Foundations of Ethics, Vol. III:

Nietzsche's Challenge to the Idea of Moral Good

Daniel J. Castellano (2017)

Part X

Full Table of Contents
Part X
24. Conclusion
   24.1 Will to Power as Basis of Valuation
   24.2 Purging Teleology from Ethics
   24.3 Aristocratic Sensibility
   24.4 Slave Morality, Ressentiment and Bad Conscience
   24.5 Critique of Genealogy of Morals and Conscience
   24.6 Egalitarian Bad Conscience
   24.7 The Superman
   24.8 Results of Ascetic Discipline
   24.9 Truth as a Snare
   24.10 Dionysian Eschatology
   24.11 Failure to Transvaluate All Values
   24.12 Militarism, Racialism, Nationalism
   24.13 Dionysian Christianity?

24. Conclusion

Nietzsche challenges the notion that moral valuations of good and evil describe reality. His objection is not that moral valuations are subjective, for he does not consider something less real on that account, but on the contrary, regards objectivity as an idealist myth. All real existents are situated in some place, time, or context, so all observations are necessarily perspective-contingent. The fault with morality is not that it is subjective, but that it directs us to a realm of eternal, static ideals, a fictional world utterly unlike the world that is.

24.1 Will to Power as Basis of Valuation

Nietzsche does not collapse into nihilism, however, as he does not throw up his hands and say one valuation is as good as any other. All valuations are ultimately aesthetic, yet not all tastes are equally good. Some have better taste and are fit to rule. Those with better instincts have more refined sensibilities, and lead humanity to greater configurations of power.

This begs the question of how we can tell which tastes are better without some kind of ideal or measure. Nietzsche tries to avoid ideal concepts, but he cannot help but express some ideas about what is good: courage, honesty, daring and strength. These virtues boil down to an embrace of life as Will to Power.

Will to Power, according to Nietzsche, is not an ideal, but a strictly physical account of reality. This is well-founded insofar as physics seems to show that force rather than substance is ontologically fundamental. This is a world of ever-changing configurations of force, not static things. Life itself, considered physically, is but an aggregation of forces, i.e., directed coercion. Even if we do not necessarily subscribe to a physics without substance, it can hardly be denied that force is an essential aspect of life.

Nietzsche further contends that Macht is always actual, not potential. In English, we often use the term “power” to mean a capacity, but Nietzsche understands the Macht in Wille zur Macht to be always active, so perhaps it is better translated as “might” or “force.” In physics, all quantities of force are actual, not potential, but there can be what we call potential energy or simply potential. It is unclear, however, whether a potential should be considered physically real (at least as a relative quantity), or just an abstract tool by which we measure how energy varies over space in a field of force. While Nietzsche might be overreaching with his denial that there is any such thing as potential, we may at least take to heart that force, as such, must be active or it is not force.

Can Nietzsche’s physics, or any non-teleological physics, serve as a basis for making ethical valuations? Here we take “ethical” in a sense that ignores moral good and evil, but simply tries to determine what is choiceworthy. Nietzsche would have us make such determinations with aesthetic judgments grounded in our instincts and tastes. He believes that any valuation born of a life-affirming instinct has positive value. He does not suppose that there is a universal set of valuations that all must accept. Rather, each living being trusts its own instincts for valuation.

Nietzsche wishes to show that it is possible to have ethical values and meanings in a purely physical world without succumbing to nihilism or pessimism. He is a pessimist only in the sense of not believing in any divine providence or unending human progress that will raise the world to perfection; i.e., he is anti-idealist. Nonetheless, he is somehow able to find joy and meaning in this “worst of worlds.”

24.2 Purging Idealism from Ethics

Nietzschean ethics, which is really aesthetics, is not just a revival of ancient master-morality, for it is not constrained by any mores, i.e., fixed customs or habits. Like Heraclitus, Nietzsche is a philosopher of the flux, so he regards the mores of aristocrats not as absolute truths, but as useful principles for the advancement and expansion (not mere survival) of their type of life in certain historical circumstances.

Instead, most intellectuals, even atheists, find meaning in the world by clinging to arbitrary ideals. Thus Schopenhauer clung to laede-neminem (“hurt no one”) morality, though he had refuted any possible basis for it. Likewise, liberal atheists cling to vestiges of Christian morality, or the fiction that humans have an innate right of self-sovereignty. Socialists uphold the metaphysical doctrine of human equality, though it is contradicted by every empirical measure.

Liberals are increasingly inclined to accept that there are no universal goals or values in nature, yet they still insist on “human rights” as if these were objective realities that all men must recognize. If they were true to the anti-teleology of modern science, they should acknowledge that these “rights” are just a set of subjective preferences, no less “arbitrary” than any other moral system. This would leave the liberal at a loss, however, if he is committed to the idea that something must be objective or impersonal to have real value.

Those who pretend to find a scientific basis for morality usually adopt a form of utilitarianism. They assert but do not prove that men ought to prefer the good of the collective over their own selfish interests, pretending that this is some law of mathematics, logic, or biology. Like other moralists, they disguise their preferences as discoveries. In fact this is a sort of idealism, presuming that there is a universal notion of utility or happiness applicable to humanity as a whole. If it is admitted that this is not so, then there is no basis for measuring the greatest good of the greatest number. Instead, we have only a complex of competing desires.

Modern secular attempts to find meaning in life effectively appeal to ascetic ideals, insofar as they involve suppressing one or more carnal desires for the sake of some mental or spiritual good. If we do not deaden our sexual passions as medieval men did, we instead are urged to deaden our anger, our aggression, our bloodlust, our avarice, our ambition; in a word, our selfishness. This is to be done for the sake of some purely abstract ideal, such as inalienable human rights or the equality of all men, or setting aside the quest for wealth and power for the sake of knowledge. If we were to control our passions solely for practical considerations, e.g., by mutual agreement to secure ourselves from violence, such discipline could not have the character of moral good or evil, nor would it serve the function of imputing meaning to life, any more than the fact that I must breathe in order to survive gives my life meaning.

Nietzsche instead considers that each person may have his own discipline for regulating his passions, according to what works best for him, in order to bring out his talents. One set of disciplines may be suited for a philosopher, another for an artist, and yet another for a soldier. Further refinements may depend on individual sensibilities. These disciplines are useful insofar as they help us avoid being distracted from exerting ourselves in the areas where we may become most effective. We should not, on this account, regard these disciplines as categorical imperatives for ourselves, much less impose them as universal rules for humanity.

If we cannot use our regimen of regulating desires as a basis for defining values, how then do we find value in the world? A free heart, Nietzsche holds, will embrace craving, passion for power, and selfishness, but in an innocent way, precisely because it is unburdened by universal moral conceptions. If we define such desires to be evil, then we cannot experience them except in bad conscience.

It may be countered that merely denying the reality of evil does not make us innocent. Even if we banish the subjective experience of guilt, the harm caused by our actions would surely still exist. Something more than mere abandonment of morality is needed to make us innocent. Nietzsche himself recognized this in his disillusionment with the dissolute Lou Salomé, who was merely without morality, not beyond it.

Moving beyond good and evil does not mean abandoning all values, but refusing to perceive values as universal truths to be received from without. Each may discover his own good, not in the tautological sense of some relativists who hold that whatever one wills is one’s good, but with a discriminating taste. Discovering one’s good requires strenuous effort, perhaps more so than any legalistic moralizing. Instead of merely reasoning things out in the mind, we develop the ability to evaluate much as we develop good taste, by arduous trial and experience. Consistent with his soul-denying psychology, Nietzsche recognizes no distinction between taste and the taster. Our aesthetic judgment is a measure of our own quality. Evidently, Nietzsche esteems other things besides animal strength.

Once you introduce the notion that some tastes are better than others, it is difficult to avoid the implication that there is some measure for evaluating tastes. Yet taste or aesthetic judgment is itself that which evaluates. There is no further regression. Nietzsche’s psychology, which denies the distinction between faculty and subject, between thought and thinker, is essential to the coherence of his account of taste. I know that my tastes are better than others not by appealing to some ideal standard of taste, but because through my superior taste I perceive my superior quality; indeed, my taste and my quality are one and the same.

We have avoided infinite regression, but not circularity, and still seem to be at a loss to explain how we apprehend superiority in taste. Nietzsche ultimately does offer a measure, namely Will to Power, yet he denies that this is some abstract concept or ideal. Rather, it is always to be thought of as a determinate existent, so it is not some universal ideal to which we aspire, but what in fact each thing that exists essentially is. Measuring taste by its life-affirming quality or Will to Power is not a universal standard, for each living being measures according to what is best for the strength of his own life-force or will.

Will to Power is not some static ideal to which we aspire, but rather it is the force by which we surpass ourselves. It is not a new kind of moral good, but our creative power, which can be exercised by masters even over the notions of good and evil. Even slave moralities express the will to command that is in all living things, for we obey laws in order to secure something for ourselves, such as protecting our property. Master moralities are less concerned with the safety of the herd. Masters will take greater risks and sacrifices for the sake of self-surpassing. Thus theirs is the greater love for humanity.

24.3 Aristocratic Sensibility

Nietzsche seems more interested in cultivating the powers of the individual than those of the species. Biology, on the contrary, shows many examples of social behavior, suggesting that groups and species rather than individuals are sometimes the unit of evolution, i.e., the thing that strives to surpass itself. Max Stirner characterized collectivism as just another form of egoism, i.e., the selfishness of the collective, which demands that individuals sacrifice themselves for its sake. Nietzsche does not deny that biology demands social behaviors, even among humans, but he believes there is at least one class of men who are not akin to insects or herd animals. Their value is not in their numbers (as in democracy), but in their individual abilities.

He focuses his attention on this master class, because he is concerned that they have adopted herd morality as a universal truth, not recognizing that it does not apply to them. This master class is identified by their natural instincts and sensibilities, as well as their daring and willingness to look beyond what is given.

