Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für freie Geister

Pandora brought the jar with the evils and opened it. It was the gods’ gift to man, on the outside a beautiful, enticing gift, called the ‘lucky jar.’ Then all the evils, those lively, winged beings, flew out of it. Since that time, they roam around and do harm to men by day and night. One single evil had not yet slipped out of the jar. As Zeus had wished, Pandora slammed the top down and it remained inside. So now man has the lucky jar in his house forever and thinks the world of the treasure. It is at his service; he reaches for it when he fancies it. For he does not know that that jar which Pandora brought was the jar of evils, and he takes the remaining evil for the greatest worldly good – it is hope, for Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.

Ooooh, I thought to myself, Nietzsche’s got a work of aphorisms. I love aphorisms! They are so readable and so quotable and so easy to do superficial violence to if I disagree with them! And, indeed, I found Human, all too Human a much less painful read than Thus Spoke Zarathustrathough the ideas presented in the latter are, for the most part, just more developed versions of those presented in the former. Though aphorisms often lend themselves to more accessible reading, they are frequently dense and mostly stated without much support. This is the case in Human, all too Human; moreover, there is a distracting lack of unity within the ideas presented. The work suffers, in part, due to it all only loosely hanging together as a coherent piece of work – it is certainly not a rigorously researched (in a scholarly sense) and elegantly designed project.

There is not much that is different from the general sentiments of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Those ideas which we find Nietzsche sometimes obscurely propounding with Zarathustra as his voice we find in their embryonic stages in Human, all too Human (the earlier of the two works). Quite specifically, we see the character of ‘the free spirit’ in this earlier work as the adolescent form that will become Zarathustra; an abstract ‘character’ that we would probably not be wrong to view as a reflection of Nietzsche himself. The destruction of metaphysics is certainly more explicit, if not more extensive, in this earlier work; his attack on morality remains as does his general pessimism (a label he would not eagerly accept) and disdain regarding his fellow man. The will to power and the Übermensch are not clearly visible. Nietzsche’s admiration of the Greeks, though not so flamboyant as in Birth of Tragedy, remains apparent. A large chunk (Man in Society, Woman and Child) of Human, all too Human, is concerned with a kind of psychological analysis of man and his emotions, his moral feelings – it was almost reminiscent of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentimentsand just as misdirected in its sweeping  generalizations and stereotypes. I still fail to understand why some philosophers find generalized behavioral and psychological profiles about specific emotions useful; particularly when these profiles reflect little from outside the perspective of the upper-class white man in a Western society. In any case, I will mostly ignore this theme and these particular aphorisms in this brief consideration of the work1. (I hope we can all acknowledge the detriment to every philosophical work when there is an extended discussion of the inferiority, shallowness and/or general wickedness of women. Thankfully Spinoza died before finishing his anti-femme musings. Studying the history of philosophy is a little like studying a history of the world’s worst lovers. Not you, though, Kierkegaard. Never you.)

“All we need, something which can be given to us only now, with the various sciences at their present level of achievement, is a chemistry of moral, religious, aesthetic ideas and feelings, a chemistry of all those impulses that we ourselves experience in the great and small interactions of culture and society, indeed even in solitude.” This is indeed what Nietzsche attempts to do, at least to some extent, in Human all too Human. His admiration for the sciences is clear, as he takes direct aim at metaphysics. The language he uses to disparage metaphysics is uncannily similar to the language he uses in TSZ to disparage being human, or rather, the obstacle of having human-ness that must be overcome:  “We can understand how strong the metaphysical need is, and how even nature in the end makes it hard to leave it, from the way, even in a free spirit who has rid himself of everything metaphysical, the highest effects of art easily produce a reverberation of a long-silenced, or even broken metaphysical string.”

Philosophy is here to help us transcend religion – so long as we keep the metaphysics out of it: “But in the end, one ought to understand that the needs which religion has satisfied, which philosophy is now to satisfy, are not unchangeable: these needs themselves can be weakened and rooted out … A philosophy can be useful either by satisfying those needs or by eliminating them; for they are acquired needs, temporally limited, based on assumptions that contradict those of science.” Nietzsche would have us uncover his brand of egoist-nihilism-seasoned-with-pessimism through our philosophical erudition; humans would no longer need religion, which gives us false comfort of eternal life (now we have the eternal return!), a structured moral code or law-table (new code: do what makes you happy), and meaning (the Superman). Philosophy will lead us to forsake Christ and Moses and Muhammad for the wise man. This we find more fully developed in TSZ.

