Athens and Jerusalem \  Part II  \ In the Bull of Phalaris


     Just as did Nietzsche, Luther discovered with horror that where Socrates and Spinoza had found the supreme and only possible consolation there opened up the abyss of eternal death. Luther writes: Deus est...creator omnipotens ex nihilo faciens omnia... "God is...the almighty creator who makes everything out of nothing... But that most noxious pest, the illusion of righteousness - which does not wish to be sinful, impure, miserable and damned but rather righteous and holy - does not allow him to come to this, his natural and proper work. Therefore God must use this hammer, namely, the law, in order that he may break, crush, grind down and completely destroy this monster with its self-confidence, its wisdom, its righteousness, its power, etc..." As if he were replying to Luther across the centuries, Nietzsche cries with an almost demented passion: "In man creature and creator are united: in man there is matter, shred, excess, clay, mire, folly, chaos; but there is also the creator, the sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divinity of the spectator, and the seventh day : - do you understand this contrast? And that your sympathy for the "creature in man" applies to that which has to be fashioned, broken, forged, stretched, roasted, annealed, refined - to that which must necessarily suffer and is meant to suffer?" [1]

     These lines are basically only a repetition of Luther's words; the expressions, the tone, even the thought are identical. But Luther had heard them from the prophets. All that the prophets say is animated by a single desire, permeated by a single thought: Deus est creator omnipotens (in Nietzsche - "Will to Power"). And it is to Him, the creator omnipotens, that both Luther and Nietzsche rush headlong, smashing without regret all obstacles in their way. Luther says: frangere, contundere, prorsus ad nihil redigere (to break, to crush, completely to destroy); Nietzsche in no way yields to him in this respect - he also tears, breaks, burns, completely destroys precisely that to which men hold fast above all, that which they esteem and love more than all, that which they worship. On the altars erected by Socrates and Spinoza, Luther and Nietzsche see that bellua nocentissima qua non occisa homo non potest vivere (most noxious monster without whose killing man cannot live). But how did it happen that Luther and Nietzsche saw a monster where the wisest of men, a righteous and saintly man, saw and worshipped a divinity? How could Socrates' summum bonum, his "knowledge," which was for him the source of his saintliness, be changed in Luther's eyes into the "illusion of righteousness," into sin, corruption, death? We must not deceive ourselves: the thunderbolts of Luther and Nietzsche are directed against the god of Socrates and of Spinoza. Luther constantly curses both Socrates' good and his truth, while Spinoza was convinced, let us remember, that he who has offended reason would no longer have the right to pray and that all altars would be forbidden to him. It will be said that the Deus omnipotens ex nihilo faciens omnia still existed for Luther, while Nietzsche had denied God. That is so - and it is here that we touch upon the most difficult of problems.

     I have said that Luther's Creator omnipotens was transformed by Nietzsche into the "Will to Power," which he set in opposition to the Socratic "good." Socrates' ethics was the doctrine of a fallen man concerning the ways to salvation; but a fallen man - Scripture tells us and Nietzsche also suggests to us - is a man condemned to a punishment whose horror surpasses the cruelest imagination: from res cogitans (a thinking thing) he is transformed into asinus turpissimus (a most infamous ass) and dies of hunger between two bales of hay, since his will is paralyzed and he is incapable of moving on his own initiative any of his limbs or making the slightest motion. Perhaps he remembers at times that there exists or existed somewhere a Macht capable of breaking the spell. But he cannot turn toward it; he "aspires eagerly" to knowledge, to universal and necessary truths. The "knowledge" on which he counts or, rather, on which he is forced to count, is, however, of no help to him; not only does it not dissipate the spell, it causes it.

