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IX "The Twilight of the Idols"
Nietzsche followed "The Genealogy of Morals" with "The Case of Wagner," that famous pamphlet in which he excoriated the creator of Parsifal. Immediately after the publication of this attack, he began work on what was to be still another preparatory book for "The Will to Power." For its title he first chose "Idle Hours of a Psychologist." The book, a brief one, was already on the presses when he changed the caption to "G?tzend?mmerung"—"The Twilight of the Idols"—a titular parody on Wagner's "G?tterd?mmerung" For a subtitle he appended a characteristically Nietzschean phrase—"How to Philosophise with the Hammer." The writing of this work was done with great rapidity: it was accomplished in but a few days during August, 1888. In September it was sent to the publisher, but during its printing Nietzsche added a chapter headed "What the Germans Lack," and several aphorisms to the section called "Skirmishes in a War with the Age." In January, 1889, the book appeared.

Nietzsche was then stricken with his fatal illness, and this was the last book of his to appear during his lifetime. "The Antichrist" was already finished, having been written in the fall of 1888 immediately after the completion of "The Twilight of the Idols." "Ecce Homo" his autobiography, was written in October, 1888; and during December Nietzsche again gave his[Pg 232] attention to Wagner, drafting "Nietzsche contra Wagner," a pamphlet made up entirely of excerpts from his earlier writings. This work, intended to supplement "The Case of Wagner," was not published until 1895, although it had been printed and corrected before the author's final breakdown. "The Antichrist" appeared at the same time as this second Wagner document, while "Ecce Homo" was withheld from publication until 1908. "The Twilight of the Idols" sold 9,000 copies, but Nietzsche's mind was too clouded to know or care that at last he was coming into his own, that the public which had denied him so long had finally begun to open its eyes to his greatness.

In many ways "The Twilight of the Idols" is one of Nietzsche's most brilliant books. Being more compact, it consequently possesses a greater degree of precision and clarity than is found in his more analytical writings. It is not, however, a treatise to which one may go without considerable preparation. With the exception of "Thus Spake Zarathustra," it demands more on the part of the reader than any of Nietzsche's other books. It is, for the most part, composed of conclusions and comments which grow directly out of the laborious ethical research of his preceding volumes, and presupposes in the student an enormous amount of reading, not only of Nietzsche's own writings but of philosophical works in general. But once equipped with this preparation, one will find more of contemporary interest in it than in the closely organised books such as "Beyond Good and Evil" and "The Genealogy of Morals." There are few points in Nietzsche's philosophy not found here. For a compact expression of his entire teaching I know of no better book to which one might turn. Nietzsche[Pg 233] himself, to judge from a passage in his "Ecce Homo" intended this book as a statement of his whole ethical system. He probably meant that it should present in toto the principal data of his foregoing studies, in order that the reader might be familiar with all the steps in his philosophy before setting forth upon the formidable doctrines of "The Will to Power." Obviously, therefore, it is not a book for beginners. Being expositional rather than argumentative, it is open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. It contains apparent contradictions which might confuse the student who has not followed Nietzsche in the successive points which led to his conclusions, and who is unfamiliar with the exact definitions attached to certain words relating to human conduct.

Other qualities of a misleading nature are to be encountered in this book. Many of the paragraphs have about them an air of mere cleverness, although in reality they embody profound concepts. The reader ignorant of the inner seriousness of Nietzsche will accept these passages only at their surface value. Of the forty-four short epigrams which comprise the opening chapter, I have appended but three, for fear they would be judged solely by their superficial characteristics. Many of the other aphorisms throughout the book lend themselves all too easily to the same narrow judgment.

Again, "The Problem of Socrates," the second division of the book, because of its profundity, presents many difficulties to the unprepared student. Here is a criticism of the Socratic ideals which requires, in order that it be intelligently grasped, not only a wide general knowledge, but also a specific training in the uprooting of prejudices and of traditional ethical conceptions—such a training as can be acquired only by a close study of[Pg 234] Nietzsche's own destructive works. The explanation of Socrates's power, the condemnation of that ancient philosopher's subtle glorification of the canaille, the reasons for his secret fascination, and the interpretation of his whole mental progress culminating in his death—all this is profound and categorical criticism which has its roots in the very fundamentals of Nietzsche's philosophy. But because it is so deep-rooted, it therefore presents a wide and all-inclusive vista of that philosophy from which it stems. Furthermore, this criticism of Socrates poses a specific problem which can be answered only by resorting to the doctrines which underlie Nietzsche's entire thought. In like manner the chapter, "Reason in Philosophy," is understandable only in the light of those investigations set forth in "Beyond Good and Evil."

