'On the Genealogy of Morals' by Friedrich Nietzsche (1887)

A selection from Zur Genealogie der Moral Eine Streitschrift ('On the Genealogy of Morals', or, 'On the Genealogy of Morality', subtitled 'A Polemic') by Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887.

[Editors note: This selection has been taken from Golffing's 1956 translation, although Diethe's, Kaufmann's, and Smiths translations have also been drawn upon, to help lend the text clarity and fluidity. The German edition has not been consulted in this process.]


[Work in Progress]

First Essay:
"'Good and Evil', 'Good and Bad'"

The English psychologists to whom we owe the only attempts that have thus far been made to write a genealogy of morals provide us with a small riddle in the form of themselves
; in fact, I admit that as living riddles they have a significant advantage over their books – they are actually interesting! [...] You always find them at the same task, whether they want to or not, pushing the partie honteuse of our inner world to the foreground, and looking for what is really effective, guiding and decisive for our development where man’s intellectual pride would least wish to find it... – what is it that actually drives these psychologists in precisely this direction all the time? A secret, malicious desire to belittle humanity, which they do not acknowledge even to themselves? A pessimistic suspicion, the mistrust of disillusioned, surly idealists who have turned poisonous and green?


One thing is certain... they have been quite deserted by the true spirit of history. They all... think unhistorically, as is the age-old custom among philosophers. [Note: see the second aphorism of Human, All-Too-Human, called "Original error of the philosopher": "All philosophers share this common error: they proceed from contemporary man and think they can reach their goal through an analysis of this man. Automatically they think of "man" as an eternal verity, as something abiding in the whirlpool, as a sure measure of things. Everything that the philosopher says about man, however, is at bottom no more than a testimony about the man of a very limited period. Lack of a historical sense is the original error of all philosophers... ."

The origin of the opposites good and bad is to be found in the pathos of nobility and distance, representing the dominant temper of a higher, ruling class in relation to a lower, dependent one. [...] Such an origin would suggest that there is no a priori necessity for associating the word good with altruistic deeds, as those moral psychologists are fond of claiming.


The clue to the correct explanation was furnished me by the question "What does the etymology of the terms for good in various languages tell us?" I discovered that all these terms lead us back to the same conceptual transformation. The basic concept is always noble in the hierarchical, class sense, and from this has developed, by historical necessity, the concept of good embracing nobility of mind, spiritual distinction. This development is strictly parallel to that other which eventually converted the notions common, plebeian, base into the notion bad. Here we have an important clue to the actual genealogy of morals... .


...it is of interest to note that many of the words and roots denominating good still, to this day, carry overtones of the meanings according to which the nobility regarded themselves as possessing the highest moral rank. It is true that, most often, they described themselves simply in terms of their superior power (as the rulers, lords, sovereigns) or else in terms of the visible signs of their superiority, as the rich, the possessors...; but also in terms of a typical character trait... . They speak of themselves as "the truthful"... . The word they used was esthlos, meaning one who is, who has true reality, who is true. By a subjective turn the true later became the truthful.


Granting that political supremacy always gives rise to notions of spiritual supremacy, it at first creates no difficulties (though difficulties might arise later) if the ruling caste is also the priestly caste and elects to characterize itself by a term which reminds us of its priestly function. In this context we encounter for the first time concepts of pure and impure opposing each other as signs of class... . [...] The pure man was originally one who washed himself, who refused to eat certain foods entailing skin diseases, who did not sleep with the unwashed plebeian women, who held blood in abomination-- hardly more than that. At the same time, given the peculiar nature of a priestly aristocracy, it becomes clear why the value opposites would early turn inward and become dangerously exacerbated; and in fact the tension between such opposites has opened abysses between man and man, over which not even an Achilles of free thought would leap without a shudder. There is from the very start something unwholesome about such priestly aristocracies, about their way of life, which is turned away from action and swings between brooding and emotional explosions: a way of life which may be seen as responsible for the morbidity and neurasthenia of priests of all periods. Yet are we not right in maintaining that the cures which they have developed for their morbidities have proved a hundred times more dangerous than the ills themselves? Humanity is still suffering from the after-effects of those priestly cures. Think, for example, of certain forms of diet (abstinence from meat), fasting, sexual continence, escape "into the desert"; think further of the whole anti-sensual metaphysics of the priests... . [...] In all fairness it should be added, however, that only on this soil, the precarious soil of priestly existence, has man been able to develop into an interesting creature; that only here has the human mind grown both profound and evil; and it is in these two respects, after all, that man has proved his superiority over the rest of creation.


