Durant 1926: The Lineage of Nietzsche

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter IX Section 1 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The  contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.

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I. The Lineage of Nietzsche

Nietzsche was the child of Darwin and the brother of Bismarck. 

It does not matter that he ridiculed the English evolutionists and the German nationalists: he was accustomed to denounce those who had most influenced him; it was his unconscious way of covering up his debts. 

The ethical philosophy of Spencer was not the most natural corollary of the theory of evolution. If life is a struggle for existence in which the fittest survive, then strength is the ultimate virtue, and weakness the only fault. Good is that which survives, which wins; bad is that which gives way and fails. Only the mid-Victorian cowardice of the English Darwinians, and the bourgeois respectability of French positivists and German socialists, could conceal the inevitableness of this conclusion. These men were brave enough to reject Christian theology, but they did not dare to be logical, to reject the moral ideas, the worship of meekness and gentleness and altruism, which had grown out of that theology. They ceased to be Anglicans, or Catholics, or Lutherans; but they did not dare cease to be Christians.—So argued Friedrich Nietzsche. 

“The secret stimulus of the French free-thinkers from Voltaire to August Comte was not to remain behind the Christian ideal, … but to outbid it if possible. Comte, with his ‘Live for others,’ out-Christianizes Christianity. In Germany it was Schopenhauer, and in England John Stuart Mill, who gave the greatest fame to the theory of sympathetic affections, of pity, and of usefulness to others as the principle of action. … All the systems of socialism placed themselves unwittingly … upon the common ground of these doctrines.”

The ethical philosophy of Spencer was not the most natural corollary of the theory of evolution. If life is a struggle for existence in which the fittest survive, then strength is the ultimate virtue, and weakness the only fault.

Darwin unconsciously completed the work of the Encyclopedists: they had removed the theological basis of modern morals, but they had left that morality itself untouched and inviolate, hanging miraculously in the air; a little breath of biology was all that was needed to clear away this remnant of imposture. Men who could think clearly soon perceived what the profoundest minds of every age had known: that in this battle we call life, what we need is not goodness but strength, not humility but pride, not altruism but resolute intelligence; that equality and democracy are against the grain of selection and survival; that not masses but geniuses are the goal of evolution; that not “justice” but power is the arbiter of all differences and all destinies.—So it seemed to Friedrich Nietzsche. 

In this battle we call life, what we need is not goodness but strength, not humility but pride, not altruism but resolute intelligence.

Now if all this were true, nothing could be more magnificent or significant than Bismarck. Here was a man who knew the realities of life, who said bluntly that “there is no altruism among nations,” and that modern issues are to be decided not by votes and rhetoric, but by blood and iron. What a cleansing whirlwind he was for a Europe rotten with delusions and democracy and “ideals”! In a few brief months he had brought decadent Austria to accept his leadership; in a few brief months he had humbled a France drunk with the legend of Napoleon; and in those brief months had he not also forced all those little German “states,” all those petty potentates, principalities and powers to fuse themselves into a mighty empire, the very symbol of the new morality of strength? The growing military and industrial vigor of this new Germany needed a voice; the arbitrament of war needed a philosophy to justify it. Christianity would not justify it, but Darwinism could. Given a little audacity, and the thing could be done. 

Bismarck demonstrated this sentiment in practice. The growing military and industrial vigor of this new Germany needed a voice; the arbitrament of war needed a philosophy to justify it. 

Nietzsche had the audacity, and became the voice.

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