This survey of the growth of self-interest and sympathy may seem a long parenthesis in the study of Nietzsche, but I do not see how otherwise we can understand the problem with which he struggled, or the meaning,of his proposed solution. Now, Nietzsche's writing is too often, as I have said, in a style of spasmodic commonplace, displaying a tortured effort to appear profound. But it is in places also singularly vivid, with a power of clinging epithet and a picturesque exaggeration or grotesqueness that may remind one of Carlyle. Consider, for example, part of the chapter of Zarathustra entitled Redemption:--

As Zarathustra one day passed over the great bridge, he was surrounded by cripples and beggars, and a hunchback spake thus to him:--

"Behold, Zarathustra, even the people learn from thee, and acquire faith in thy doctrine; but for these to believe fully in thee, one thing is yet needful -- thou must first of all convince us cripples." ...

Then answered Zarathustra unto him who so spake: ... Yet is this the smallest thing to me since I have been amongst men, that one man lacks an eye, another an ear, a third a leg, and that others have lost their tongue, or their nose, or their head.

I see and have seen a worse thing and divers things so monstrous that of all I might not speak and of some I might not keep silence: I have seen human beings to whom everything was lacking, except that of one thing they had too much -- men who are nothing more than a big eye, or a big mouth, or a big belly, or something else big -- reversed cripples I name such men.

And when I came out of my solitude and for the first time passed over this bridge, then I could not trust my eyes, and looked, and looked again, and I said at last: "That is an ear! an ear as big as a man!" I looked still more attentively; and actually there did move under the ear something that was pitiably small and poor and slim. And in truth this immense ear was perched on a small thin stalk -- and the stalk was a man! With a glass before your eyes you might even recognize further a tiny envious countenance, and also that a bloated soullet dangled at the stalk. The people told me, however, that the big ear was not only a man, but a great man, a genius. But I never believed the people when they spake of great men -- and I hold to my belief that it was a reversed cripple, who had too little of everything and too much of one thing....

Verily, my friends, I walk amongst men as amongst the fragments and limbs of men!

This is the terrible thing to mine eye, that I find men broken up and scattered as on a field of battle and butchery.

And when mine eye fleeth from the present to the bygone, it findeth always the same: fragments and members and fearful chance -- but no men!

The present and the bygone upon earth -- alas, my friends, that is to me the intolerable; and I should not know how to live were I not a seer also of that which must come.

A seer, a willer, a creator, a future itself, and a bridge to the future -- and, alas, also as it were a cripple upon this bridge: all that is Zarathustra....

To redeem what is past, and to transform every "It was" into "Thus would I have it!" -- that alone I call redemption....

To will liberateth; but what is that named which still putteth the liberator in chains?

"It was" -- so is named the Will's gnashing of teeth and loneliest tribulation. Impotent before the thing that has been done, of all the past the Will is a malicious spectator. [3]

That is not only an example of Nietzsche's vivid and personal style at its best, but it also contains the gist of his message to the world. For there is this to be observed in regard to Nietzsche's works: to one who dips into them at random, they are likely to seem dark and tangled. His manner of expressing himself in aphorisms and of uttering half-truths in emphatic finality gives to his writing an appearance of complexity and groping uncertainty, if not of self-contradiction; but a little persistence in reading soon shows that his theory of life, though never systematized, was really quite simple, and that he had in fact only a few ideas which he repeated in endlessly diversified language. Any one of his major works will afford a fairly complete view of his doctrine: it will be found in Human All-Too-Human to implicate pretty fully the Bergsonian philosophy and two or three other much-vaunted philosophies of the self-evolving flux; in Beyond Good and Evil the ethical aspects of the new liberty are chiefly considered; in Zarathustra, on the whole the greatest of his works, he writes in a tone of lyrical egotism and prophetic brooding on his own destiny; in The Will to Power there is an attempt to reduce his scattered intentions to a logical system, but unfortunately that work was never finished, and is printed largely from his hasty notes. What probably first impresses one in any of these books is Nietzsche's violent antipathy to the past, -- "'It was' -- so is named the Will's gnashing of teeth and loneliest tribulation; impotent before the thing that has been done, of all the past the Will is a malicious spectator." In this apparently sweeping condemnation of tradition all that has been held sacred is denounced in language that sounds occasionally like the fury of a madman. So he exclaims: "To the botching of mankind and the allowing of it to putrefy was given the name 'God';" and to our long idealization of the eternal feminine he has only the brusque reply: "Thou goest to women? Forget not thy whip!"

But as we become better versed in Nietzsche's extreme manner of expression, we find that his condemnation of the past is by no means indiscriminate, that in truth his denunciations are directed to a particular aspect of history. In the classical world this distinction takes the form of a harsh and unreal contrast between the Dionysiac principle of unrest and growth and creation for which he expresses the highest regard, and the Apollonian principle of rest and renunciation and contraction for which, as Platonism, he has the deepest aversion. The same distinction really holds in his attitude towards religion, although here his feelings are not so clearly defined. For the Old Testament and its virile, human poetry, for instance, he admits great reverence, reserving his spleen for the New Testament and its faith. In one of the aphorisms of his virulent attack on Christianity, entitled appropriately Antichrist:, he writes:--

One does well to put on gloves when reading the New Testament. The neighborhood of so much impurity almost forces one to do so.... I have searched the New Testament in vain for a single sympathetic trait; there is nothing in it that could be called free, kind, frank, upright. Humanity has not taken its first steps in this book -- instincts of purity are lacking. There are only bad instincts in the New Testament; and there is not even the courage of these bad instincts. All is cowardice in it, all is closed eyes and self-delusion. Any book is pure after one has read the New Testament; for example, immediately after St. Paul, I read with delight that charming wanton mocker, Petronius, of whom one might say what Domenico Boccaccio wrote about Cesare Borgia to the Duke of Parma: e tutto festo.

To understand these diatribes we must remember that there were two elements in Christianity as it developed in the early centuries: on the one hand, the strong aspiring faith of a people in the vigor of youth and eager to bring into life fresh and unworn spiritual values, and, on the other hand, the depression and world-weariness which haunted the decadent heterogeneous people of Alexandria and the East. Now it is clear that for the former of these Nietzsche had no understanding, since it lay quite beyond his range of vision, whereas for the latter he had a very intimate understanding and a bitter detestation. Hence his almost unreserved rejection of Christianity as a product of corruption and race impurity.

It is a mistake [he says in The Will to Power] to imagine that, with Christianity, an ingenuous and youthful people rose against an old culture.... We understand nothing of the psychology of Christianity, if we suppose that it was the expression of revived youth among a people, or of the resuscitated strength of a race. It is, rather, a typical form of decadence, of moral softening, and of hysteria, amid a general hotch-potch of races and people that had lost all aims and had grown weary and sick. The wonderful company which gathered round this master seducer of the populace, would not be at all out of place in a Russian novel: all the diseases of the nerves seem to give one another a rendezvous in this crowd.

And elsewhere he says, more generally:--

Long pondering over the physiology of exhaustion forced upon me the question, to what extent the judgments of exhausted people had percolated into the world of values. The result at which I arrived was as startling as it could possibly be -- even for one like myself who was already at home in many a strange world. I found that all prevailing valuations -- that is to say, all those which had gained ascendancy over humanity, or at least over its tamer portions -- could be traced back to the judgment of exhausted people.

Part V

3. The quotations from Nietzsche in this essay are for the most part based on the authorized translations of his works, but I have had the German text before me and have altered the English at times considerably.

Revised February 3, 2001