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

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     It is here that philosophy ends and preaching begins in Nietzsche. Here begin his isolation and self-exaltation, the division of men into inferior and superior, into worthy and unworthy - in a word, everything that we could see already before Nietzsche. To be sure, the terms are different. The "good" is not spoken of; instead of it appears the Übermensch. But the role of the Übermensch is not new. Nietzsche speaks and acts in the name of the Übermensch precisely as did Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in the name of the "good." He must somehow justify himself, forget the past, save himself, rid himself of the accursed problems to which there is no answer. And Nietzsche has recourse to the old, proven remedy which has so often healed sick and tortured human hearts: he begins to preach. He says: "Ah, I threw my net into its seas and wanted to catch good fish, but I always drew out the head of an old god." To a certain degree these words are also applicable to Nietzsche himself. His Übermensch is also nothing but the head of an old idol, only painted with different colors. No more than Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, to whom he is inwardly so related, could Nietzsche bear the terrifying face of life or reconcile himself to his fate. What really is his "aristocratism"? Translated into simple language - for example, Tolstoy's, which has the great advantage of clarity - it means: "I and a few others besides are very great men; all others are only insignificant pawns. To be great is the essential thing, the highest that can be in life. And this highest I possess, while the others do not. And the main thing is that the others do not." Why does a man feel comforted and relieved if he believes that he has privileges that others do not have? Who will explain this mystery of the human psyche? The fact, however, remains. This fact induced Dostoevsky to torment his Raskolnikov. It was because of this fact that Tolstoy attacked all of the intelligentsia so mercilessly. The need of men to find for themselves a point of support is so painful, so deep, that they sacrifice everything and forget everything in order only to save themselves from doubt. And what possible outlets for the energy of a tempest-tossed soul are so effective as preaching, anger, indignation? Tolstoy called even the Marxists immoral - the Marxists who, for the sake of an idea, of a "good" recognized by them, sacrifice their best years to reading Das Kapital, studying tables of statistics, and similar activities which, as is known, bring them no good. One can try to refute them, one can pity them, one can adopt any attitude whatsoever toward them, but one thing it is not possible to deny: that in all their struggle it is only "morality" that is involved, even if they do attack the "subjectivists." Marx and statistics are only a new form whose content is already quite old: inner devotion to an idea, self-denial, self-sacrifice, the surrender of one's own will for the sake of a higher "principle." Where can there be more morality? But Count Tolstoy cannot and will not pardon anything: all are "immoral"! If one does not have this understanding, how is one to deal with Ivan Ilych, the people of the night-shelters, the hungry prostitutes, his own impotence? If you have no one upon whom you can pour out your anger, no one whom you can attack with reproaches, you risk standing at the end quite alone face to face with the accursed questions before which the formula "God is the good" remains altogether useless.

     Such a formula is attractive only in that it permits a man to separate himself from others, to find enemies and fight against them - even if it be only against pale youths who read Marx or famished young men like Raskolnikov who dream of murder. Nietzsche's Übermensch has precisely the same meaning. Where philosophy must halt before the limitation of human power, preaching begins. His suffering, his shame, his unhappiness, everything that life had brought him, is finally used by Nietzsche to construct out of them a right to crush and annihilate others. "Suffering makes a man noble; it separates him from others," he once says with that unintentional frankness which so often strikingly appears in his work together with the systematic effort to hide himself under some mask. And yet he himself knows how close men are to one another: "I saw both naked, the greatest and the least of men - all too like are they to one another."

     And nevertheless Nietzsche retains his aristocratism. This separating aristocratism bestows the "pathos of distance" - that pathos which has always been the source of all moral indignation. I am "high," all others are low: this provides a ground for protestation, for struggle, a place for the discharge of all bitterness, all humiliation. If "aristocratism" and "moral perfection" (these two terms are identical in meaning) were the children of a contented self, of a clear and calm spirit, then the preaching form adopted by a Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche would have been superfluous - indeed, impossible. Only helplessness before the enigmas of life could give birth to that secret, deeply hidden hatred that was the hallmark of all these extraordinary writers. One cannot struggle against fate! It remains indifferent to all our curses, and we cannot find any weak spot in which to attack it! So let us direct our indignation against man; him it does reach. One must only understand how to aim the blows so that they find him; one must know his sensitive spots. That is why preaching means so little.

     Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Tolstoy could not deal with "great misfortune, great ugliness, great distrust"; they suffered so under these that they had to cease interrogating life; and if they sought forgetfulness in preaching, this only shows how demanding their natures were. They could no longer live without answer to their questions, and to them any answer was better than none. "It is the surface that is born out of the depth," as Nietzsche puts it. It is not possible to live when one has constantly before his eyes terrifying specters. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy will hardly admit this, but Nietzsche recognizes it as he does everything else. In his aphorism "What Can We Learn from Artists?" he describes the tricks that these employ "to beautify reality" in their works and concludes: "All this we should learn from artists, and moreover be wiser than they. For with them this fine power of theirs usually ends where art ceases and life begins; we, however, wish to be the poets of our lives, and first of all in the smallest and most ordinary matters." [The Gay Science, 299]

     This constant, unavoidable consciousness of how poor in beauty life is, this painful need for seeing everywhere the bad, no matter how hidden it may be, forces the majority of men to seek a point of view which can open to them more consoling perspectives. "Aristocratism," the "good," are only means for beautifying life. Of course, this leads to the alternative of stamping all men either as plebeians or as sinners, to characterizing them as creatures that are either worthless or immoral, petty or criminal. There is no other way out. Let us remember what Tolstoy in his War and Peace sought to do in order to acquit all men, in order to find a philosophy which "takes upon itself not only punishment but guilt," which, in other words, condemns no one and seeks the explanation of life outside of man, above man. But Tolstoy could not long remain at this height. Already in Anna Karenina he was untrue to himself. And the further he went, the more he enclosed himself in his moral aristocratism, which he calls the "good" and which differs only in form from Nietzsche's Übermensch. Tolstoy's preaching suffices for itself. It is not for the sake of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed that he appeals to the "good"; on the contrary, all these unfortunate persons are only the occasion for the appeal. This means: "to be a poet of real life to its smallest and most insignificant expressions."

     Where ugliness, horror, disgust were, where a prostitute whom no one wanted any more went hungry - there Tolstoy raised the standard of the "good," which is "love of neighbor," which is "God." Where what mattered was immediate help but where such help proved impossible, where a life-tragedy of the most horrible and revolting kind played itself out, there was born in Tolstoy the poetry of preaching. Exactly the same thing happened with Nietzsche. He knew that he was only a poor sacrificial animal" and he decked himself out with the exalted virtues of the Übermensch. He felt that all was "lost," that "the end, the final end had come," and said at the same time, "If there is a God, how could I bear the thought that this God is not I?"

     Thus did Count Tolstoy and Nietzsche hide themselves from reality. But can their preaching forever hide from men the questions of life? Can the "good" or the Übermensch reconcile man with the unhappiness, the absurdity of our existence? Clearly the poetry of Tolstoy's and Nietzsche's preaching can satisfy only one who, from the work of these writers, but also from the experiences of his own life, gains nothing but poetry. But for one who has come into serious conflict with life, the whole parade of solemn and elegant words which Tolstoy and Nietzsche prepare for the triumphal march of their "gods" does not mean anything more than any other ceremonies through which men seek to enrich their lives. The attention of such a reader remains fixed on Prince Andrey, on Ivan Ilych, on the shepherd into whose mouth a serpent had crawled; he ignores the beautiful thoughts but listens all the more intently to the real experiences of Tolstoy and Nietzsche.

     Even though attempts to give a final and complete answer to the tormenting questions of life have remained fruitless until now, men will never cease making these attempts. Perhaps it is not given man to find what he seeks. On the road to eternal truth, however, he rids himself of many crushing prejudices and discovers new horizons which, though not eternal, are nevertheless wider. Considered from this point of view, Nietzsche's formula "beyond good and evil" is a great and important step forward. Nietzsche was the first philosopher who dared to protest directly and openly against the exclusive claim of the "good," which always sought, despite the fullness and infinite variety of real life, to consider only itself "the beginning and the end of everything," as Tolstoy puts it. To be sure, Nietzsche saw in the "good" only the bad and overlooked the good in it, thereby contradicting his own formula amor fati. He could not, however, feel otherwise, just as the repentant sinner can see nothing but the horrible in his sin. It is in this that the whole force and the convincing power of Nietzsche's philosophy lies. If he had remained righteous, we would not have understood what he was talking about. We had to witness that enmity and hatred, that disgust and horror of the "good" which Nietzsche felt, in order to understand the possibility of his doctrine and in order to recognize the legitimacy of certain sentiments and allow them to penetrate into our consciousness as principles. The "good," "fraternal love" - the experience of Nietzsche has taught us - is not God. "Woe to all who love and have no elevation that is higher than their compassion." Nietzsche has shown us the way. We must seek that which is higher than compassion, higher than the "good"; we must seek God.

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