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Beyond Good and Evil

5 - "Natural History of Morals"

Summary 5 - "Natural History of Morals"

Nietzsche worries democratic sentiments may tame us and render us all equal in mediocrity with no way out. He calls for a species of "new philosophers" to arise and lead the way out of this longing for peace and mediocrity.

Commentary

As we have discussed earlier, Nietzsche sees all drives as resting ultimately on the will to power. My beating up my neighbor and my giving my neighbor a gift are both expressions of my will to power; they are both ways in which I can gain a feeling of power over my neighbor. But how is it that two totally opposite deeds can ultimately boil down to the same will? Nietzsche suggests that we learn to sublimate our will to power; we channel it and redirect it in order to give it a refined, more subtle, and higher expression. Beating up my neighbor is about as unsubtle an expression of power as there is; I get a simple and immediate gratification. However, if I resist the urge to beat up my neighbor, and instead give him a gift, I will have sublimated my will to power. Now I will feel my neighbor is in my debt and will have a greater, longer- lasting, and more sublime feeling of power than if I had just beaten him up.

Nietzsche clarifies the importance of sublimation in his suggestion that refinements in art, thinking, and spirituality depend upon a kind of obedience. If one is unable to command, one will be a slave, but if one is unable to obey, one will be a mindless barbarian. True artists submit themselves to all kinds of rigorous laws in order to discipline themselves and their art. Obedience and sublimation go hand in hand; the obedience of artists teaches them to sublimate their will to power so that their feeling of power reaches a climax in the act of creation. Most of us lack the talent and the discipline for truly great art, but for those who can create, what greater feeling of power is there than to know that one is the source of something truly beautiful?

We also see the concept of sublimation present in Nietzsche's discussion of possession. His example of the man who "possesses" a woman by having sex with her has only the basic non-sublimated animal instincts of lust. The man who wants the woman to give up everything for him wants a more refined feeling of power over the woman. This man also recognizes that he can only be certain that the woman is giving up everything for him, and not some false conception of him, if she knows him deeply. In order for him to reveal himself deeply to the woman, he must first know himself deeply. Thus, a refined will to power, among other things, encourages self-knowledge.

We have now found a formula for what Nietzsche considers to be good: sublimated will to power. The slave is powerless, the modern European has no will, and the barbarian lacks sublimation. While Nietzsche admires the "healthy" power of the violent barbarian, he admires this power only as an alternative to the impotency of the modern European.

If we contrast what Nietzsche considers worth pursuing with other moralities, we can understand why he so bitterly despises utilitarianism, democracy, and other "taming" forces. The Christian ethic, which is now the only ethic, wants to speak for everyone. Everyone should love his or her neighbor, everyone should act with the happiness of the greatest number in mind. Nietzsche calls this "herd" morality because it speaks to our herd instincts. It assumes that we are all the same and should all follow the same rules.

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