Durant 1926: Aristocracy (Nietzsche)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter IX Section 8 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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VIII. Aristocracy

Democracy means drift; it means permission given to each part of an organism to do just what it pleases; it means the lapse of coherence and interdependence, the enthronement of liberty and chaos. It means the worship of mediocrity, and the hatred of excellence. It means the impossibility of great men—how could great men submit to the indignities and indecencies of an election? What chance would they have? “What is hated by the people, as a wolf by the dogs, is the free spirit, the enemy of all fetters, the not-adorer,” the man who is not a “regular party-member.” How can the superman arise in such a soil? And how can a nation become great when its greatest men lie unused, discouraged, perhaps unknown? Such a society loses character; imitation is horizontal instead of vertical—not the superior man but the majority man becomes the ideal and the model; everybody comes to resemble everybody else; even the sexes approximate—the men become women and the women become men.

Democracy worships the  mediocrity, and the hatred of excellence. Such a society loses character. How can the superman arise in such a soil? And how can a nation become great when its greatest men lie unused, discouraged, perhaps unknown?

Feminism, then, is the natural corollary of democracy and Christianity. “Here is little of man; therefore women try to make themselves manly. For only he who is enough of a man will save the woman in woman.” Ibsen, “that typical old maid,” created the “emancipated woman.” ”Woman was created out of man’s rib?—‘wonderful is the poverty of my ribs!’ says man.” Woman has lost power and prestige by her “emancipation”; where have women now the position they enjoyed under the Bourbons? Equality between man and woman is impossible, because war between them is eternal; there is here no peace without victory—peace comes only when one or the other is acknowledged master. It is dangerous to try equality with a woman; she will not be content with that; she will be rather content with subordination if the man is a man. Above all, her perfection and happiness lie in motherhood. “Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one answer: its name is child-bearing.” “Man is for woman a means; the end is always the child. But what is woman for man? … A dangerous toy.” “Man shall be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior; everything else is folly.” Yet “the perfect woman is a higher type of humanity than the perfect man, and also something much rarer. … One cannot be gentle enough towards women.”

Feminism, then, is the natural corollary of democracy and Christianity. Woman has lost power and prestige by her “emancipation”. She will be rather content with subordination if the man is a man. Man is for woman a means; the end is always the child.

Part of the tension of marriage lies in its fulfillment of the woman and its narrowing and emptying of the man. When a man woos a woman he offers to give all the world for her; and when she marries him he does; he must forget the world as soon as the child comes; the altruism of love becomes the egoism of the family. Honesty and innovation are luxuries of celibacy. ”Where the highest philosophical thinking is concerned, all married men are suspect. … It seems to me absurd that one who has chosen for his sphere the assessment of existence as a whole should burden himself with the cares of a family, with winning bread, security, and social position for wife and children.” Many a philosopher has died when his child was born. “The wind blew through my key hole, saying, ‘Come!’ My door cunningly opened of itself, saying, ‘Go!’ But I lay fettered by my love unto my children.”

Part of the tension of marriage lies in its fulfillment of the woman and its narrowing and emptying of the man. Many a philosopher has died when his child was born.

With feminism come socialism and anarchism; all of them are of the litter of democracy; if equal political power is just, why not equal economic power? Why should there be leaders anywhere?. There are socialists who will admire the book of Zarathustra; but their admiration is not wanted. “There are some that preach my doctrine of life but at the same time are preachers of equality. … I do not wish to be confounded with these preachers of equality. For within me justice saith, ‘Men are not equal.'” “We wish to possess nothing in common.” “Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-insanity of impotence thus crieth out of yourselves for equality.” Nature abhors equality, it loves differentiation of individuals and classes and species. Socialism is anti-biological: the process of evolution involves the utilization of the inferior species, race, class, or individual by the superior; all life is exploitation, and subsists ultimately on other life; big fishes catch little fishes and eat them, and that is the whole story. Socialism is envy: “they want something which we have.” * It is however, an easily managed movement; all that is necessary to control it is to open occasionally the trap-door between masters and slaves and let the leaders of discontent come up into paradise. It is not the leaders that must be feared, but those lower down, who think that by a revolution they can escape the subordination which is the natural result of their incompetence and sloth. Yet the slave is noble only when he revolts.

