Why is the spectator so often a malicious, spiteful spectator?
There is a festive atmosphere that surrounds the punishment of the criminal. As Nietzsche writes in Essay Two: Paragraph Six: “No cruelty, no feast,” Ohne Grausamkeit kein Fest.
The reactive type of human, however, turns the impulse to be cruel against itself. So, the drive toward cruelty is reintrojected, is interiorized, by the reactive type. The reintrojection of cruelty, which is naturally directed outward, conduces to the invention of the soul, which is the imaginary seat of the bad conscience, which is also imaginary. Permit me to quote the text directly. Nietzsche writes in Paragraph Sixteen of the second essay: “All instincts that are not discharged outwardly turn inwards—this is what I call the internalization of man: with it, there now evolves in the human being what will later be called its ‘soul,’” Alle Instinkte, welche sich nicht nach Aussen entladen, wenden sich nach Innen—dies ist das, was ich die Verinnerlichung des Menschen nenne: damit wächst erst das an den Menschen heran, was man später seine “Seele” nennt.
The bad conscience is the spiritualization of torture. The impulse to enjoy spectacles of cruelty is transformed into self-torment, which is legitimated as the “bad conscience.”
This is how responsible subjects are constructed—the reactive types are trained, disciplined, manipulated into feeling that they owe everything to society. The responsible, reactive type is programmed and indoctrinated into fulfilling one’s imaginary debts to society.
Again, the criminal is the one who breaks his promise to society to be a responsible, passive subject. But why do the police have no bad conscience about what they do? As Nietzsche points out, quite rightly, the police and police detectives spy, they dupe, they bribe, they set traps [Essay Two: Paragraph Fourteen]. Both criminals and the police are two sides of the same menu. Both criminals and the police are attracted to the same thing: criminality. And both use criminal tactics. It is just that the police are able to use criminal tactics with impunity, with legitimacy.
The spontaneous, sovereign individual emerges at the final stage of a society; s/he is the “ripest fruit on the tree” reifste Frucht an ihrem Baum [Essay Two: Paragraph Two]. The reactive type is disciplined and manipulated until the sovereign individual blossoms.
The final stage of society, and the final product of society, is the blossoming of the autonomous, sovereign individual.
Who is the sovereign individual?
The sovereign individual is a spontaneous, self-responsible, self-mastered self-legislator: One makes laws and then might choose to follow those laws. But only the sovereign individual is permitted to follow those laws—or to forbear from following them.
The sovereign individual is not moral but is also neither immoral nor amoral. The sovereign individual is extramoral—that is, outside of conventional, plebeian morality, beyond Good and Evil.
Now, the spontaneous, autonomous human being is not obligated to keep promises. The spontaneous human being is alone a promising human being. Only the spontaneous human being is allowed to make promises.
Promises are made for the reactive type; memories are made for the reactive human being. The reactive human being is obligated to keep promises, whereas only the spontaneous, sovereign, self-mastered human being is authorized to make promises.
We learn at the beginning of the second essay that the human animal is the only animal that is bred in order to have the right to make promises. To quote the opening directly: “To breed an animal that is permitted to make promises—is this not exactly the paradoxical task which nature has set up for itself in relation to humankind? Is this not the proper problem of humankind?” Ein Tier heranzüchten, das versprechen darf—ist das nicht gerade jene paradoxe Aufgabe selbst, welches sich die Natur in Hinsicht auf den Menschen gestellt hat? Ist es nicht das eigentliche Problem vom Menschen? Nietzsche is not alluding to the common, reactive human animal. He is alluding to the sovereign human individual. That is to say, the sovereign individual human being is the only animal that is authorized to make promises, the only animal that is entitled to make promises. Only the sovereign individual has the prerogative to make promises, whereas the reactive type has no such privilege.
The sovereign individual blocks out, shuts out the memory of plebeian morality. This what Nietzsche calls die aktive Vergesslichkeit, active forgetfulness. So, oblivion, forgetfulness, amnesia is not a negative or passive faculty, for Nietzsche.
While you are eating a cheeseburger, do you think intensely of the cow that you are devouring? Probably not, which is why French Latin is used (in English) to camouflage what we are eating. We do not say that we are eating “cow flesh” (which would be German, which has a much closer proximity to the referent). We say that we are eating “beef,” which is French Latin, which camouflages the reality of what we are ingurgitating.
Forgetting is an active faculty that permits us to ignore the disagreeableness of reality—and hence to live.
