What Nietzsche Taught
What Nietzsche Taught
Willard Huntington Wright
I am writing for a race of men which
does not yet exist: for "the lords
The Will to Power
B. W. Huebsch
H. L. MENCKEN
the critic who has given the greatest impetus
to the study of Nietzsche in America
Portrait Bust of Nietzsche by
ProfessorKarl Donndorf, Stuttgart
It is no longer possible to ignore the teachings of FriedrichNietzsche, or to consider the trend of modern thought without givingthe philosopher of the superman a prominent place in the list ofthinkers who contributed to the store of present-day knowledge. Hispowerful and ruthless mind has had an influence on contemporarythought which even now, in the face of all the scholarly books ofappreciation he has called forth, one is inclined to underestimate.No philosopher since Kant has left so undeniable an imprint on modernthought. Even Schopenhauer, whose influence coloured the greater partof Europe, made no such widespread impression. Nietzsche has penetratedinto both England and America, two countries strangely imperviousto rigorous philosophic ideals. Not only in ethics and literaturedo we find the moulding hand of Nietzsche at work, invigorating andsolidifying; but in pedagogics and in art, in politics and religion,the influence of his doctrines is to be encountered. The books andessays in German elucidating his philosophy constitute a miniaturelibrary. Nearly as many books and articles have appeared in France,and the list of authors of these appreciations include many ofthe most noted modern scholars. Spain and Italy, likewise, havecontributed works to an inquiry into his teachings; and in Englandand America numerous volumes dealing with the philosophy of thesuperman have appeared in recent years. In M. A. MŁgge's excellentbiography, "Friedrich Nietzsche: His Life and[Pg 10] Work," there is appendeda bibliography containing 850 titles, and this list by no meansincludes all the books and articles devoted to a consideration of thisphilosopher's doctrines.
In this regard one should note that this interest is not the result ofa temporary popularity, such as that which has met the philosophicalpieties of Henri Bergson. To the contrary, Nietzsche's renown isgaining ground daily among serious-minded scholars, and his adherentshave already reached the dimensions of a small army. But despite thisappreciation there is still current an enormous amount of ignoranceconcerning his teachings. The very manner in which he wrote tended tobring about misunderstandings. Viewed casually and without studiousconsideration, his books offer many apparent contradictions. His style,always elliptic and aphoristic, lends itself easily to quotation, andbecause of the startling and revolutionary nature of his utterances,many excerpts from his earlier works were widely circulated through themediums of magazines and newspapers. These quotations, robbed of theircontext, very often gave rise to immature and erroneous judgments, withthe result that the true meaning of his philosophy was often turnedinto false channels. Many of his best-known aphorisms have taken onstrange and unearthly meanings, and often the reverse of his gospel hasgained currency and masqueraded as the original canon.
To a great extent this misunderstanding has been unavoidable.Systematisers, ever eager to bend a philosopher's statements to theirown ends, have found in Nietzsche's writings much material which, whencarefully isolated, substantiated their own conclusions. On the otherhand, the Christian moralists, sensing in Nietzsche[Pg 11] a powerful andeffective opponent, have attempted to disqualify his ethical system bypresenting garbled portions of his attacks on Christianity, omittingall the qualifying passages. It is impossible, however, to understandany of Nietzsche's doctrines unless we consider them in their relationto the whole of his teachings.
Contrary to the general belief, Nietzsche was not simply a destructivecritic and a formulator of impossible and romantic concepts. Hisdoctrine of the superman, which seems to be the principal stumblingblock in the way of a rationalistic interpretation of his philosophy,is no vague dream unrelated to present humanity. Nor was his chiefconcern with future generations. Nietzsche devoted his research toimmediate conditions and to the origin of those conditions. And—whatis of greater importance—he left behind him a very positive andconsistent system of ethics—a workable and entirely comprehensiblecode of conduct to meet present-day needs. This system was notformulated with the precision which no doubt would have attached toit in its final form had he been able to complete the plans he hadoutlined. Yet there are few points in his code of ethics—and theyare of minor importance—which cannot be found, clearly conceivedand concisely stated, in the main body of his works. This system ofconduct embraces every stage of society; and for the rulers to-day—thepeople for whom Nietzsche directly voiced his teachings—he outlines amethod of outer conduct and a set of inner ideals which meet with everymodern condition. His proposed ethical routine is not based on abstractreasoning and speculative conclusions. It is a practical code which hasits foundation implanted in the dominating instincts of the organicand inorganic world. It is directly opposed to the[Pg 12] prevailing code,and has for its ideal the fulness of life itself—life intensifiedto the highest degree, life charged with a maximum of beauty, power,enthusiasm, virility, wealth and intoxication. It is the code ofstrength and courage. Its goal is a race which will possess the hardiervirtues of strength, confidence, exuberance and affirmation.
