The Good in the Teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche : Philosophy and Preaching


     And it was here that Nietzsche came to the, at first blush, insane thought that Heine in his famous poem had once pushed away from himself with so much horror, namely, that God is not for the good and for good people but for the evil and for evil people; that life, the power of life lies not in the ideals on which he had been nourished with his mother's milk and which had hurled him down into ruin but in their opposite; that the truth is not with him and for him, as he had formerly thought, but in the camp of his enemies, of those whom he had once - as Tolstoy does today - branded with the epithets "immoral," "vicious," "evil." How can one describe the tragic situation of a man arrived at the terrible awareness that the cause to which he had dedicated his life is not the cause of truth, the cause of God, the cause of the "good" (in Tolstoy's sense ) - but the cause of evil, of destruction, of falsehood? of a man from whom his final consolation, his belief in his moral integrity, has been taken away? Tolstoy and his followers would hardly speak here of an evil will. They would see that it is not the man who chooses his ideas but ideas that take possession of the man, fatally, against his will, with irresistible, elementary force. So it has always been, so it must always be for those who arrive at a conception of the world through their personal experience. They must speak of that to which an inner compulsion drives them. Nietzsche says: "He who struggles against monsters should be careful lest he thereby himself become a monster. And, if you gaze for a long time into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into you." [Beyond Good and Evil, 146]

     Can one hear from a writer of this kind commonly understandable and conventionally consoling words such as Tolstoy requires, or demand of him "ideals," to use Professor Riehl’s expression? Nietzsche seeks something else, for he knows that "words" and "ideals" do not protect man from reality. He says: "Amor fati: henceforth, let that be my love! I do not wish to wage any war against the ugly. I do not wish to accuse, I do not wish even to accuse the accusers. Looking aside, let that be my only negation!" [The Gay Science, 276]

     In his journal for 1888, this idea is expressed in still sharper fashion: "My formula for human greatness is amor fati; that one wishes to have nothing otherwise, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not only to endure necessity, still less to hide it - all idealism is falsehood before necessity - but to love it." [Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche, Das Leben Fr. Nietzsches, II, 196]

     These words explain Nietzsche's position with regard to evil. He will not, he cannot complain about reality. "Is not every complaint an accusation?" asks Zarathustra. From this flows his "worship" of evil, with which people have been so frightened but which is shared by all men in much larger measure than is commonly believed. Nietzsche only gave expression to those sentiments which compelled Tolstoy to turn away from the inhabitants of Liapine in order not to "fight against a hateful injustice" that he could not conquer. But Nietzsche wanted more; he wanted, he was compelled, to love all of this hateful reality, for it was in him and he could not hide himself from it. It was not he who invented amor fati, any more than it was he who invented his entire philosophy, to which he was brought by the iron will of this fatum. That is why one who would refute Nietzsche's philosophy must first refute the life from which he drew it.

     Nietzsche says: "Thou shalt not steal! Thou shalt not murder! - such precepts were once called holy; before them men bowed their knees and heads and took off their shoes... Is there not even in all life - stealing and murdering? And for such precepts to be called holy, was not truth itself thereby murdered?" ["Old and New Tables," Thus Spake Zarathustra]. It is the same amor fati. Life contains evil, hence one cannot deny it, curse it; denial and curse are impotent. The most passionate word of indignation cannot kill a fly. Nothing remains but the choice between the role of the moral "denouncer," who has against himself the whole world and all of life, and the love of fate, of necessity, i.e., of life as it is in reality, as it always was and always will be.

     Nietzsche could not hesitate. He leaves impotent dreams to put himself again on the side of his former enemy, life, whose rights he acknowledges as completely legitimate. Weak and insipid virtue, the virtue that is proud of its rags, is repugnant to him for he sees all too well with what envious cupidity it regards the power that it cannot conquer and that it therefore constantly reviles. "It seems to us today laughable when man claims to devise values surpassing the values of the actual world." [The Gay Science, 346]

     The very contrasting of man and the world appears to him senseless. These two terms man and the world," bound together through the boundless temerity of the little word "and," appear to him beyond all comparison. The world is one thing, man another. He is like a board thrown by chance into the ocean. How ridiculous to think that the ocean, or something even more powerful, is concerned with the fate of a board. There is no such higher power, there is no connection between the movement of the ocean's waters and the needs of this board. And if nature itself has so little concern for saving its creatures from ruin and destruction, if death and destruction and annihilation turn out to be only indifferent phenomena lost in the mass of equally indifferent phenomena, and - even more - if nature itself, to attain its goals, makes use of death and destruction, what gives us the right to exalt the "good" into law, i.e., to deny violence? Lightning kills man, diseases torture him to death, other animals take away his food; all this is natural, all this is a part of order of things, all this conforms to the laws of nature. How inexorable and pitiless this nature is Nietzsche knew only too well through his own experience. When, weak, humiliated, broken, he looked with mad terror into his unknown future, there was not in the whole universe any good genius, any voice that might be interested in him. And this cruelty, practiced in nature with such system, we suddenly dare to call unnatural and unlawful as soon as it manifests itself in the affairs of men. It is permissible for lightning to kill, but it is forbidden for man to do so. It is permitted for drought to give the inhabitants of an entire country over to famine, but we call the person who refuses bread to a hungry man impious! Must such a contradiction exist? Does it not prove that when we revere a law contrary to nature, we take a false road? And does not the secret of "the impotence of the good" lie in this, does it not prove that virtue is destined to go around in rags because it serves a petty, useless cause?

