Durant 1926: Decadence (Nietzsche)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter IX Section 7 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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VII. Decadence

Consequently, the road to the superman must lie through aristocracy. Democracy—“this mania for counting noses”—must be eradicated before it is too late. The first step here is the destruction of Christianity so far as all higher men are concerned. The triumph of Christ was the beginning of democracy; “the first Christian was in his deepest instincts a rebel against everything privileged; he lived and struggled unremittingly for ‘equal rights'”; in modern times he would have been sent to Siberia. “He that is greatest among you, let him be your servant”—this is the inversion of all political wisdom, of all sanity; indeed, as one reads the Gospel one feels the atmosphere of a Russian novel; they are a sort of plagiarism from Dostoevsky. Only among the lowly could such notions take root; and only in an age whose rulers had degenerated and ceased to rule. “When Nero and Caracalla sat on the throne, the paradox arose that the lowest man was worth more than the man on top.”

According to Nietzsche, aristocracy must be supported and democracy eradicated. The first step should be the destruction of Christianity that has spawned democracy in the first place.

As the conquest of Europe by Christianity was the end of ancient aristocracy, so the overrunning of Europe by Teutonic warrior barons brought a renewal of the old masculine virtues, and planted the roots of the modern aristocracies. These men were not burdened with “morals”: they “were free from every social restraint; in the innocence of their wild-beast conscience they returned as exultant monsters from a horrible train of murder, incendiarism, rapine, torture, with an arrogance and compromise as if nothing but a student’s freak had been perpetrated.” It was such men who supplied the ruling classes for Germany, Scandinavia, France, England, Italy, and Russia.

A herd of blond beasts of prey, a race of conquerors and masters, with military organization, with the power to organize, unscrupulously placing their fearful paws upon a population perhaps vastly superior in numbers, … this herd founded the State. The dream is dispelled which made the State begin with a contract. What has he to do with contracts who can command, who is master by nature, who comes on the scene with violence in deed and demeanour?

The aristocracy was established by the Teutonic race of conquerers and masters, who were not burdened with morals. They had masculine virtues and were free of social restraints.

This splendid ruling stock was corrupted, first by the Catholic laudation of feminine virtues, secondly by the Puritan and plebeian ideals of the Reformation, and thirdly by inter-marriage with inferior stock. Just as Catholicism was mellowing into the aristocratic and unmoral culture of the Renaissance, the Reformation crushed it with a revival of Judaic rigor and solemnity. “Does anybody at last understand, will anybody understand what the Renaissance was? The transvaluation of Christian values, the attempt undertaken with all means, all instincts and all genius to make the opposite values, the noble values triumph … I see before me a possibility perfectly magical in its charm and glorious coloring. … Caesar Borgia as Pope. … Do you understand me?”

This splendid ruling stock was corrupted, first by the Catholic laudation of feminine virtues, secondly by the Puritan and plebeian ideals of the Reformation, and thirdly by inter-marriage with inferior stock.

Protestantism and beer have dulled German wit; add, now, Wagnerian opera. As a result, “the present-day Prussian is one of the most dangerous enemies of culture.” “The presence of a German retards my digestion.” “If, as Gibbon says, nothing but time—though a long time—is required for a world to perish; so nothing but time—though still more time—is required for a false idea to be destroyed in Germany.” When Germany defeated Napoleon it was as disastrous to culture as when Luther defeated the Church; thenceforward Germany put away her Goethes, her Schopenhauers and her Beethovens, and began to worship “patriots”; “Deutschland uber Alles (Germany above everything)—I fear that was the end of German philosophy.” Yet there is a natural seriousness and depth in the Germans that gives ground for the hope that they may yet redeem Europe; they have more of the masculine virtues than the French or the English; they have perseverance, patience, industry—hence their scholarship, their science, and their military discipline; it is delightful to see how all Europe is worried about the German army. If the German power of organization could cooperate with the potential resources of Russia, in materials and in men, then would come the age of great politics. “We require an intergrowth of the German and Slav races; and we require, too, the cleverest financiers, the Jews, that we may become the masters of the world. … We require an unconditional union with Russia.” The alternative was encirclement and strangulation.

There is a natural seriousness and depth in the Germans that gives ground for the hope that they may yet redeem Europe. If the German power of organization could cooperate with the potential resources of Russia, in materials and in men, then would come the age of great politics.

The trouble with Germany is a certain stolidity of mind which pays for this solidity of character; Germany misses the long traditions of culture which have made the French the most refined and subtle of all the peoples of Europe. “I believe only in French culture, and I regard everything else in Europe which calls itself culture as a misunderstanding.” “When one reads Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, … Vauvenargues, and Chamfort, one is nearer to antiquity than with any group of authors in any other nation.” Voltaire is “a grand seigneur of the mind”; and Taine is “the first of living historians.” Even the later French writers Flaubert, Bourget, Anatole France, etc.—are infinitely beyond other Europeans in clarity of thought and language—“what clearness and delicate precision in these Frenchmen!” European nobility of taste, feeling and manners is the work of France. But of the old France, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the Revolution, by destroying the aristocracy, destroyed the vehicle and nursery of culture, and now the French soul is thin and pale in comparison with what it used to be. Nevertheless it has still some, fine qualities; “in France almost all psychological and artistic questions are considered with incomparably more subtlety and thoroughness than they are in Germany. … At the very moment when Germany arose as a great power in the world of politics, France won new importance in the world of culture.”

Germany misses the long traditions of culture which have made the French the most refined and subtle of all the peoples of Europe. At the very moment when Germany arose as a great power in the world of politics, France won new importance in the world of culture.

Russia is the blond beast of Europe. Its people have a “stubborn and resigned fatalism which gives them even nowadays the advantage over us Westerners.” Russia has a strong government, without “parliamentary imbecility.” Force of will has long been accumulating there, and now threatens to find release; it would not be surprising to find Russia becoming master of Europe. “A thinker who has at heart the future of Europe will in all his perspectives concerning the future calculate upon the Jews and the Russians as above all the surest and the likeliest factors in the great play and battle of forces.” But all in all it is the Italians who are the finest and most vigorous of existing peoples; the man-plant grows strongest in Italy, as Alfieri boasted. There is a manly bearing, an aristocratic pride in even the lowliest Italian; “a poor Venetian gondolier is always a better figure than a Berlin Geheimrath (Berlin Privy Councillor), and in the end, indeed, a better man.”

Force of will has long been accumulating in Russia, and now threatens to find release. The Italians are the finest and most vigorous of existing peoples in Europe.

Worst of all are the English; it is they who corrupted the French mind with the democratic delusion; “shop-keepers, Christians, cows, women, Englishmen, and other democrats belong together.” English utilitarianism and philistinism are the nadir of European culture. Only in a land of cut-throat competition could anyone conceive of life as a struggle for mere existence. Only in a land where shop-keepers and ship-keepers had multiplied to such a number as to overcome the aristocracy could democracy be fabricated; this is the gift, the Greek gift, which England has given the modern world. Who will rescue Europe from England, and England from democracy?

Worst of all are the English. They have corrupted the French mind with the democratic delusion. English utilitarianism and philistinism are the nadir of European culture. 

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