Though he measures men by their individual qualities instead of rules, Nietzsche is not a virtue ethicist in the conventional sense, for his virtues are not universal concepts. For example, he identifies honesty as a virtue, but honesty is merely being true to oneself, so honesty for me is not the same as honesty for someone else. Courage likewise is contingent upon individual sensibilities, talents and circumstances. Fear of physical violence might be shameful in a soldier yet commendable in a philosopher. My courage need not be your courage.

The denial of objective virtue seems to reduce the discernment of superior taste or quality to the unreliable standard of simply doing whatever you feel like, trusting in your feelings and instincts. Not only does this give us no real assurance of our superior quality, but it can trap us in a labyrinth that is no less a prison than fatalism, idealism, or legalism. The line between following one’s instinct and becoming a hedonist is scarcely discernible. If Nietzsche avoided the latter fate, perhaps it is because his earlier life of moralizing and philosophizing had accustomed him to self-abuse and stoic self-denial. We should not be surprised that few of his would-be followers, raised in a more permissive culture, have shown any indication that this is an especially difficult path, something more severe than morality.

Nietzsche’s repeated appeals to honesty are also problematic, for this constant desire to look beyond what is given, beyond appearances, hardly makes sense without invoking Will to Truth as a moral imperative. Without such an impetus, why should we be so eager to get beyond anything? Why is one falsification of reality better than another?

In general, the replacement of moral judgments with aesthetic judgments for determining what is choiceworthy (“ethical” in a more generic sense) is problematic insofar as it is difficult to speak of values without standards. Even if we personalize our standards, so that better for me is not better for thee, the notion that some valuative instincts are better than others implies that some values are better than others, at least for me. Yet how can I know this without knowing what is better for me, which is what every moral philosopher professes to define? Likewise, if every valuation is just a tool for falsifying reality in a way that exercises my creativity and strength, why should I seek to undo these myths? Any answer one gives would seem to establish a moral imperative.

In his exaltation of predatory virtues, one might say that Nietzsche relies too much on the past to determine the present. One can freely acknowledge the truth of what he says regarding evolutionary biology, yet at the same time maintain that the time has come to move beyond such an ethos, and move on to a society without exploitation. Such utopianism is also an exertion of Will to Power, as it attempts to impose a set of preferences onto society as a whole. Strictly speaking, a world without exploitation is literally impossible. At best, we can impose arbitrary preferential limits on what sorts of exploitation are to be permitted.

Nietzsche rejected the moral dichotomy between selfishness and altruism, instead holding that what is good for a herd animal is not what is good for a predator. The predator strengthens not only himself but the herd of prey by his activities. He helps the herd not by submitting to its rule or desire, but by recognizing his own network of desires and acting upon them freely. In this way, even in conquest and killing, he generously bestows himself upon the world, creating ever greater systems of power, and promoting more life-affirming instincts.

This analysis supposes that human society is more than a mere herd or horde, as indeed has been the case as long as there has been a division of labor. The coordination of disparate activities requires some degree of oversight or command, an act which is itself a labor requiring special talent. As Ortega y Gassett remarked, aristocracy is a necessary condition of society. This is true even in the most radical modern attempts at egalitarian societies. Revolutions are led by strongmen, and followed by a strong state that imposes equality through bureaucratic force. All such operations require a distinction between those who command and those who obey, established formally by laws that define offices, or de facto by those who are most daring, cunning or ruthless.

Aristocratic self-valuation demands respect not because it is unerring, but due to the aristocrat’s willingness to see positive value in himself and not take his valuation from others or external criteria. As Max Stirner remarked, the right to rule comes from willingness to rule. Nietzsche would add that a sensibility comfortable with command justifies command.

Moral discipline was a positive development in man’s Will to Power, yet it was accompanied by the error of mistaking such disciplines for universal truth. The morality of each society helped that society persist and grow in its historical circumstances, yet later generations enshrined their ancestors’ practices as eternal ideals. Morality in its origin was really an expression of life-will, not a detached objective ideal. Valuation is always grounded in a human capable of judgment. Subjective willing is the creator of the good, not its enemy as liberals maintain, when they oppose “arbitrary” or “personal” rule.

A master morality is possible, Nietzsche claims, only for those capable of recognizing that we are creators of value. It reveres the past and the more powerful. It is capable of generosity and sympathy, but this is from largesse or mercy, not duty or obligation. It is an exercise of power. Moralistic pity, by contrast, would make sympathy and generosity obligations, as if weakness could make demands on us.

In classical and medieval history, aristocratic value-creation was not self-aware. Nietzsche frequently conflates historical master morality with the future immoralism that he conceives. We are sometimes hard pressed to distinguish his immoralism from pagan master morality. If there is any real distinction to be made, it should at least be that immoralists are self-aware in their creation of morality, so it no longer acts as morality for them. They may change their practices and values as they see fit at various points in life.

We would be remiss if we did not point out that historical aristocratic morality was very much conceived in terms of duty or obligation. It is true that they recognized few or no duties to their inferiors, but they saw their virtuous acts as practically required by their own virtuous natures, or else by the gods or by the esteem of their fellow nobles. It is unclear, then, if Nietzsche is correct to banish social virtues from the realm of duty.

A further consideration is that, as Nietzsche himself sometimes notes, man was a collective before he became an individual. At any rate, he is not always to be considered solely as an autonomous individual, but also as part of an organic whole. In this light, performing social functions is a mandate of a collective Ego and an affirmative exercise of Will to Power. This is not mere herd morality, for there is differentiation in roles, but neither is it predator morality, for we are seeking to strengthen the group without preying upon it. Ancient aristocrats had a more holistic view of humanity, recognizing solidarity not only with their ancestors and descendants, but with the rest of the natural world.

Differences in sensibility (master-valuation versus slave-valuation) are supposedly heritable, according to Nietzsche, yet we know that hereditary factors vary by degree. There ought to be people with admixtures of both tendencies. While Nietzsche’s faulty understanding of genetics is problematic, modern psychological measures are not especially helpful at capturing such differences. Measures of “authoritarianism,” for example, make no distinction between those who would lead and those who would follow.

Perhaps we need both master and slave morality, to be used in appropriate times and contexts. We are not completely autonomous predators, for we also belong to, if not a herd, then a structured group with solidarity of some interests.

24.4 Slave Morality, Ressentiment, and Bad Conscience

Master moralities, though they should not be mistaken for universal truths, at least have the advantage of promoting a specific form of life. Slave moralities, by contrast, condemn life-affirming instincts as evil, and direct Will to Power, which is to say life, against itself. All the self-hating aspects of the morality held by modern Christian and secular liberals come to the fore: conquest is evil; killing is evil; war is evil; amassing wealth is evil; having power over others is evil; coercing others is evil. Anyone who takes such an ideology to heart must have nothing but self-devouring remorse over the accomplishments of his civilization, for all cultures advance by exerting themselves over others, by favoring one type over another, by creating greater concentrations and organizations of power (and wealth, which is a form of power).

This life-hating contradiction can be seen among today’s liberals, who wring their hands over the conquests of the past and condemn violence, yet ignore that we secure our pleasant existence under the most powerful killing machine in human history, the American military. Likewise, our soft, loving democratic order is enforced by a militarized police force, implementing the directives of ever more centralized bureaucracies, imposing compassion by force. The same ethnic groups for whom we now have pity, such as American Indians, black Africans, and Jews, were all once conquerors rather than victims, so they have no special virtue unless their present weakness is a virtue. Pre-Columbian America was filled with wars and Nietzschean “feasts of cruelty,” while pity was unknown. Slavery abounded in Africa long before Europeans and Arabs made their incursions. The ruthlessness of the Jews is lauded in the Old Testament, to the bewilderment of liberal Christians. It is only the modern descendants of these peoples, having adopted liberal Sklavenmoral, who view conquest as a crime. Yet the democratic horde does not hesitate to pursue collective conquest, toppling non-liberal governments and demanding that the world conform to its image.

Nietzsche is not interested in adjudicating between predators and their prey. Slaves may believe that predators are evil and they are virtuous, in order to make their own lives bearable. Slave morality becomes problematic only when it is adopted by the ruling classes and mistaken for universal truth. When the powerful are ashamed to exert power, the advancement of nations is thwarted by self-hatred. Life is starved of the impetus it needs to grow. Worse, the more extreme forms of slave morality see nothing good in this world, and place all goodness in some ideal world or in an afterlife. If, as Nietzsche contends, the world of flux we observe is the only world that exists, then idealism is effectively nihilism.

Nietzsche indicts herd or slave morality on two charges. First, because of its envy or distrust, it condemns all vital instincts: boldness, aggression, vengeance, ruthlessness. Slaves hate as “evil” what is strong enough to be a threat, so they must chain the strong. Yet, as we have noted, there may be a place for each set of instincts in the appropriate context. There are times when we should chain our aggression as harmful and other times when it is beneficial, even essential. Nietzsche would remain correct, nonetheless, in pointing out the democratic error of categorically condemning predatory behavior. To do this is to snuff out much of what makes life possible.

The second danger of slave morality, far worse in Nietzsche’s view, is when masters adopt it to chain themselves. This stunts the development of humanity, and robs the world of the virtues of the best men. For virtue is in its exercise and nowhere else. Again, this assumes there are two distinct classes of people, when in fact both tendencies may naturally abide in the same individual, who can act both as predator and as social animal when appropriate. Nonetheless, there is real concern that man is needlessly suppressing half of his creative energies.

In its proclamation of political equality, liberalism pretends to deny that society needs aristocracy. All are created equal, so no one has an inherent right to command, and no one is accorded political advantage simply on account of who they are. Even if one rejects the notion of hereditary aristocracy, however, it can hardly be denied that men become unequal in ability after birth. For society to endure, some must rise to positions of power, while the vast majority follow their directives. This need not be a simple dichotomy, as there can be multiple overlapping hierarchies, but the fact of rulers and ruled remains. Insofar as rulers accept liberal ideology, however, they must deny that they have any right to rule, and claim to be surrogates of the herd.

