Nietzsche the Evolutionist
When Nietzsche began to write Europe was suffering from the worst kind of spiritual illness weakness of will. Everywhere comfort and freedom from danger were becoming the highest ideals; everywhere, too, virtue was being confounded with those qualities which led to the highest possible amount of security and tame, back-parlour pleasures; and man was gradually developing into a harmless domesticated type of animal, capable of performing a host of charming little drawing-room tricks which rejoiced the hearts of his womenfolk.
Sleep seemed to be the greatest accomplishment. It had become all important to have a good night's rest, and everything was done to achieve this end. A man no longer asked his heart what it dictated, when he stood irresolute before a daring deed, he simply consulted Morpheus, who warned him that he could not promise him a soft pillow if he did anything
1 G. E., Aphs. 254, 255, 256.
Nietzsche protested against this state of affairs: "What is good? ye ask. To be brave is good. Let the little schoolgirls say: To be good is sweet and touching at the same time. Ye say, a good cause will hallow even war? I say unto you: a good war halloweth every cause. War and courage have done greater things than love!" 2
"I pass through this people and keep mine eyes open: they have become smaller, and ever become smaller: the reason thereof is their doctrine of happiness and virtue.
"For they are moderate also in virtue because they want comfort. With comfort, however, moderate virtue only is compatible.
"Of man there is little here: therefore do their women make themselves manly. For only he who is man enough, will save the woman in woman.
"In their hearts, they want simply one thing most of all: that no one hurt them.
1 See Schopenhauer on The Vanity and Suffering of Life.
2 Z., p. 52.
Some there were, of course, who were conscious of the dreadful condition of things, and who deplored it, without, however, being able to put their finger on the root of the evil. Such people were most of them pessimists, and, at the time that Nietzsche lived, Schopenhauer was their leader.
Sensitive, noble-minded, artistic people, deprived by rationalistic and atheistic teachers of the belief in God, felt the ignobleness of European hopes and aspirations, and knowing of no better creed and possessing the intelligence to see the hopelessness of things under the rule of the values which then prevailed, they succumbed to a mood of utter despair, subscribed to Schopenhauer's horror and loathing of the world, and regarded the very optimism of childhood with suspicion and scorn.
For a while Nietzsche, too, was an ardent and devoted follower of Schopenhauer. Godlessness was bad enough to endure: but Godlessness in a world of un-pagan and effeminate manhood, was too much for the loving student of classical antiquity, and he turned to Schopenhauer as to one
1 Z., pp. 204, 205, 206.
But this opiate did not maintain its sway over Nietzsche long. Our poet was of a type too courageous and too vigorous to he able to surrender himself so completely to sorrow and to Buddhistic consolations. Gradually he began to regard the humble and resigned attitude of the pessimist before life's hardships and modernity's greyness as unworthy of a spirited and active man. Slowly it dawned upon him that the root of the evil lay, not in the constitution of the earth, but in man himself, and in man's actual values. If man could be roused to pursue higher ideals; if he could be moved to kill the poisonous snake of ignoble values that had crawled into his throat and choked him while he was in slumber; 1 in fact, if man could surpass himself and regard the reversal of the world's engines, for the last two thousand years, as Stendhal had done that is to say, as the grossest error and most ridiculous faux pas that had ever been made then, Nietzsche thought, pessimism and Schopenhauer might go to the deuce, and conscious, sensitive, intellectual, and artistic Europe would once more be able to smile
1 Z., pp. 192, 193.
Thus it was the condemnation of modern values, together with the thought of man's being able to surpass himself, which gave Nietzsche the grounds and the necessary strength for abandoning pessimism and embracing that wise optimism which characterises the whole of his works after The Joyful Wisdom.
True, God was dead; but that ought only to make man feel more self-reliant, more creative, prouder. Undoubtedly God was dead: but man could now hold himself responsible for himself. He could now seek a goal in manhood, on earth, and one that was at least within the compass of his powers. Long enough had he squinted heavenwards, with the result, that he had neglected his task on earth. 1
"Dead are all Gods!" Nietzsche cries, "now we will that Superman live!" 2
We are now before Nietzsche the evolutionist, and we must define him, relatively to those other evolutionists with whom we, as English people, are already familiar.