* (which predicts a revolution “compared with which the Paris Commune … will seem to have been but a slight indigestion”); Nietzsche, when he wrote these aristocratic passages, was living in a dingy attic on $1000 a year, most of which went into the publication of his books.

With feminism come socialism and anarchism. It is such impotence that cries out for equality. Men are not equal. All life is exploitation, and subsists ultimately on other life. Subordination is the natural result of incompetence and sloth.

In any case the slave is nobler than his modern masters—the bourgeoisie. It is a sign of the inferiority of nineteenth century culture that the man of money should be the object of so much worship and envy. But these business men too are slaves, puppets of routine, victims of busy-ness; they have no time for new ideas; thinking is taboo among them, and the joys of the intellect are beyond their reach. Hence their restless and perpetual search for “happiness,” their great houses which are never homes, their vulgar luxury without taste, their picture-galleries of “originals,” with cost attached, their sensual amusements that dull rather than refresh or stimulate the mind. “Look at these superfluous! They acquire riches and become poorer thereby”; they accept all the restraints of aristocracy without its compensating access to the kingdom of the mind. “See how they climb, these swift apes! They climb over one another, and thus drag themselves into the mud and depths. … The stench of shop-keepers, the wriggling of ambition, the evil breath.” There is no use in such men having wealth, for they cannot give it dignity by noble use, by the discriminating patronage of letters or the arts. “Only a man of intellect should hold property”; others think of property as an end in itself, and pursue it more and more recklessly,—look at “the present madness of nations, which desire above all to produce as much as possible, and to be as rich as possible.” At last man becomes a bird of prey: “they live in ambush for one another; they obtain things from each other by lying in wait. That is called by them good neighborliness. …They seek the smallest profits out of every sort of rubbish.” “To-day, mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement on piratical morality—buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest.” And these men cry out for laissez-faire, to be let alone,—these very men who most need supervision and control. Perhaps even some degree of socialism, dangerous as that is, would be justified here: “We should take all the branches of transport and trade which favor the accumulation of large fortunes—especially therefore the money market—out of the hands of private persons or private companies, and look upon those who own too much, just as upon those who own nothing, as types fraught with danger to the community.” 

It is a sign of the inferiority of nineteenth century culture that the man of money should be the object of so much worship and envy. They are slaves to their routine and have no time for new ideas. They accept all the restraints of aristocracy without its compensating access to the kingdom of the mind. We should look upon those who own too much, just as upon those who own nothing, as types fraught with danger to the community.

Higher than the bourgeois, and lower than the aristocrat, is the soldier. A general who uses up soldiers on the battlefield, where they have the pleasure of dying under the anesthesia of glory, is far nobler than the employer who uses up men in his profit-machine; observe with what relief men leave their factories for the field of slaughter. Napoleon was not a butcher but a benefactor; he gave men death with military honors instead of death by economic attrition; people flocked to his lethal standard because they preferred the risks of battle to the unbearable monotony of making another million collar-buttons. “It is to Napoleon that the honor shall one day be given of having made for a time a world in which the man, the warrior, outweighed the tradesman and the Philistine.” War is an admirable remedy for peoples that are growing weak and comfortable and contemptible; it excites instincts that rot away in peace. War and universal military service are the necessary antidotes to democratic effeminacy. “When the instincts of a society ultimately make it give up war and conquest, it is decadent; it is ripe for democracy and the rule of shop-keepers.” Yet the causes of modern war are anything but noble; dynastic and religious wars were a little finer than settling trade disputes with guns. ”Within fifty years these Babel governments” (the democracies of Europe) “will clash in a gigantic war for the markets of the world.” * But perhaps out of that madness will come the unification of Europe;—an end for which even a trade-war would not be too great a price to pay. For only out of a unified Europe can come that higher aristocracy by which Europe may be redeemed.

* this prediction was written in 1887.

War is an admirable remedy for peoples that are growing weak and comfortable and contemptible; it excites instincts that rot away in peace. War and universal military service are the necessary antidotes to democratic effeminacy. 