     To understand the meaning of such thoughts for Nietzsche, we must above all not forget the role they played in his own fate. Though he swore by St. Anacreon that feet were given him to trample, he was not the trampler but the trampled, not the kicker but the kicked. From the "evil" he could not expect any reward for himself, and, while preaching sin, he remained the same "disinterested" theorist and idealist that he had been in his youth when he had still worshipped virtue. It was only later, at the end of his literary activity, that he succeeded in drawing from his perceptions an "aristocratic" doctrine and speaking with an air such that Professor Lichtenberg could envy him his fate. But to the end Nietzsche's doctrine struck Nietzsche himself more strongly than anyone else. Not for nothing does he speak of how out of place psychological perspicacity is in certain cases, not for nothing does he speak of God as of a sacrificial animal. The more passionate, blasphemous, godless are his attacks on the "good," the clearer become the inner causes which forced him to break with his idealism. What Nietzsche experienced the aging Turgenev also knew. We recall only his prose-poem, "The Insect." The idealist is afraid all of his life to set foot on the monster that encircles him until it kills him. These Nietzschean sentiments visited Turgenev only in his old age. His literary activity was in the main the expression of idealism, which for many years protected him from horror and disgust, from the "insect." Nietzsche's collected works, however, except for the first volume, are dedicated to the solution of the dark enigma of life: idealism or reality. Nietzsche calls it "looking into the depths of pessimism." Logically he had to deny idealism and affirm the "insect," i.e., real life with its horrors, its misfortunes, its crimes, its vices. He was forced to give up the rare islets of the "good" that rise over the waters of the boundless sea of evil. Otherwise, the abysses of pessimism, of negation, of nihilism would have opened up before him. The law of men must emanate from nature and cannot be in opposition to the general laws of the universe. "Evil," or what men call evil, and which until now has appeared to us as the most terrible and most painful of all enigmas because of its senseless opposition to all that is dear to our hearts, ceased for Nietzsche to be "evil." Even more, he finds the "good" in the "evil," and in "evil men" he discovers a powerful, creative force. "All that the good call evil must come together in order that one truth may be born. 0 my brethren, are you also evil enough for this truth? The audacious venture, the long distrust, the cruel No, the boredom, the cutting into the living flesh - how rarely do these come together! But out of such seed is truth produced. Beside the bad conscience has hitherto grown all knowledge." ["Old and New Tables," Thus Spake Zarathustra]

     Speeches of this kind are found in abundance in Nietzsche. The element of evil was too foreign to his own nature, and he himself felt this lack with terror and appreciated how little it is compensated for through a virtuous obedience of the "categorical imperative." At first blush this is a frightful discovery. But, in reality, it corroborates the deeply significant words that Zarathustra speaks to his disciples and that we have already quoted before: "You had not yet sought yourselves; then did you find me. So do all believers; that is why all belief is of so little account. - Now I command you to lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me, will I return to you." [Bestowing Virtue," Thus Spake Zarathustra]