This ideal has been the source of many misunderstandings, and it isthe errors which have arisen from the vicious and inept disseminationof his teachings, that I have striven to rectify in the present book.I have hoped to accomplish this by presenting the whole of Nietzsche'sphilosophy, as far as possible, in his own words. This has not been sodifficult a matter. His writings, more than those of any other modernphilosopher, offer opportunities for such treatment. There is no pointin his entire system not susceptible to brief and clear quotation.Furthermore, his thought developed consistently and logically instraight-away, chronological order, so that at the conclusion of eachbook we find ourselves just so much further along the route of histhinking. Beginning with "Human, All-Too-Human," his first destructivevolume, we can trace the gradual and concise pyramiding of histeachings, down to the last statement of his cardinal doctrine of willas set forth in the notes which comprise the second volume of "The Willto Power." Each one of the intervening books embodies new material: itis a distinct, yet co-ordinated, division in the great structure of hislife's work. These books overlap one another in many instances, anddevelop points raised speculatively in former books, but they organiseeach other and lead one surely, if at times circuitously, to thecrowning doctrines of his thought.
The majority of critics have chosen to systematise Nietzsche'steachings by separating the ideas in his different books, and bydrawing together under specific captions (such as "religion," "thestate," "education," etc.,) all the scattered material which relatesto these different subjects. In many cases they have succeeded inoffering a very coherent and consistent rťsumť of his thought. ButNietzsche's doctrines were inherently opposed to such arbitrarydividing and arranging, because beneath the various sociologicalpoints which fell under his consideration, were two or three generalmotivating principles which unified the whole of his thought. He didnot work from modern institutions back to his doctrines; but, byanalysing the conditions out of which these institutions grew, hearrived at the conclusions which he afterward used in formulatingnew methods of operation. It was the change in conditions and needsbetween ancient and modern times that made him voice the necessity ofchange between ancient and modern institutions. In other words, hisadvocacy of new methods for dealing with modern affairs was evolvedfrom his researches into the origin and history of current methods. Forinstance, his remarks on religion, society, the state, the individual,etc., were the outcome of fundamental postulates which he describedand elucidated in terms of human institutions. Therefore an attempt toreach an explanation of the basic doctrines of his philosophy throughhis applied teachings unconsciously gives rise to the very errorswhich the serious critics have sought to overcome: this method focusesattention on the application of his doctrines rather than on thedoctrines themselves.
Therefore I have taken his writings chronologically, beginning with hisfirst purely philosophical work—[Pg 14]"Human, All-Too-Human"—and haveset down, in his own words, every important conclusion throughout hisentire works. In this way one may follow Nietzsche throughout everystep in the development of his teachings—not only in his abstracttheories but also in his application of them. There is not a singleimportant point in the entire sweep of his thought not contained inthese pages. Naturally I have been unable to give any of the argumentswhich led to these conclusions. The quotations are in every instanceno longer than has been necessary to make clear the idea: for theprocesses of thought by which these conclusions were reached thereader must go direct to the books from which the excerpts are made.Also I have omitted Nietzsche's brilliant analogies and such desultorycritical judgments, literary and artistic, as have no direct bearing onhis philosophy; and have contented myself with setting down only thosebare, unelaborated utterances which embody the positive points in histhought. By thus letting Nietzsche himself state his doctrines I haveattempted to make it impossible for anybody who goes carefully throughthese pages to misunderstand those points which now seem clouded inerror.
In order to facilitate further the research of the student and to makeclear certain of the more obscure selections, I have preceded eachchapter with a short account of the book and its contents. In thesebrief essays, I have reviewed the entire contents of each book, setdown the circumstances under which it was written, and attempted toweigh its individual importance in relation to the others. Furthermore,I have attempted to state briefly certain of the doctrines whichdid not permit of entirely self-explanatory quotation. And whereNietzsche indulged in research, such as in tracing the origin[Pg 15] ofcertain motives, or in explaining the steps which led to the acceptanceof certain doctrines, I have included in these essays an abridgedexposition of his theories. In short, I have embodied in each chaptersuch critical material as I thought would assist the reader to a clearunderstanding of each book's contents and relative significance.
This book is frankly for the beginner—for the student who desires asurvey of Nietzsche's philosophy before entering upon a closer and morecareful study of it. In this respect it is meant also as a guide; and Ihave given the exact location of every quotation so that the reader mayrefer at once to the main body of Nietzsche's works and ascertain thepremises and syllogisms which underlie the quoted conclusion.
In the opening biographical sketch I have refrained from going intoNietzsche's personality and character, adhering throughout to theexternal facts of his life. His personality will be found in the racy,vigorous and stimulating utterances I have chosen for quotation, andno comments of mine could add colour to the impression thus received.It is difficult to divorce Nietzsche from his work: the man and histeachings are inseparable. His style, as well as his philosophy, isa direct outgrowth of his personality. This is why his gospel is sopersonal and intimate a one, and so closely bound up in the instinctsof humanity. There are several good biographies of Nietzsche inexistence, and a brief account of the best ones in English will befound in the bibliography at the end of this volume.
It must not be thought that this book is intended as a final, oreven complete, commentary on Nietzsche's doctrines. It was writtenand compiled for the purpose of[Pg 16] supplying an