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Genealogy of Morals

Friedrich Nietzsche

Third Essay, Sections 15-22

Third Essay, Sections 11-14

Third Essay, Sections 15-22, page 2

page 1 of 3
Summary

Having perceived that the spiritually healthy cannot look after the sick without becoming sick themselves, Nietzsche concludes that the sick need "doctors and nurses who are themselves sick." The role of the ascetic priest is precisely to tend the sick masses. He must be sick himself, but also strong enough to lead and dominate the masses. The ressentiment of the masses demands that they find someone to blame for their suffering, and this search for a scapegoat can be violent and dangerous. The ascetic priest serves the purpose of altering the direction of the ressentiment, by persuading the masses that they themselves, and no one else, are to blame for their suffering. This renders them harmless, promotes their self-discipline, and by organizing them into a religious framework of sin and guilt, helps to keep them apart from the healthy.

However, the priest only serves to ease the suffering of the sick without trying to cure the sickness itself. The sick are those who haven't the strength for the great struggle of humanity against its instincts, and religion does not give the sick strength so much as it eases their sense of displeasure at life.

Nietzsche identifies two primary ways in which the ascetic priest combats this prevailing sense of displeasure. First, there is the attempt to dull the sensations and the will so that the pain of this world isn't felt as keenly. The supreme state of redemption is seen, particularly by Indian philosophy, as liberation from everything: truth, knowledge, reality, good, evil, etc. all fade to insignificance as the soul slides into a deep sleep.

Second, there is the attempt to distract the mind from its suffering by means of hard work. The priest manages to convince the lower classes that hard work is blessed, and so they set themselves to it with ardor. Also, in commending small deeds of selflessness and neighborly love, the ascetic priest prescribes a harmless and easily attained expression of the will to power. This spirit of mutual helpfulness is what brings the weak together into congregations.

While these two are primarily "innocent" means of working against the feeling of displeasure, there is also the "guilty" means of working up an "orgy of feeling." Nietzsche admits that he could use a less negative term than "orgy of feeling," but asserts that he feels no inclination to soften his words for those who can't bear to hear them. These "orgies of feeling" are found in the concepts of sin, guilt, bad conscience and the like, and they are "guilty" means because they ultimately serve to make the sick sicker. The ascetic priest convinces the sick to find the cause of their suffering in themselves, to see their suffering as punishment. Once we come to see ourselves as sinners, there is no hope of being healed. Our suffering in that case is misunderstood as being fully our own fault, and we indulge this suffering in masochistic orgies of feeling.

Nietzsche remarks that the poisoning influence of ascetic ideals has also harmed good taste. For instance, Nietzsche finds the New Testament a despicable example of bad taste, a collection of anecdotes written by early Christians tacked on to the end of the Old Testament (which Nietzsche deeply admires) and then proclaimed to be its culmination. Nietzsche acknowledges that he is virtually alone in despising the New Testament, but he holds to his opinion.

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