     In denying those ideals most precious to all of us, Nietzsche found them again. For the fearless man, who has followed Nietzsche through all of his skepticism and his doubt, a special light is thrown on the mysterious words of the gospel message: "God lets His sun shine equally on the righteous and the wicked." Whom have these words not surprised through their mysterious contradiction to all the longings of our human soul? According to our way of thinking, it should not be so; the sun ought not to shine for sinners, for evil men. For them darkness, but for the righteous light. Though many of us are prepared to take these words literally, and many to leave material goods to the wicked, all of us without exception consider it necessary to abandon the wicked to moral condemnation. But this abandonment means, for Christians, the greatest punishment, the greatest misfortune. One can be unlucky, sick, a cripple - that is a misfortune, sometimes a great misfortune. But to become known as "immoral" - of everything that can happen to a man, that is the worst. And yet all hold it possible and necessary to place in the category of the immoral a considerable number of their neighbors, without being at all scrupulous about it. They often even consider it meritorious to be capable of being indignant. Tolstoy could not take a step without accusing a great multitude of his fellow-men of immorality. The reader will recall Zarathustra’s conversation with the pope. We would quote another speech of Zarathustra’s which will show what tremendous moral height - and precisely in the gospel sense of the word - the denier Nietzsche attained and how untrustworthy the customary legends concerning this writer are. "Devise for me, then, the love which not only bears all punishment but also all guilt! - Devise for me, then, the justice that acquits everyone except the judge!" ["The Bite of the Adder," Thus Spake Zarathustra]. Traditional morality, suited to average men, offended Nietzsche with its haughty attitude towards men, with its readiness to brand all those who, even only in appearance, refuse to pay it sufficient respect. Morality was obliged to declare almost the entire world, almost all men, wicked, and it consented to do this in order not to forfeit its rights to domination. What Nietzsche sought is a justice which bears not punishment, that is, not material chastisement, but guilt. What do these words hide in themselves if not a commentary on the gospel parable of the publican and the Pharisee? For everyone who morally condemns others, everyone who blames his neighbor, says of himself, "I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not like that publican." Here are some other words that relate to this: "For enjoyment and innocence are the most bashful things; neither of them like to be sought for. One should have them - but one should rather seek for guilt and pain!" ["Old and New Tables," Thus Spake Zarathustra]. Are these the words of an antichrist? Of an immoralist? Anyone who has studied Nietzsche carefully cannot doubt that his attacks are directed not against Christianity nor against the gospel, but against certain widely spread commonplaces of Christian doctrine which hide from all, and even from Nietzsche himself, the meaning and the light of truth.

     "The good is God," says Tolstoy to his disciples. This is what all say, even the cultured mob that he attacks. (In Nietzsche, der gelehrte Pöbel: even in their expressions the two writers often agree!) That all of life is thereby transformed into "evil" does not at all affect Tolstoy. He does not ask himself (or rather, he does not want his disciples to ask) how it is that God does not rule on earth, that millions of men live without God. He has arrived at the highest level of moral development, and that suffices to console him! Nietzsche's experiences, Nietzsche's life, were very different, and the question of the value of the good took on another form for him. He understood that the evil was as necessary as the good, indeed even more necessary than the good; he understood that both are necessary conditions of human existence and development; he understood that the sun must shine equally on the good and the wicked.

     This is the meaning of Nietzsche's formula "beyond good and evil." There can be no doubt: to Nietzsche was revealed a great truth, a truth hidden in the words of the gospel which we did, indeed, recognize but never dared to introduce into our "philosophical" conception of the world. This time also a new Golgotha was necessary for a new truth to be born. Otherwise life appears never to reveal its secrets. Here is how Zarathustra speaks of it: "Before my highest mountain do I stand, and before my longest wandering: therefore I must first go down deeper than I ever climbed - deeper down into pain than I ever ascended, even into its darkest flood! So wills my fate. Well! I am ready." ["The Wanderer," Thus Spake Zarathustra]

This is the school through which Nietzsche went. And he was not only an obedient but also a grateful pupil:
The discipline of suffering, of great suffering - do you not know that it is only this discipline that has created all the elevations of mankind until now? That tension of soul in misfortune which communicates to it its strength, its shuddering in view of great destruction, its inventiveness and gallantry in bearing, enduring, interpreting and exploiting misfortune, and whatever depth, mystery, disguise, spirit, artifice or greatness has been granted to the soul - has it not been granted through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering? In man creature and creator are united; in man there is matter, shred, excess, clay, mud, folly, chaos; but in man there is also the creator, the sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divinity of the spectator, and the seventh day - do you understand this contrast? And that your sympathy for the creature in man applies to that which must be fashioned, broken, forged, burned, annealed, refined - to that which must necessarily suffer and is meant to suffer? And our sympathy - do you not understand what our reversed sympathy applies to, when it resists your sympathy as the worst of all pampering and weakening? [Beyond Good and Evil, 225]
How much force, how much passion, how much pathos lies in these words! It was in this way that fate fashioned him, Nietzsche himself. It was in his soul that everything superfluous, senseless, chaotic was broken, torn, burned, melted down, and reforged, in order that there might be born in it a creator, an artist, whom the divine gaze awaits on the seventh day.

     To be sure, men will not believe, will not dare to believe, what Nietzsche recounts. Men wish to despise the evil; what they fear above all else is suffering. Otherwise they cannot live. But Nietzsche himself, I repeat, would perhaps not have acknowledged his own philosophy if he had not first emptied the bitter cup that fate prepared for him. His "immoralism" is the result of a profoundly tragic, boundlessly unhappy life. For the light of this star to reach man, he must plunge into "the dark abyss of suffering"; only out of this depth can he see that star. In the light of day, however, the distant stars, even the brightest, are invisible to the human eye.

Orphus system

   home    intro    texts    links    biblio ToC