The problem of politics is to prevent the business man from ruling. For such a man has the short sight and narrow grasp of a politician, not the long view and wide range of the born aristocrat trained to statesmanship. The finer man has a divine right to rule—i. e., the right of superior ability. The simple man has his place, but it is not on the throne. In his place the simple man is happy, and his virtues are as necessary to society as those of the leader; “it would be absolutely unworthy a deeper mind to consider mediocrity in itself as an objection.” Industriousness, thrift, regularity, moderation, strong conviction,—with such virtues the mediocre man becomes perfect, but perfect only as an instrument. “A high civilization is a pyramid; it can stand only upon a broad base; its prerequisite is a strongly and soundly consolidated mediocrity.” Always and everywhere, some will be leaders and some followers; the majority will be compelled, and will be happy, to work under the intellectual direction of higher men.

The problem of politics is to prevent the business man from ruling. For such a man has the short sight and narrow grasp of a politician, not the long view and wide range of the born aristocrat trained to statesmanship.

Wherever I found living things, there also I heard the speech of obedience. All living things are things that obey. And this is the second: he is commanded who cannot obey his own self. This is the way of living things. But this is the third I heard: to command is more difficult than to obey. And not only that the commander beareth the burden of all who obey, and that this burden easily crusheth him:— an effort and a jeopardy appeared unto me to be contained in all commanding; and whenever living things command they risk themselves.

He is commanded who cannot obey his own self. This is the way of living things.

The ideal society, then, would be divided into three classes. producers (farmers, proletaires and business men), officials (soldiers and functionaries), and rulers. The latter would rule, but they would not officiate in government; the actual work of government is a menial task. The rulers will be philosopher-statesmen rather than office-holders. Their power will rest on the control of credit and the army; but they themselves ,will live more like soldiers than like financiers. They will be Plato’s guardians again; Plato was right philosophers are the highest men. They will be men of refinement as well as of courage and strength; scholars and generals in one. They will be united by courtesy and corps d’esprit: “These men are kept rigorously within bounds by morality, veneration, custom, gratitude, still more by reciprocal surveillance, by jealousy inter pares; and on the other hand, in their attitude towards one another they will be inventive in consideration, self-command, delicacy, pride, and friendship.” 

The ideal society, then, would be divided into three classes: producers, officials and rulers. The latter would rule, but they would not officiate in government. They will be philosopher-statesmen. Their power will rest on the control of credit and the army. They will be men of refinement as well as of courage and strength; scholars and generals in one. 

Will this aristocracy be a caste, and their power hereditary? For the most part yes, with occasional openings to let in new blood. But nothing can so contaminate and weaken an aristocracy as marrying rich vulgarians, after the habit of the English aristocracy; it was such intermarriage that ruined the greatest governing body the world has ever seen—the aristocratic Roman senate. There is no “accident of birth”; every birth is the verdict of nature upon a marriage; and the perfect man comes only after generations of selection and preparation; “a man’s ancestors have paid the price of what he is.”

There is no “accident of birth”; every birth is the verdict of nature upon a marriage; and the perfect man comes only after generations of selection and preparation.

Does this offend too much our long democratic ears? But “those races that cannot bear this philosophy are doomed; and those that regard it as the greatest blessing are destined to be the masters of the world.” Only such an aristocracy can have the vision and the courage to make Europe a nation, to end this bovine nationalism, this petty Vaterlanderei (fatherlandism). Let us be “good Europeans,” as Napoleon was, and Goethe, and Beethoven, and Schopenhauer, and Stendhal, and Heine. Too long we have been fragments, shattered pieces of what might be a whole. How can a great culture grow in this air of patriotic prejudice and narrowing provincialism? The time for petty politics is past; the compulsion to great politics has come. When will the new race appear, and the new leaders? When will Europe be born?

Have ye not heard anything of my children? Speak to me of my garden, my Happy Isles, my new beautiful race. For their sake I am rich, for their sake I became poor. … What have I not surrendered? What would I not surrender that I might have one thing: those children, that living plantation, those life-trees of my highest will and my highest hope?

Only such an aristocracy can have the vision and the courage to make Europe a nation. Too long we have been fragments, shattered pieces of what might be a whole. 

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