If there were one section in all of Beyond Good and Evil that I think Plato would have endorsed unreservedly, it is 263:
There is an instinct for rank, which more than anything else, is a sign of a high rank; there is a delight in the nuances of reverence that allows us to infer noble origin and habits. (263)
There are some people who just instinctively know when they are the in presence of someone with a great soul. Which leads immediately to the conclusion that some people are great-souled, while others are not:
Anyone whose task and practice it belongs to search out souls will employ this very art in many forms in order to determine the ultimate value of a soul and the unalterable order of rank to which it belongs: he will test it for its instinct of reverence. (263)
That instinct will then be exported, as much as possible, to all classes of society:
Much is gained once the feeling has finally been cultivated in the masses . . . that they are not to touch everything; that there are holy experiences before which they have to take off their shoes and keep away their unclean hands—this is almost their greatest advance toward humanity. Conversely, perhaps there is nothing about so-called educated people and believers in “modern ideas” that is as nauseous as their lack of modesty and the comfortable insolence of their eyes and hands . . . (263)
The closest the common person might ever come to rising above the herd is when he recognizes that I am part of the herd, but he/it is not because it is special or holy. The aroma of the sacred that separates the common from the special is simultaneously that which elevates the common to the sacred. To erase that separation is to erase the one nearly noble part of the lives of the majority of society. And yet we rush to do this, lying to ourselves all the while by telling ourselves that our actions are for the greater good.
Related to that is the lie that all of us are basically equal, and if only we equalize our education and culture the differences between us will disappear. Yet this denies the reality of human nature:
It is simply not possible that a human being should not have the qualities and preferences of his parents and ancestors in his body, whatever appearances may suggest to the contrary. This is the problem of race . . . And what else is the aim of education and “culture” today? In our very popularity-minded—that is, plebian—age, “education” and “culture” have to be essentially the art of deceiving—about one’s origins, the inherited plebs in one’s body and soul. (264)
There is of course the disturbing racial overtone here—see Kaufmann’s footnote for more on that. Yet I think we may also take this passage in the larger sense to reveal a general truth about human nature: we are who we are as a result of our physical and spiritual (Nietzsche refuses to let us separate those) ancestors. To try to cover over my inherent nature and equalize it with the by-definition-different nature of someone else using culture and education is crafting a lie into the very fabric of our society.
For example, the noble soul cannot lie about its own nature—by definition it recognizes only equals and inferiors, never superiors. And so for the noble there can be no concept of grace, humility, or submission:
quite generally it [the noble soul] does not look “up”—but either ahead, horizontally and slowly, or down: it knows itself to be at a height. (265)
The honest noble knows that he is noble, where he is in the ranks of society, and what is above him (i.e., nothing). Where the Christian would see “pride,” Nietzsche only sees a tip of the hat to reality.
But to say that some people are noble is not exactly to say that all others are wicked. The common people have a share in the life of nobility as well, even if it is only a linguistic share:
What, in the end, is common?
Words are acoustical signs for concepts; concepts, however, are more or less definite image signs for often recurring and associated sensations, for groups of sensations. To understand one another, it is not enough that one use the same words; one also has to use the same words for the same species of inner experiences; in the end one has to have one’s experience in common. (268)
Within this linguistic system, we establish a hierarchy of values and responses. How most of us use words sets my people off from another people, and within that usage how I use words sets me apart from the nobles. In each of these areas of usage, I reveal something about my own soul. The noble is the person who can truly speak to a large number of people at the same time—more than speak, he can shape their experiences through the use of language to convey his soul to others, and in doing so shape their own. This is always balanced against the power of the common mass to pull down those noble individuals into the herd. They even have a sort of commoner-appointed champion who specializes in promoting the herd and toppling the nobles: the psychologist.
In almost every psychologist one will perceive a telltale preference for and delight in association with everyday, well-ordered people: this reveals that he always requires a cure, that he needs a kind of escape and forgetting, away from all that with which his insights, his incisions, his “craft” have burdened his conscience. (269)
In studying the crowd he has learned the truth about them but fears what he has learned and finds that he must continue to buttress every lie held by the common people, whether that they are all truly equal or that the patriotic political leadership is the true nobility of the land.
The true noble, on the other hand, lives in tension between isolation and community. The noble knows personal suffering (270), personal “cleanliness” (271), and personal responsibility (272). But he also has an instinct that drives him always back to the herd. The life of solitude is ultimately not for the noble—even with all the headaches and irritations caused by a life spent (usually in hiding) among the common people.
More on nobility in the next post.
Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and cohost of the City of Man podcast.