Socialism applies the same egalitarian principle to economics. No one has an inherent right to superior wealth, so no one must inherit wealth or have any economic advantage. Again, there is a sense that the very notion of advantage is somehow wrong. This is constantly refuted in practice, as men prove themselves unequal in their ability to acquire and generate wealth. In socialist regimes, the capitalist is replaced by a bureaucrat, doing little to abolish the inequality of economic power. He justifies this by claiming to be an agent of the people.

This aversion to “advantage” can also be seen in modern political correctness, a more comprehensive hand-wringing over “privilege,” which is to say, real personal rights or prerogatives, as opposed to the depersonalized “rights” common to all by virtue of being born human. Modern leftists run up against hard biological reality, for nature does not dispense talents equally among individuals or groups. They are reduced to either denying that such inequalities exist or implausibly attributing them purely to discrimination. Women would be just as good at higher math as men were it not for the sexism of academia. Black IQs would be no lower than those of whites were it not for test biases and cultural discrimination. Hardwired inequalities in behavioral tendencies refute egalitarian idealism, so their existence must be denied in the face of all evidence. Never mind that even individual heritable difference, without regard for race or sex, suffices to refute this egalitarianism.

Remorse over privilege extends even to the human race as a whole, as many weep over what humans have done to conquer the environment and depopulate other species. Some environmentalists will go so far as to say that the planet would be better off without humans. This perverse misanthropy is only the logical conclusion of all egalitarian slave morality.

Under Sklavenmoral, there is open hatred of those with power or privilege, and demonization of elites and the wealthy, indeed of anyone who would unashamedly make himself superior. Those with master morality, by contrast, do not hate their prey, for they can only hate enemies they regard as near-equals. Even hatred of enemies is tempered with admiration, in recognition that each side must fight for his own cause. There is no need to evaluate enemies as morally “evil” rather than simply opposed to one’s interests.

In modern mass culture, vulgarity is not confined to the lower classes, for even the educated have mass-produced tastes. Anyone who has encountered liberal academics from various countries can attest to the uniformity of their ethico-political opinions, down to the same poorly thought out arguments and unchallenged assumptions. This uniformity has no rational basis (for why should everyone produce the same bad arguments?), but is instead grounded in shared sensibilities.

Democratic culture in general, and the journalistic mass media in particular, promote the slave moralistic notion that “public opinion” should rule. The very notion of “public opinion” is anti-individualistic, and entails receiving opinions from without. Even rulers are expected to defer to the opinions of their lessers (including the intellectually mediocre journalists), though this is properly incompatible with rule. Effective political leaders, even in so-called democracies, subvert this Sklavenmoral, using the media to promote their ideas to the masses, rather than reactively following the whims of public opinion.

An aristocracy of one sort or another is necessary in order to elevate culture. Democratic mass culture, unchecked, will drag everything down to mediocre vulgarity. Nietzsche despises this development not as morally evil, but as “bad” in the sense of worthless, or disgusting to one with higher tastes. Consider how many great monuments of culture were built by slave labor, or to glorify some aristocratic patron. Only an absolute monarch could have assembled a collection such as the Louvre. Democracy despises all such extravagances as shameful opulence, so it does not duplicate these luxuries, yet continues to admire those of the past. The idea that there can be too much beauty or too much wealth, too much greatness, is intelligible only under the bedwarfing spell of Sklavenmoral.

Ressentiment is a vengefulness toward the strong. Since the slave moralist cannot make himself strong, he condemns energetic life and proclaims that happiness consists in quietude or peace. What is distinctive is not vengefulness, for even masters are vengeful toward enemies, but the inability to act on this vengefulness. Frustrated will to power turns inward, making oneself the prey. Morality grounded in ressentiment makes one ashamed of some desires, treating them as alien to one’s real self. This stunted, truncated nature is then made into the ideal! Mediocrity and tameness are not to be surpassed.

Many versions of Christianity and Platonism, as well as other moralities, certainly have characterized various animal desires as evil. This would seem to be a mistake, for fault may lie not in desire as such, but in its unworthy use. The subjection of desire to reason and order need not entail disparaging desire as evil. On the other hand, if it is acknowledged that there are evil acts, then it can hardly be denied that these originate in desire, and that the desire for something evil is itself evil. Nietzsche denies that there are evil acts, but this appears to be motivated by his wish to deny that there are evil desires. In order to avoid the self-flagellation of remorse, he will do away with the notion that any act is objectively evil. Even the most relativist among us may find it difficult to believe that atrocities are not really evil, but only opinion makes them so.

Nietzsche conjectures that the ruling class left slaves with no other means of venting their instincts, so these turned inward, against the animal self. He never makes a definitive case for what is wrong with condemning animal instincts. After all, as he admits, new forms necessarily entail the destruction of old forms. Further, he notes that active bad conscience is good, as it creates beauty in contrast with animal ugliness. He recognizes the goodness of beauty, though he holds that beauty is not absolute.

It is passive bad conscience, as found in some religions, that is self-destructive. Much of ancient religion involves a sense of debt to your ancestors and your gods, to be repaid with praise, ritual offerings, or worthy deeds. Religious bad conscience arises only with the idea that it is impossible to repay this debt. Then one labors under a sense of guilt and unworth that cannot be ended. This was solved by the “stroke of genius called Christianity” where God Himself pays the debt in His own flesh. Christianity actually diminished guilt, contrary to modern characterizations. It proclaimed freedom from law. Liberalism is an outgrowth of Christian antipathy to guilt. Secular liberals are repulsed by Christianity because they have taken its logic to a new extreme: rather than saying all guilt is redeemed, there ought not to have been anything to redeem in first place.

For Nietzsche, the bad part of Christianity is not its notion of redemption per se, which he considers a major advance in human development. Rather, it is the belief that animal instincts oppose God, and are a penalty to be redeemed. He has in mind here not only lust, but wrath, avarice, malice, and other “destructive” or “selfish” instincts that are actually essential to life.

The disparagement of such instincts is not peculiar to Christianity. Surely guilt and remorse were possible even without the theology of debt. Such theology was not even essential to the central Christian message, as a legalistic theory of original sin was only elaborated later, to explain the fact of redemption. The revelation of an act of love preceded a precise understanding of what it redeemed. At any rate, a debt to anyone, not just God, might establish bad conscience or guilt. Nietzsche never proves that guilt is bad, only that it is unpleasant. Yet elsewhere he praises torture, including self-torture. He must acknowledge that man improves himself by a severe discipline of his animal instincts.

While Nietzsche’s abolition of guilt and shame may be a disproportionate response, we can appreciate how the vilification of aggression stifles the daring that makes advances possible. A society becomes ashamed of virility, urging that men should not dominate other men; indeed, they should not even be above women. Such an equality can be imposed only if the strong stifle themselves and become feminine, which is to say risk-averse, valuing safety above all else.

The condemnation of aggression is made under the banner of justice, claiming that violence is unjust. This ressentiment is a distortion of justice. In fact, aggressive predators are closer to justice, for they “earn” by exercising strength, while the weaklings want their “deserts” handed to them by the strong (via the state). Real justice is opposed to ressentiment, for it is administered by a stronger power, the state, to prevent reactive vengeance. By depersonalizing crime, it minimizes ressentiment.

So-called “social justice” regresses toward vengeance when it broods over injuries committed by elites. The horrific eruptions of vengeance among revolutionary socialists are not anomalies, but expressions of the underlying logic of ressentiment. Nietzsche does not join the anarchists, who ultimately succumb to vengeance, but instead recognizes the necessity of creating law and justice as a partial restriction of life-will in order to create bigger units of strength.

Social welfare programs might likewise be justified by the strengthening of the collective; i.e., the state or nation is strengthened by helping the working class, as modern centrist liberals argue. If there is no seeking revenge or retribution against the rich, nor any sense of due or entitlement, such programs may be free of ressentiment. Unfortunately, the liberal notion of rights as entitlements (by virtue of being human) is pervasive. Equality of rights means anyone who wins an advantage has denied someone their due, which is a recipe for vengeance.

It is not clear if the sense of moral right and wrong arises with law. A public law certainly standardizes morality, but even in private vengeance the aggrieved party appeals to their personal sense of right and wrong. Further, it is not clear that establishing moral right and wrong is always a restriction of life-will. In the virtue ethics of Confucius, acting rightly makes men stronger individually or collectively by mastering their passions and not being slaves of circumstance. Nietzsche would counter that this is just the ascetic ideal, which adopts an attitude of indifference toward success in order to avoid the pain of failure. The freedom achieved is freedom from the only world that exists, and a retreat into a realm of ideas, treating them as though they were prime reality instead of tools for dealing with reality.

24.5 Critique of Genealogy of Morals and Bad Conscience

Nietzsche’s denial of the reality of moral values is entwined with his claim that moral judgments are merely aesthetic judgments in disguise. While pretending to discover or apprehend what is objectively good or evil, we are really just projecting our own aesthetic preferences, informed by ressentiment, or Will to Power turned inward.

Nietzsche makes a good philological case, supported by modern findings, that aesthetic judgments preceded moral judgments in human history. Still, a lack of priority does not necessarily invalidate moral judgments. After all, formal logic is of even more recent vintage, but it is not thereby invalid. Nonetheless, he contends that moral judgments are an adaptation or revaluation of aesthetic judgments, informed by slave morality or ressentiment. It is not always clear how Nietzsche distinguishes the aesthetic from the moral. Often it seems that “master morality” is synonymous with aesthetic valuation, while “slave morality” is what is ordinarily called moral, i.e., evaluations and judgments of good and evil.

It is problematic to make the origin of morality a reaction against the aristocracy. Even the most primitive people, living scarcely better than brutes, have a “morality of custom” before there are strong men as a ruling class. While the earliest moralities may not have been clearly distinguishable from aesthetic judgments, there was recognizably moral restraint long before there were tyrants to fear or envy. Nietzsche himself seems to recognize a more primitive origin to morality, basing conscience on memory. When we are capable of remembering what we have willed, we can have conscience, namely the awareness to continue what was willed, keeping promises as a duty to oneself. Penal law is a later development that makes man keep his promises to others as well. Man submits to these “I shall nots” in order to secure the advantages of society.