     Socrates was a fallen man, Spinoza was a fallen man - but Nietzsche also, like all of us, is descended from Adam. When, in Engadine, at an elevation of six thousand feet, he had that sudden illumination that he later called the idea of the "Eternal Return," he submitted his "revelation," as each of us would have done in his place, to the judgment of reason. He wished to prove it, establish its truth, transform it into knowledge. And it was to the same tribunal that he submitted his "transvaluation of all values," his "Will to Power," his "beyond good and evil" and even his "morality of masters." And, of course, after reason had pronounced its judgment and the verification had been completed, Nietzsche returned with empty hands; only the Socratic-Spinozist "virtue" was left to him. For even Moses himself could speak face to face with God only as long as he held to the heights of Sinai; as soon as he descended into the valley the truth that had been revealed to him was transformed into law. "To see the creator and the master of the universe is difficult, but to show him to others is impossible," says Plato. It is doubtless because of this that Nietzsche has told us almost nothing of the idea of the "Eternal Return" which, by his own confession, he felt himself called to reveal to the world; and what he does tell of it shows only that it was not given to him to bring such a thing to men. What he offered them is something completely different from it, something - indeed - - opposed to it. Only once, as far as I can judge, in his Beyond Good and Evil, did he succeed in expressing this idea in an adequate way: "'This I have done,' says my memory. 'This I cannot have done,' says my pride, and remains inexorable. Finally it is my memory that yields." [2]

     It is in these words, almost devoid - by human reckoning - of all meaning, that we must seek the explanation of the inner struggles that nourished Nietzsche's thought. The memory, that is to say, the exact representation of reality in thought, says to man: "You have done this, it was so." - "No, I could not have done this, it was not so" replies that which Nietzsche calls, not with complete precision, his "pride." (In Thus Spake Zarathustra, after the conversation with the dwarf about the Eternal Return, Nietzsche expresses himself better when, characterizing "this something" in himself that refuses to accept the real, he says: "Mein Grauen, mein Ekel, mein Erbarmen, all mein Gutes und Schlimmes schrie mit einem Schrei aus mir." (My horror, my hatred, my loathing, my pity, all my good and my bad cried with one voice out of me.)[3] And the memory yields: that which was becomes that which has never been.

     In Thus Spake Zarathustra, in the chapter entitled "Of the Redemption," Nietzsche returns to this theme: "to redeem the past and to transform every 'it was' to 'thus would I have it'" And he returns to it again in the third part of the chapter "Of Old and New Tablets." All that has accumulated in the soul of man during the course of long years of suffering and trial and that, by the decree of our reason which has seized the right of final decision, cannot even raise its voice when it is a question of truth and error, is suddenly permitted to proclaim its rights. And it even realizes them: that which has been, says Nietzsche, becomes that which has not been. It is probably impossible to "explain" how these rights are realized, for they are realized precisely because and insofar as man learns or, rather, decides to do without all explanations, to disregard them, to despise them. For this there is also required that mysterious and sudden illumination through which there arose in Nietzsche the idea of the Eternal Return. Man refuses obedience to reason which, until now, has dictated its laws to nature itself. What Descartes called "eternal truths" and Leibniz vérités de raison and what, according to Socrates and Spinoza, is revealed to the "eyes of the mind" loses all power over man. "When, however, we admit that it is impossible that something should be made out of nothing, then the proposition 'out of nothing is nothing made'... is considered an eternal truth... Of the same kind are the following propositions: it is impossible that the same thing should simultaneously be and not be; that which has happened cannot become something which has not happened; he who thinks must, while he thinks, exist... and innumerable others." [4]

     So Descartes speaks. One cannot argue with these innumerable eternal truths. Disgust, horror, hatred, scorn - no matter how powerful they may be - cannot overthrow them. These truths are eternal; they are before being, before man, before God. But when Nietzsche was transported six thousand feet high and higher still above all human thoughts, he felt suddenly that the eternal truths had lost their power and no longer dictated their laws either to the world or to him. I repeat: he did not find the words he needed to designate what had appeared to him and began to speak of the Eternal Return. But here was something infinite]..y more important than the Eternal Return. He discovered that, despite the eternal law quod factum est, infectum nequit esse (what has happened cannot become something that has not happened), not memory, which exactly reproduces the past, but a certain will ("pride," I say again, is not the proper word here) has by its own authority rendered the past nonexistent; and he discovered that it was this will that brought him the truth. He who so violently attacked the Bible dares to speak of "redemption." Redemption from the past, from the enslavement of the law and laws thanks to which alone the past remains unshakable. These laws, which reason draws out of itself, are precisely that bellua (monster), that bestia, qua non occisa homo non potest vivere (beast without whose killing man cannot live).