Nietzsche’s total disdain for metaphysics has been the most shocking thing for me to uncover since I began to read him. He treats metaphysics as if it were a a substitute for religion in the life of the rational mind. “Metaphysics explains nature’s scriptures as if pneumatically, the way the church and its scholars used to explain the Bible.” As someone who finds ethics (and politics) not grounded in metaphysics problematic and unfulfilling, and any philosophy that dismisses metaphysics as useless2 completely misguided, it is hard to take seriously the other matters discussed, which I consider emerging from it. Though stripping it of all importance, Nietzsche quite condescendingly explains what man takes from the metaphysical endeavor: “Too feel less responsible, and at the same time to find things more interesting: that is the twofold benefit which he owes to metaphysics.”

Speaking of condescending, Nietzsche doesn’t have a rosy view of his predecessors in the philosophical tradition (though the biggest target in this work is Wagner, referred to quite coolly as ‘the artist’): “Until now, there has been no philosopher in whose hands philosophy has not become an apology for knowledge.” It is not clear to me why Nietzsche holds this view; but it is clear that knowledge, as it is in TSZ, is crucial, even more so than happiness. Men, he writes, were not made for happy eras, but for happy moments. Deep thought, the pursuit of knowledge, especially in the way of the sciences, is a higher calling than other human fancies. But even those who think deeply are often mistaken, and of course no excuse to jab metaphysics can be passed up: “But the deep thought can nevertheless be very far from the truth, as is, for example every metaphysical thought.”

Just as reminder, in case anyone has forgotten, Nietzsche really isn’t a fan of humans; at least, he doesn’t think they are very good or benevolent in an innate sense: “It is to be doubted whether a well-traveled man has found anywhere in the world regions more ugly than in the human face.” Once, in India, I was taking a tuk-tuk from the outskirts of Bangalore to the inner-city school where rescued child laborers live and are educated. Along the way, on one of the narrow, dirt roads with barely enough room for two tuk-tuks but still managing to lure buses and trucks and taxis, careening with deathly speed and only half on the dirt road itself, I encountered what can only be described as the sulfuric scent and scene of Satan’s asshole. We passed not two feet from a giant pile of burning trash and plastic, immediately followed by a burning heap of cow shit and unidentifiable animal (I hope) carcasses, and all that was between us was the eerie, pale bluish water that runs alongside most Indian roads, filled with chemicals and piss and feces of man and animal alike. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a human quite that revolting – at least not personally, and certainly not by the face alone. Then again, I am not a ‘well-traveled man.’

Goodness and intelligence are mutually exclusive, so that the wise man and Christ are diametrically opposed: “The highest intelligence and the warmest heart cannot coexist in one person, and a wise man who passes judgment on life also places himself above kindness, considering it only as something to be evaluated along with everything else in the sum of life. The wise man must oppose the extravagant wishes of unintelligent kindness, because he cares about the survival of his type, and the eventual genesis of the highest intellect … Christ, on the other hand, whom we like to imagine as having the warmest of hearts, furthered men’s stupidity, took the side of the intellectually weak, and kept the greatest intellect from being produced: and this was consistent.” See the groundwork for the Übermensch? Religion makes sheep of men, who might be sheep no matter what we do.

Ever the sympathetic soul, Nietzsche explains why Xerxes was not wicked to cut a man’s son to pieces as punishment for the father’s expression of anxiety and distrust in the leader’s campaign: “The injustice of the mighty, which enrages us most in history, is by no means as great as it appears … in this case the individual man is eliminated like an unpleasant insect; he stands too low to be allowed to keep on arousing bothersome feelings in a world ruler. Indeed, no cruel man is cruel to the extent that the mistreated man believes.” So speaks the white man, so it is.