“Bad conscience” with guilt comes still later. Penalties are imposed not to hold us to our promises, but out of a notion that we owe something for our actions, and must suffer to pay a debt. This can be seen from the fact that punishments were originally retaliatory, without regard for intention or free will. Later, punishment was moderated by the notion of equivalent price, some pain compensating for the offense. Nietzsche thinks this “pound of flesh” notion comes from contract law, but it may well antecede contracts.

There are several grounds for criticism of this account. First, it is hardly necessary to invoke legal notions and promise-keeping to account for conscience, for we see its origins in every child. Children are punished for performing forbidden actions, and they come to internalize their parents’ commands, at first to avoid punishment, and eventually because they understand and agree that the action is harmful or bad. Actions may be punished regardless of whether they were intentional, since punishment is a conditioning to discourage repetition.

Early penal law may be seen as a generalization of family or clan discipline, imposed on a wider group. Discipline is more severe for adults, expected to have completed their period of tutelage. Bad actions are considered harmful to the group, so bad actors are punished or expelled. Any sort of collectivism or communitarianism involves potential conflict between group and individual, entailing the notion that the individual is sometimes obligated to restrain himself or be restrained for the perceived good of the community.

Justice did not arise from commerce, but it informed commercial law. As commercial law became more developed, its concepts were used to quantify justice. This relatively late development, such as we see in the Code of Hammurabi, is mistaken by Nietzsche as the origin of justice. Much more primitive societies without any lex talionis or even a notion of private property still have justice.

Primitive justice entails that certain rules of behavior are absolute conditions of membership in society. When a rule is violated, the group takes action to protect itself or retaliate against the person committing the perceived harm. This simple principle accounts for even the most arbitrary taboos, as violations of these are believed to bring misfortune upon the community. The offended community is not necessarily seeking recompense by punishing a member, but removing a harmful element from itself, imposing correction, or appeasing the wrath of spirits.

In societies with a more formal notion of membership, it may be considered that (1) violation of the conditions of membership in society are grounds for expulsion; and (2) those outside of society are enemies to be hated and injured, since they are out-group and threats. The basic offense in lawbreaking is biting the hand that feeds you. One might conceive society as a creditor and the offender as a debtor in default, but the notions of debt and recompense arise only with account-keeping.

The notion of contractual restitution of property presupposes primitive justice, of which it is a special application. Society allows its members to keep some private property, but only if it is not forcibly seized from another member. After all, the group exists in the first place for security. Once society guarantees private possession against robbery, no one need relinquish anything unless something judged to be of equivalent worth is given. Exchanges are eventually formalized by contracts, and bookkeeping enables multiple transactions over long periods of time without constant transfers of physical goods. Only at the end of this process to you have well-defined notions of contractual debt and recompense.

Contracts can exist only between relatively free men, not between master and chattel slave. This is akin to master morality, where justice is recognized only between equals and not owed to slaves. Thus contracts need not involve Sklavenmoral, bad conscience or guilt. One in debt must somehow repay, but he need not consider himself evil. Bad conscience arises in contract morality when it is supposed that poverty makes a man evil, so he should feel guilty for not repaying his debts. This was the case in some Protestant cultures, but the ancients tended to be more matter-of-fact in their demand for repayment. In Roman society, debtors became slaves not because they were evil, but because they had offered their liberty as a pledge.

Nietzsche claims that the ancients delighted in cruel punishments because they were claiming a master’s right; the pleasure of inflicting pain. “Vengeance” is not intelligible as satisfaction unless it entails some pleasure derived from another’s pain. Yet it could just as easily be the case that the ancients were hostile to criminals as an out-group or a threat. Their delight was in their total victory over their enemies and relief at the elimination of a threat.

Whatever the exact motive for such cruelty, it is tempered with compensatory justice. Recognizing that not all criminals are existential threats, some equivalent payment suffices for them to remain in society. As society becomes more powerful and affluent, it can afford to become milder in its penal law. Mercy is the privilege of the strongest, since they are least threatened. Regimes are ruthless when in danger of losing power. Mercy, Nietzsche holds, is not the antithesis of justice, but the justice of a matured society. Only thanks to the cruel justice of the past could we grow strong enough to afford mercy. This is why liberal condemnation of pre-modern ruthlessness is foolish. Ironically, society grants more mercy to individuals precisely as the individual becomes more impotent before the state. While we are seemingly exalted by our increase in civil rights, these are granted precisely because we are individually puny before the state. These rights, in a way, are badges of weakness.

Nietzsche denies that justice is a reactive response to injury. In fact, the first thing a strong state does is end private vengeance, standardizing equivalent penalties. Crimes are against the state, not aggrieved parties. The just judge is thus able to be free from hostility, for he represents a state too powerful to be threatened by a common citizen.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong about injury, oppression, etc., according to Nietzsche. These are made crimes only in certain contexts, as a partial restriction of impulse, to create larger units of strength. It would be an error to extrapolate from this that injury as such is wrong. Many Christians and liberals have made this error, opposing life-will.

Even if we agree that violence per se is not evil, is it true that nothing is intrinsically just or unjust? Justice, after all, defines relations among human beings. Social duties are not always for the individual to choose. Society can impose conditions of membership upon him. Still, each society chooses those rules or conditions (via its leaders or citizens) that are best suited to the flourishing of its mode of existence. Strength or life-force is the only desideratum Nietzsche seems to accept uncritically.

24.6 Egalitarian Bad Conscience

Nietzsche reserves some of his most devastating critiques for liberal democracy, which pretends to have surpassed Christianity, yet in fact retains the poison of bad conscience. Like other critics of democracy, from both the Right and the Left, he sees democratic egalitarianism as valuing the mediocrity of the herd. It disparages virtues involving risk, danger, aggression or injury. Instead, it esteems submissiveness, obeying laws, following rules, in a word, non-willing. Liberals do not oppose tyranny, for they will submit to the herd’s tyranny of laws, enforced with bureaucratic ruthlessness. What they find objectionable is personal, arbitrary tyranny, i.e., a tyranny of self-willing.

Nietzsche speculates that the notion of moral obligation, religious and non-religious, may manifest a biological herd instinct for obedience. At any rate, at least some men must have the strength not to obey, or we could never have a master class.

Herd morality prevails in modern Europe (and North America) to such an extent that even masters must rationalize their actions in terms of it. They must claim to be mere executors of older orders, or serving the current opinions of the herd. That these are the only sorts of masters we now accept may be considered the result of social selection. In herd morality, no one must rise above others, and there is to be no coercion by individuals. The collective may restrain anyone who tries to exert personal coercion, justifying this for the good of the whole.

Herd morality may be internalized as neighbor-love, where we consider that the preferences of others should take precedence over the desire for self-exaltation. Nietzsche considers neighbor-love to be a bad love of self, i.e., a self-love distorted by bad conscience. Since we are not allowed in good conscience to be unabashedly selfish, we must discover a new self in our neighbor. We thereby allow others to determine what is choiceworthy, rather than deriving our values from within. Solitude is unbearable to such people, and it is unsurprising that the gregarious tend to espouse egalitarian morality.

Modern liberals try to paint a scientific sheen over herd morality, defining “empathy” as an essential condition of psychological health. On the contrary, Nietzsche shows us, empathy is not health but sickness, born of bad conscience. It invites us to suffer at the sight of others suffering, which is a monstrous tyranny if imposed as an obligation. At any rate, it is an impossible moral standard, for there will be much suffering we never witness, and we cannot really feel the suffering we do witness in others, as our experience differs from theirs in quality and intensity. The purpose of making empathy a criterion of moral worthiness is to impose a tyranny of the herd. No one should rise above the suffering masses. If you are rich, you should give away your wealth, or at least feel bad about having it, or acknowledge that you have no right to it against the herd. The same holds for power, talent, or anything else that makes one man effectively superior to others.

If it is argued that empathy or pity is a necessary social virtue, Nietzsche counters that it suffices to defend against what is dangerous to the community. Sympathetic love of all others is unnecessary. The Romans, notably, had a strong sense of civic virtue, yet they recognized no duty of sympathy for the poor, weak, talentless, ugly or downtrodden. One may lament the lack of “inclusiveness” of such a society, but it functions, and even flourishes. Egalitarianism is unessential to society, and on the contrary some differentiation in function and rank is practically necessary for any complex civilization, even those that profess democracy.

The use of the state to enforce neighbor-love shows that such social pacificism is really a fear of neighbor. Even mercy toward the vanquished, once a sign of strength, is now motivated by a dread of any violence or conflict. There is no longer any conquering spirit. Once tranquility is secured, there is no need for further aggression against enemies of society. The state makes it its business to remove as much occasion for risk and danger as possible. Liberalism, instead of promoting the virtues of free men, becomes systematic effeminacy.

We may see today how most liberal intellectuals uncritically accept herd-morality (egalitarianism) as “morality” pure and simple, as if no other way of moralizing were possible. They need not prove that “fascists,” “bigots” and “elitists” are evil, as this follows from the axiom that all men are of equal worth, so that none should be raised above another, especially not by coercion. Even the most atheistic among them, who deny that there is any objective moral order in nature, speak as if their subjective judgment that such villains are evil were a description of reality, rather than an expression of their ovine sensibility.

Socialists take herd-morality to the logical extreme of abolishing competition, so there are no losers. The destructive aspects of competition seem wasteful to socialists, who naively suppose that one may secure the benefits of progress without such “waste.” After dozens of failed command economies, we have learned that, ironically, it is far more wasteful and inefficient to impose equality by fiat, while denying men any selfish incentives for productivity. Socialists failed to appreciate that it is not possible to know in advance which new thing will be beneficial. The only way to find out is by open competition. Destruction is not a bug, but a feature of progress. The “wastefulness” of multiple competitors promoting similar products is an essential aspect of economic development. Under socialism, the danger of competition is abolished by subduing all individuals before the Will to Power of the State. The renunciation of individual Will to Power, according to Nietzsche, manifests individual cowardice in those who are sick of life. They are so fearful of conflict and danger that they would rather be slaves of petty bureaucracy.

