The intemperate genealogist

June 10, 2011

It’s not that I don’t appreciate Nietzsche; I admire his candour, and his constantly renewed assaults on spiritual complacency, and his determination to follow the truth wherever it leads (or seems to be leading — I do not forget that Nietzsche was fundamentally wrong), and, not least, his glorious rhetorical power. Reading him is almost always a bracing, eye-opening encounter.

Sometimes, however, reading him is more eyebrow-raising than eye-opening. Sometimes his rhetoric gets the better of him, and he says something so outrageously misanthropic that it rather spoils the effect. Last night I was making my way slowly through The Genealogy of Morals and I came across this, the opening paragraph of the third section of the book, titled “What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?” Nietzsche writes:

What is the meaning of ascetic ideals? In artists, nothing, or too much; in philosophers and scholars, a kind of “flair” and instinct for the conditions most favourable to advanced intellectualism; in women, at best an additional seductive fascination, a little morbidezza on a fine piece of flesh, the angelhood of a fat, pretty animal; in physiological failures and whiners (in the majority of mortals), an attempt to pose as “too good” for this world, a holy form of debauchery, their chief weapon in the battle with lingering pain and ennui; in priests, the actual priestly faith, their best engine of power, and also the supreme authority for power; in saints, finally a pretext for hibernation, their novissima gloriae cupido, their peace in nothingness (“God”), their form of madness.

I admit that I set the book down and laughed. Someone get the man a cold compress for his fevered brow.

7 Responses to “The intemperate genealogist”

  1. Janet Says:

    When my daughter and her college friends were bored, they used to take a volume of N. off the shelf and open it and read the first thing they saw. So, we were in the dining room one night and she pulled something by N. off the shelf, opened it and read, “Women aren’t deep; they aren’t even shallow.”

    O dear, I see they’ve changed the combox.


  2. cburrell Says:

    That’s a good story, Janet, and very apt. I have a funny feeling that I’ve heard it somewhere before. Yes, a very funny feeling.

    I am not aware of any other major philosopher whose misogyny is so forthright.

  3. Janet Says:

    That’s so funny. I looked for it on LODW, but when I didn’t see it, I thought I must not have written it before. Next time I’ll remember to look here.


  4. cburrell Says:

    That’s alright. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped in the middle of a story by someone telling me that I’ve told it before. In your case, at least, it was a pretty good story, which is rarely the case with me.

  5. cburrell Says:

    I am not very happy with the changes WordPress has made to the combox. At first I couldn’t figure out how to post my comment. Altogether too much clutter.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Alasdair MacIntyre’s “Three Rival Methods of Moral Inquiry – Encyclopaedia, Genealogy,Tradition” does the best job of placing and comparing the major contending world views for the more adventurous inquirer that I’ve ever benefited from. It’s only through MacIntyre that I’ve really come to understand why Neitzsche is such a side-show attraction at the carnival.

  7. cburrell Says:

    I haven’t read Three Rival Versions… (although I do have it somewhere) but, if I remember correctly, in After Virtue MacIntyre makes the claim that the only two viable (because internally consistent and comprehensive) options for moral philosophy are those of Aristotle and of Nietzsche. MacIntyre, of course, advocates Aristotle, and so in that sense Nietzsche is a sideshow, but by naming him as Aristotle’s ‘evil twin’ he would seem to be implicitly claiming that he’s an important, if horribly mistaken, figure.

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