By now the reader will have got some notion how readily the priestly system of valuations can branch off from the aristocratic and develop into its opposite. [...] The chivalrous and aristocratic valuations presuppose a strong physique, blooming, even exuberant health, together with all the conditions that guarantee its preservation: combat, adventure, the cahse, the dance, war games, etc. The value system of the priestly aristocracy is founded on different pressuppositions. So much the worse for them when it becomes a question of war! As we all know, priests are the most evil enemies to have-- why should this be so? Because they are the most impotent. It is their impotence which makes their hate so violent and sinister, so cerebral and poisonous. The greatest haters in history-- but also the most intelligent haters-- have been priests. Beside the brilliance of priestly vengeance all other brilliance faces. Human history would be a dull and stupid thing without the intelligence furnished by its impotents. Let us begin with the most striking example. Whatever else has been done to damage the powerful and great of this earth seems trivial compared with what the Jews have done, that priestly people who succeeded in avenging themselves on their enemies and oppressors by radically inverting all their values, that is, by an act of spiritual vengeance. This was a stratergy entirely appropriate to a priestly people in whom vindictiveness had gone most deeply underground. It was the Jew who, with frightening consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value equations good/noble/powerful/beautiful/happy/favored-of-the-gods and maintain, with the furious hatred of the underpriviliged and impotent, that "only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick, and ugly, truly blessed. But you noble and mighty ones of the earth will be, to all eternity, the evil, the cruel, the avaricious, the godless, and thus the cursed and damned!"... We know who has fallen heir to this Jewish inversion of values. ...it was the Jews who started the slave revolt in morals; a revolt with two millennia of history behind it, which we have lost sight of today simply because it has triumphed so completely.


You find that difficult to understand? You have no eyes for something that took two millennia to prevail? ... There is nothing strange about this: all long developments are difficult to see in the round. From the tree trunk of Jewish vengeance and hatred-- the deepest and sublimest hatred in human history, since it gave birth to ideals and a new set of values-- grew a branch that was equally unique: a new love, the deepest and sublimest of loves. From what other trunk could this branch have sprung? But let no one surmise that this love represented a denial of the thirst for vengeance, that it contravened the Jewish hatred. Exactly the opposite is true. Love grew out of hatred as the tree's crown, spreading triumphantly in the purest sunlight, yet having, in its high and sunny realm, the same aims-- victory, aggrandizement, temptation-- which hatred pursued by digging its roots ever deeper into all that was profound and evil. Jesus of Nazareth, the gospel of love made flesh, the "redeemer," who brought blessing and victory to the poor, the sick, the sinners-- what was he but temptation in its most sinister and irresistible form, bringing men by a roundabout way to precisely those Jewish values and renovations of the ideal? Has not Israel, precisely by the detour of this "redeemer," this seeming antagonist and destroyer of Israel, reached the final goal of its sublime vindictiveness? [...] What could equal in debilitating narcotic power the symbol of the "holy cross," the ghastly paradox of a crucified god, the unspeakably cruel mystery of God's self-crucification for the benefit of mankind? One thing is certain, that in this sign Israel has by now triumphed over all other, nobler values.


--"But what is all this talk about nobler values? Let us face facts: the people have triumphed--or the slaves, the mob, the herd, whatever you wish to call them-- and if the Jews brought it about, then no nation ever had a more universal mission on this earth. The lords are a thing of the past, and the ethics of the common man is completely triumphant. I don't deny that this triumph might be looked upon as a kind of blood poisoning, since it has resulted in a mingling of the races, but there can be no doubt that the intoxication has succeeded. The 'redemption of the human race (from the lords, that is) is well under way; everything is rapidly becoming Judaized, or Christianized, or mob-ized-- the word makes no difference."
This was a "freethinker's" reaction to my argument-- an honest fellow, as he has abundantly proved, and a democrat to boot.