Outside of politics, we find that atheist intellectuals, for all their iconoclasm, love to enslave themselves to formal logic to the point of pedantry. They insist on always using the “right” names for things, as if words were our masters rather than tools we can subject to any use. They parse natural language as if it were computer syntax, and enjoy “rules lawyering” even in their games. They need to immerse their cleverness in some structure. Artistic creativity is too chaotic for most of them.

24.7 The Superman

Against idealism, Nietzsche posits the Superman, who is as ashamed of ideals as man is ashamed of animal instincts. The old moral disciplines served their purpose when they were necessary, but these historical contingencies were mistaken for fixed ideals. The Superman moves past such nihilistic, nature-denying idealism.

It is possible, however, that the Superman may in fact be a regression to animal instinct, rather than something beyond morality. Doing what one wills, without regard for moral constraints, in practice means following whims or instincts. Unless we can cultivate some new instincts hitherto unknown, a premature abandonment of morality would seem to involve a regression. Nietzsche boasts that his discipline is more severe than any morality. The difference is that he follows no fixed rule, or if he does follow a rule, it is because it has use for him, not because he considers himself obligated to do so. Morality for him is demystified. It is not something out there, but something he accepts as a human invention.

The doctrine of the Superman recognizes that man is something to be surpassed. This does not entail hatred toward past developments, since these were necessary advancements. Unlike liberals and socialists, who are full of vengefulness toward the old establishments, the Superman is grateful for the ruthlessness of his ancestors, which made modern mercy possible. The disciplines of old moralities are not wantonly cast aside, but preserved insofar as they are useful, having been transformed into tools that we master.

Immoralism is not the mere absence of morality, but ultra-morality, i.e., a discipline harsher than morality, not imposed as an extrinsic duty, but by oneself. It is not a discipline of fixed ideals, but a regimen of self-strengthening contingent upon circumstances. This joyous, spontaneous creativity follows no fixed rules, but freely uses old moral disciplines as tools when helpful. As all reality, including ourselves, is in flux, so should our values be if they are to remain useful to us.

Undoubtedly, there is much in morality that is contingent upon culture and circumstance. Does it follow, however, that there are no fixed values or moral truths? Even of the values that do change with contingency, there might at least be fixed conditional rules, of the form, “If X is true, then one should Y.” A further difficulty is that constancy is a practical prerequisite of any sort of discipline. All self-discipline involves purging bad habits and developing good ones with some degree of consistency. Nietzsche’s focus on reality as flux, to the exclusion of substantial persistence, is inadequate to giving a full account of ethical development. As he himself acknowledges, evolution entails the cultivation of a fixed type that is adapted to a particular environment. Moral principles may serve to preserve types of discipline that are useful for extended periods of time, even millennia. A discipline harsher than morality can hardly be considered successful if it does not produce lasting effects, which in turn requires steady application of fixed principles.

To show that moral good and evil are illusions, Nietzsche uses extreme examples of the contingency of morality. All life involves killing and seizing from others, so these actions are not intrinsically evil. Killing and seizing may be good in some contexts. If killing is not intrinsically evil, how can anything be? Such rhetorical arguments suppose that context cannot be built into a moral evaluation. It could be the case that an act defined as intrinsically evil presupposes some definite circumstance. One may counter, however, that the appeal to circumstance implies that the evil is not intrinsic.

Alternatively, we may say that evil is in the will, i.e., intention is what makes an act intrinsically evil or good. This would account for why we do not impute crime to even the bloodiest or most pain-inducing acts of brute animals, which lack the requisite intention. Nietzsche believes that evil intentions are a consequence of the bad conscience created by morality. The immoralist may commit “crimes” with the innocence of an animal. Yet it is not remorse, but the intent to harm that we find blameworthy in an evil will. If the infliction of harm is not intrinsically evil, however, we remain at a loss to identify any basis for the intrinsic evil of intention. If we further acknowledge that selfishness is not intrinsically evil, the problem is even more acute.

More advanced slave moralities have tended to situate evil in the will on account of its freedom and ability to arbitrate. Nietzsche sees morality as nullifying the will, its “thou shalt” serving as a “thou must,” outsourcing your decision-making to some extrinsic entity. Yet, in the classical liberal tradition, we may see morality as contractual, enabling us to achieve the benefits of society. Even ancient religious moralities may be understood in this light. The Ten Commandments, for example, have the Israelites repay the God who liberated them with exclusive worship. Since creation itself involves periods of rest, they too should allow their beasts to rest, and not constantly take from the land. The life and property claims of others should be respected, to secure the benefits of society. The parents to whom we owe existence are reciprocated with honor and care in their old age.

Moral principles can bring us social benefits, but they need not on that account be elevated to fixed ideals. New social arrangements, bringing even greater benefits, may require us to modify our principles. There must be at least a few men of genius capable of the creativity needed to advance society. The new, creative nobility is not ruled by the populace, nor by any ideal such as those espoused by ideological dictators. Only a few have the elevated tastes to be independent, and are strong enough not to need the fiction of moral duty to impose self-discipline. They do not feel a legalistic need to harmonize the new with the old, but take freely from whatever contributes to a feeling of growth and increased power. Contradictions are not troubling, for addition changes what we are, and we recognize the limits of our concepts. Breaking through Apollonian illusion, the Superman takes us to the fearsome depths of reality. His dominant Will to Power is an overflowing creativity that imparts value to the rest of the world, providing direction and purpose to others. Not all can be supermen, or there would be no masters and no society. The majority are content to have others provide values for them. Only a few have the strength to break free of each new Apollonian dream. If everyone had this ability, the dream could not exist in the first place.

24.8 Results of Ascetic Discipline

Nietzsche denies that any idealist system ever discovered immutable truths, considering this proved by their lack of endurance. On the contrary, there was a sustained and fairly self-consistent science of ethics developed from 400 BC to 1800 AD. In the nineteenth century, however, everything seemed negotiable, and a chaos of succeeding opinions appeared to be only so much sensibility, without any firm basis. The decadence of philosophy is a necessary precondition for the revival of pre-Socratic thought.

Modern moral philosophies are little more than projections of sensibility masquerading as scientific discoveries. This is the case with the Utilitarians, who naively supposed there is a universal notion of utility, by which they could arrive at a social ethics remarkably similar to that preferred by English sensibility. Similarly, today’s atheists give ostensibly scientific accounts of morality that merely project Western upper middle class ideas (about empathy, fairness, authoritarianism, etc.) onto their observations.

Since modern science has failed to give its own meaning to reality, scientific accounts are forced to fall back upon versions of the ascetic ideal, be it socialism, Christianity, or a stoic will to truth. The ascetic ideal is a flight from life, abandoning certain desires (avarice, aggression, ambition, romantic love) in order to avoid their concomitant suffering. Indifference to political power, wealth, and other worldly achievements displays a weakness of the will to live, a lack of fighting spirit. It is a bad sign when a society’s cultural leaders promote such cowardice as virtue. The ascetic flees from life when he finds it does not match his ideal. He demands something eternal, unchanging, permanent, intelligible. Retreating into the world of thought, he subjects his body to deprivations. While many are impressed with the strength shown by such bodily self-punishment, it would be better used to bravely face life’s challenges and defeats.

Asceticism may be useful for sharpening appetites (by periodic restraint) and sublimating desires into avenues. The ascetic restriction of lust led to an emphasis on companionate love in marriage. Such transvaluation dignifies desires and makes them innocent and ennobling. For many, however, asceticism has the effect of making desires dirty or corrupt, so the mind becomes a torture chamber.

Philosophical idealism rejects sensualism and emotionalism, as these get in the way of dispassionate study. This is to mistake science for life in its entirety. At least such philosophers are asserting a will to power, promoting their particular mode of living. Still, their idealism has a ruinous effect on the arts, as they try to intellectualize beauty, making it something universal, objective or disinterested like knowledge.

Nietzsche preserves something of the ascetic ideal, seeing that it is useful for a philosopher to avoid newspapers, public affairs and society. This is problematic to his philosophy, however, since he claims to be an advocate of the strenuous, aggressive life. Nietzsche himself retreated into small circles of companions, and it is hard to reconcile the life of a writer with the forceful Superman who bestows his virtues on society through mighty deeds.

In its origin, asceticism was subversive and iconoclastic, critically analyzing the morality of custom, and elevating softness and submissiveness to virtues. Forcing people to renounce old virtues and accept a shameful submission to the law is a real advancement that may be credited to asceticism. The self-cruelty of contemplatives made them heroes to society, and enabled philosophy of a sort to survive.

Another achievement of asceticism is that it sustains the survival instinct of decadent men, saving them from nihilism or suicide with the hope of another life, or of contemplating an ideal. Decadence or dissatisfaction with life is practically a defining trait of man, but by this dissatisfaction he braves more, dares more, than all other animals. His sickness goads him.

Note that Nietzsche recognizes the same fact of human existence that is explained by original sin, i.e., that man cannot be satisfied with life as he finds it. He must elevate it to something other than what it is, some ideal. While Christians hold that this ideal is something real, Nietzsche regards it as a useful fiction. He does not explain how evolution can make an entire species sick, with an illness that is not shared by any proximate species. At least he does better than modern atheists, who pretend that the sickness does not exist. This version of atheism can appeal only to shallow souls, not to anyone who has acutely suffered the problems of existence.

It is those who are most “sick” who will take the most strenuous action against the ruling class, using ascetic ideals to manifest Will to Power. Think of the heroic prophets, bishops, and civil rights leaders. One might say they exerted power by invoking pity. This is a classically feminine approach to power, yet even modern feminists resort to pity as a weapon, trying to make men ashamed of paternalism, violence, coercion, or making any claim to physical or mental superiority. These “strong women” use shame and pity, weapons of weakness, rather than simply seizing what they demand.