Under the caption, "The Four Great Errors," Nietzsche uproots a series of correlated beliefs which have the accumulated impetus of centuries of acceptance behind them. These "errors," as stated, are (1) the error of the confusion of cause and effect, (2) the error of false causality, (3) the error of imaginary causes, and (4) the error of free will. The eradication of these errors is necessary for a complete acceptance of Nietzsche's philosophy. But unless one is familiar with the vast amount of criticism which has led up to the present discussion of them, one will experience difficulty in following the subtly drawn arguments and analogies presented against them. To demonstrate briefly the specific application of the first error, namely: the confusion of cause and effect, I offer an analogy stated in the passage. We know that Christian morality teaches us that a people perish through vice and luxury—that is to say, that these two conditions are causes of racial degeneration.[Pg 235] Nietzsche's contention to the contrary is that when a nation is approaching physiological degeneration, vice and luxury result in the guise of stimuli adopted by exhausted natures. By this it can be seen how the Christian conscience is developed by a misunderstanding of causes; and it can also be seen how this error may affect the very foundation on which morality is built. I am here stating merely the conclusion: for the reasons leading up to this conclusion one must go to the book direct.

Nietzsche denies the embodiment of the motive of an action in the "inner facts of consciousness" where, so we have been taught by psychologists and physicists, the responsibilities of conduct are contained. The will itself, he argues, is not a motivating force; rather is it an effect of other deeper causes. This is what he discusses in his paragraphs dealing with the second error of false causality. In his criticism of the third error relating to imaginary causes, he points to the comfort we obtain by attributing a certain unexplained fact to a familiar cause—by tracing it to a commonplace source—thereby doing away with its seeming mystery. Thus ordinary maladies or afflictions, or, to carry the case into moral regions, misfortunes and unaccountable strokes of fate, are explained by finding trite and plausible reasons for their existence. As a consequence the habit of postulating causes becomes a fixed mental habit. In the great majority of cases, and especially in the domain of morality and religion, the causes are false, inasmuch as the operation of finding them depends on the mental characteristics of the searcher. The error of free will Nietzsche attributes to the theologians' attempt to make mankind responsible for its acts and therefore amenable to punishment. I have been able to present his own words in explanation[Pg 236] of this error, and they will be found at the end of this chapter—41-42 and 43.

In "Skirmishes in a War with the Age," the longest section in the book, Nietzsche gives us much brilliant and incisive criticism of men, art and human attributes. He is here at his best, both in clarity of mind and in his manner of expression. This passage, one of the last things to come from his pen, contains the full ripeness of his nature, and is a portion of his work which no student can afford to overlook. It contains the whole of the Nietzschean philosophy applied to the conditions of his age. Because it is not a direct voicing of his doctrines it does not lend itself to mutilation except where it touches on principles of conduct and abstract aspects of morality. Many of the most widely read passages of all of Nietzsche's work are contained in it. But here again, as in the case of "Thus Spake Zarathustra," one regrets that the surface brilliance of its style attracted readers in England and America before these nations were acquainted with the books which came before. The casual reader, unfamiliar with the principles underlying Nietzsche's ethic, will see only a bold and satanic flippancy in his definition of Zola—"the love of stinking," or in his characterisation of George Sand as "the cow with plenty of beautiful milk," or in his bracketing of "tea-grocers, Christians, cows, women, Englishmen and other democrats." Yet it is significant that Nietzsche did not venture upon these remarks until he had the great bulk of his life's work behind him.