The slave revolt in morals begins by rancor turning creative and giving birth to values-- the rancor of beings who, deprived of the direct outlet of action, compensates by an imaginary vengeance. All truly noble morality grows out of triumphant self-affirmation. Slave ethics, on the other hand, begins by saying no to an 'outside,' an 'other,'... and that no is its creative act. This reversal of direction of the evaluating look... is a fundamental feature of rancor. Slave ethics requires for its inception a sphere different from and hostile to its own. Physiologically speaking, it requires an outside stimulus in order to act at all; all its action is reaction. The opposite is true of aristocratic valuations: such values grow and act spontaneously, seeking out their contraries only in order to affirm themselves even more gratefully and delightedly. [...] ...the emotion of contempt, of looking down,... is nothing compared with the... suppressed hatred, impotent vindictiveness... . There is in all contempt too much casualness and nonchalance,... too much inborn gaiety for it ever to make of its object a downright caricature and monster. [...] The "wellborn" really felt that they were also the "happy." They did not have to construct their happiness factitiously by looking at their enemies, as all rancorous men are wont to do, and being fully active, energetic people they were incapable of divorcing happiness from action.

All this stands in utter contrast to what is called happiness among the impotent and oppressed, who are full of bottled-up aggression. [...] His soul squints; his mind loves hide-outs, secret paths, and back doors; everything that is hidden seems to him his own world, his security, his comfort; he is expert in silence, in long memory, in waiting, in provisional self-depreciation, and in self-humiliation. A race of such men will, in the end, inevitably be cleverer than a race of aristocrats, and it will honor sharp-wittedness to a much greater degree, i.e., as an absolutely vital condition for its existence. Among the noble, mental acuteness always tends slightly to suggest luxury and over-refinement. [...] It is a sign of strong, rich temperaments that they cannot for long take seriously their enemies. [...] The noble person will respect his enemy... . Indeed, he requires his enemy for himself, as his mark of distinction, nor could he tolerate any other enemy than one in whom he finds nothing to despise and much to esteem. Imagine, on the other hand, the "enemy" as conceived by the rancorous man! For this is his creative achievement: he has conceived the "evil enemy," the Evil One, as a fundamental idea, and then as a pendant he has conceived a Good One-- himself.



"No doubt you were right; they are transmuting weakness into merit."
"Go on."
"Impotence, which cannot retaliate, into kindness; pusillanimity into humility; submission before those one hates into obedience to One of whom they say that he has commanded this submission-- they call him God."

"Go on."
"Now they tell me that not only are they better than the mighty of this earth, whose spittle they must lick (not from fear-- by no means-- but because God commands us to honor our superiors), but they are even better off, or at least they will be better off someday."

"They call the thing they seek not retribution but the triumph of justice...."

"And what do they call that which comforts them in all their sufferings-- their phantasmagoria of future bliss?"
"Do I hear correctly? They call it Judgement Day, the coming of their kingdom, the 'Kingdom of God.' Meanwhile they live in 'faith,' in 'love,' in 'hope.'"


There can be no doubt that these weaklings, too, want a chance to be strong, to have their kingdom come. [...] ...in what, precisely, does the bliss of that paradise consist?

...a triumphant Father of the Church, Tertullian,... wishes to to dissuade his Christians from the cruel debauch of public spectacles-- on what grounds? "Our faith offers us so much more," he writes in De spectaculis, ch. 29 ff., "and something so much stronger. Having been redeemed, joys of quite a different kind are ours. We have martyrs instead of athletes. If we crave blood, we have the blood of Christ... . But think what awaits us on the day of his triumph!" And the rapt visionary continues: "Yes, and there are still to come other spectacles-- that last, that eternal Day of Judgement, that Day which the Gentiles never believed would come, that Day they laughed at, when this old world and all its generations shall be consumed in one fire. How vast the spectacle that day, and how wide! What sight shall wake my wonder, what my laughter, my joy and exultation as I see all those kings, those great kings, welcomed (we are told) in heaven, along with Jove, along with those who told of their ascent, groaning in the depths of darkness! And the magistrates who persecuted the name of Jesus, liquefying in fiercer flames than they kindled in their rage against the Christians!..."