     Behind Nietzsche's Eternal Return is hidden, it seems, a force of infinite power that is also prepared to crush the horrible monster who rules over human life and over all being: Luther's Creator omnipotens ex nihilo faciens omnia. The omnipotent Creator is not only beyond good and evil but also beyond truth and falsehood. Before His face (facies in faciem) both evil and falsehood cease to exist and are changed into nothingness, not only in the present but also in the past. They no longer are and never have been, despite all the testimonies of the human memory. In opposition to Hegel who, drawing up the balance of all that he had learned from his predecessors ("Socrates produced the principle of philosophy for all future times"), hoped to find God such as He was before the creation of the world and the finite spirit in logic, that is, in the system of eternal and unchangeable truths - Nietzsche longed only to escape from the domination of these truths. Explaining his idea of the Eternal Return, he writes: "A great struggle awaits us. For it is required a new weapon, the hammer: to bring on a terrible decision." [5] And again: "The philosophy presently on the throne does not cease remembering that all things are perishable in order not to consider them too important and to live peacefully in their midst. But for me, on the contrary, everything seems too important to be so transitory; I seek eternity for everything."

     It is not to be doubted that Nietzsche clung to the idea of the Eternal Return because - in opposition not to Marcus Aurelius but to Marcus Aurelius' master, the master of all those who philosophize, Socrates - he was seeking to obtain eternity for the things which, according to our conception of truth, are condemned to annihilation. But does this mean that he wished eternity for "everything"? He himself has just told us that his "pride" condemned to death certain things to which eternity was guaranteed without any intervention on his part. Nietzsche even obtains in this way results that are quasi-miraculous: that which was, the past which enjoys the omnipotent protection of the truth of reason - quod factum est, infectum esse nequit - is transformed by his will into that which has never been. Why, then, does he suddenly demand eternity for "everything"? Does he wish to satisfy reason, which aspires eagerly to universal and necessary truth? But this would mean that when memory says to a man, "you have done this," no discussion, no protest, is any longer possible, for the memory reproduces exactly the past to which eternal existence in truth is guaranteed. To put it differently, he must renounce the "Will to Power" and adopt the attitude of the common man who accepts everything that fate brings him, or even the attitude of the sage who not only accepts everything but sees in this disposition aequo animo utramque faciem fortunae ferre (to bear both faces of fortune with equanimity) a virtue and considers this virtue his supreme good. It is impossible to escape the stone that calls itself "it was," and "redemption" becomes a word devoid of meaning.

     Nietzsche allowed himself to be ensnared by Socrates' logic, the logic of the fallen man. The "stubborn and impenitent monster" was not killed, it only seemed to be dead. Nietzsche's hammer did not break the pretensions of reason, which entrenched itself behind universal and necessary judgments. We must return to Luther whose hammer struck more powerfully and more accurately than Nietzsche's. Let us forget that Luther was a theologian. Let us forget that he repeated the prophets and the apostles. We are not bound by any authority. Authority, indeed, is only a residue of the pretensions of reason, which aspires eagerly to universal and necessary judgments. But where truth is, there is not, there cannot be, any constraint. There is freedom. Let us listen to Luther. Let us listen to the prophets and the apostles such as they were in the sight of their contemporaries - simple, despised, even persecuted men. Now, when these men speak of redemption, it does not even occur to them that anyone or anything could place them before the dilemma: either accept everything that has been, or make everything that has been not to have been. Among the things that have been there are some that one can save and others that one can annihilate. God came down on earth, He became man, He suffered, but not in order to realize one of those universal and necessary truths that reason draws out of itself. He came to save men.

