Philosophy Index

Friedrich Nietzsche

Thoughts out of Season

Part I

By Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche in England:

An Introductory Essay by the Editor.

Dear Englishmen,—In one of my former writings I have made the remark that the world would have seen neither the great Jewish prophets nor the great German thinkers, if the people from among whom these eminent men sprang had not been on the whole such a misguided, and, in their misguidedness, such a tough and stubborn race. The arrow that is to fly far must be discharged from a well distended bow: if, therefore, anything is necessary for greatness, it is a fierce and tenacious opposition, an opposition either of open contempt, or of malicious irony, or of sly silence, or of gross stupidity, an opposition regardless of the wounds it inflicts and of the precious lives it sacrifices, an opposition that nobody would dare to attack who was not prepared, like the Spartan of old, to return either with his shield or on it.

An opposition so devoid of pity is not as a rule found amongst you, dear and fair-minded Englishmen, which may account for the fact that you have neither produced the greatest prophets nor the greatest thinkers in this world. You would never have crucified Christ, as did the Jews, or driven Nietzsche into madness, as did the Germans—you would have made Nietzsche, on account of his literary faculties, Minister of State in a Whig Ministry, you would have invited Jesus Christ to your country houses, where he would have been worshipped by all the ladies on account of his long hair and interesting looks, and tolerated by all men as an amusing, if somewhat romantic, foreigner. I know that the current opinion is to the contrary, and that your country is constantly accused, even by yourselves, of its insularity; but I, for my part, have found an almost feminine receptivity amongst you in my endeavour to bring you into contact with some ideas of my native country—a receptivity which, however, has also this in common with that of the female mind, that evidently nothing sticks deeply, but is quickly wiped out by what any other lecturer, or writer, or politician has to tell you. I was prepared for indifference—I was not prepared for receptivity and that benign lady's smile, behind which ladies, like all people who are only clever, usually hide their inward contempt for the foolishness of mere men! I was prepared for abuse, and even a good fight—I was not prepared for an extremely faint-hearted criticism; I did not expect that some of my opponents would be so utterly inexperienced in that most necessary work of literary execution. No, no: give me the Germans or the Jews for executioners: they can do the hanging properly, while the English hangman is like the Russian, to whom, when the rope broke, the half-hanged revolutionary said: "What a country, where they cannot hang a man properly!" What a country, where they do not hang philosophers properly—which would be the proper thing to do to them—but smile at them, drink tea with them, discuss with them, and ask them to contribute to their newspapers!

To get to the root of the matter: in spite of many encouraging signs, remarks and criticisms, adverse or benevolent, I do not think I have been very successful in my crusade for that European thought which began with Goethe and has found so fine a development in Nietzsche. True, I have made many a convert, but amongst them are very undesirable ones, as, for instance, some enterprising publishers, who used to be the toughest disbelievers in England, but who have now come to understand the "value" of the new gospel—but as neither this gospel is exactly Christian, nor I, the importer of it, I am not allowed to count my success by the conversion of publishers and sinners, but have to judge it by the more spiritual standard of the quality of the converted. In this respect, I am sorry to say, my success has been a very poor one.

As an eager missionary, I have naturally asked myself the reason of my failure. Why is there no male audience in England willing to listen to a manly and daring philosophy? Why are there no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no hearts to feel, no brains to understand? Why is my trumpet, which after all I know how to blow pretty well, unable to shatter the walls of English prejudice against a teacher whose school cannot possibly be avoided by any European with a higher purpose in his breast?… There is plenty of time for thought nowadays for a man who does not allow himself to be drawn into that aimless bustle of pleasure business or politics, which is called modern life because outside that life there is—just as outside those noisy Oriental cities-a desert, a calmness, a true and almost majestic leisure, a leisure unprecedented in any age, a leisure in which one may arrive at several conclusions concerning English indifference towards the new thought.