Let us conclude. The two sets of valuations have waged a terrible battle on this earth, lasting many millennia... . It might... be claimed that by being raised to a higher plane the battle has become much more profound. Perhaps there is today not a single intellectual worth his salt who is not divided on that issue, a battleground for those opposites. The watchwords of the battle, written in characters which have remained legible thought human history, read: 'Rome vs. Israel, Israel vs Rome.' No battle has ever been more momentous that this one. Rome viewed Israel as a monstrosity; the Romans regarded the Jews as convicted of hatred against the whole of mankind... . But how did the Jews, on their part, feel about Rome? A thousand indications point to the answer. It is enough to read once more the Revelations of St. John, the most rabid outburst of vindictiveness in all recorded history. [...] The Romans were the strongest and most noble people who ever lived. [...] The Jews, on the contrary, were the priestly, rancorous nation par excellence, though possessed of an unequal ethical genius... . Has the victory so far been gained by the Romans or by the Jews? Rome, without a doubt, has capitulated. It is true that during the Renaissance men witnessed a strange and splendid awakening of the classical ideal; like one buried alive, Rome stirred under the weight of a new Judaic Rome that looked like an ecumenical synagogue and was called the Church. But presently Israel triumphed once again, thanks to the plebeian rancour of the German and English Reformation, together with its natural corollary, the restoration of the Church- which also meant the restoration of ancient Rome to the quiet of the tomb. In an even more decisive sense did Israel triumph over the classical ideal through the French Revolution. For then the last political nobleness Europe had known, that of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, collapsed under the weight of vindictive popular instincts. A wilder enthusiasm was never seen. And yet, in the midst of it all, something tremendous, something wholly unexpected happened: the ancient classical ideal appeared incarnate and in unprecedented splendour before the eyes and conscience of mankind. [...] Like a last sign post to an alternative route Napoleon appeared, most isolated and anachronistic of men, the embodiment of the noble ideal.


Was it all over then? Had that greatest conflict of ideals been shelved for good? Or had it only been indefinitely adjourned? might not the smouldering fire start up again one day, all the more terrible because longer and more secretly nourished? [...] If the reader at this point begins to develop his own train of thought, he is not likely to soon to come to the end of it.

Second Essay:
"'Guilt', 'Bad Conscience', and the Like"


But how about the origin of that other phenomenon, the consciousness of guilt, "bad conscience"? Would you turn to our genealogists of morals for illumination? Let me say once again, they are worthless. Completely absorbed in "modern" experience, with no real knowledge of the past, no desire even to understand it, no historical instincts whatever, they presume, all the same, to write the history of ethics!


The sky overhead has always grown darker in proportion as man has grown ashamed... . The tired, pessimistic look, discouragement in face of life's riddle, the icy no of the man who loathes life... . These phenomena are like marsh plants; they presuppose a bog-- the bog of morbid finickiness and moralistic drivel which has alienated man from his natural instincts. On the way to becoming an ‘angel’, man has upset his stomach and developed a furry tongue so that he finds not only the naive joy and innocence of the animal disgusting, but even life itself; so that at times he stops his nose against himself and recites with Pope Innocent the Third ("impure conception, loathsome feeding in the mother's womb, wretchedness of physical substance, vile stench, discharge of spittle, urine, and faeces").


There is no set of maxims more important for an historian than this: that the actual causes of a thing's origin and its eventual uses, the manner of its incorporation into a system of purposes, are worlds apart.


I take bad conscience to be a deep-seated malady to which man succumbed under the pressure of the most profound transformation he ever underwent-- the one that made him once and for all a sociable and pacific creature. Just as happened in the case of those sea creatures who were forced to become land animals in order to survive, these semi-animals, happily adapted to the wilderness, to war, free roaming, and adventure, were forced to change their nature. Of a sudden they found all their instincts devalued, unhinged. They must walk on legs and carry themselves, where before the water had carried them: a terrible heaviness weighed upon them. They felt inapt for the simplest manipulations, for in his new, unknown world they could no longer count on the guidance of their unconscious drives. They were forced to think, deduce, calculate, weigh cause and effect-- unhappy people, reduced to their weakest, most fallible organ, their consciousness! I doubt that there has ever been on earth such a feeling of misery, such a leaden discomfort. It was not that those old instincts had abruptly ceased making their demands; but now their satisfaction was rare and difficult. For the most part they had to depend on new, covert satisfactions. All instincts that are not allowed free play turn inward. This is what I call man's interiorization; it alone provides the soil for the growth of what is later called man's soul. Man's interior world, originally meager and tenuous, was expanding in every dimension, in proportion as the outward discharge of his feelings was curtailed. 