To begin with, then, let us dispose of the fundamental question: Nietzsche's concept of life.
1 Z., p. 98 et seq.
2 Z., p. 91.
Nietzsche, always eager for a practical and tangible idea, naturally could not accept these
Thus, as we see, from the start Nietzsche closes his eyes at nothing, he does not want life to be a pretty tale if it is not one. He wants to know it as it is: for he is convinced that this is the only way of arriving at sound principles as to the manner in which human existence should be led.
"Appropriation," then, he takes as a fact: he does not argue it away, any more than he tries to argue away "injury," "conquest of the strange and weak," "suppression," and "incorporation." These things are only too apparent, and he states them bravely in his definition. We know life is all this; but how much more comfortable it is, when we are sitting in our soft easy-chairs before our cheerful fires, to think that life is merely activity!
1 G. E., p. 226.
But even in his extended definition of life, the modern biologist brings himself no nearer to Nietzsche's honest standpoint, and for the following reasons:
The modern biologist says, this "activity" he speaks of has a precise meaning. It connotes
"Wherever I found living matter," he says, "I found will to power, and even in the servant I found the yearning to be master.
"Only where there is life, there is will: though a not will to live, but thus I teach thee WILL TO POWER." 2
Is there no aggression without the struggle for existence? Is there no voluptuousness in a position of power for us own sake? Of course
1 Twilight of the Idols, Part 9, Aph. 14.
2 Z., pp. 136, 137.
"Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength life itself is Will to Power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results thereof." 1
In spite of everything we have already said, Nietzsche's disagreement with our own biologists may still seem to many but a play upon words. A moment's meditation, however more particu-
1 G. E., p. 20.
Upon this basis, then, the Will to Power, Nietzsche builds up a cosmogony which also assumes that species have been evolved; but again, in the processes of that evolution he is at variance with Darwin and all the natural-selectionists.
Nietzsche cannot be persuaded that "mechanical adjustment to ambient conditions," or "adaptation to environment" both purely passive, meek, and uncreative functions should be given the importance, as determining factors, which the English and German schools give them. With Samuel Butler, he protests against this "pitchforking of mind and spirit out of the universe," and points imperatively to an inner creative will
Thus differing widely from the orthodox school of evolutionists, Nietzsche nevertheless believed
1 Second Essay, Aph. 12.
2 The italics are mine. A. M. L.
If the process is a fact, if things have become what they are, and have not always been so; then why should we rest on our oars? If it was possible for man to struggle up from barbarism, and still more remotely from the lower Primates, and reach the zenith of his physical development; why, Nietzsche asks, should he not surpass himself and attain to Superman by evolving in the same decree volitionally and mentally?
"The most careful ask to-day: 'How is man preserved?' But Zarathustra asketh as the only and first one: 'How is man surpassed?' 1
"All beings (in your genealogical ladder) have created something beyond themselves, and are ye going to be the ebb of this great tide?
"Behold I teach you Superman!" 2
And now, again, at the risk of being monotonous, I must point to yet another difference between Nietzsche and the prevailing school of evolutionists. Whereas the latter, in their unscrupulous optimism, believed that out of the chaotic play of blind forces something highly desirable and "good" would ultimately be evolved;
1 Z., p. 351.
2 Z., p. 6.
Nietzsche realised "all that could still be made out of man, through a favourable accumulation and augmentation of human powers and arrangements"; he knew "how unexhausted man still is for the greatest possibilities, and how often in the past the type man has stood in mysterious and dangerous crossways, and has launched forth upon the right or the wrong road, impelled merely by a whim, or by a hint from the giant Chance." 1 And now, he was determined that, whether man wished to listen or not, at least he should be told of the ultimate disaster that awaited him, if he continued in his present direction. For, there was yet time!
It is to higher men that Nietzsche really makes his appeal, the leaders and misleaders of
1 G. E., p. 130.
"Awake and listen, ye lonely ones! From the future, winds are coming with a gentle beating of wings, and there cometh good tidings for fine ears.
"Ye lonely ones of to-day, ye who stand apart, ye shall one day be a people: from you, who have chosen yourselves, a chosen people shall arise and from it Superman." 1
1 Z., p. 89.