Those who are bold enough to face the horror of life without moral ideals need not be ashamed of their strength. While they need not go out of their way to harm those who are sick of life, neither is it their mission to minister to them. Priests and other moralists who share their sickness of life may sublimate their resentment and soothe the wound of guilt. Such ministry would distract the strong from exercising their talents, so they must isolate themselves from the sick.

In order for pity to effect shame, it is necessary to believe in a free-willed doer, “yourself,” who is to blame for evil and its suffering. Nietzsche believed that the real cause of life-sickness is physiological. The state of neuroscience makes this difficult to prove or disprove, but on evolutionary grounds, it seems implausible that all humans should have the same disease. Even under the broadest clinical definition, most people do not have depression. Nietzsche’s claim that our shame for sin is just misdiagnosed depression is difficult to sustain.

The sense of sin is not confined to the religious. Secular liberals have precisely the same odium toward racism, sexism, and other biases that they consider to be categorically evil. There would be no reason to treat these prejudices as evil if they were mere ignorance. There must also be a moral value judgment.

Nietzschean immoralists, secular liberals, and Christians mostly recognize the reality of the sickness that most call evil or sin. The Christian doctrine that nature is somehow wounded, though it is good in itself, seems to best accord with the facts. The liberal doctrine of the goodness and perfectibility of human nature is opposed by their own recognition of evil in the masses who do not share their values. By their account, there never seems to be any progress in eradicating prejudice, but it just goes underground. They do not make the obvious inference that egalitarianism is unnatural for humans. Nietzsche accepts the fact of universal human sickness, but interprets it physiologically. This would make human nature have “evil” in its creation, much as the Manichaeans held.

In Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism, moral disciplines may be seen as preliminary conditions for attaining a state of contemplation that is beyond good and evil in any legalistic sense. This is only superficially similar to Dionysian insight, however, because the One contemplated is stripped of all attributes, effectively a Nothing. Although this ascetic pursuit requires rare courage, it is ultimately a deep sleep.

The less courageous masses have mechanical work and the joy of helping others to relieve their depression. Another, more dangerous remedy, is the stimulation of emotional excess through guilt: sorrow for sins, rage at evil, ecstasy at redemption. Guilt is developed from animal bad conscience into a new form, “sin,” which explains suffering as a state of punishment. This is properly the case only in Christianity. In Eastern religions, moral evil is an affliction that might be overcome with effort. It is something deserving punishment, but not the result of punishment.

The dangerous remedy of excessive responses to guilt is effective, for it makes life interesting. Instead of despairing or grumbling at their pains, people actually become curious about Hell and torture. This is unintelligible to most modern men, who think that such punishments were mere scare tactics. They cannot comprehend why the most devout contemplated Hell most intimately, and felt the greatest appreciation of divine mercy. The doctrine of Hell revealed divine goodness. This is unintelligible to the hedonist, except as masochism.

Ascetic remedies treat the symptoms of depression, but not the root problem of frustrated Will to Power. Man becomes refined, dainty, and weakened physiologically, as he does not even try to realize his Will to Power on the external world. Despite its shortcomings, the ascetic ideal saves man from suicidal nihilism, if only by embracing the pursuit of Nothing. The willingness to kill or die for religious ideals, which sickly liberals consider a vice, actually attests to the vitality of asceticism. Liberalism, with its horror that people should kill for religion or anything else, is a step backward in this regard, a weakening of life-will.

24.9 Truth as a Snare

The great ethical problem Nietzsche faced is not so much how to avoid nihilism in the absence of God, but how to avoid nihilism without resort to any ascetic ideal. Most atheist intellectuals hold up Truth in place of God. While they think they have attained a meaningful life without religion, in fact they have fallen into the last snare of the ascetic ideal. Rejecting belief in God does not free one from the truly enervating aspect of asceticism, which is a flight from the exercise of forceful, life-affirming desire upon the physical world. We find ascetic weakness not only in intellectual disparagement of physical, worldly activities, but in the modern liberal belief that coercion is the great sin: we must not impose ourselves without consent.

Some may say they believe in science, but “science” in this usage is a synonym for ascetic Will to Truth. Natural science offers no meaning of its own. There is no single will or system of meaning in any scientific theory, such as we find in philosophy. Thus scientists almost invariably embrace some ideology distinct from science to find meaning, be it liberalism, socialism, or one of the traditional belief systems. All of these are expressions of the ascetic ideal.

On its own, science is nihilistic. Its epistemology makes one ashamed of subjectivity, i.e., being oneself. It recognizes no meaning in humanity, and tries to reduce human existence to that of impersonal things. Even when scientists consciously reject idealism, their epistemic puritanism shows they believe in Will to Truth. They cannot make the final leap denying that there is truth, for then they should have to find value in their own arbitrary judgment, rather than in some “objective” criterion. So-called skeptics are intellectual stoics, refusing to affirm or deny. They too lack confidence in their own judgment, for they think the subjectivity of meaningful interpretations makes them unreal and unreliable.

Abstaining from interpretation is a repudiation of the senses, which are inherently perspectivist. Nietzsche considers the subjective to be no less real, but in fact the only kind of reality that exists. All knowledge is perspective-based. Even our most rigorous science must use concepts that force-fit, doctor, abridge, suppress, invent or falsify the supposed thing-in-itself. All of these activities are not indictments of subjective knowledge, but of the fictitious thing-in-itself. The only reality is Will to Power, and our “falsifying” mental acts are exercises of such Will, molding the external world into useful concepts whereby we may control and manipulate it.

A commitment to Will to Truth injects a metaphysical value into scientific naturalism. Faith in science presupposes extreme truthfulness, which is utterly alien to the real world of life, nature, and history, all displaying indifference to truth. As truth is a correspondence between reality and an ideal world of concepts, to extol truth is to say reality is not enough. The skeptic or agnostic disavows that he knows truth, only because he worships the act of inquiry, and delights in his epistemic purity. This is an apophatic theology of truth as unknowable and inaccessible, therefore all the more revered.

The industry of scientists is not really an embrace of life, since it is directed toward the ascetic ideal of knowledge as moral imperative. They shun moneymaking, politics, and any endeavor that requires danger, risk or vigor. Instead of embracing the world that is, they deny the amorality of nature discovered by science, and still look for transcendent ideals, such as progress, the good of humanity, and universal empathy.

Men who are too timid to make judgments, for fear that “mere opinion” or “subjective” valuations are worthless, can hardly be considered fit to evaluate energetic men of action. Academics love to sneer at the irrationality of the governing class, as if intellect made them superior. This laughter does little to mask the shame of taking orders from their intellectual inferiors, who run society. Nietzsche contends that ascetics, be they saints or scientists, delight in the fall of great men. Their malice lacks ambition, for they use it to content themselves with mediocrity. Truly, ascetics do tend to oppose the powerful and lion-hearted, delighting in their eventual fall. They thereby think their meek life is superior.

Intellectuals, men of inaction, are ascendant only in periods of cultural exhaustion. Our most recent example of this was the Atomic Age (1945-1965), when scientists enjoyed the greatest prestige. This was also the period that the Enlightenment faith in progress began to crack under the threat of nuclear annihilation. This was soon followed by a collapse into hedonism from 1965 onward, leading to our jaded society. The 1950s were not especially moralistic by historical standards, but they seem so only in comparison with our anomie.

The last snare of moral idealism is cast aside when we value thoughts not by their truth or falsity, but by how life-furthering, species-preserving, or species-rearing they are. This may be considered a hyper-ethical attitude, as the ethics of life takes priority even over truth. The value of truth is in its falsification of reality, for logical fictions are necessary to make human life possible. Reality is not logical, but unintelligible and ineffable. Logic takes some aspect of reality, ignoring or denying others, and creates some unreal concept whereby our minds can work with reality. Our reduction of physics to quantification is fruitful because our minds can analyze quantity. Although there is much more to reality than quantity, it is useful to pretend that there is not.

When scientists try to find ethical meaning in nature, they are deforming nature, imputing purpose to it. Life is essentially self-surpassing, but not toward any definite ideal, which is where Enlightenment progressivism fails. Any such ideal would make life static or limited, as in the old biological essentialism. Like the ascetics before them, scientific thinkers offer false meanings in Will to Truth. The only real meaning can be in Will to Power, which expresses ever-changing, self-surpassing life, without the Apollonian dream of progress toward eternal ideals. It is art, rather than science, that can oppose Will to Truth, by showing goodness in what is not intelligible.

24.10 Dionysian Eschatology

In a universe where there are no fundamental laws, everything does whatever it can. Finite total energy implies limited combinations, not ever-ascending forms, so infinite progress is a myth! If time is eternal, then the most we can hope for is the perpetual recurrence of all possible configurations of power. Eternal recurrence means there can be no lasting progress (though there is immortality of a sort). Secular liberals, with their myth of unending progress, have tried to take the Christian ascetic ideal and project it onto finite nature, where it will not fit.

Eternal recurrence resembles the pagan view of nature and time as essentially cyclical, in a state of constant Becoming and passing away. Nietzsche’s conception of recurrence, however, is chaotic, not a mechanical cycle. It does not appeal to permanence, but to the newness of all. Still, as a kind of eternity, recurrence is a metaphysical consolation. This is a non-static eternity, yet more advanced theologies likewise acknowledge that static concepts are inadequate descriptors for God. The eternity of recurrence is in the world, but the kingdom of God is also immanent, so Nietzsche’s consolation is not utterly dissimilar from the ideals he despises. The aspiration to unity with an eternal, everchanging universe is much like Neoplatonism, except this is a non-spiritual, non-static One, constituted not of body but physical force. The ecstasy of unity with primordial, amoral chaos resembles Dionysian intoxication.

The Dionysian aesthetic impulse, complemented by the Apollonian desire for ideal order and meaning, together made possible Greek tragedy. The Apollonian instinct helps us deal with horror of reality, consoling us with beautiful images to contemplate. Tragic heros, who were Apollonian images of ideals, took the place of Dionysus, helping us gaze into terror of nature. The myths of Oedipus and Prometheus taught that sometimes we can obtain great goods only by unnatural acts.