First of all, of course, there stands in the way the terrible abuse which Nietzsche has poured upon the heads of the innocent Britishers. While France and the Latin countries, while the Orient and India, are within the range of his sympathies, this most outspoken of all philosophers, this prophet and poet-philosopher, cannot find words enough to express his disgust at the illogical, plebeian, shallow, utilitarian Englishman. It must certainly be disagreeable to be treated like this, especially when one has a fairly good opinion of one's self; but why do you take it so very, very seriously? Did Nietzsche, perchance, spare the Germans? And aren't you accustomed to criticism on the part of German philosophers? Is it not the ancient and time-honoured privilege of the whole range of them from Leibnitz to Hegel — even of German poets, like Goethe and Heine — to call you bad names and to use unkind language towards you? Has there not always been among the few thinking heads in Germany a silent consent and an open contempt for you and your ways; the sort of contempt you yourselves have for the even more Anglo-Saxon culture of the Americans? I candidly confess that in my more German moments I have felt and still feel as the German philosophers do; but I have also my European turns and moods, and then I try to understand you and even excuse you, and take your part against earnest and thinking Germany. Then I feel like telling the German philosophers that if you, poor fellows, had practised everything they preached, they would have had to renounce the pleasure of abusing you long ago, for there would now be no more Englishmen left to abuse! As it is, you have suffered enough on account of the wild German ideals you luckily only partly believed in: for what the German thinker wrote on patient paper in his study, you always had to write the whole world over on tender human skins, black and yellow skins, enveloping ungrateful beings who sometimes had no very high esteem for the depth and beauty of German philosophy. And you have never taken revenge upon the inspired masters of the European thinking-shop, you have never reabused them, you have never complained of their want of worldly wisdom: you have invariably suffered in silence and agony, just as brave and staunch Sancho Panza used to do. For this is what you are, dear Englishmen, and however well you brave, practical, materialistic John Bulls and Sancho Panzas may know this world, however much better you may be able to perceive, to count, to judge, and to weigh things than your ideal German Knight: there is an eternal law in this world that the Sancho Panzas have to follow the Don Quixotes; for matter has to follow the spirit, even the poor spirit of a German philosopher! So it has been in the past, so it is at present, and so it will be in the future; and you had better prepare yourselves in time for the eventuality. For if Nietzsche were nothing else but this customary type of German philosopher, you would again have to pay the bill largely; and it would be very wise on your part to study him: Sancho Panza may escape a good many sad experiences by knowing his master's weaknesses. But as Nietzsche no longer belongs to the Quixotic class, as Germany seems to emerge with him from her youthful and cranky nebulosity, you will not even have the pleasure of being thrashed in the company of your Master: no, you will be thrashed all alone, which is an abominable thing for any right-minded human being. "Solamen miseris socios habuisse malorum."*

[Footnote * : It is a comfort to the afflicted to have companions in their distress.]

The second reason for the neglect of Nietzsche in this country is that you do not need him yet. And you do not need him yet because you have always possessed the British virtue of not carrying things to extremes, which, according to the German version, is an euphemism for the British want of logic and critical capacity. You have, for instance, never let your religion have any great influence upon your politics, which is something quite abhorrent to the moral German, and makes him so angry about you. For the German sees you acting as a moral and law-abiding Christian at home, and as an unscrupulous and Machiavellian conqueror abroad; and if he refrains from the reproach of hypocrisy, with which the more stupid continentals invariably charge you, he will certainly call you a "British muddlehead." Well, I myself do not take things so seriously as that, for I know that men of action have seldom time to think. It is probably for this reason also that liberty of thought and speech has been granted to you, the law-giver knowing very well all the time that you would be much too busy to use and abuse such extraordinary freedom. Anyhow, it might now be time to abuse it just a little bit, and to consider what an extraordinary amalgamation is a Christian Power with imperialistic ideas. True, there has once before been another Christian conquering and colonising empire like yours, that of Venice—but these Venetians were thinkers compared with you, and smuggled their gospel into the paw of their lion… Why don't you follow their example, in order not to be unnecessarily embarrassed by it in your enterprises abroad? In this manner you could also reconcile the proper Germans, who invariably act up to their theories, their Christianity, their democratic principles, although, on the other hand, in so doing you would, I quite agree, be most unfaithful to your own traditions, which are of a more democratic character than those of any other European nation.