     Luther writes: "God sent His only begotten son into the world and laid upon him all the sins of all men, saying: Be thou Peter, that denier; Paul, that persecutor, blasphemer and doer of violence; David, that adulterer; that sinner who ate the apple in paradise; that thief on the cross - in sum, be thou the person who committed the sins of all men." The form is different, in keeping with Luther's epoch and environment, but the profound thought of V these lines is identical with that which appeared to Nietzsche under the aspect of the idea of the Eternal Return: it is necessary to deliver oneself from the past, to transform that which once was into that which has never been. Peter, Paul, King David, the thief on the cross, Adam who tasted the apple - these are all "fallen men," like Socrates, Wagner and Nietzsche. They cannot save themselves by their own powers. The more they struggle, the more they sink. But Luther was not enchained by the eternal truths of reason. He sees in them, on the contrary, "the monster without whose killing man cannot live." If these truths are destined to triumph, there is no salvation for men. To put it differently, in philosophic language, in absolutizing truth we relativize being. Luther decides to hand truth over to the power "of the omnipotent Creator, who makes everything out of nothing." If truth is in the hands of the Creator, the Creator can abrogate it, entirely or in part. He can bring it about that Peter's denial, Paul's persecutions and blasphemies, David's adultery never existed but that certain other things among those that have been are preserved forever. God, indeed, is not rational truth, which, itself deprived of will, can yet paralyze the human will. And God does not fear anything, for everything is in His power. He is not even afraid of transferring to His son all the sins of the world, or, more exactly, to make of him the greatest of sinners. "All the prophets," writes Luther, "saw this in the spirit: that Christ would be the greatest robber, thief, defiler of the temple, murderer, adulterer, etc., such that no greater will ever be in the world."

     The Christ, the consubstantial son of the Father, that is to say, God Himself, is, then, the greatest sinner who ever lived on earth! But this means that God is the source and creator of evil; one cannot suspect Luther of Docetism. The prophets "saw" and proclaimed this just as they saw and declared that God had hardened, that is, made wicked, Pharaoh's heart. Such visions and proclamations, even though they come from the prophets, appear to human reason, bound by universal and necessary truths, blasphemous and sacrilegious; they outrage God, reason tells us, and they deserve the worst tortures in the hells both of this world and the other. God responsible for evil? God the Creator of evil? Absit - this be far from us - cried the Fathers of the Church as well as the simple monks. Evil exists on earth, yet it is not God who is its author but man; otherwise it is impossible to justify and save God's goodness. And indeed, if the eternal truths are before God and above God, if quod factum est, infectum esse nequit, then we have no choice: we must set against God, the creator of good, man, the creator of evil. Man becomes creator omnipotens, ex nihilo omnia faciens. And then redemption, deliverance from the past, from the nightmare of death and the horrors of death, is impossible. There remains only one way out: to recognize that the universal and necessary truths and that reason which brings us these truths constitute precisely that bellua, qua non occisa homo non potest vivere.

     Luther felt that man would recover freedom only when reason and the knowledge that reason gives us will have lost their power. And Nietzsche, as we have seen, felt this also. He refused to accept the testimony of fact and tried to break the self-evidences with the hammer of his will. But when Zarathustra came down from his heights to men, he was obliged to come to terms with his terrible enemy. We read in Ecce homo, Nietzsche's last work, "My formula for the greatness of man is amor fati - to change nothing, neither before nor after, throughout all eternity. Not only to bear Necessity, and still less to hide it - all idealism is a lie in the face of Necessity - but to love it." [6] But such was precisely the teaching of the decadent, the fallen man, Socrates! Such were the fruits of the tree of knowledge which, according to Hegel, were to be the principle of philosophy for all time. It was this also that Spinoza, who assimilated Socrates' wisdom and saw happiness in virtue, proclaimed.

     Instead of engaging in supreme combat with Necessity, Nietzsche, velut paralyticus, manibus et pedibus omissis (like a cripple, with slack arms and legs), abandons himself to his adversary and hands over his soul to it; he promises not only to obey and venerate but to love it. And he does not make this promise only in his own name; all must submit to Necessity, venerate and love it, or else they will be excommunicated. Excommunicated by whom? Amor fati, says Nietzsche, is the formula for greatness, and he who refuses to accept everything that fatum imposes upon him will be deprived of the praise, the encouragement, the approbation that the idea of "greatness" contains in itself. The old "you will be like God" arose anew, one knows not whence, and cast a spell upon Nietzsche who, before our very eyes, had made such heroic efforts to pass beyond good and evil, that is, beyond all praises, encouragements and approbations.