In this chapter are discussions of Renan, Sainte-Beuve, George Eliot, George Sand, Emerson, Carlyle, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Goethe and other famous men and women. In the short essays devoted to these writers[Pg 237] we have, however, more than mere detached valuations. Beneath all the criticisms is a rationale of judgment based on definite philosophical doctrines. This same basis of appreciation is present in the discussion of art and artists, to which subjects many pages are devoted. In fact, "The Twilight of the Idols" contains most of the art theories and ?sthetic doctrines which Nietzsche advanced. He defines the psychology of the artist, and draws the line between the two concepts, Apollonian and Dionysian, as applied to art. He analyses the meaning of beauty and ugliness, and endeavours to show in what manner the conceptions of these qualities are related to the racial instincts. He also inquires into the doctrine of "l'art pour l'art" and points out wherein it fails in its purpose. A valuable explanation of "genius" is put forth in the theory that the accumulative power of generations breaks forth in the great men of a nation, and that these great men mark the end of an age, as in the case of the Renaissance.

The most significant brief essay in this section is an answer made to certain critics who, in reviewing "Beyond Good and Evil," claimed a superiority for the present age over the older civilisations. Nietzsche calls this essay "Have We Become Moral?" and proceeds to make comparisons of contemporaneous virtues with those of the ancients. He denies that to-day, without our decrepit humanitarianism and our doctrines of weakness, we would be able to withstand, either nervously or muscularly, the conditions that prevailed during the Renaissance. He points out that our morals are those of senility, and that we have deteriorated, physically as well as mentally, as a result of an adherence to a code of morality invented to meet the needs of a weak and impoverished[Pg 238] people. Our virtues, he says, are determined and stimulated by our weakness, so that we have come to admire the moralities of the slave, the most prominent among which is the doctrine of equality. In the decline of all the positive forces of life Nietzsche sees only racial decadence. In this regard it is important to take note of one of the passages relative to the discussion of this decadence, namely: the one wherein he characterises the anarchist as "the mouthpiece of the decaying strata of society." The appellation of "anarchist" has not infrequently been applied to Nietzsche himself by those who have read him superficially or whose acquaintance with him has been the result of distorted hearsay. I know of no better analysis of anarchistic motives or of no keener dissection of anarchistic weakness than is set forth here. Nor do I know of any better answer to those critics who have accused Nietzsche of anarchy, than the criticism contained in this passage.

In a final chapter, under the caption of "Things I Owe to the Ancients," Nietzsche outlines the inspirational source of many of his doctrines and literary habits. This chapter is important only to the student who wishes to go to the remoter influences in Nietzsche's writings, and for that reason I have omitted from the following excerpts any quotation from it.


Man thinks woman profound—why? Because he can never fathom her depths. Woman is not even shallow. 5

The trodden worm curls up. This testifies to its caution. It thus reduces its chances of being trodden upon again. In the language of morality: Humility. 5-6

The Church combats passion by means of excision of[Pg 239] all kinds: its practise, its "remedy," is castration. It never inquires "how can a desire be spiritualised, beautified, deified?"—In all ages it has laid the weight of discipline in the process of extirpation (the extirpation of sensuality, pride, lust of dominion, lust of property, and revenge).—But to attack the passions at their roots, means attacking life itself at its source: the method of the Church is hostile to life. 27

Only degenerates find radical methods indispensable: weakness of will, or more strictly speaking, the inability not to react to a stimulus, is in itself simply another form of degeneracy. Radical and mortal hostility to sensuality, remains a suspicious symptom: it justifies one in being suspicious of the general state of one who goes to such extremes. 27

A man is productive only in so far as he is rich in contrasted instincts; he can remain young only on condition that his soul does not begin to take things easy and to yearn for peace. 28-29

All naturalism is morality—that is to say, every sound morality is ruled by a life instinct—any one of the laws of life is fulfilled by the definite canon "thou shalt," "thou shalt not," and any sort of obstacle or hostile element in the road of life is thus cleared away. Conversely, the morality which is antagonistic to nature—that is to say, almost every morality that has been taught, honoured and preached hitherto, is directed precisely against the life-instincts.... 30

Morality, as it has been understood hitherto, is the instinct of degeneration itself, which converts itself into an imperative: it says: "Perish!" It is the death sentence of men who are already doomed. 31

Morality, in so far it condemns per se, and not out of[Pg 240] any aim, consideration or motive of life, is a specific error, for which no one should feel any mercy, a degenerate idiosyncrasy, that has done an unutterable amount of harm. 32

Every mistake is in every sense the sequel to degeneration of the instincts to disintegration of the will. This is almost the definition of evil. 35

Morality and religion are completely and utterly parts of the psychology of error: in every particular case cause and effect are confounded. 41

At present we no longer have any mercy upon ............
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