For Democracy, as every schoolboy knows, was born in an English cradle: individual liberty, parliamentary institutions, the sovereign rights of the people, are ideas of British origin, and have been propagated from this island over the whole of Europe. But as the prophet and his words are very often not honoured in his own country, those ideas have been embraced with much more fervour by other nations than by that in which they originated. The Continent of Europe has taken the desire for liberty and equality much more seriously than their levelling but also level-headed inventors, and the fervent imagination of France has tried to put into practice all that was quite hidden to the more sober English eye. Every one nowadays knows the good and the evil consequences of the French Revolution, which swept over the whole of Europe, throwing it into a state of unrest, shattering thrones and empires, and everywhere undermining authority and traditional institutions. While this was going on in Europe, the originator of the merry game was quietly sitting upon his island smiling broadly at the excitable foreigners across the Channel, fishing as much as he could out of the water he himself had so cleverly disturbed, and thus in every way reaping the benefit from the mighty fight for the apple of Eros which he himself had thrown amongst them. As I have endeavoured above to draw a parallel between the Germans and the Jews, I may now be allowed to follow this up with one between the Jews and the English. It is a striking parallel, which will specially appeal to those religious souls amongst you who consider themselves the lost tribes of our race (and who are perhaps even more lost than they think),—and it is this: Just as the Jews have brought Christianity into the world, but never accepted it themselves, just as they, in spite of their democratic offspring, have always remained the most conservative, exclusive, aristocratic, and religious people, so have the English never allowed themselves to be intoxicated by the strong drink of the natural equality of men, which they once kindly offered to all Europe to quaff; but have, on the contrary, remained the most sober, the most exclusive, the most feudal, the most conservative people of our continent.

But because the ravages of Democracy have been less felt here than abroad, because there is a good deal of the mediaeval building left standing over here, because things have never been carried to that excess which invariably brings a reaction with it—this reaction has not set in in this country, and no strong desire for the necessity of it, no craving for the counterbalancing influence of a Nietzsche, has arisen yet in the British mind. I cannot help pointing out the grave consequences of this backwardness of England, which has arisen from the fact that you have never taken any ideas or theories, not even your own, seriously. Democracy, dear Englishmen, is like a stream, which all the peoples of Europe will have to cross: they will come out of it cleaner, healthier, and stronger, but while the others are already in the water, plunging, puffing, paddling, losing their ground, trying to swim, and even half-drowned, you are still standing on the other side of it, roaring unmercifully about the poor swimmers, screamers, and fighters below,—but one day you will have to cross this same river too, and when you enter it the others will just be out of it, and will laugh at the poor English straggler in their turn!

The third and last reason for the icy silence which has greeted Nietzsche in this country is due to the fact that he has—as far as I know—no literary ancestor over here whose teachings could have prepared you for him. Germany has had her Goethe to do this; France her Stendhal; in Russia we find that fearless curiosity for all problems, which is the sign of a youthful, perhaps too youthful nation; while in Spain, on the other hand, we have an old and experienced people, with a long training away from Christianity under the dominion of the Semitic Arabs, who undoubtedly left some of their blood behind,—but I find great difficulty in pointing out any man over here who could serve as a useful guide to the heights of the Nietzschean thought, except one, who was not a Britisher. I am alluding to a man whose politics you used to consider and whose writings you even now consider as fantastic, but who, like another fantast of his race, may possess the wonderful gift of resurrection, and come again to life amongst you—to Benjamin Disraeli.

The Disraelian Novels are in my opinion the best and only preparation for those amongst you who wish gradually to become acquainted with the Nietzschean spirit. There, and nowhere else, will you find the true heroes of coming times, men of moral courage, men whose failures and successes are alike admirable, men whose noble passions have altogether superseded the ordinary vulgarities and moralities of lower beings, men endowed with an extraordinary imagination, which, however, is balanced by an equal power of reason, men already anointed with a drop of that sacred and noble oil, without which the High Priest-Philosopher of Modern Germany would not have crowned his Royal Race of the Future.

