Nietzsche was wrong and tragic and, in the end, insane. But at least he was brave and honest. Brave enough to stare into the abyss and honest enough to report back what he saw there. He would be disgusted by the puerile, simpering cowardice that characterizes atheism in the 21st century.
In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes of those who have cast off the restraints and bonds of the past: “Need I say expressly after all this that they will be free, VERY free spirit . . .” And from their vantage point of freedom these new philosophers will look down with contempt on those who espouse the ideals of Christianity and liberal democracy:
What [those espousing love and the equality of man] would fain attain with all their strength, is the universal, green-meadow happiness of the herd, together with security, safety, comfort, and alleviation of life for everyone, their two most frequently chanted songs and doctrines are called “Equality of Rights” and “Sympathy with All Sufferers”—and suffering itself is looked upon by them as something which must be done away with. We opposite ones, however, who have opened our eye and conscience to the question how and where the plant “man” has hitherto grown most vigorously, believe that this has always taken place under the opposite conditions, that for this end the dangerousness of his situation had to be increased enormously, his inventive faculty and dissembling power (his “spirit”) had to develop into subtlety and daring under long oppression and compulsion, and his Will to Life had to be increased to the unconditioned Will to Power—we believe that severity, violence, slavery, danger in the street and in the heart, secrecy, stoicism, tempter’s art and devilry of every kind,—that everything wicked, terrible, tyrannical, predatory, and serpentine in man, serves as well for the elevation of the human species as its opposite . . . such kind of men are we, we free spirits!
Nietzsche identifies two types of moralities: The Master-Morality, which he advances as superior, and the Slave-Morality, which he despises. To understand what Nietzsche is saying it is important to keep in mind what he means be the words “master” and “slave.” He is not talking about institutional slavery. When he uses the word master, he means the natural aristocrat, the strong man, the one who has the ability to impose his will. When he uses the word “slave,” he means simply the opposite of master, the natural servant, the weak man, the one who if nature were to take her course would serve the master. He describes the Master-Morality as follows:
The noble type of man regards HIMSELF as a determiner of values; he does not require to be approved of; he passes the judgment: “What is injurious to me is injurious in itself;” he knows that it is he himself only who confers honour on things; he is a CREATOR OF VALUES. He honours whatever he recognizes in himself: such morality equals self-glorification. . . . one may act towards beings of a lower rank, towards all that is foreign, just as seems good to one, or “as the heart desires,” and in any case “beyond good and evil”
In contrast to master-morality, slaves attempt to alleviate their condition by inducing the natural aristocracy voluntarily to cede their birthright, their right to impose their will on those who are too weak to resist:
It is otherwise with the second type of morality, SLAVE-MORALITY. Supposing that the abused, the oppressed, the suffering, the unemancipated, the weary, and those uncertain of themselves should moralize, what will be the common element in their moral estimates? Probably a pessimistic suspicion with regard to the entire situation of man will find expression, perhaps a condemnation of man, together with his situation. The slave has an unfavourable eye for the virtues of the powerful; . . . THOSE qualities which serve to alleviate the existence of sufferers are brought into prominence and flooded with light; it is here that sympathy, the kind, helping hand, the warm heart, patience, diligence, humility, and friendliness attain to honour; for here these are the most useful qualities, and almost the only means of supporting the burden of existence.
Nietzsche is especially contemptuous of democracy, which is the political expression of slave morality, and Christianity, the religion by which slaves conquered their masters. For Nietzsche nature is cruel and indifferent to suffering, and that cruel indifference is a good thing. The strong rule the weak and that is as it should be. And why should the strong rule the weak? Because that is the natural order of things of course. In a world where God is dead, objective morality is merely an illusion slaves have foisted on masters as a sort of self-defense mechanism.
When Nietzsche urges us to go beyond good and evil, he is urging us to recognize the implications of God’s death for morality. God is the only possible source of transcendent objective moral norms. If God does not exist then neither do transcendent objective moral norms. And if transcendent objective moral norms do not exist, neither do “good” and “evil” in the traditional senses of those words. There is only a perpetual battle of all against all, and “good” is a synonym for prevailing in that battle, and “evil” is a synonym for losing. In the story of the madman Nietzsche explored the profound loss felt at the demise of our comforting God-myth:
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out.
I feel like my ears are going to bleed at the bleating of the new atheists who write in these pages. They go on and on and on and on about how morality is rooted in empathy and the avoidance of suffering. Nietzsche would have spit his contempt on them, for they are espousing the “herd animal” Christian slave-morality he disdained and which, ironically, they claim to have risen above. How many times have the atheists insisted, “we are just as ‘good’ as you”? Why have they failed to learn from Nietzsche that “good” means nothing. Why do they insist that they conform to a standard that they also insist does not exist?
The answer to these questions is the same: They refuse to acknowledge the conclusions that are logically compelled by their premises. And why do they refuse? Because they are simpering cowards.
I can respect while disagreeing with a man like Nietzsche, a man who follows his premises where they lead, even if they lead to asking questions such as “Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?” I have nothing but contempt for smiley-faced, weak-kneed, milquetoast atheism that insists that God is dead and all is well because we are just as nice as you.