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.