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EXISTENTIALISM
THE CRISIS AND CRITIQUE OF MODERNITY
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900)
Nihilism and the Revaluation of Values

 


Nietzsche, 1883

Twilight of the Idols
Or How One Philosophizes With a Hammer
(1888)

Skirmishes of an Untimely Man

39

Critique of modernity. — Our institutions are no good any more: on that there is unanimous agreement. However, it is not their fault but ours [Aber das liegt nicht an ihnen, sondern an uns]. Once we have lost all the instincts out of which institutions grow, we lose institutions altogether because we are no longer good for them. Democracy has ever been the form of decline in organizing power: in "Human, All-Too-Human" (I, 472) I already characterized modern democracy, together with its hybrids such as the "German Reich," as the form of decline of the state. In order that there may be institutions, there must be a kind of will, instinct, or imperative, which is anti-liberal to the point of malice: the will to tradition, to authority, to responsibility for centuries to come, to the solidarity of chains of generations, forward and backward in infinitum. When this will is present, something like the imperium Romanum is founded; or like Russia, the only power today which has endurance, which can wait, which can still promise something—Russia, the counter-concept to the wretched European nervousness and system of small states, which has entered a critical phase with the founding of the German Reich ... The whole of the West no longer possesses the instincts out of which institutions grow, out of which a future grows: perhaps nothing antagonizes its "modern spirit" so much. One lives for the day, one lives very fast, one lives very irresponsibly: precisely this is called "freedom." That which makes an institution an institution is despised, hated, repudiated: one anticipates [glaubt] the danger of a new slavery the moment the word "authority" is even spoken out loud. That is how far décadence has advanced in the value-instincts of our politicians, our political parties: instinctively they prefer what disintegrates, what hastens the end ... Witness modern marriage. All rationality has clearly vanished from modern marriage; yet that is no objection to marriage, but to modernity. The rationality of marriage—that lay in the husband's sole juridical responsibility, which gave marriage a center of gravity, while today it limps on both legs. The rationality of marriage—that lay in its indissolubility in principle, which lent it an accent that could be heard above the accident of feeling, passion, and what is merely momentary. It also lay in the family's responsibility for the choice of a spouse. With the growing indulgence of love matches, the very foundation of marriage has been eliminated, that which alone makes an institution of it. Never, absolutely never, can an institution be founded on an idiosyncrasy; one cannot, as I have said, found marriage on "love"—it can be founded on the sex drive, on the property drive (wife and child as property), on the drive to dominate, which continually organizes for itself the smallest structure of domination, the family, and which needs children and heirs to hold fast—physiologically too—to an attained measure of power, influence, and wealth, in order to prepare for long-range tasks, for a solidarity of instinct between the centuries. Marriage as an institution involves the affirmation of the largest and most enduring form of organization: when society cannot affirm itself as a whole, down to the most distant generations, then marriage has altogether no meaning. — Modern marriage has lost its meaning—consequently one abolishes it.

The Antichrist
(1888)
Preface

4

Mankind does not represent a development toward something better or stronger or higher, in the sense accepted today. "Progress" is merely a modern idea, that is, a false idea. The European of today is vastly inferior in value to the European of the Renaissance; further development is altogether not according to any necessity in the direction of elevation, enhancement, or strength. In another sense, success in individual cases is constantly encountered in the most widely different places and cultures; here we really do find a higher type: which is, in relation to mankind as a whole, a kind of overman. Such fortunate accidents of great success have always been possible and will perhaps always be possible. And even whole families, tribes, or peoples may occasionally represent such a bull's-eye.

38

— At this point I do not suppress a sigh. There are days when I am afflicted with a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy—contempt of man. And to leave no doubt concerning what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am fatefully contemporaneous. The man of today—I suffocate from his unclean breath ... My attitude to the past, like that of all lovers of knowledge, is one of great tolerance, that is, magnanimous self-mastery: with gloomy caution I go through the madhouse world of whole millennia, whether it be called "Christianity," "Christian faith," or "Christian church"—I am careful not to hold mankind responsible for its mental disorders. But my feeling changes, breaks out, as soon as I enter modern times, our time. Our time knows better ... What was formerly just sick is today indecent—it is indecent to be a Christian today. And here begins my nausea. — I look around: not one word has remained of what was formerly called "truth"; we can no longer stand it if a priest as much as uses the word "truth." If we have even the smallest claim to integrity, we must know today that a theologian, a priest, a pope, not merely is wrong in every sentence he speaks, but lies—that he is no longer at liberty to lie from "innocence" or "ignorance." The priest too knows as well as anybody else that there is no longer any "God," any "sinner," any "Redeemer"—that "free will" and "moral world order" are lies: seriousness, the profound self-overcoming of the spirit, no longer permits anybody not to know about this ... All the concepts of the church have been recognized for what they are, the most malignant counterfeits that exist, the aim of which is to devalue nature and natural values; the priest himself has been recognized for what he is, the most dangerous kind of parasite, the real poison-spider of life ... We know, today our conscience knows—, what these uncanny inventions of the priests and the church are really worth, what ends they served in reducing mankind to such a state of self-violation that its sight can arouse nausea: the concepts "beyond," "Last Judgment," "immortality of the soul," and "soul" itself are instruments of torture, systems of cruelties by virtue of which the priest became master, remained master ....

Everybody knows this: and yet everything continues as before. Where has the last feeling of decency and self-respect gone when even our statesmen, an otherwise quite unembarrassed type of man, anti-Christians through and through in their deeds, still call themselves Christians today and attend communion? ... A young prince at the head of his regiments, magnificent as an expression of the selfishness and conceit of his people—but, without any shame, confessing himself a Christian! ... Whom then does Christianity negate? What does it call "world"? That one is a soldier, that one is a judge, that one is a patriot; that one resists, that one sees to one's honor; that one seeks one's advantage; that one is proud ... Every practice of every moment, every instinct, every valuation that is translated into action is today anti-Christian: what a miscarriage of falseness must modern man be, that he is not ashamed to be called a Christian in spite of all this!— — —

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism…For one should make no mistake about the meaning of the title that this gospel of the future wants to bear. “The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values”
                        
                                                                                                            —Friedrich Nietzsche, from the Preface to The Will to Power (1887-1888)

A. Diagnosis of Modernity
Modernity is an age of nihilistic décadence in which European man’s highest values have devaluated themselves.

1. Platonic-Christian Nihilism
a. Prejudices of the philosophers: reason, truth, reality, the Good, etc.
b. Christianity: asceticism, pity, denial of life, hatred of the earth, reactive contradiction of natural values/instincts
c. Slave morality or herd instinct: réssentiment as birth of values “good” and “evil”
d. Ascetic ideal: priests and philosophers
e. Historical teleology

2. Modernity as Nihilistic Décadence
a. Physiological self-contradiction: Transitional nihilism
b. The Death of God: Devaluation of highest values
c. New Idols: progress, autonomy, equality, toleration, democracy, altruism, liberty, justice, consensus
d. Reductive leveling to herd: enervation, evisceration, emasculation; loss of instincts, vitality, strength, individuality
e. Nihilism: loss of goals, foundations, meaning, value, natural vitality
f. Age of the “last men”

B. Nietzsche’s Project: The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values
1. Overcoming nihilism and man: the overman (Ger., übermensch)
2. The Will to Power
3. We free spirits, good Europeans, higher types: Aristocratic radicalism, noble/base distinction, the Great Health, the order of rank
4. Eternal Recurrence: Amor fati and the great Yes to life
5. Beyond Good and Evil
6. Grand Politics
7. Dionysus against the Crucified


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