Third Essay: What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?II


...the philosopher abhors marriage..., for he sees the married state as an obstacle to fulfillment. What great philosopher has ever been married? ...moreover, it is impossible to imagine any of them married. ...a married philosopher belongs in comedy... . Every philosopher would speak as Buddha spoke when he was told that a son had been born to him: "Rahula has been borne to me; a fetter has been forged for me" (Rahula means "little daemon"). Every free spirit would be set thinking, provided he had ever stopped thinking, just as it once happened to Buddha: "'Close and oppressive is life in a house, a place of impurity; to leave the house is freedom' and, thus meditating, he left the house." The ascetic ideal suggests so many bridges to independence that a philosopher cannot help rejoicing as he listens to the story of all those resolute men who one day made up their minds to say "no" to every form of servitude and went forth into a desert... . What, then, does the ascetic ideal betoken in a philosopher? [...] Asceticism provides him with the condition most favorable to the exercise of his intelligence.


...freedom from constraint, interference, noise, business, duties, worries; a clear head, the free, joyous play of the mind; a bracing air, thing, clear, free, dry as mountain air, in which all animal being becomes sublimated and takes wing; peace in the basements; all the dogs well chained, no baying of enmity and bushy rancor; no pangs of frustrated ambition; modest and submissive bowels, industrious as mill wheels, but remote; a heart estranged, distant, turned to the future, posthumous. In short, theirs is the serene asceticism of a divinely winged animal that soars above life but does not alight on it. We all know the three mighty slogans of the ascetic ideal: poverty, humility, chastity, and when we examine the lives of the great productive spirits closely, we are bound to find all three present in some degree. [...] It might very well be that their dominant intellectual discipline had first to curb a boundless and sensitive pride, or a reckless sensuality, or that they found it difficult at first to maintain their will to seclusion in the face of a taste for luxury and refinement, or a prodigality of heart and hand. But, being their dominant instinct, that sense of discipline will always prevail in the end and succeed in controlling all other instincts. There is nothing "virtuous" about all this. By the way, that "desert" into which strong, independent minds like to withdraw is very different from the image our pseudo-intellectuals have of it; in fact, often enough our pseudo-intellectuals are themselves that desert. And it is a foregone conclusion that mere mimes of the intellect could not endure it for a moment, for it is not romantic or Syrian enough for them, not sufficiently stagey. (Though there is no lack of camels in it, to be sure.)


...a certain asceticism, that is to say a strict yet high-spirited continence, is among the necessary conditions of strenuous intellectual activity as well as one of its natural consequences.

...measured by the Greek standard, our whole modern existence, insofar as it is not weakness but power and the consciousness of power, looks like sheer hubris and impiety: things exactly contrary to the ones we reverence today had for the longest time conscience on their side and God for their guardian. Our whole attitude toward nature, our violation of nature with the help of machines and the heedless ingenuity of technicians and engineers, is hubris... .


An observer viewing our terrestrial existence from another planet might easily be persuaded that this earth is strictly an ascetic star, the habitation of disgruntled, proud, repulsive creatures, unable to rid themselves of self-loathing, hatred of the earth and of all living things.... . [...] Surely it must be a necessity of the first rank that makes this anti-biological species emerge and thrive again and again; if such a contradiction in terms does not die out, it must surely be in the interest of life itself. For an ascetic life is indeed a contradiction in terms. Here we find rancor without parallel, the rancor of an insatiable power-drive which would dominate, not a single aspect of life, but life itself, its deepest and strongest foundations. Here we witness an attempt to use energy to block the very sources of energy. [...] All this is paradoxical to the highest degree. We are face to face with a deliberate split, which gloats on its own discomfiture and grows more self-assured and triumphant the more its biological energy decreases. The ascetic ideal has always fought under the banner bearing the motto, "triumph in agony." This tempting riddle, this image of rapturous pain, has always been its source of illumination, its pledge of final victory. Crux, nux, lux- for the ascetic these three invariably go together.


