Document: Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Twilight of the Idols" (1889)

Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, Complete Works, v. 16 (New York: Russell, 1964), pp. 45-6, 71-5, 88-92, 98-9.

Let me give you one example, quite provisionally. In all ages there have been people who wished to "improve" mankind: this above all is what was called morality. But the most different tendencies are concealed beneath the same word. Both the taming of the beast man, and the rearing of a particular type of man, have been called "improvement": these zoological termini, alone, represent real things -- real things of which the typical "improver," the priest, naturally knows nothing, and will know nothing. To call the taming of an animal "improving" it, sounds to our ears almost like a joke. He who knows what goes on in menageries, doubts very much whether an animal is improved in such places. It is certainly weakened, it is made less dangerous, and by means of the depressing influence of fear, pain, wounds, and hunger, it is converted into a sick animal. And the same holds good of the tamed man who the priest has "improved." In the early years of the Middle Ages, during which the Church was most distinctly and above all a menagerie, the most beautiful examples of the "blond beast" were hunted down in all directions, -- the noble Germans, for instance, were "improved." But what did this "improved" German, who had been lured to the monastery look like after the process? He looked like a caricature of man, like an abortion: he had become a "sinner," he was caged up, he had been imprisoned behind a host of appalling notions. He now lay there, sick, wretched, malevolent even toward himself: full of hate for the instincts of life, full of suspicion in regard to all that is still strong and happy. In short a "Christian." In physiological terms: in a fight with an animal, the only way of making it weak may be to make it sick. The Church understood this: it ruined man, it made him weak, -- but it laid claim to having "improved" him.

Anti-Darwin -- As to the famous "struggle for existence," it seems to me, for the present, to be more of an assumption than a fact. It does occur, but as an exception. The general condition of life is not one of want or famine, but rather of riches, of lavish luxuriance, and even of absurd prodigality, -- where there is a struggle, it is a struggle for power. We should not confound Malthus with nature. -- Supposing, however, that this struggle exists, -- and it does indeed occur, -- its result is unfortunately the very reverse of that which the Darwinian school seems to desire, and of that which in agreement with them we also might desire: that is to say, it is always to the advantage of the strong, the privileged, and the happy exceptions. Species do not evolve towards perfection: the weak always prevail over the strong -- simply because they are the majority, and because they are also more crafty. Darwin forgot the intellect (--that is English!), the weak have more intellect. In order to acquire intellect, one must be in need of it. One loses it when one no longer needs it. He who possesses strength flings intellect to the deuce. As you perceive, intellect to me means caution, patience, craft, dissimulation, great self-control, and everything related to mimicry (what is praised nowadays as virtue is very closely related to the latter).

The most intellectual men, provided they are also the most courageous, experience the most excruciating tragedies: but on that very account they honour life, because it confronts them with its most formidable antagonism.

Beautiful and Ugly: -- Nothing is more relative, let us say, more restricted, than our sense of the beautiful. He who would try to divorce it from the delight man finds in his fellows, would immediately lose his footing. "Beauty in itself," is simply a word, it is not even a concept. In the beautiful, man postulates himself as the standard of perfection; in exceptional cases he worships himself as that standard. A species has no other alternative than to say "yea" to itself alone, in this way. Its lowest instinct, the instinct of self-preservation and self-expansion, still radiates in such sublimities. Man imagines the world itself to be overflowing with beauty, -- he forgets that he is the cause of it all. He alone has endowed it with beauty. Alas! and only with human all-too-human beauty! Truth to tell man reflects himself in things, he thinks everything beautiful that throws his own image back at him. The judgement "beautiful" is the "vanity of his species.". . . A little demon of suspicion may well whisper into the skeptic's ear: is the world really beautified simply because man thinks it beautiful? He has only humanized it -- that is all. But nothing, absolutely nothing proves to us that it is precisely man who is the proper model of beauty.

A moral for doctors. -- The sick man is a parasite of society. In certain cases it is indecent to go on living. To continue to vegetate in a state of cowardly dependence upon doctors and special treatments, once the meaning of life, the right to life, has been lost, ought to be regarded with the greatest contempt by society. The doctors, for their part, should be the agents for imparting this contempt, -- they should no longer prepare prescriptions, but should every day administer a fresh dose of disgust to their patients. A new responsibility should be created, that of the doctor -- the responsibility of ruthlessly suppressing and eliminating degenerate life, of ascending life, demand such a course -- for instance in favour of the right of procreation, in favour of the right of being born, in favour of the right to live. One should die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Death should be chosen freely, -- death at the right time, faced clearly and joyfully and embraced while one is surrounded by one's children and other witnesses. It should be affected in such a way that a proper farewell is still possible, that he who is about to take leave of us is still himself, and really capable not only of valuing what he has achieved and willed in life, but also of summing-up the value of life itself. Everything precisely the opposite of the ghastly comedy which Christianity has made of the hour of death. We should never forgive Christianity for having so abused the weakness of the dying man as to do violence to his conscience, or for having used his manner of dying as a means of valuing both man and his past! In reply, I venture to raise the following question: have we really become more moral? The fact that everybody believes that we have is already and objection to the belief. We modern men, so extremely delicate and susceptible, full of consideration one for the other, actually dare to suppose that the pampering fellow-feeling which we all display, this unanimity which we have at last aquired in sparing and helping and trusting one another marks a definite step forward, and shows us to be far ahead of the man of the Renaissance. But every age thinks the same, it is bound to think the same. This at least is certain, that we should not dare to stand amid the conditions which prevailed at the Renaissance, we should not even dare to imagine ourselves in those conditions: our nerves could not endure that reality, not to speak of our muscles. The inability to do this however does not denote any progress; but simply the different and more senile quality of our particular nature, its greater weakness, delicateness and susceptibility, out of which a morality more rich in consideration was bound to arise. If we imagine our delicateness and senility, our physiological decrepitude as non-existent, our morality of "humanization" would immediately lose all value -- no morality has any value per se -- it would even fill us with scorn. We are indeed, without knowing it, exceedingly ridiculous with our modern "virtues."

The question of the Working-man. -- The mere fact that there is such a thing as the question of the working-man is due to stupidity, or at bottom to degenerate instincts which are the cause of all stupidity of modern times. Concerning certain things no questions ought to be put: the first imperative principle of instinct. For the life of me I cannot see what people want to do with the working-man of Europe, now that they have made a question of him. He is far too comfortable to cease from questioning ever more and more, and with ever less modesty. After all, he has the majority on his side. The working-man has been declared fit for military service; he has been granted the right of combination, and of voting: can it be wondered at that he already regards his condition as one of distress (expressed morally, as an injustice)? But, again I ask, what do people want? If they desire a certain end, then they should desire the means thereto. If they will have slaves, then its is madness to educate them to be master.