Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

Beyond Good and Evil: 291–96

“The Triumph of Bacchus,” by Charles-Joseph Natoire


Note: If you’ve been reading along for the past six months and thinking to yourself “I wish a better/more systematic approach to all of Nietzsche’s thought was available,” first of all, thanks for reading anyway! Second, check out C. Ivan Spencer’s excellent new book Tweetable Nietzsche. I really wish it had been published before I started this project, as there are some excellent observations therein.

Our final text from Beyond Good and Evil gives us a snapshot of the life of a noble and a short list of the characteristics of his soul that he will be aware of but that—as we saw last time—he will keep hidden. These include:

1) Beauty. This may be applicable to all human beings (at least all who have souls), but is of course especially true of those who are capable of reflecting on the reality of our ideas about the soul, morality, and what makes us different from the beasts.

the whole of morality is a long undismayed forgery which alone makes it at all possible to enjoy the sight of the soul. From this point of view much more may belong in the concept of “art” than is generally believed. (291)

There is an aesthetic component necessary to the soul that does have a role to play in the elevation of all of mankind. Related to this is

2) Inspiration. The more one is reflective about one’s self and one’s ideas, the more one begins to realize that we are not islands adrift but are rather organically connected to the rest of reality. And yet, that reality must still be filtered through our perceptions:

A philosopher—is a human being who constantly experiences, sees, hears, suspects, hopes, and dreams extraordinary things; who is struck by his own thoughts as from outside, as from above and below, as by his type of experiences and lightning bolts; who is perhaps himself a storm pregnant with new lightnings. (292)

The external world thus becomes a metaphor for and means of understanding the internal life. The connection is an organic one, but it is also one that exists in the mind through the inspiration that drives great thinkers and artists.

3) Sentiment. The noble will have an attitude toward his fellow man that is appropriately oriented according to the reality of everyone involved, rather than being artificially constructed by the cheap piety of the day:

. . . a man who is by nature a master—when such a man has pity, well, this pity has value. But what good is the pity of those who suffer. Or those who, worse, preach pity. Almost everywhere in Europe today we find . . . an increase in tenderness that would use religion and philosophical bric-a-brac to deck itself out as something higher.  (293)

The true noble will treat all people as they ought to be treated according to who they are and who he is, not according to a made-up morality imposed externally by limp-wristed bureaucrats. Again, this appears to be pretty straight-forwardly Platonic, though I suspect Plato might not have phrased it quite so bluntly.

4) Joy. The life of the noble will likewise be marked by a delight in existence itself:

I should actually risk an order of rank among philosophers depending on the rank of their laughter—all the way up to those capable of golden laughter . . . I should not doubt that they [the gods] also know how to laugh the while in a superhuman and new way—and at the expense of all serious things. (294)

The noble will laugh, unlike the dour philosopher Hobbes, whom Nietzsche quotes as being radically against the activity. Kaufmann’s lengthy note straightens some of this out, but I suspect that Nietzsche is on to something. Hobbes certainly could have stood a bit more light-heartedness—though it may be the case that a Leviathan printed as a humor piece would be unreadable . . .

All of these characteristics may be summarized by saying that the noble will be a disciple of Dionysius. Not the Dionysius of The Birth of Tragedy, but the Dionysius who is the teller of truth. This god is the true philosopher who tells it like it is and encourages mankind to do the same as a means of development:

man is to my mind an agreeable, courageous, inventive animal that has no equal on earth; it finds its way in any labyrinth. I am well disposed towards him: I often reflect how I might yet advance him and make him stronger, more evil, and more profound . . . also more beautiful. (295)

This is the god Nietzsche repeatedly calls “the tempter god,” thus drawing a parallel with Satan. The parallel is made clear when we are told that one of his main characteristics is his shamelessness—a characteristic which humanness in some way offsets.

So what is the end of the matter? That Nietzsche is writing truths which by definition are fleeting and (because they are?) personal:

We immortalize what cannot live and fly much longer—only weary and mellow things! And it is only your afternoon, you, my written and painted thoughts, for which alone I have colors, many colors perhaps, many motley caresses and fifty yellows and browns and greens and reds: but nobody will guess from that how you looked in your morning, you sudden sparks and wonders of my solitude, you my old beloved—wicked thoughts! (296)

Everything written in Beyond Good and Evil is perhaps no more lasting than the colors on leaves in the autumn, but it is true for Nietzsche (even if it is open to ridicule a century later). Or at least, his thoughts and ideas and inner life are true for the noble, even if they are wicked according to the accepted standards of the day. But the whole book has been spent encouraging the nobles to live beyond the accepted standards of the day, beyond the herd morality that would condemn everyone according to human nature and only save the few who fight against it. The intentional contrast to Christianity is of course clear.

And that’s the end. Many thanks to those of you who have read along the past couple of years, and to Peter Haworth and the editorial “nobles” (haha) at Nomocracy in Politics. I appreciate being given a platform to read a few great books and to think about them publicly and communally.


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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