Let us remember that morality is dependent on memory, according to the Nietzsche of Morgenröthe: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurtheile, Daybreak: Thoughts on Moral Prejudices. To be moral, you have to have a good memory. And if your mnemonic faculties are defective, how could one expect you to be moral? We are given an armamentarium of mental and physical faculties, and whether or not we are “moral” depends on the congenital equipment that we have been given.
The sovereign individual is a voluntarily oblivious, an actively forgetful beast who can suspend forgetfulness when the individual chooses to make a promise.
Again, it is not incumbent upon the sovereign individual to keep any promise.
This is known as the “I shall do” of the sovereign individual. The “I shall do” is an original formative act. It is antithetical, antipodal to the Kantian “You Must Do It,” the Du solltest, the “You Have to Do It” of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. The sovereign individual says, in effect, “I will make a promise, and I will keep a promise, if I choose to do so.”
The promising, sovereign individual is not reactive, but active. S/he WILLS to obey. But then again, s/he might will not to obey. The self-mastered, spontaneous individual actively wills, actively desires—s/he has what Nietzsche calls “a will to remember,” ein Gedächtnis des Willens [Essay Two: Paragraph One]. S/he alone has the will to not invent a law.
The sovereign individual is accountable to no one but oneself. S/he is emancipated, liberated, free from conventional plebeian morality. The sovereign individual has an “instinct for freedom,” Instinkt der Freiheit [Essay Two: Paragraph Eighteen].
The artist—the genuine artist—is a sovereign individual. The artist is free from the manacles of conventional plebeian morality; everyone knows this. Artists are weightless, irresponsible, guiltless—and not afflicted by the bad conscience or the Spirit of Revenge (der Geist der Schwere).
(Milan Kundera, a Nietzschean novelist, derives his conceit of “the unbearable lightness of being” from Nietzsche. Hermann Hesse and D.H. Lawrence are also Nietzschean novelists. Hesse is Kundera’s superior, and Lawrence is Hesse’s superior.)
Artists practice violence, but not violence in the literal sense of the word. They discharge creative violence, they release stylistic violence in their works of art. Art is beyond Good and Evil; it is extramoral [Essay Two: Paragraph Seventeen].
Whereas the reactive type is like a non-holonomic robot that is programmed to be responsible, the spontaneous individual might choose to be responsible. The sovereign, spontaneous individual exercises the privilege of self-responsibility; one is the legislator of value.
If you have seen and listened to the first video in this series, or read Essay One, you will know that there are two inversions in the first essay. “Good” becomes “Evil,” and “Bad” becomes “Good.”
Now, in the second essay, there is also an inversion. Firstly, at the reactive stage of humankind, society is above the individual.
Secondly, with the appearance of the spontaneous individual, the individual is situated above society.
The sovereign individual affirms the will-to-power from an extramoral perspective.
But it is not yet time to speak about the will-to-power. That will have to wait for a future video.
If you want demons to stop existing, all you must do is stop believing in them.
Nietzsche never actually writes this. That sentence is a thought that struck me as I was reading Essay Three of Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, written by Friedrich Nietzsche, on which I will be lecturing today.
Essay One is schematic and quite simple. Essay Two is extraordinarily complex and gruesomely unpleasant. Essay Three is rather delightful and charming, by contrast.
I read the third essay with undisguised delight.
Essay Three concerns asceticism, which is the renunciation of all sensuousness. Sensuousness means whatever is worldly, whatever strikes the sensorium, whatever can be perceived. In particular, whatever delights the senses.
Asceticism is the surrender of worldliness, physicality, corporeality.
According to Nietzsche, morality is useless to the artist, except, perhaps, as a subject of art. Art is not moral—it exists in a sphere beyond Good and Evil. Artists are irresponsible, extramoral, irrespective of whatever moral opinions the artist might have. This is why Nietzsche asserts the division between the artist as a human being and the artist as a maker of art. If Shakespeare were the Prince of Denmark, it would have been impossible for him to have created the Prince of Denmark. It is true that novelists, for example, have characters inside of them, but let us not forget that characters are internal to the novelist and external to the novelist at the same time. A novelist is no more one’s character than a mother is her son—the creator is not the creature. The artist is the manure, and the work of art is the flower that blossoms from the manure.
This is one of the reasons that Nietzsche is ironically hopeful that Richard Wagner’s final opera Parsifal (1882) is a joke, is a parody of Christian tragedy rather than the ponderous, portentous Christian tragedy that it appears to be. The subject of Wagner’s Parsifal is the sacrifice of sensuality. If the work is a serious one, Nietzsche suggests, it is precisely the palateless, overblown, unintentionally ridiculous abomination that it appears to be. In other words: If Parsifal is a work that is born from asceticism, then it is bad art, for art and asceticism are incommensurable.