Both Disraeli and Nietzsche you perceive starting from the same pessimistic diagnosis of the wild anarchy, the growing melancholy, the threatening Nihilism of Modern Europe, for both recognised the danger of the age behind its loud and forced "shipwreck gaiety," behind its big-mouthed talk about progress and evolution, behind that veil of business-bustle, which hides its fear and utter despair—but for all that black outlook they are not weaklings enough to mourn and let things go, nor do they belong to that cheap class of society doctors who mistake the present wretchedness of Humanity for sinfulness, and wish to make their patient less sinful and still more wretched. Both Nietzsche and Disraeli have clearly recognised that this patient of theirs is suffering from weakness and not from sinfulness, for which latter some kind of strength may still be required; both are therefore entirely opposed to a further dieting him down to complete moral emaciation, but are, on the contrary, prescribing a tonic, a roborating, a natural regime for him —advice for which both doctors have been reproached with Immorality by their contemporaries as well as by posterity. But the younger doctor has turned the tables upon their accusers, and has openly reproached his Nazarene colleagues with the Immorality of endangering life itself, he has clearly demonstrated to the world that their trustful and believing patient was shrinking beneath their very fingers, he has candidly foretold these Christian quacks that one day they would be in the position of the quack skin-specialist at the fair, who, as a proof of his medical skill, used to show to the peasants around him the skin of a completly cured patient of his. Both Nietzsche and Disraeli know the way to health, for they have had the disease of the age themselves, but they have—the one partly, the other entirely— cured themselves of it, they have resisted the spirit of their time, they have escaped the fate of their contemporaries; they therefore, and they alone, know their danger. This is the reason why they both speak so violently, why they both attack with such bitter fervour the utilitarian and materialistic attitude of English Science, why they both so ironically brush aside the airy and fantastic ideals of German Philosophy—this is why they both loudly declare (to use Disraeli's words) "that we are the slaves of false knowledge; that our memories are filled with ideas that have no origin in truth; that we believe what our fathers credited, who were convinced without a cause; that we study human nature in a charnel house, and, like the nations of the East, pay divine honours to the maniac and the fool." But if these two great men cannot refrain from such outspoken vituperation—they also lead the way: they both teach the divinity of ideas and the vileness of action without principle; they both exalt the value of personality and character; they both deprecate the influence of society and socialisation; they both intensely praise and love life, but they both pour contempt and irony upon the shallow optimist, who thinks it delightful, and the quietist, who wishes it to be calm, sweet, and peaceful. They thus both preach a life of danger, in opposition to that of pleasure, of comfort, of happiness, and they do not only preach this noble life, they also act it: for both have with equal determination staked even their lives on the fulfilment of their ideal.

It is astonishing—but only astonishing to your superficial student of the Jewish character—that in Disraeli also we find an almost Nietzschean appreciation of that eternal foe of the Jewish race, the Hellenist, which makes Disraeli, just like Nietzsche, confess that the Greek and the Hebrew are both amongst the highest types of the human kind. It is not less astonishing—but likewise easily intelligible for one who knows something of the great Jews of the Middle Ages—that in Disraeli we discover that furious enmity against the doctrine of the natural equality of men which Nietzsche combated all his life. It was certainly the great Maimonides himself, that spiritual father of Spinoza, who guided the pen of his Sephardic descendant, when he thus wrote in his Tancred: "It is to be noted, although the Omnipotent Creator might have formed, had it pleased him, in the humblest of his creations, an efficient agent for his purpose that Divine Majesty has never thought fit to communicate except with human beings of the very highest order."

But what about Christianity, to which Disraeli was sincerely attached, and whose creation he always considered as one of the eternal glories of his race? Did not the Divine Majesty think it fit then to communicate with the most humble of its creatures, with the fishermen of Galilee, with the rabble of Corinth, with the slaves, the women, the criminals of the Roman Empire? As I wish to be honest about Disraeli, I must point out here, that his genius, although the most prominent in England during his lifetime, and although violently opposed to its current superstitions, still partly belongs to his age—and for this very pardonable reason, that in his Jewish pride he overrated and even misunderstood Christianity. He all but overlooked the narrow connection between Christianity and Democracy. He did not see that in fighting Liberalism and Nonconformity all his life, he was really fighting Christianity, the Protestant Form of which is at the root of British Liberalism and Individualism to this very day. And when later in his life Disraeli complained that the disturbance in the mind of nations has been occasioned by "the powerful assault on the Divinity of the Semitic Literature by the Germans," he overlooked likewise the connection of this German movement with the same Protestantism, from the narrow and vulgar middle-class of which have sprung all those rationalising, unimaginative, and merely clever professors, who have so successfully undermined the ancient and venerable lore. And thirdly, and worst of all, Disraeli never suspected that the French Revolution, which in the same breath he once contemptuously denounced as "the Celtic Rebellion against Semitic laws," was, in spite of its professed attack against religion, really a profoundly Christian, because a democratic and revolutionary movement. What a pity he did not know all this! What a shower of splendid additional sarcasms he would have poured over those flat-nosed Franks, had he known what I know now, that it is the eternal way of the Christian to be a rebel, and that just as he has once rebelled against us, he has never ceased pestering and rebelling against any one else either of his own or any other creed.

