Wrapping up his discussion of morality, Nietzsche puts out a call for a new type of philosopher. As the democratic spirit that has replaced Christianity saps the life and strength of humanity, we need someone who can overcome our historical moment and put us on a new path:
To teach man the future of man as his will, as dependent on a human will, and to prepare great ventures and over-all attempts of discipline and cultivation by way of putting an end to that gruesome dominion of nonsense and accident that has so far been called “history” . . . It is the image of such leaders that we envision. (203)
We need a great man who can break us out of our rut and move humanity forward. The problem with this call is that the democratic spirit is simultaneously that which must be overcome and the substance with which such a man must work, and the place from which such a man must first arise. In other words, as we are awaiting the arrival of someone with the ability and will to save us—someone who has grown from the democratic spirit but nevertheless been shaped in such a way that he is immune to the downward pull of that spirit—we see that there are many ways the man we are waiting for might go terribly astray.
The over-all degeneration of man down to what today appears to the socialist dolts and flatheads as their “man of the future”—as their ideal—this degeneration and diminution of man into the perfect herd animal . . . this animalization of man into the dwarf animal of equal rights and claims, is possible, there is no doubt of it. Anyone who has once thought through this possibility to the end knows one kind of nausea that other men don’t know. (203)
The democratic spirit is so seductive that it might just as easily produce a leader who puts humanity onto a worse path rather than onto a better one. To use Platonic language, while we are waiting for a Philosopher King to arise, we might see from the same place and in nearly the same way the rise of a tyrant. Andrew Sullivan’s famous piece discussing Trump through the lens of Plato could just as easily have been written through the filter of this paragraph in Beyond Good and Evil.
Part six moves beyond morals to the state of scholarship (not that we ever really get beyond morals in Nietzsche—they always seem to keep popping up). Here, too, the problem of the democratic spirit is paramount. The scholars, of all people, should be a class that by definition (their own, if nothing else) has risen above the mob and shorn itself of the baseness that has infected the Western world. And yet what we find is a duality at work in the scholars of the day—they have simultaneously totally and completely surrendered to the democratic spirit, while rising above it in ways that are either useless or actively detrimental:
The scholar’s declaration of independence, his emancipation from philosopher, is one of the more refined effects of the democratic order—and disorder. (204)
The scholars have separated themselves from the service of theology, and instead have dedicated themselves to the study and expansion of the democratic spirit. Like the rest of the Western world, they too have simply replaced “Christianity” with “democracy.” What’s even worse, the scholars have done so joyfully and on purpose:
Philosophy reduced to “theory of knowledge,” in fact no more than a timid epochism and doctrine of abstinence—a philosophy that never gets beyond the threshold and takes pains to deny itself the right to enter—that is philosophy in its last throes, an end, an agony, something inspiring pity. How could such a philosophy—dominate! (204)
With the shedding of Christianity, the scholar had the chance to be truly independent—to rise above the crowd in a meaningful way that would inspire and lead others along the same path. Instead, scholars have kept their attitude of submissiveness and merely switched their masters. In exchange for theological respectability, they (like “old maids”) have achieved popular respectability. Instead of striking out on their own with authority and self-sufficiency, the scholar has cultivated the virtues of hard-work and patience in the service of the people—despite knowing deep down that the people probably aren’t really worth it and that he is only taking on their worst attributes (206).
What’s more, the way scholarship is constructed is designed to keep any one scholar from ever truly doing what our needed great man is to do in any case.
the dangers for a philosopher’s development are indeed so manifold today that one may doubt whether this fruit can still ripen at all. The scope and the tower-building of the sciences has grown to be enormous, and with this also the probability that the philosopher grows weary while still learning or allows himself to be detained somewhere to become a “specialist”—so he never attains his proper level, the height for a comprehensive look, for looking around, for looking down. (205)
If nothing else, the fact that scholars have to pick one area for study to the exclusion of all other subjects means that they can never live the full life of a completely developed human being. I have some advantage here by virtue of being a political scientist (what isn’t fair game for politics?) at a university that largely encourages me to pursue my interests both in class and out, but even then I’m unlikely to go out of my way to take up physics or calculus or any of the other countless fields of study that are not at least somewhat near the humanities. (And of course, I lack both the temperament and the ability to be one of Nietzsche’s great men in any case.)
Even those who claim the ability to be objective and rise above the limitations of the age (and of the modern academy) really can’t do much for us. To be sure, they may (and Nietzsche is somewhat skeptical about their claims here) be able to tell us some truths about ourselves and about mankind in general. But that is merely the usefulness of a mirror. And while mirrors are useful (even necessary), they are not exactly bastions of leadership and vision.
We’ll see more about the uselessness of scholars next time.
Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and cohost of the City of Man podcast.