The artistic genius is not what Nietzsche’s unofficial mentor Schopenhauer thinks that an artist is. Schopenhauer believes that the artistic genius is a hypertemporal and hyperspatial genius, an entity that is constrained neither by space nor by time. It is as if the artist were somehow outside of the world when one creates art.
Schopenhauer calls the artist “the pure subject of knowledge,” by which he means that the artistic genius is free from all individuality, from all particularity. This is, of course, nonsense. Does this mean that the artist is not subject to the will-to-life? Does the artist not want one’s works to perdure? Even if the artist is celibate, the artist wants one’s works to survive beyond the artist.
Art, for Schopenhauer, would then be an an-aesthetic.
Now, Nietzsche identifies Schopenhauer’s will-to-life with the libido. So, these reflections are those of a twenty-six-year-old man who wants to contemplate life purely without the invention of his insistently bothersome libido. Schopenhauer wants to “free himself from torture,” von seiner Tortur loskommt [Essay Three: Paragraph Six]—that is, from the torture of the libido, the daemon that pursued Sophokles until old age. I don’t believe that the Will in Schopenhauer is equatable to the libido, exactly, though the libido is a form that the Will does take. However, the point remains: Schopenhauer thinks that the artistic genius is unshackled by all sensuousness and sensuality. He is wrong, of course. Artistic production is of the body and is traceable back to the cravings, to the graspings and the gaspings of the body.
But this attitude toward art, too, is asceticism, which is why Nietzsche is giving it to us as an example thereof.
Likewise, Kant is wrong about art, which he only conceives from the perspective of the spectator, not the artist. In Die Kritik der Urtheilskraft, The Third Critique, The Critique of the Power of Judgment, Paragraph Two, Kant writes:
“Das Wohlgefallen, welches das Geschmacksurtheil bestimmt, ist ohne alles Interesse.”
Translation into English: “The pleasure which is determined by judgments of taste is without any interest.”
Kant considers aesthetic judgment to be without interest—that is suppresses the hungers of the body. Aesthetic judgment would be, for Kant, the suspension of the human appetites.
Now, this is nonsense. How could one judge something, anything, without being interested in it?
Is this “uninterestedness” the case for judgments of all representations of human beauty?
Are people supposed to look at paintings and sculptures and feel nothing physical at all?
If Botticelli’s Venus or Michelangelo’s David stir up sensual feelings in the spectator, does this mean that they are not works of art, according to Kant? If one looks at a beautiful vista in the work of Caspar David Friedrich and a feeling of exhilaration is stirred up within the spectator, is that work then not beautiful?
By contrast: Aesthetic judgment, for Nietzsche, is somatic, physiological, by no means free from interestedness. If you judge a work of art, you are interested in that work of art. Indeed, the concept of disinterested judgment is paralogical, that is, it is a fallacy. There is no such thing as a “disinterested judgment,” and even the very concept is self-contradictory.
Philosophy is riddled with ascetic ideals, with moralistic prejudices. The most basic ascetic ideal is: Hate the world, hate life, sacrifice the flesh. So, asceticism is the renunciative position toward life; it is a repudiation of all sensuousness and sensuality. Nietzsche does psychologize here—why is it, he wonders, that philosophers such as Kant, Leibniz, and Schopenhauer never got married? (He never wonders in writing why he never got married.) Why is it that classical philosophy is generally so antagonistic toward the body?
I want to highlight Nietzsche’s overall argument by citing the following sentence: “Every animal, including la bête philosophe, instinctively strives toward an optimum of favorable conditions under which it can completely release its force and attain its maximal feeling of power,” Jedes Thier, somit auch la bête philosophe, strebt instinktiv nach einem Optimum von günstigen Bedingungen, unter denen es seine Kraft ganz herauslassen kann und sein Maximum im Machtgefühl erreicht [Essay Three: Paragraph Seven].
One of the ways in which the human animal attains its maximal feeling of power is self-sacrifice.
Giving up is giving over to. Renunciation is access.
Yes, the ascetics give up life, but they do so in order to affirm their own will-to-power, which is life itself.
The ascetic gives up life in order to intensify, to enhance, to augment one’s own feeling of life.
Asceticism is not a repudiation of life; life is not cancelled out by asceticism.
Yes, most classical philosophers surrender the physical world and the body in particular, but that is in order to discharge their own philosophical will-to-power.
So, the ascetic philosopher gives up marriage in order to optimize one’s philosophy.