But it is so easy for me to be carried away by that favourite sport of mine, of which I am the first inventor among the Jews—Christian baiting. You must forgive this, however, in a Jew, who, while he has been baited for two thousand years by you, likes to turn round now that the opportunity has come, and tries to indulge on his part also in a little bit of that genial pastime. I candidly confess it is delightful, and I now quite understand your ancestors hunting mine as much as they could—had I been a Christian, I would, probably, have done the same; perhaps have done it even better, for no one would now be left to write any such impudent truisms against me— rest assured of that! But as I am a Jew, and have had too much experience of the other side of the question, I must try to control myself in the midst of victory; I must judge things calmly; I must state fact honestly; I must not allow myself to be unjust towards you. First of all, then, this rebelling faculty of yours is a Jewish inheritance, an inheritance, however, of which you have made a more than generous, a truly Christian use, because you did not keep it niggardly for yourselves, but have distributed it all over the earth, from Nazareth to Nishni-Novgorod, from Jerusalem to Jamaica, from Palestine to Pimlico, so that every one is a rebel and an anarchist nowadays. But, secondly, I must not forget that in every Anarchist, and therefore in every Christian, there is also, or may be, an aristocrat—a man who, just like the anarchist, but with a perfectly holy right, wishes to obey no laws but those of his own conscience; a man who thinks too highly of his own faith and persuasion, to convert other people to it; a man who, therefore, would never carry it to Caffres and Coolis; a man, in short, with whom even the noblest and exclusive Hebrew could shake hands. In Friedrich Nietzsche this aristocratic element which may be hidden in a Christian has been brought to light, in him the Christian's eternal claim for freedom of conscience, for his own priesthood, for justification by his own faith, is no longer used for purposes of destruction and rebellion, but for those of command and creation; in him—and this is the key to the character of this extraordinary man, who both on his father's and mother's side was the descendant of a long line of Protestant Parsons—the Christian and Protestant spirit of anarchy became so strong that he rebelled even against his own fellow-Anarchists, and told them that Anarchy was a low and contemptible thing, and that Revolution was an occupation fit only for superior slaves. But with this event the circle of Christianity has become closed, and the exclusive House of Israel is now under the delightful obligation to make its peace with its once lost and now reforming son.

The venerable Owner of this old house is still standing on its threshold: his face is pale, his expression careworn, his eyes apparently scanning something far in the distance. The wind—for there is a terrible wind blowing just now—is playing havoc with his long white Jew-beard, but this white Jew-beard of his is growing black again at the end, and even the sad eyes are still capable of quite youthful flashes, as may be noticed at this very moment. For the eyes of the old Jew, apparently so dreamy and so far away, have suddenly become fixed upon something in the distance yonder. The old Jew looks and looks— and then he rubs his eyes—and then he eagerly looks again. And now he is sure of himself. His old and haggard face is lighting up, his stooped figure suddenly becomes more erect, and a tear of joy is seen running over his pale cheek into that long beard of his. For the old Jew has recognised some one coming from afar—some one whom he had missed, but never mentioned, for his Law forbade him to do this—some one, however, for whom he had secretly always mourned, as only the race of the psalmists and the prophets can mourn—and he rushes toward him, and he falls on his neck and he kisses him, and he says to his servants: "Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it and let us eat and be merry!" AMEN.

Oscar Levy.
London, January 1909.

Thoughts out of Season (Part I) by Friedrich Nietzsche. Translated by Anthony M. Ludovici