The kind of inner split we have found in the ascetic, who pits "life against life," is nonsense, not only in psychological terms, but also physiologically speaking. Such a split can only be apparent; it must be a kind of provisional expression, a formula, an adaptation, a psychological misunderstanding of something for which terms have been lacking to designate its true nature. A mere stopgap to fill a hiatus in human understanding. Let me state what i consider to be the actual situation. [....] It points to a partial physiological blocking and exhaustion, against which the deepest vital instincts, still intact, are battling doggedly and resourcefully. The ascetic ideal is one of their weapons. The situation, then, is exactly the opposite from what the worshipers of that ideal believe it to be. Life employs asceticism in its desperate struggle against death; the ascetic ideal is a dodge for the preservation of life. The ubiquitiousness and power of that ideal, especially wherever men have adopted civilized forms of life, should impress upon us one great, palpable fact: the persistent morbidity of civilized man, his biological struggle against... taedium vitae, exhaustion, the longing for "the end." The ascetic priest is an incarnation of the wish to be... elsewhere; he is that wish, raised to its highest power, it most passionate intensity. And it is precisely the intensity of his wishing that forges the fetter binding him to this earth. At the same time he becomes an instrument for bettering the human condition, since by this intenisty he is enabled to maintain in life the vast flock of defeated, disgruntled sufferers and self-tormentors, whom he leads instinctively like a shepherd. In other words, the ascetic priest, seemingly life's enemy and great negator, is in truth one of the major conserving and affirmative forces...
But what about the sources of man's morbidity? For certainly man is sicker, less secure, less stable, less firmly anchored than any other animal; he is the sick animal. But has he not also been more daring, more defiant, more inventive than all the other animals together?  ...man, unconquered to this day, still unrealized, so agitated by his own teeming energy that his future digs like spurs into the flesh of every present moment... How could such a brave and resourceful animal but be the most precarious, the most profoundly sick of all the sick beasts of the earth?


The more regular morbidity becomes among the members of the human race, the more grateful we should be for the rare "windfalls"-- men fortunate enough to combine a sound physical organization with intellectual authority. [...] One who smells not only with his nose but also with his eyes and ears will notice everywhere these days an air as of a lunatic asylum or sanatorium. [...] It is the diseased who imperil mankind, and not the "beasts of prey." [...] Is there anyone who has not encountered the veiled, shuttered gaze of the misfit, that introverted gaze which saddens us and makes us imagine how such a man must speak to himself? [...] In the marshy soil of such self-contempt every poisonous plant will grow... . Here the worms of vindictiveness and arrierepensee teem, the air stinks of secretiveness and pent-up emotion; here a perennial net of malicious conspiracy is woven-- the conspiracy of the suffers against the happy and succesful... . [...] They walk among us as warnings and reprimands incarnate, as though to say that health, soundness, strength, and pride are vicious things for which we shall one day pay dearly; and how eager they are, at bottom, to be the ones to make us pay! How they long to be the executioners! [...] Is there any place today where the sick do not with to exhibit some form of superiority and to exercise their tyranny over the strong? Especially the sick females, who have unrivaled resources for dominating, oppressing, tyrannizing. [...] What would these men, so tireless in their masquerades, so insatiable in their thirst for vengeance, require in order to see themselves as triumphant? Nothing less than to succeed in implanting their own misery, and all misery, in the consciences of the happy, so as to make the happy one day say to one another, "It is a disgrace to be happy! There is too much misery in the world!" But no greater and more disastrous misunderstanding could be imagined than for the strong and happy to begin doubting their right to happiness. Let us have done with such topsy-turviness, with such dreadful emasculation of feeling. Our first rule on this earth should be that the sick must not contaminate the healthy. But this requires that the healthy be isolated from the sick, be separated by the sight of the sick, lest they mistake that foreign sickness for their own. Or is it their task, perhaps, to be medical attendants and doctors? There could be no worse way for them to misjudge their role. [...] Then let us have fresh air, and at any rate get far away from all lunatic asylums and nursing homes of culture! And let us have good company, our own company! Or solitude, if need be.