The philosopher secludes oneself from noise—Schopenhauer had a pathological hatred of noise—in order to create optimal conditions for his philosophizing.
Schopenhauer hated marriage and noise, not because he thought that celibacy and quietude are virtues, but because he considered marriage and noise to be hostile to his philosophy. And his drive to philosophize is superior to his drive toward companionship and sociability.
So, the renunciative process is not a virtuous one. The ascetics might give up sensuousness (it might be tautologous even to say this), but they are still exercising their will-to-power.
Literary artists and philosophers want to give birth not to literal children, but to books. Children are a form of non-literature.
Writers and philosophers are pregnant with books. They fear living an unmediated existence—an existence in which they would live in order to die, without producing a work of literature or philosophy that might survive them.
And this desire for survival, long after their death, is an instantiation of the will-to-power, which, again, is life itself.
So, again, asceticism optimizes philosophical reflection. There is an exchange of interest here: You give up one thing in order to get something else in return.
The argument in Essay Three really begins with the analysis of the mind of the ascetic priest. This is a characterology; Nietzsche is at his best when he gives us characterologies. Now, here, I want to underline the point that life must have a reason for allowing the ascetic priest to exist.
Why are there so many ascetic priests on the Planet Earth—despite the fact that they are so anti-life? To the point that, if an alien species were to come to the Planet Earth, the extraterrestrials would think that Earth is the Planet of the Ascetic Priests so teeming is the planet with ascetic priests, who are aswarm everywhere.
Here I want to highlight Nietzsche’s central argument: Yes, the ascetic priests desensualize themselves and try to impose their will on everyone else.
They are ragingly antagonistic toward sensuousness.
However: Even as the ascetic priest is giving up the pleasures of the flesh and demanding that everyone else to do the same, he is still exercising his fleshly impulses.
And the ascetic priest belongs to the economy of life—so, even he contributes to the economy of the human species and conserves the human species as he serves as a kind of toxic agent. In the same way that some poisons are curative and serve to drive out other poisons.
The ascetic priest is nauseated by life, he is sick from life and sick of life, and, like any person of ressentiment, wants everyone around him to be as unhappy as he is. He looks discontentedly at those who are happy, at those who enjoy living. He wants to exact revenge on the happy, basically. As Huysmans writes (to paraphrase), those who are miserable do atrocious things—so that everyone else will be as miserable as they are. He is a doctor, but a sick doctor—and a doctor who wants to sicken everyone with whom he comes into contact and even those with whom he does not come into contact.
The ascetic priest is a bit like Malvolio, if you’ve ever read Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will by Shakespeare. If you know the play, you will remember that Malvolio is anti-fun, a person of ressentiment. He says to the happy characters of the play, in Act Five: Scene One: “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.”
The ascetic priest is like a doctor who is sick himself and who wants to sicken everyone around him—especially the vigorous, the life-affirming, the strong, the creative.
To cite the text: “The ascetic priest must be accepted by us as the predestined savior, herdsman, and champion of the sick herd: thereby do we first understand his awful historic mission. The lordship over sufferers is his kingdom, to that points his instinct, in that he finds his own special art, his master-skill, his kind of happiness. He must himself be sick, he must be kith and kin to the sick and the abortions so as to understand them, so as to arrive at an understanding with them; but he must also be strong, even more master of himself than of others, impregnable, forsooth, in his will for power, so as to acquire the trust and the awe of the weak, so that he can be their hold, bulwark, prop, compulsion, overseer, tyrant, god. He has to protect them, protect his herds—against whom? Against the healthy, doubtless also against the envy towards the healthy. He must be the natural adversary and scorner of every rough, stormy, reinless, hard, violently-predatory health and power,” Der asketische Priester muss uns als der vorherbestimmte Heiland, Hirt und Anwalt der kranken Heerde gelten: damit erst verstehen wir seine ungeheure historische Mission. Die Herrschaft über Leidende ist sein Reich, auf sie weist ihn sein Instinkt an, in ihr hat er seine eigenste Kunst, seine Meisterschaft, seine Art von Glück. Er muss selber krank sein, er muss den Kranken und Schlechtweggekommenen von Grund aus verwandt sein, um sie zu verstehen,—um sich mit ihnen zu verstehen; aber er muss auch stark sein, mehr Herr noch über sich als über Andere, unversehrt namentlich in seinem Willen zur Macht, damit er das Vertrauen und die Furcht der Kranken hat, damit er ihnen Halt, Widerstand, Stütze, Zwang, Zuchtmeister, Tyrann, Gott sein kann. Er hat sie zu vertheidigen, seine Heerde – gegen wen? Gegen die Gesunden, es ist kein Zweifel, auch gegen den Neid auf die Gesunden; er muss der natürliche Widersacher und Verächter aller rohen, stürmischen, zügellosen, harten, gewaltthätig-raubthierhaften Gesundheit und Mächtigkeit sein [Essay Three: Paragraph Fifteen]
How does the ascetic priest act as if he were a doctor? Well, he sets as his mission the anaesthetization of pain.