     How could this happen? Must we believe in the intervention of the biblical serpent who had once seduced Adam? Indeed, translated into the language of Luther, amor fati means that Nietzsche sees "the monster without whose killing man cannot live" not in the chains which bind the human will but in the human will itself, in its drive to power. Accordingly, he strains all of his forces not to destroy or at least weaken his enemy but to kill in himself every desire for battle, to learn to see his essential task in uncomplaining, joyous even, and loving submission to all that comes to him from outside without his knowing whence or how. And this is the same Nietzsche who spoke so much of the morality of masters and railed so scornfully against the morality of slaves, who refused to stoop or bow down before any authority whatsoever! But when he looked Necessity in the face, his powers betrayed him and he built for it an altar of which the most exacting of the inhabitants of Olympus could have been jealous.

     Thus was everything that Luther had said in De servo arbitrio and in De votis monachorum, and what Nietzsche himself had glimpsed in Socrates' fate but never succeeded in discovering in his own, confirmed: the fallen man cannot do anything for his own salvation, his choice is no longer free, everything that he undertakes brings him closer to death, and the more he "does" the weaker he becomes and the deeper his fall. And then there is still this point that is no less important: the fallen man - and we know that Nietzsche realized this when he thought about Socrates - puts all his trust in knowledge, while it is precisely knowledge that paralyzes his will and leads him inexorably to his downfall.

     This Necessity of which Nietzsche tells us - whence, indeed, does it come? Who or what is it that has brought it to us? If one had put this question to Nietzsche he would probably have replied "experience." But we have already seen that one cannot discover Necessity in experience. Knowledge draws the idea of Necessity from a source quite other than experience. Moreover, without the idea of Necessity knowledge would immediately collapse. But where Necessity is, there is not, there cannot be, freedom; consequently where knowledge is, there is no freedom. It seems that Nietzsche was very near throwing down the gauntlet before knowledge and going to seek the truth elsewhere. And not only because Socrates' example had put him on guard against the consequences of an exaggerated trust in knowledge. Nietzsche knew certain experiences which show that he aspired with all his being to rid himself of knowledge and to penetrate into those realms of being where the enchantment of knowledge would no longer weigh upon man, would no longer enchain him. He tells us of this in the same Ecce homo. I hope that the reader will excuse this rather long quotation, considering the importance of the question for us: "Can anyone at the end of this Nineteenth Century possibly have any distinct notion of what poets of a more vigorous period mean by inspiration? If not, I should like to describe it. Provided one has the slightest remnant of superstition left, one can hardly reject completely the idea that one is the mere incarnation, or mouthpiece, or medium of some almighty power. The notion of revelation describes the condition quite simply; by which I mean that something profoundly convulsive and disturbing suddenly becomes visible and audible with indescribable definiteness and exactness. One hears - one does not seek; one takes - one does not ask who gives; a thought flashes out like lightning, inevitably without hesitation - I have never had any choice about it... Everything occurs quite without volition, as if in an eruption of freedom, independence, power and divinity...

     How little the necessity of which Nietzsche here tells us resembles the Necessity that had led the ancients to the conception of fate indifferent to everything! And the question rises for us: when was Nietzsche in the power of "prejudices" - when he glorified amor fati in the conviction that fate is invincible, or when he declared that everything "occurs quite without volition" but nevertheless "as if in an eruption of freedom, independence, power and divinity?"

     He ends thus: "This is my experience of inspiration. I have no doubt that I should have to go back millennia to find someone who would have the right to tell me: 'such is also my experience.'" I think these words provide a reply to the question we have just raised: at moments the "prejudices" of men who lived thousands of years earlier were much closer to Nietzsche than the "truths" of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, in the end he brought his illuminations to the tribunal not of those "prejudices" on which the ancient freedom that had no fear of anything was nourished, but to that of knowledge, which has begotten the indifference, passivity and dreary submissiveness of modern thought. The idea of the Eternal Return wished to be "based" on something, and it was always to this very fate that it turned to obtain its right to existence. For it cannot maintain itself by its own will, it has no will; and it can no longer maintain itself by the will of any living being, the living being has no power. Everything depends on fate: will it or will it not agree to concede to this idea some place in the structure of being? For the decisions of fate are unchangeable and without appeal, whether it be the existence of the individual or all of humanity or even of the universe that is in question, and the virtue of the simple mortal as well as of the wise man consists not only in accepting the decisions of fate but in revering them, even loving them.