Did Euripides remove the Dionysian from tragedy, as Nietzsche claims? Many of his attempts to instill realism in tragedy only ended up dissipating the effect of myth. Still, in his later works (e.g., Bacchae; Helen), he recognized the need to honor Dionysian rites and to show respect for mystery and the unknowable, not trying to understand everything. Thus he remained truly an artist, Nietzsche notwithstanding.

A genuine turning point is found in Socrates, who criticized those who know only from instincts. Likewise modern intellectuals laugh or sneer at leaders who go with their gut or hunches. Supposedly instincts are unreliable; only reasoning is a good guide. But who is unaware that reasoning can be twisted to defend just about any opinion? Today intellectuals are liberal, yesterday they were conservative, before then they were Christian. Neither reason nor the facts of nature have changed, but men’s desires have changed. Those who disparage instinct ignore the role it plays in their own theories (esp. Kant and the Idealists).

If virtue is knowledge, there can be no tragedy, because the unfortunate rejoice in their righteousness (as in Stoicism). If happiness is won by reasoning, there can be nothing tragic in the events of history, to our great aesthetic loss. Even if, like Socrates and Euripides, we boldly use Reason to correct existence, we cannot thereby give it meaning or render it intelligible. The scientific man can ignore this failure only by restricting his view to rationally solvable problems, blinding himself to the tragedy at the heart of reality. His theoretical optimism may save us from wars of self-destruction, but for more daring inquirers it leads to the boundary of tragic insight.

At some point, we need art to spread over science. Dionysian insight shatters the spell of individuation, opening the way to the maternal source of being. With the metaphysical consolation that we are of the primordial essence, we experience lust and joy for existence. “Without music, life would be a mistake.” [Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows, 33] As we are one with the fecund world-will, we take joy in the destruction of the individual, and “lose oneself” in rapture.

Tragic myth requires an Apollonian component of beauty in order to make the horror of existence bearable. Even the good conscience of immoralism is an invented falsification to make life bearable. Tragic myth requires us to cast aside Will to Truth. Goodness is not confined to intellectual knowledge. Art is good, even though by definition it is falsification. Although we suffer in tragedy, this is a life-affirming suffering, not something viewed as a burden or punishment. We may actually delight in the presentation of tragedy, since it is an expression of vitality. Indeed, we suffer from an overflow of vitality, not a desire for calmness, sleep or the grave. All that is evil, horrible, senseless, and ugly find license in the Dionysian man, because of his fructifying power, which justifies without rendering intelligible. The Apollonian desire for continuity and perpetuation is also good, but one should not mistake one’s personal struggle for a universal truth. Working through this desire is a necessary precursor to Dionysian joy. One must first agonize over moral problems, and then see the comedy in morality.

Dionysian frenzy expresses a heightened instinct, losing the self in the body. Fluid desire replaces static concepts. Trust in instinct can be expressed without guilt. Now, only the weak are loathsome. No longer held back by bad conscience, we may set loose even destruction as a force, an engine of creation. Our excess of life force bursts through Apollonian limits, expressing a will to eternal creation. This creativity is goalless, unless the joy of the recurrent circle may be called a goal. [WP, 1067] All these implications are contained in the insight that the world is Will to Power and nothing else. From that standpoint, Christian condemnation of Will to Power is a condemnation of the world. This accounts for the increasingly strident anti-Christian aspects of Nietzsche’s final works before his nervous collapse, and the pantheistic overtones his eschatology began to assume.

We may wonder whether this opposition between Dionysus and Christ is real or imagined. Nietzsche’s Dionysus tells us one must hate oneself in order to love oneself, a doctrine of self-affliction not unlike the ascetic ideal. In his madness letters, Nietzsche self-identifies now as Dionysos, now as the Crucified, as if union with one or the other were much the same. Both names refer to the suffering divinity, immanent in the world, in solidarity with mankind, liberating us from the bondage of guilt under moral law.

24.11 Failure to Transvaluate All Values

Did Nietzsche succeed in his attempt to find meaning in a world without the ascetic ideal? We have hinted that his Dionysian eschatology adopts some aspects of that ideal, but he is mainly vulnerable from the other flank, i.e., it is unclear if he has really avoided nihilism. There is so little practical distinction between his philosophy and nihilism that he is often mistaken for a nihilist. While he indeed denies morality, he allows and even encourages evaluation by aesthetic criteria, which in turn refer to the criterion of life; i.e., that is good which is life-affirming, strengthening, invigorating.

His neurological collapse in the final decade of his life might seem irrelevant to his philosophy, since it was a purely physiological problem. Yet Nietzsche himself repeatedly insists that psychological and physiological health are one and the same. His prescriptions for health were in no small part intended to help him deal with his recurring maladies. That his philosophy failed to give him physical vigor, or that the source of this philosophy was a physically unhealthy man to begin with, is a serious mark against his philosophy by his standards, though not by that of idealists. Again, it seems Nietzsche can be salvaged only by appeal to the ascetic ideal.

If his account of reality has any scientific validity, we should be able to test its predictions. The most notable failure in this regard is that no one has really come forth with a transvaluation of values. His posthumously published drafts purporting to undertake this project seem to be just more of the same, only now he sees himself as Zarathustra, even as Dionysus. Yet the transvaluation of all values was not supposed to be confined to philosophical writing; it was supposed to transfigure all aspects of human endeavor. Thus there could be no single person with the breadth of understanding to accomplish this transvaluation. It seems as if Nietzsche lost patience waiting for the Superman, and decided to assume the mantle himself, and make everything interesting happen in his own time. This would leave precious little for anyone else to do, which was his complaint about the Christian God.

In the century since his death, no follower has undertaken the transvaluation of values. For all the praise Nietzsche receives as a supposed visionary, this work lies uncompleted. No one has really surpassed man. The “immoralism” and individual self-valuation so common today is really just the dissolution of Lou Salomé, not the demanding rigor of Nietzsche. The prevalence of idealism and slave morality even among these part-time immoralists is too plain to require comment. They will dutifully condemn “racism,” “sexism,” and other anti-egalitarian assertions of power. If anything, “progressive” morality has become more slave-like, not less so. The libertarians have retained some aspects of Nietzsche, but tend to get bogged down in logical idealism and will to truth, so they are no true successors, even allowing for individual variability. This leads us to ask: why hasn’t it happened? Why hasn’t Nietzsche’s philosophy, emphasizing forceful activity, built anything? Instead, his would-be successors continue to tear down old morality without imparting new aristocratic values. No wonder he is mistaken for a nihilist!

These failures of omission seem to be serious marks against his contention that it is possible to avoid nihilism without the ascetic ideal. Still, it must be acknowledged that his philosophy has accomplishments of a sort, as summarized by H.L. Mencken:

There must be a long roll of black miracles to the discredit of the Accursed Friedrich—sinners purged of conscience and made happy in their sinning, clerics shaken in their theology by visions of a new and better holy city, the strong made to exult, the weak robbed of their old sad romance. [H.L. Mencken, translator’s introduction to: Nietzsche, The Antichrist (New York: Knopf, 1918), p.32.]

These achievements are not as impressive as they seem. There have always been “sinners purged of conscience and made happy in their sinning” from the beginning of history. There is no way to distinguish the new immoralists from the dissolute in this regard. It is not clear that Nietzsche has even attempted to offer “a new and better holy city.” He has rejected Apollonian illusion, except as a necessary falsification to make reality bearable. There is nothing holy or pure about his city. He offers only the world, which is already in plain sight.

It is certainly true that his philosophy gives cause for the strong to exult, though it is doubtful whether this has always been for the good of the world (as we shall see in the next section). This is where Nietzschean philosophy is of the most value, since it corrects the noxious error of making strength a vice or source of shame. As for the weak being “robbed of their old sad romance,” this has not been accomplished generally, and it would be unwise to do so. Nietzsche himself took no interest in changing the opinions of the weak. Indeed, if the masses were to become immoralists, they would have no reason to show any deference to their intellectual superiors. Instead, they could crush the latter under their collective strength. (The history of Communism shows this is not a mere hypothesis.) Immoralists had best remain in the salons for their own safety.

While most intellectuals have followed mass culture into the Sklavenmoral of egalitarian liberalism, it must be remembered that this is in reaction to the atrocities committed by racialist, militarist and nationalist movements of the early twentieth century. These movements, by design or coincidence, applied some apparently Nietzschean ideas with horrific results, destroying any appetite to be ruled by amoral strongmen.

24.12 Militarism, Racialism, Nationalism

The racialist aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy, especially with its exaltation of Aryan “blond beasts,” have been linked to the more strident forms of German nationalism, including Nazism. This association was made by the Nazis themselves and their opponents. Yet Nietzsche himself considered the admirable pagan Teutons to be extinct, and mentioned contemporary German nationalism only to ridicule it. He likely would have considered the Nazis just another spiritual fraud:

…that no kind of swindle fails to succeeds in Germany today is connected with the undeniable and palpable stagnation of the German spirit, the cause of that I seek in a too exclusive diet of newspapers, politics, beer, and Wagnerian music, together with the presuppositions of such a diet: first, national constriction and vanity, the strong but narrow principle, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” and then the paralysis agitans of “modern ideas.” [GM, 3rd, 26, Kaufmann ed.]

Nazis could find in Nietzsche a disparagement of pity, a belief in heritable inequality, a master race in the sense that only some inherit the sensibility necessary to exalt themselves above others, and an unapologetic rejection of egalitarianism. Combine this with Hitler’s vision of himself as a great man leading the German people in a great national project, manifested in grandiose architecture, an exaltation of national arts, industry, and the glorification of war, and we can see all the boastfulness and super-moralism of nineteenth-century German philosophy explode in unapologetic savagery. These men were not incapable of pity, but they felt that their higher calling demanded suppression of such an unworthy instinct.