Perhaps the most interesting section of Human, all too Human is Nietzsche’s discussion of the state. Indeed, he pulls out my dear friend Spinoza: “The right originally extends as far as the one appears to the other to be valuable, essential, permanent, invincible, and the like. In this regard even the weaker of the two has rights, though they are more modest. Thus the famous dictum: ‘unusquisque tantum juris habet, quantum potentia valet‘ (or, more exactly, ‘quantum potentia valere creditur‘).” Although he is quoting Spinoza here, I suspect quoting Hobbes would have been more appropriate; I prefer to think Spinoza would have been somewhat repulsed by Nietzsche’s philosophy, at least as I read it. For example, in his discussion of the state, Nietzsche quotes Voltaire: “Quand la populace se mêle de raisonner, tout est perdu” – (once the populace begins to reason, all is lost). Such a thing is hardly Spinozistic, by my interpretation Spinozism, that is. A crucial aspect of Spinoza’s philosophy involves men acting rationally; the perfect society is one where all men always act from reason – and, acknowledging this is impossible, Spinoza strives to present a system in which even those people who cannot or are not inclined to act from reason will at least act as if they were living by the dictates of reason. And indeed, Nietzsche’s view of the state hardly seems aligned with anything presented by Spinoza, either in word or in spirit3.

“The state is a clever institution for protecting individuals from one another; if one goes too far in ennobling it, the individual is ultimately weakened by it, even dissolved – and thus the original purpose of the state is most thoroughly thwarted.”  It is clear he is no fan of socialism4 or of an ‘intrusive’ state in general; additionally, he abhors rebels and anarchists who seek to overthrow all order, that the innate goodness of humanity would erect its own temple, believing them echoes of Rousseau’s superstition: “An overthrow can well be a source of energy in an exhausted human race, but it can never be an organizer, architect, artist, perfecter of the human character.” He speaks more favorably of democracy: “Neglect, decline, and death of the state, the unleashing of the private person (I am careful not to say ‘of the individual’) – this is the result of the democratic concept of the state, this is its mission.” The democratic state, then, would be the vessel of society from which the Übermensch seems most likely to arise from. Democracy allows for a separation: “Today as always, men fall into two groups: slaves and free men. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.”

There are some other things I take issue with, like Nietzsche’s half-assed, indirect, and petty attempts to make Darwin’s theory look foolish, and his ravaging of the concept of genius and of ‘the artist’ – this book marks the end of Wagner’s important and formative role in Nietzsche’s life – but I will refrain from doing so (this post is quite long enough, and I have some Marx to read!). I want to conclude, abruptly, by saying I think Human, all too Human, is a clearer way to introduce oneself to Nietzsche; if I were teaching an introductory class on him, I would take selections of this work before I resorted to TSZ.

Do you think this kind of life with this kind of goal is too arduous, too bereft of all comforts? Then you have not yet learned that no honey is sweeter than that of knowledge, and that the hanging clouds of sadness must serve you as an udder, from which you will squeeze the milk to refresh yourself … The same life that comes to a peak in old age also comes to a peak in wisdom, in that gentle sunshine of continual spiritual joyfulness … Towards the light – your last movement; a joyful shout of knowledge – your last sound.

I doubt anyone wants to read an exposition of silly aphorisms like: “One will seldom go wrong to attribute extreme actions to vanity, moderate ones to habit, and petty ones to fear.”

“No matter how well proven the existence of such a world might be, it would still hold true that the knowledge of it would be the most inconsequential of all knowledge, even more inconsequential than the knowledge of the chemical analysis of water must be to the boatman facing a storm.”

He does, however, bring up Spinoza a few more times. One example: “All great men were great workers, untiring not only in invention but also in rejecting, sifting, reforming, arranging … The learned genius, like Kepler and Spinoza, is usually not so desirous, and raises no such fuss about his really greater sorrows and privations.”

“Socialism can serve as a rather brutal and forceful way to teach the danger of all accumulations of state power, and to that extent instill one with distrust of the state itself. When its rough voice chimes in with the battle cry ‘As much state as possible,’ it will at first make the cry noisier than ever; but soon the opposite cry will be heard with strength the greater: ‘As little state as possible.'”

I read the Faber/Lehmann translation with few references to the original German.

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