How does the ascetic priest anesthetize pain?
He anesthetizes pain by excessive emotion. By stirring up excessive emotion in his “patients.”
In doing so, in numbing the pain of his “patients,” he enlarges their wounds.
Self-dissatisfaction is common. Most people are dissatisfied with themselves. What the ascetic priest does: He enlarges the wounds of his “patients” and parlays their wounds to his own advantage. He magnifies their feelings of self-discontentment and thus minifies their feelings of self-worth.
What is the analgesic for the pain of his patients? The ascetic priest narcoticizes his “patients” by changing the direction of their pain. The patient would naturally say, “I hate the person who hurt me.” The ascetic priest has a different opinion. “The person who hurt you is not responsible for your pain,” the ascetic priest says. “You are responsible for your own pain!”
In other words, the ascetic priest narcoticizes the pain of his flock by inflicting them with the feeling of guilt. This is the watchword of the ascetic priest: “Torment yourself with paroxysms of guilt! The more intense, the fierier, the more fervid the feeling of your own guilt, the less pain you will feel.” The “patients” of the ascetic priest are enraptured with paroxysms of guilt and the feeling of their own lowliness—which, in itself, is a manifestation of the will-to-power, for self-denigration, in a paradoxical manner, is the exercise of control over oneself.
The result, of course, is that the human animal feels worthless, and this leads to the self-minimization of the whole of humanity.
The mass feeling of guilt has calamitous effects on the human species.
Asceticism is life turning against life—but it is still a propulsion of life. We mustn’t deceive ourselves into believing, falsely, that asceticism has nothing to do with life.
Negation is affirmation.
Devitalization is revitalization.
Those who seek to devitalize life unwittingly affirm life.
* * * * *
Let us now discuss the amazing opening and closing of the third essay: “The human being would rather will nothingness than not will at all…” Lieber will noch der Mensch das Nichts wollen als nicht wollen… [Essay Three: Paragraph Twenty-Eight].
This statement is written at the beginning and at the ending of Essay Three.
Now, I believe that this statement is indebted to a novel by Goethe, to Goethe’s last novel, which he told a female railway passenger was his “best book” after she claimed that she disliked it.
“Damn it, that is my best book,” Schade, das ist mein bestes Buch, Goethe said.
That is Elective Affinities, Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809).
Goethe fashioned three novels: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, Wilhelm Meister (which is a book in two parts), and Die Wahlverwandtschaften.
A character named Charlotte says to her husband Eduard, at the end of the first chapter:
“Und doch ist es in manchen Fällen… notwendig und freundlich, lieber nichts zu schreiben, als nicht zu schreiben.”
My English translation: “And indeed, it is, in many cases… necessary and friendly, to write nothing instead of not writing at all.”
This, I believe, is the literary precursor of Nietzsche’s statement.
What does Nietzsche’s statement mean?: “The human being would rather will nothingness than not will at all…”
When Nietzche writes, “the will,” he means “the will-to-power.” The will-to-power has a horror vacui, a horror of the vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, as every schoolchild knows.
Meaninglessness is intolerable to the human animal, which is determined by its will. Because the human animal cannot tolerate the idea of a senseless existence, a shabby logos is better than no logos at all. As far as we know, the human animal, the inbestial animal, is the only animal that requires meaning and which prefers meaning to non-meaning.
The will confers significance, the will introjects meaning into every vacuity. We interpret not when there is something that is explained for us but when there is nothing which is explained.
Even the ascetic-pessimistic will is an instantiation of the will-to-power. The pessimistic will is the world-negating will, it is the will that hates the world and desires the annihilation of the world. The pessimistic will, even the nihilistic will, is a manifestation of the will-to-power. The will-to-power is the living itself, which means that all of life is bound up with relativities of power. Each living organism has the irreversible desire to become tyrant of the whole of existence. Even the will to demolish oneself, to annihilate oneself in the face of the imaginary divine, is an instantiation of the will-to-power. Because the self is assuming that it has the power to negate itself. By pretending to negate itself, it gives itself the feeling of the enhancement of its own power.
The will-to-power is irreducible, it is fundamental.