In reaction to the unprecedented destructiveness of World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, militarism and racialism are now widely discredited, and the word “racism” has been adopted to characterize the evil of unjust persecution on account of race. It may be wondered if we have gone too far, to the point of denouncing all nationalist will. While Nietzsche constantly extolled the martial virtues of master-moralists from the Romans to Napoleon, and expressed his philosophy in deliberately violent imagery, modern man may be excused for failing to see what is glorious about war. The brutal meat grinder of modern warfare seems to be the antithesis of individualism. The modern soldier loses himself and becomes an expendable statistic. Here Stirner’s account of war seems more apt: the individual sacrifices himself for Mankind, and gets thrown “on the dung-heap of history in gratitude.”

The species-threatening destructiveness of modern warfare and genocide makes them evils to be avoided if man is to survive at all, much less advance in civilization. This creates two problems for Nietzschean philosophy. First, how does the superior man achieve dominance if not through war? Nietzsche acknowledges that there can be new forms of war or strife. Whichever cause people are willing to fight for most strenuously deserves to triumph. The struggle confers value to the cause, not the reverse. Such strife is the means of self-surpassing. Evidently, the destructiveness of modern weaponry precludes the threat of lethal force, so there must be some self-restraint in our coercive activities. This is accomplished through economic competition and litigation, for example. Such struggles can be no less fierce, but they are confined within certain parameters accepted by all.

Second, without racialism, how can one type or group achieve dominance over others? In our age of superabundance, it would seem that there is no need for a single type. Thus everything is allowed to grow indiscriminately. We can endure the inefficiency of the multiculturalist myth that all cultures are of equal worth. This myth actually devalues culture, for if all values are equal, there are no values. Accordingly, we find the world’s liberal societies becoming culturally homogeneous in many respects.

There is still a niche for group dominance via nationalism, where this is conceived in terms of loyalty to a state, rather than shared racial ancestry. The United States of America has most successfully made national identity into a non-racial type defined by behavioral characteristics. It should be possible in principle to create other types on non-racial grounds. Already, however, we see that liberalism has advanced to such a sickly state that any strenuous form of nationalism is derided as “fascist” or “racist,” for it is unendurable that any group should value themselves above others.

The overreaction of liberalism to the horrors of unbridled Will to Power may itself be corrected by appeal to Will to Power. To the liberal, all non-liberals seem full of “hate,” since they are willing to repress and harm those who are enemies or deemed of lesser value. This perception comes from the fact that liberals cannot find anything good in inequality of valuation. Further, they have inherited the Sklavenmoral that makes the infliction of harm, even to enemies, intrinsically evil. They are not consistent, of course, since they would have non-liberals restrained from exerting their Will to Power, and their hatred of those they call “fascists” is barely concealed. The idea that love is good and hate is bad, regardless of the object, will not pass muster, and is best left in kindergarten. A more adult psychology will show that all are expressing their Will to Power, albeit sometimes in concealed ways. As this becomes more widely recognized, we can negotiate the terms of co-existence more candidly, without womanly attempts to shame each other.

24.13 Dionysian Christianity?

Whatever flaws one may find in his solutions, Nietzsche’s criticism of purely Apollonian morality needs to be taken to heart. A morality that holds man up to static ideals is a morality that fails to encompass the richness of personal experience, and makes virtue the mere execution of a program, rather than a measure of personal quality or worth. Any moral system that would recognize value in each individual, independent of any abstract criterion, must take the Dionysian aesthetic impulse into account. Liberalism, in its rationalistic manifestations, does not seem a promising candidate for Dionysian insight. Christianity, on the other hand, already has a rich history, particularly in its pre-Reformation traditions, of arational insight into the unknowable fundament of reality.

It can hardly be denied that Christianity in practice has become highly moralistic, even legalistic, especially in the last five centuries. It may be reasonably averred that the most “proper” Christians have abandoned the mission of the Master, who came to set men free from condemnation under the Law. Instead of enjoying Christian freedom through mercy, many dwell on the evil of their past actions. The Old Law is made more severe by new injunctions against mere thoughts and desires. When these are treated as a rigidly enforceable moral code under pain of temporal or eternal punishment, there is no real advance beyond moralism, reducing virtuous behavior to rules.

If, on the other hand, such discipline is voluntary, an obedient act of love rather than legal duty, it is akin to what Nietzsche thought of his own ultra-moralism, a more demanding self-sacrifice than any morality. The Gospel law or commandment of love does not mean that love is subjected to legalism, but that we should have love replace law in the center of our hearts when acting morally. Love is the supreme criterion, and since love is unintelligible, this expresses a Dionysian rather than Apollonian impulse. It is felt rather than seen or understood.

The temptation to moralize Christianity runs parallel to attempts to rationalize it, creating theological summae, confessional manuals, and codes of canon law. These may all have their place in practical affairs, but if they are to remain truly subordinate to central Christian revelation, they must not pretend to explain the sacred mysteries, nor judge the hearts of each individual.

The Cross, being the tragedy at the heart of existence, necessarily evokes the Dionysian impulse, leading us to embrace and even celebrate this sign of contradiction. The Old Testament prophets dared to speak for God only because they felt a Dionysian rapport that vouchsafed the authenticity of the divine message, where reason could not. In both revelations, one must recognize the fundament of being as something unintelligible. The medieval saints likewise experienced a sense of union with God as something rapturous. This God of mysticism is not a static theological conception. They describe an immoderate love, akin to madness. Many of these mystical experiences are only clumsily reconciled with Apollonian theologies. As with Greek tragedy, any attempt to reduce Christianity to a purely Apollonian account will result in the loss of even Apollo. If you refuse to accept the Cross as contradiction, paradox, and tragedy, you will also lose the theological consolations of Heaven.

Through the ages, many Christians tried to subordinate the mystical to the intelligible. Often the unintelligible was mistaken for chaos or hedonism, even paganism. Virtuoso performances were discouraged in liturgical music, and priests were to be esteemed holy for their preaching rather than their singing, so Gregory the Great urged. Permitted outbursts of Dionysian ecstasy were kept outside the church walls, as with Carnival, St. Vitus dances, and various popular devotions. Mystical revelations had to be reconciled with formal theology before they could be accepted.

Just the same, the Dionysian aesthetic found its way into Christian liturgy. Although dissonance was forbidden as demonic, Gregorian chant retained from Roman times an eerie, disturbing quality (irregular meter, note lengthening, parallel fifths), so it is not mere replication of an image. In Orthodox liturgies (especially Russian and Armenian), these qualities are also present, and music is essential to the prayer, which must be sung rather than spoken. Meaning is not confined to the intelligible.

Such plainsong and chant has melodic echoes of the solemn Epitaph of Seikilos: “Shine as long as you live, and have no grief at all. Life is only for a short while. Time demands an end.” Christian chant is likely derived from Hebrew plainsong, which in turn may trace its ancestry to the irregular rhythms and tensions felt in Hurrian Hymn 6 (1400 BC). Many traditional cultures carry this aesthetic impulse in their folk music. Lyric poetry goes as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh in Sumerian, where the singer recounts some narrative of the tragic hero, then enters a Dionysian trance, using unintelligible syllables to convey meaning. This is similar to Hebrew and Arab religious chant.

African-Americans revitalized Protestant music, bringing Dionysian impulses more boldly into church than had been done since the Middle Ages. The black Africans most closely resemble the ancestral race of man. Although the Right disparages them for want of intelligence while the Left thinks the highest praise they can give is to assimilate them to Apollonian culture, their great contribution is their rapport with ancient Dionysian wisdom: spontaneous, free-flowing and creative, with unapologetically virile men, and women who exhibit a mode of strength foreign to bourgeois feminism.

Nietzsche was blind to the Dionysian aspects of Christianity, as these had been downplayed by his time. The Christian notion of redemption in love was unintelligible to him, as this had been submerged beneath a legalistic notion of atonement. Even then, there were countermovements of mysticism, as an inner voice told Don Bosco to show how holiness is beautiful and sin is ugly. He recognized that the moral ideal must be justified in terms of aesthetic values.

Anyone who has been blessed with curses will have their serene belief in Providence challenged. If you insist on a rationalistic solution, you will find none, and become atheistic. If you accept that there is no intelligible solution, and glimpse the joyful paradox at the heart of reality, you will not need any such solution. Ironically, Nietzsche became an atheist because he demanded an Apollonian account of Christianity. If his parents had more of peasant devotion than learning, it might have been otherwise.

On the other hand, while respecting the Dionysian impulse, is there still a place for morality? Most people seem to need it in order to behave well. Even those who are beyond morality are not thereby given license to murder and steal. They will still refrain from actions historically considered evil, but do so on other grounds. The Christian may do good and avoid evil not because the law commands it, but because he has been freed from the law by mercy, and so acts mercifully to others out of gratitude. Christianity may really be beyond legalistic notions of good and evil, much like Brahman Hinduism and Buddhism. Morality is subordinate to the end of helping us attain unity with the Source of Being.

Liberalism, perhaps, in its abandonment of some aspects of Christian morality, is only taking the logic of Christian mercy and pity to an extreme. Yet it does this only by making pity, compassion and tolerance into strict rules or social obligations, rather than spontaneous, free expressions of charity. It is further removed from the Dionysian impulse by its introduction of an abstract rule of equality, which leads to a ressentiment generally absent from the ancient forms of Christianity. While the early martyrs blessed their persecutors, the liberal has nothing but hatred for those who conquer, and creates an inverted value system where strength makes one loathsome and weakness confers merit.

A liberal, it is said, is someone who will not take his own side in a fight. What is this but a perverse ultra-Christianity? It has reached the point where any sort of nationalism, i.e., preferring one’s own nation over others, is considered bigotry or fascism. Liberalism is so enfeebled by racial self-hatred and remorse that it can no longer tolerate anyone who projects strength without pretending to be a mere representative of the lowly masses. This is hypocrisy, since all our rulers practice master morality in their ruthless ambition and boundless energy, though they must pay lip service to the rhetoric of democracy.

If there will be a Dionysian rapture, it will not come from the bedwarfed egalitarians, but only from among those who respect the arational creative impulses distributed unequally to individuals.

© 2017 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved.