Nietzsche doesn’t come right out and say it, but I get the impression that his real reason for favoring the French and their “true” spirit over and above all other peoples in Europe is that France alone produced a Napoleon. His expressed reasons include his observations that:
1) France has a secret, higher caste that has resisted the democratizing powers that have otherwise swept the state—so long as you know where to look for this caste.
2) France has “the capacity for artistic passions” that has not lessened in the past few centuries.
3) France has a delightful flexibility when it comes to morality that leaves the rest of Europe scrambling to keep up.
4) France stands in a middle-position between Northern and Southern Europe, absorbing the best of both worlds and trying to resist the worst in a way that the stupid English can never understand. (254)
All told, it sounds as if Nietzsche sees France as the place where his views of how the world ought to work are unfolding in some limited way. Yet I suspect that if we ask in what specific instance we see each of these four categories realized, the name that will stretch through all of them is going to be Napoleon. The counter-argument of course is that Nietzsche doesn’t actually say so, and it’s not like he’s known for being coy with his opinions.
From France, Nietzsche moves to the south of Europe and treats it all as a monolithic culture that runs the risk of being destroyed by the worst parts of German culture:
If such a southerner, not by descent but by faith, should dream of the future of music, he must also dream of the redemption of music from the north, and in his ears he must have the prelude of a more profound, more powerful, perhaps more evil and mysterious music. (255)
The answer is not necessarily that a southerner ought to stick to his own music but rather that we need a greater and higher music that transcends the garbage coming out of Germany and that speaks to the human spirit regardless of its place of origin.
What I find more interesting is that if we were to adopt a view of Europe based solely on what Nietzsche says in this part of Beyond Good and Evil, we would think that Europe is made up of a degenerate nation called Germany, another called England, a virtuous and important people called “the Jews,” a shadowy place in the distance called “Russia” that only merits a side mention, a potentially virtuous nation named France, and “the south,” which is apparently everything else.
This leads in to Nietzsche’s concluding remarks in the section:
Owing to the pathological estrangement which the insanity of nationality has induced, and still induces, among the peoples of Europe; owing also to the shortsighted and quick-handed politicians who are at the top today with the help of this insanity, without any inkling that their separatist policies can of necessity only be entr’acte policies; owing to all this and much else that today simply cannot be said, the most unequivocal portents are now being overlooked, or arbitrarily and mendaciously reinterpreted—that Europe wants to become one.
In all the more profound and comprehensive men of this century the over-all direction of the mysterious workings of their soul was to prepare the way for this new synthesis and to anticipate experimentally the Europe of the future: only in their foregrounds or in weaker hours, say in old age, did they belong to the “fatherlandish”—they were merely taking a rest from themselves when they became “patriots.” (256)
Nietzsche can treat Europe in such a scattered and hodge-podge manner because in his perspective the things that make European cultures individual and distinct are disappearing in any case. The movements toward patriotism and nationalism are little more than funnels or channels moving Europe toward the vision of unity held by the great men of the continent. (Even if those same great men from time to time forget themselves and fall into the common channels.) At the end of the day, “Peoples and Fatherlands” are a historical blip on the unfolding of human nature. And that . . . well, that’s not really what I expected from Nietzsche the first time I read this book.
Today’s post ends with Nietzsche’s first reflection on “What is Noble.” And what is noble in the strictest sense of the word is of course that group of people at the top of society. Those at the top are the descendants of the barbarians who conquered a weaker people (if not actually the barbarians themselves). Their power was founded on strength, but not
mainly in physical strength but in strength of the soul—they were whole human beings (which also means at every level, “more whole beasts”). (257)
Thus we have at the beginning the establishment of a higher and a lower class—those at the top who are strong and those at the bottom who are civilized. (We should note that Nietzsche does seem to equate civilization with both weakness and a leveling democratic spirit.) Nietzsche admits that this is a brutal and unpleasant reality, which we cannot deny however bad it makes us feel. And yet, there is a good that comes out of this terrible truth:
Every enhancement of the type “man” has so far been the work of an aristocratic society—and it will be so again and again—a society that believes in the long ladder of an order of rank and differences in value between man and man, and that needs slavery in some sense or other. Without that pathos of distance which grows out of ingrained difference between strata . . . that other, more mysterious pathos could not have grown up either—the craving for an ever new widening of distances within the soul itself, the development of ever higher, rarer, more remote, further-stretching, more comprehensive states. (257)
The growth of the human spirit in all the ways that matter are the result of the tension between the higher and the lower types of men as they exist in balance in society. To eliminate this tension by equalizing humanity is, in Nietzsche’s view, to kill that which makes us grow.
More on nobility 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.