Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

Beyond Good and Evil: 247–53

"The preacher alone knew what a syllable weighs." Photo by Viktoria Kühne - Magdeburger Dom, CC BY-SA 3.0.

“The preacher alone knew what a syllable weighs.” Photo by Viktoria Kühne – Magdeburger Dom, CC BY-SA 3.0.

247–53

One reason for Nietzsche’s extended focus on music and linguistics is the connection that he believes has been lost between the various forms of expression. In the ancient world, writing was not necessarily an art to be separated from speaking. This was better, as it involved the whole person in an organic unity that has been torn asunder in our times in all places and professions other than the pulpit:

In Germany the preacher alone knew what a syllable weighs, or a word, and how a sentence strikes, leaps, plunges, runs, runs out; he alone had a conscience in his ears, often enough a bad conscience . . . The masterpiece of German prose is therefore, fairly enough, the masterpiece of its greatest preacher: the bible has so far been the best German book. (247)

Only ministers have maintained a unity between speaking and writing while engaging the whole of the person in their considered discourse.


That Nietzsche would like to see a unity of the styles does not suggest that all people must be all things at all times. After all, there are different kinds of geniuses who express themselves in different ways:

There are two types of genius: one which above all begets and wants to beget, and another which prefers being fertilized and giving birth. (248)

Where Nietzsche uses crude biological language, we might be more familiar with the language of creation versus systemization. That is, some geniuses excel at writing down brilliant original ideas (Plato, Augustine, Luther, Kant); others excel at systematizing those ideas and turning them into a science (Aristotle, Aquinas, Calvin, Hegel). I don’t know that Nietzsche is doing anything with his language of masculine and feminine other than reminding us that the whole person is involved in the act of creation—we are more than just spiritual minds. He also reminds us that the two types of genius can be simultaneously compatible and incompatible:

These two types of genius seek each other, like man and woman; but they also misunderstand each other—like man and woman. (248)

We need both sorts, even with all their infighting and failures to communicate.


From the Germans, Nietzsche moves on to another people, the Jews.

What Europe owes to the Jews? Many things, good and bad, and above all one thing that is both of the best and of the worst: the grand style in morality, the terribleness and majesty of infinite demands, infinite meanings, the whole romanticism and sublimity of moral questionabilities. (250)

From the Jews we get the idea of transcendent morality that binds us in all times and places, with all the good and bad that involves that we’ve seen so far. (For more on this, see near-historian Thomas Cahill’s work The Gift of the Jews.)

But more than that, the Jews also provide leadership in Europe and an example of what a people should look like:

A thinker who has the development of Europe on his conscience will, in all his projects for this future, take into account the Jews as well as the Russians as the provisionally surest and most probable factors in the great play and fight of forces. (251)

Where the Germans have submitted to a shallow anti-Semitism and a narrow patriotism, the Jews have maintained their culture and their distinctiveness despite not having a nation of their own and despite the rabid hatred of the dominant culture in most places where they live. Their simple requests for accommodation can reasonably be granted, given that they show a better way to the other peoples of Europe.


From the Jews, Nietzsche turns to the English. Based on how German history unfolded, the kind and decent things Nietzsche has to say about the Jews might surprise us, but the brutal things he has to say about the English caught me completely unaware:

It is characteristic of such an unphilosophical race that it clings firmly to Christianity: they need its discipline to become “moralized” and somewhat humanized. (252)

In other words, Englishmen are dumb and their philosophy is dumber, reducing the world to mechanical principles so as to be able to be spoon-fed to the masses. That’s why they have to cling to their guns and Bibles—which is almost as bad as their music.

However, Nietzsche does not believe that the English are entirely without value. While it’s true that we need the great men to lead us forward, it’s also true that such men are often separated from the details of day-to-day life.

Perhaps the chasm between know and can is greater, also uncannier, than people suppose: those who can do things in grand style, the creative, may possibly have to be lacking in knowledge—while, on the other hand, for scientific discoveries of the type of Darwin’s a certain narrowness, aridity, and industrious diligence, something English in short, may not be a bad disposition. (253)

The English also have their place and their use. The problem arises when the whole of Europe wants to be English. This functionally means that Europe is rushing to adopt the worst parts of the English culture, and as Nietzsche has said repeatedly, is consequently rushing toward a uniform mediocrity and blandness.

 

Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and cohost of the City of Man podcast.

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