     It is unnecessary to describe here in detail how Nietzsche tried to obtain from fate the right to existence for his idea of the Eternal Return. Nietzsche says that fate granted his prayers, but it is hardly probable that he himself seriously believed that one could "demonstrate" the idea of the Eternal Return and give it a solid foundation and that the considerations on which he established it were capable of convincing anyone whomsoever. And yet he did not fail to reason honestly and scrupulously on the subject, not like his distant ancestors with whom he carried on a dialogue in Thus Spake Zarathustra, but as a learned man, that is, one who sets out from the idea of submission to Necessity and not from the idea of power, must reason. From the point of view of "demonstration," the idea of the Eternal Return, even under the modest form which Nietzsche gave it in order to bring it before the supreme judge, is greatly inferior to the majority of the modern ideas which Nietzsche had so mordantly mocked. The idea of the Eternal Return or, more exactly, what was revealed to Nietzsche under this form, can maintain itself only when the throne or seat of Necessity is destroyed. And it is precisely against this throne that Nietzsche had to raise his hammer. The sufferings, the horror, the despair, the hatred, the disgust, the joys and hopes that it was given Nietzsche to know - all these he would have to throw at the monster's head to destroy it.

     It seems that Nietzsche himself thought that such was precisely his life's task and that he made truly super-human efforts to fulfill it. He weighed himself down with an enormous burden and was ready to take on even more. In one of his letters he says that he would gladly experience the worst sufferings that any human being had ever known, for it is only on this condition that he could believe he had really seen the truth. And his wish was fulfilled. Except for Kierkegaard, perhaps, not one of the thinkers of the nineteenth century knew the horrifying experiences through which Nietzsche passed. But he found that this was still not enough; he did not have the daring to rise up against Necessity and defy it. When he stood before Necessity and looked it straight in the eye, his powers betrayed him and he became paralyzed, like Socrates, like Spinoza. "The necessary does not offend me, amor fati is my innermost nature," he says in Ecce Homo as if he had forgotten all that he had said so many times about the morality of masters and slaves, the "Will to Power," the freedom that lies "beyond good and evil." Instead of fighting against the monster he becomes its ally, its slave, and directs his hammer not, to be sure, against those who refuse obedience to Necessity (all submit to Necessity, the wise as well as the foolish) but against those who refuse to consider submission to Necessity as summum bonum and beatitudo. Nietzsche sets his pride in amor fati and bases all his hopes on "you shall be like God, knowing good and evil." His philosophy, like Socrates' and Spinoza's, is changed into edification: man must "endure both faces of fortune with equanimity;" no evil can come to a good man, for he must find happiness even in the bull of Phalaris.

     Nietzsche's "cruelty," which frightened so many people, did not originate with Nietzsche. It had already been introduced into the soul of the first man, who let himself be tempted by the fruits of the tree of knowledge. It had already been proclaimed by the wisest among men, who had discovered the universal and necessary truths. Original sin weighs heavily on fallen humanity, and all the efforts that it makes to deliver itself break, like waves on a rock, against the invisible wall of prejudices that we venerate as eternal truths. And Nietzsche could not escape the fate of all; the idea of Necessity succeeded in seducing him also. He bowed his own head, and called all men to prostrate themselves, before the altar or throne of the "monster without whose killing man cannot live."

[1] Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 225.
[2] Op. cit., sec. 68.
[3] Zarathustra, Part III, ch.2-2 (The Vision and the Enigma)[Its head off! Bite!"]— so cried it out of me; my horror, my hatred, my loathing, my pity, all my good and my bad cried with one voice out of me.—
[4] Principia Philosophiae, Ed. 1678,I.49.
[5] The Will to Power, Book IV.
[6] Why I Am So Clever.

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