Simply ask the alienists what happens when the human system is contantly subjected to the cruel teasings of penance, to paroxysms of contrition, to an obsession with being saved. Likewise consult history, and you will find that wherever the ascetic priest has been able to enforce his treatment, the sickness has increased alarmingly... . What has its "success" consisted of? A shattered nervous system... . In the wake of every collective penance-workout we find huge epileptic epidemics, such as the St. Vitus' and St. John's dances of the Middle Ages; terrible paralyses and permanent depressions resulting in some cases, in the complete change of temperament of an entire people or city (Geneva, Basel); phenomena like the witch craze and a kind of mass somnambulism... . We also find those agonized mass deliriums whose ghastly cry "Evviva la more!" ['Long live Death!'] once echoed through large parts of Europe... . (Religious neurosis appears to be a form of evil, I have no doubt. But what is it really?) The ascetic ideal, with its sublime moral cult,... has etched itself on the memory of mankind terribly and unforgettably. I can think of no development that has had a more pernicious effect upon the health of the race, and especially the European race, than this. It may be called, without exaggeration, the supreme disaster in the history of European man's health.


The ascetic ideal expresses a will: where do we find a contrary ideal expressing a contrary will? [...] [The ascetic ideal] orients epochs, nations, individuals inexorably toward that one goal, permitting no alternative interpretation or goal. It rejects, denies, affirms, confirms exclusively in terms of its own interpretation-- and has there ever been a system of interpretation more consistently reasoned out? It submits to no other power but believes in its absolute superiority, convinced that no power exists on earth but receives meaning and value from it... Where do we find the antithesis to this closed system? Why are we unable to find it?... People say to me that such a counter-ideal exists, that not only has it waged a long, successful battle against asceticism but to all intents and purposes triumphed over it. The whole body of modern scholarship is cited in support of this. [...] But such noisy propaganda talk quite fails to impress me. [...] The case is exactly the opposite of what is claimed here: scholarship today... represents not the opposite of the ascetic ideal but, in fact, its noblest and latest form.


No, let no one cite the scientist or scholar when I ask for the natural antagonist of the ascetic ideal... . [...] Learning and inquiry are far from antagonistic to the ascetic ideal; indeed we may say that this ideal is their motive force. Whenever they oppose it, their opposition is not really to the ideal itself but only to certain external aspects of it.... . [...] ...inquiry and the ascetic ideal have grown from the same soil... . [...] ...does anyone seriously believe that the defeat of, say, theological astronomy spelled the defeat of the ideal? [...] Has not man's determination to belittle himself developed apace precisely since Copernicus? Alas, his belief that he was unique and irreplaceable in the hierarchy of beings had been shattered for good: he had become an animal, quite literally and without reservations; he who, according to his earlier belief, had been almost God ("child of God," "God's own image"). Ever since Copernicus man has been rolling down an incline, faster and faster, away from the center-- whither? Into the void? Into the "piercing sense of his emptiness"? But has not this been precisely the most direct route to his old ideal? All science...is now determined to talk man out of his former respect for himself, as though that respect had been nothing but a bizarre presumption. We might even say that man's hard-won self-contempt has brought with it its own special brand of pride, an austere form of stoic ataraxia, his last and most serious claim to a sense of respect (for in disrespecting we show that we still maintain a sense of respect). Can this really be called opposition to the ascetic ideal? [...] ...does anybody now hold it against the agnostics, those admirers of mystery and the unknown, that they worship the question mark itself as their god?


...in all places where a strict, potent, scrupulous spirit is at work every trace of this ideal seems to have vanished-- the popular term for such abstinence is atheism-- except for its will to truth. Yet that will, this remnant of the ideal, is the strictest and most spiritual formulation of the ideal, absolutely esoteric, divested of all externals, and thus not so much its remnant as its core. Honest and intransigent atheism (and this is the only air which we more spiritual men of this age breathe!) is thus not opposed to asceticism, all appearances to the contrary, rather it is one of the last phases in the development of that ideal, one of its ultimate forms and inherent logical conclusions. It is the awe-inspiring catastrophe of a discipline in truth that has lasted for two millennia and which now forbids itself the lie entailed in the belief in God. (The same development has gone on in India, quite independently of our own, thus affording substantiating proof. There the identical ideal compelled the identical conclusion; the decisive point having already been reached five centuries before the Christian era, with Buddha... .)