Friedrich Nietzsche's
On the Genealogy of Morals

(Zur Genealogie der Moral)

English translation by Walter Kaufmann
German text available at Projekt Gutenburg-DE
Summary and Commentary

Lawrence C. Chin
1995, revised 2006


Nietzsche's criticism of religions in general and of Christianity in particular is conditioned by the forgetfulness of the human religious experience (i.e. the animistic perspective) due to the de-animization of the cosmos that lays the basis for the age of science and modernity in which he grew up. Furthermore, his criticism of Christian morality is a reflection of the degeneration of Western philosophy. Thus, he really didn't understand at all Christianity or any other religion or ascetic forms, so that his critique here cannot be taken seriously as an "explanation of religion". For an ordinary reader the value of this otherwise enormously insightful treatise lies instead in its exposition of the psychological defense mechanism by which a person, frustrated by external oppression, becomes masochist, redirecting his natural instinct for outward expansion and freedom of movement and creation upon him- or herself, and his search for meaning, pleasure, and satisfaction in life into being oppressed and self-destruction. Nietzsche would like to reduce the entire ascetic enterprise of the human race to such masochist reversal of life functionings, but, in reality, ascetic religion, as we have seen, can be entirely explained through ancients' and primitives' functional, immature understanding of thermodynamics; the psychological mechanism described by Nietzsche below may or may not accompany this ancient understanding of thermodynamics to constitute the ascetic core of religion.

For us who would like to trace the evolution of human spiritual consciousness throughout history, this book of Nietzsche's has another value. It shows how the differentiation of consciousness can finally result in nihilism, in the disintegration of enlightenment inherited from the Axial age, in the breakdown of all notions of justice, in Thrasymachus' "might makes right" (in Plato's Republic) as the only value left. Nietzsche calls this the "will-to-power" of the "blond beast" (i.e. the lion). He is not wrong in isolating it as the most original human value, that admiration for masculine strength and physical prowess. One can find it among any of the "pre-moral" ("pre-civilized") peoples, such as among the Mongols of Ginghis Khan or the Huns of Attila as well as among the ancient Germans. But it is primarily due to despair that the Europeans attempted to recover this infantile instinct of humanity -- and Nietzsche here served as their prophet, articulating their sentiment clearly for them; and these Europeans soon infused amoral aggression, which this concept of will-to-power represents, into their erroneous theories of history and civilization, such as the "Aryan invasion" story, or a general model of the origin of civilizations, that they without exception descended from the amalgam between the invading violent illiterate masters and the invaded cultured agriculturalist slaves, the latest expression of which is still found in William McNeill's The Rise of the West. We all know what sentiment like this led to.

The core of the Genealogy is a genealogy of the present-day morality as invented by Christianity with its spirit of ressentiment: a genealogy of the Christian morality. But although it is a historical (diachronic) re-searching of the origin of Christianity, it does not tell the story of Christianity strictly according to its chronological sequence. Here the purpose is the reiteration of this story in the manner of a chronicle.

In the last section of this book Nietzsche remarks of man:

[Man] suffered from the problem of his meaning. He also suffered otherwise, he was in the main a sickly animal: but his problem was not suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, "why do I suffer?"

... er litt am Probleme seines Sinns. Er litt auch sonst, er war in der Hauptsache ein krankhaftes Thier: aber nicht das Leiden selbst war sein Problem, sondern dass die Antwort fehlte für den Schrei der Frage „wozu leiden?“

In the beginning was the suffering of man. Man was suffering in two ways: 1.) he was suffering; 2.) he was suffering from the lack of a meaning for his suffering.

The factual answer to "the crying question", "Why do I suffer?" is that the blond beast had conquered man.

A. The first stage of the history: blond beast's conquering of man

The blond beast was the first type of man. Originally, every human being on earth was a blond beast. He was the artist, the original, unelaborated form of Dionysus, who acted purely and exclusively instinctually or spontaneously, which is to say strictly according to "the law of life": the will to power. He was this instinctual Dionysus who did nothing but conquer, involuntarily as it were, and that means destroy and reform.

One does not reckon with such natures; they come like fate, without reason, consideration, or pretext; they appear as lightening appears, too terrible, too sudden, too convincing, too "different" even to be hated. Their work is an instinctive creation and imposition of forms; they are the most involuntary, unconscious artists there are -- wherever they appear something new soon arises [the old having been destroyed], a ruling structure that lives... They do not know what guilt, responsibility, or consideration are, these born organizers: they exemplify that terrible artists' egoism that has the look of bronze and knows itself justified to all eternity in its "work," like a mother in her child (p.87).

Mit solchen Wesen rechnet man nicht, sie kommen wie das Schicksal, ohne Grund, Vernunft, Rücksicht, Vorwand, sie sind da wie der Blitz da ist, zu furchtbar, zu plötzlich, zu überzeugend, zu „anders“, um selbst auch nur gehasst zu werden. Ihr Werk ist ein instinktives Formen-schaffen, Formen-aufdrücken, es sind die unfreiwilligsten, unbewusstesten Künstler, die es giebt: -- in Kürze steht etwas Neues da, wo sie erscheinen, ein Herrschafts-Gebilde, das lebt... Sie wissen nicht, was Schuld, was Verantwortlichkeit, was Rücksicht ist, diese geborenen Organisatoren; in ihnen waltet jener furchtbare Künstler-Egoismus, der wie Erz blickt und sich im „Werke“, wie die Mutter in ihrem Kinde, in alle Ewigkeit voraus gerechtfertigt weiss.

When the blond beast, this animal of cruelty without guilt, had, in the (self-) expression of its will-to-power -- that natural instinct for outward expansion and freedom of movement and creation is primitively expressed as an instinct toward cruelty -- conquered another, it created out of the conquered another, second type of man, the guilty type, by encasing the latter within the confines of the ruling structure it had created while conquering -- the enclosure called "society and peace" -- thus thwarting the external expression of that second species' will-to-power. The conquered or the encased, in the circumstances of its predicament (thwarting encasement), then developed within themselves "bad conscience", the consciousness of guilt, which is the will-to-power (i.e. the instinct toward cruelty) turned back against itself -- to exert cruelty on itself. The feeling of guilt is the function of reflexive cruelty.

I regard the bad conscience as the serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experienced -- that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace... These semi-animals, well adapted to the wilderness, to war, to prowling, to adventure [as the blond beast]: suddenly all their instincts were devalued and "suspended"... In this new world [society] they no longer possessed their former guides, their regulating unconscious and infallible drives [i.e. the spontaneous expression, or even compulsion, of the will-to-power]: they were reduced to thinking ... to their "consciousness," their weakest and most fallible organ!...

All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward... the internalization of man: thus it was that man first developed what was later called his "soul" [his conscience, the inner world of man]. The entire inner world, originally as thin as if it were stretched between two membranes, expanded and extended itself, acquired depth, breath, and height, in the same measure as outward discharge was inhibited...

The man [with the burden of the "inner" world]... forcibly confined to the oppressive narrowness and punctiliousness of custom, impatiently lacerated, persecuted, gnawed at, assaulted, and maltreated himself [... with his bad conscience] (p. 84 - 5, Es. 2, sect. 16).

Ich nehme das schlechte Gewissen als die tiefe Erkrankung, welcher der Mensch unter dem Druck jener gründlichsten aller Veränderungen verfallen musste, die er überhaupt erlebt hat, -- jener Veränderung, als er sich endgültig in den Bann der Gesellschaft und des Friedens eingeschlossen fand.... so gieng es diesen der Wildniss, dem Kriege, dem Herumschweifen, dem Abenteuer glücklich angepassten Halbthieren, -- mit Einem Male waren alle ihre Instinkte entwerthet und „ausgehängt“... sie hatten für diese neue unbekannte Welt ihre alten Führer nicht mehr, die regulirenden unbewusst-sicherführenden Triebe, -- sie waren auf Denken... reduzirt, diese Unglücklichen, auf ihr „Bewusstsein“, auf ihr ärmlichstes und fehlgreifendstes Organ!...

Alle Instinkte, welche sich nicht nach Aussen entladen, wenden sich nach Innen... die Verinnerlichung des Menschen...: damit wächst erst das an den Menschen heran, was man später seine „Seele“ nennt. Die ganze innere Welt, ursprünglich dünn wie zwischen zwei Häute eingespannt, ist in dem Maasse aus einander- und aufgegangen, hat Tiefe, Breite, Höhe bekommen, als die Entladung des Menschen nach Aussen gehemmt worden ist...

Der Mensch... eingezwängt in eine drückende Enge und Regelmässigkeit der Sitte, ungeduldig selbst zerriss, verfolgte, annagte, aufstörte, misshandelte...

The man of bad-conscience, this second man who was later to supplant the first to become "man-proper", began at the moment of encasement to suffer -- without knowing the reason why.

B. The revolt of the weak in values

The blond beast who had conquered and walled up the other with the invention of civilization (law), established himself as the aristocrat.

The value system of the aristocrat, pre-morality as it were, which was his self-definition, his way of distinguishing himself from the lower caste (the conquered), then followed the "rule for conceptual transformation," that a concept denoting political superiority should resolve itself into a concept denoting the superiority of the soul" (p. 31, Es 1, sect.6): good, the starting point of the aristocratic value system which ended in bad, following this rule became associated with the aristocracy and the character traits thereof: "a powerful physicality, a flourishing, abundant, even overflowing health, together with that which serves to preserve it: war, adventure, hunting, dancing [the habit of Dionysus], war games, and in general all that involves vigorous, free, joyful activity." ("... eine mächtige Leiblichkeit, eine blühende, reiche, selbst überschäumende Gesundheit, sammt dem, was deren Erhaltung bedingt, Krieg, Abenteuer, Jagd, Tanz, Kampfspiele und Alles überhaupt, was starkes, freies, frohgemuthes Handeln in sich schliesst.") These "the knightly-aristocratic value judgments [die ritterlich-aristokratischen Werthurtheile] presupposed" ("p.33, Es 1, sect.7).

... dass überall „vornehm“, „edel“ im ständischen Sinne der Grundbegriff ist, aus dem sich „gut“ im Sinne von „seelisch-vornehm“, „edel“, von „seelisch-hochgeartet“, „seelisch-privilegirt“ mit Nothwendigkeit heraus entwickelt: eine Entwicklung, die immer parallel mit jener anderen läuft, welche „gemein“, „pöbelhaft“, „niedrig“ schliesslich in den Begriff „schlecht“ übergehen macht.

...everywhere "noble," "aristocratic" in the social sense, is the basic concept from which "good" in the sense of "with aristocratic soul," "noble," "with a soul of a higher order," "with a privileged soul" necessarily developed: a development which always runs parallel with that other in which "common," "plebeian," "low" are finally transformed into the concept "bad" (p. 28).

The nineteenth century reader was asked here to try to temporarily suspend his or her experience of values formed out of the Christian transformation -- or the (first) axial philosophic transformation for that matter, whether Confucian, Buddhist, or Platonic -- of civilization and to say with Nietzsche of the tail-end of the aristocratic value spectrum, bad: "[bad: schlecht] originally designated the plain, the common man, as yet with no inculpatory implication and simply in contradistinction to the nobility." The un-inculpatoriness of this first human value system is the distinctive characteristic that merits the designation of "pre-morality".

The conquered and the walled-up, i.e. the weak, developed naturally, in the environmental confinement which blocked the outward expression of their will-to-power, an "impotent" hatred for their aristocratic masters, the most evil type of hatred of all, which Nietzsche designates as the "priestly vengefulness"; and undertook to overthrow their enemies by a "radical revaluation of their enemies' values," a reversal of the natural and dominant value system.

It is because of their impotence [i.e. impotence in confinement] that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kind of hatred... [the weak, the conquered], who in opposing their enemies and conquerors were ultimately satisfied with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies' values, that is to say, an act of the most spiritual revenge... [The conquered, thus], with awe-inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God) and to hang on to this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence), saying "the wretched alone are the good; the poor, impotent, lowly alone are the good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious, alone are blessed by God... and you, the powerful and noble, are on the contrary the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity... [thus] begins the slave revolt in morality: that revolt which has a history of two thousand years behind it and which we no longer see because it -- has been victorious (p.34).

Weil sie die ohnmächtigsten sind. Aus der Ohnmacht wächst bei ihnen der Hass in's Ungeheure und Unheimliche, in's Geistigste und Giftigste... [The weak, the conquered] das sich an seinen Feinden und Überwältigern zuletzt nur durch eine radikale Umwerthung von deren Werthen, also durch einen Akt der geistigsten Rache Genugthuung zu schaffen wusste. [The conquered] sind es gewesen, die gegen die aristokratische Werthgleichung (gut = vornehm = mächtig = schön = glücklich = gottgeliebt) mit einer furchteinflössenden Folgerichtigkeit die Umkehrung gewagt und mit den Zähnen des abgründlichsten Hasses (des Hasses der Ohnmacht) festgehalten haben, nämlich „die Elenden sind allein die Guten, die Armen, Ohnmächtigen, Niedrigen sind allein die Guten, die Leidenden, Entbehrenden, Kranken, Hässlichen sind auch die einzig Frommen, die einzig Gottseligen... dagegen ihr, ihr Vornehmen und Gewaltigen, ihr seid in alle Ewigkeit die Bösen, die Grausamen, die Lüsternen, die Unersättlichen, die Gottlosen...“... dass nämlich... der Sklavenaufstand in der Moral beginnt: jener Aufstand, welcher eine zweitausendjährige Geschichte hinter sich hat und der uns heute nur deshalb aus den Augen gerückt ist, weil er -- siegreich gewesen ist...

Nietzsche thus has a thoroughly negative evaluation of the morality of the age of civilization -- morality proper which is to supplant pre-morality -- in this case, the Christian enlightenment ethics of the axial age. He notes that hatred is the natural consequence of impotence, that is to say that hatred is the technique for pain-deadening that the will-to-power employs in desperation when, in face of the denial of its external expression (in the condition of impotence), it has caused itself too much pain.

The slave-morality (the first civilizational value system) differs in its internal arrangement from the aristocratic value system in that, firstly, it has as its head "good" but as its tail evil -- not merely "bad" -- with all the "inculpatory implications" attached to the concrete instances of "evil" (and, with these implications descriptively differentiative, "value" finally became inculpatory morality) and, secondly, that the head associates with the associates of the former tail and the tail with those of the former head:

  • good = the wretched, poor, impotent, suffering and sick (the descendants of those conquered by the blond beast)
  • evil = the noble, i.e. the aristocratic blond beast, with all the "qualities" attributed to them by "hatred"

Furthermore, morality follows a different direction in the derivation of its head and tail one from another than that followed by the aristocratic value-system.

While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself [Yes to inside], slave morality from the outset says No to what is "outside," what is "different," what is "not itself"; this need to direct one's view outward instead of back to oneself [the need for pain-relievers, for narcotics]... in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all -- its action is fundamentally reaction.

Während alle vornehme Moral aus einem triumphirenden Ja-sagen zu sich selber herauswächst, sagt die Sklaven-Moral von vornherein Nein zu einem „Ausserhalb“, zu einem „Anders“, zu einem „Nicht-selbst“... diese nothwendige Richtung nach Aussen statt zurück auf sich selber... die Sklaven-Moral bedarf, um zu entstehn, immer zuerst einer Gegen- und Aussenwelt, sie bedarf, physiologisch gesprochen, äusserer Reize, um überhaupt zu agiren -- ihre Aktion ist von Grund aus Reaktion.

The reverse is the case with the noble mode of valuation: it acts and grows spontaneously, it seeks its opposite only so as to affirm itself more gratefully and rejoicingly -- its negative concept [tail] "low," "common," "bad" is only a subsequently-invented pale, contrasting image in relation to its positive basic concept [itself: the head]...

Das Umgekehrte ist bei der vornehmen Werthungsweise der Fall: sie agirt und wächst spontan, sie sucht ihren Gegensatz nur auf, um zu sich selber noch dankbarer, noch frohlockender Ja zu sagen, -- ihr negativer Begriff „niedrig“ „gemein“ „schlecht“ ist nur ein nachgebornes blasses Contrastbild im Verhältniss zu ihrem positiven...

[But: the weak] has conceived "the evil enemy," "the Evil One," and this in fact is his basic concept, from which he then evolves, as an afterthought and pendant, a "good one" -- himself (sect. 10, Essay 1)!

... er hat „den bösen Feind“ concipirt, „den Bösen“, und zwar als Grundbegriff, von dem aus er sich als Nachbild und Gegenstück nun auch noch einen „Guten“ ausdenkt -- sich selbst!...

What therefore was responsible for the generation of the culpable Evil (health) and of the good for that Evil (sickliness) was the perversion of derivation -- rather than the spontaneous discovery of the self: denial of the external, hatred, distaste for life -- only then, oneself, as an after-production, a side issue.

These psychological products (above-mentioned) of the inward expression of Life, of the will-­to-power, constitute ressentiment, the second type of life-instinct for the second type of man, who is however not yet completed.

C. The attempt of the ascetic priest to complete the second man through the system of narcotics dit Christianity

Inculpatory morality, which is in fact hatred (toward the self and others and all), ressentiment, constitutes the nutritious soil in which Christianity takes its roots, according to Nietzsche. Not in the soil of enlightenment love, he thinks. But, then, not yet comes Christianity, he adds: Christianity as such is an ascetic ideal, the priestly ideal, the first "seriousness" forged, on the basis of ressentiment, by the ascetic priest for the sick of whom he was the leader (or the tamer or savior), as an effective narcotics.

l. Nietzsche first notes that the ascetic ideal is universal among humanity, seen working in all cultures at all epochs of history: the ascetic mode, a sort of sickness for Nietzsche, has been on the planet Earth the rule, rather than the exception.

Read from a distant star, the majuscule script of our earthly existence would perhaps lead to the conclusion that the earth was the distinctively ascetic planet, a nook of disgruntled, arrogant, and offensive creatures filled with a profound disgust at themselves, at the earth, at all life, who inflict as much pain on themselves as they possibly can out of pleasure in inflicting pain [the primitive, primordial expression of will-to-power -- instinct for cruelty -- turned on itself] -- which is probably their only pleasure...

That is, the only life-option open to them: recall that "he had no other physical body on which to use his cruelty than that little, insufficient nook permitted him in society: that of his own". Christianity, then, is that form of asceticism persisting in the Western Hemisphere.

If one asks, "How is it that asceticism should have become the rule of life?" Nietzsche has already given the response: "Because it is the greatest system of narcotics ever invented to relieve pain."

2. Nietzsche then provides the meaning (or function) of the ascetic ideal in the middle of the third essay (sect. 13). The origination of asceticism as he has laid out is:

The ascetic ideal springs from the protective instinct [the instinct for life, i.e. the will-to-power] of a degenerating life [i.e. the will-to-power become reflexive: the reflexion of the will to power] which tries by all means to sustain itself and to fight for its existence; it indicates a partial physiological obstruction and exhaustion [i.e. the reflexive condition of life as ressentiment] against which the deepest instincts of life [the will-to-power itself], which have remained intact, continually struggle with new expedients and devices. The ascetic ideal is such an expedient... [It] is an artifice for the preservation of life (p.120).

Das asketische Ideal entspringt dem Schutz- und Heil-Instinkte eines degenerirenden Lebens, welches sich mit allen Mitteln zu halten sucht und um sein Dasein kämpft; es deutet auf eine partielle physiologische Hemmung und Ermüdung hin, gegen welche die tiefsten, intakt gebliebenen Instinkte des Lebens unausgesetzt mit neuen Mitteln und Erfindungen ankämpfen. Das asketische Ideal ist ein solches Mittel... [es] ist ein Kunstgriff in der Erhaltung des Lebens.

Through a genealogy of Christianity it can be seen in the concrete, according to Nietzsche, how the ascetic ideal here subserves the preservation of life among the physiologically obstructed in Europe.

For Christianity was founded by the ascetic priest, the leader of the herd of the sick, in response to the need of the herd for a medication, both justificatory and pain­-relieving, for their suffering, which is (again) their suffering from their reflexive cruelty in the aristocrats' imprisonment of their will-to-power.

3. The ascetic priest. The foundation of Christianity cannot have done without priesthood and the meaning thereto appertaining. Hence it is necessary to first consider the ascetic priesthood.

a.) The priest was "constituted" among the sick; he was one of the sick too.

One (serious?) look at the metaphysics on which the priestly ideal, or the priestly evaluation of life ( "the valuation the ascetic priest places on our life"), was based, unveils immediately that this valuation is perfectly identical with ressentiment, or cruelty-toward-oneself.

[The ascetic priest] juxtaposes [life] (along with what pertains to it: "nature," "world," the whole sphere of becoming and transitoriness) with a quite different mode of existence which it opposes and excludes, unless it turn against itself, deny itself [unless it exercise reflexive cruelty]: in that case, the case of the ascetic life, life counts as a bridge to that other mode of existence. The ascetic treats life... as a mistake that is put right by deeds -- that we ought to put right... (p. 117)

[Das Leben] wird (sammt dem, wozu es gehört, „Natur“, „Welt“, die gesammte Sphäre des Werdens und der Vergänglichkeit) von [den asketische Priester] in Beziehung gesetzt zu einem ganz andersartigen Dasein, zu dem es sich gegensätzlich und ausschliessend verhält, es sei denn, dass es sich etwa gegen sich selber wende, sich selbst verneine: in diesem Falle, dem Falle eines asketischen Lebens, gilt das Leben als eine Brücke für jenes andre Dasein. Der Asket behandelt das Leben... wie einen Irrthum, den man durch die That widerlege -- widerlegen solle...

b.) In order to understand how priesthood was demanded as a necessity by the state of affairs it is necessary to be acquainted with the policy of the aristocrat (reiterated by Nietzsche as if merely his personal opinion on politics), that the sick, insofar as they constituted the greatest danger for the aristocrat, or for their health, and hence for the health and future of humanity, should be segregated from them, and barred from their sphere of living.

The more normal sickliness becomes among man -- and we cannot deny its normality --... the more we should protect the well-constituted ["man's lucky hits"] from the worst kind of air, the air of the sickroom...

Je normaler die Krankhaftigkeit am Menschen ist -- und wir können diese Normalität nicht in Abrede stellen --... um so strenger die Wohlgerathenen vor der schlechtesten Luft, der Kranken-Luft behüten.

The sick represent the greatest danger for the healthy ... it is not fear of man that we should desire to see diminished; for this fear compels the strong to be strong... it maintains the well-­constituted type of man. What has a more calamitous effect than any other calamity, is that man should inspire profound nausea; also not great fear but great pity. Suppose these two were one day to unite, they would inevitably beget one of the uncanniest monsters: the "last will" of man, his will to nothingness, nihilism [that calamitous effect of sickliness]... The sick are man's greatest danger; not the evil, not the "beasts of prey." Those who are failures from the start, downtrodden, crushed -- it is they, the weakest, who must undermine life among men, who call into question and poison most dangerously our trust in life, in man, and in ourselves.

Die Kranken sind die grösste Gefahr für die Gesunden... In's Grosse gerechnet, ist es durchaus nicht die Furcht vor dem Menschen, deren Verminderung man wünschen dürfte: denn diese Furcht zwingt die Starken dazu, stark, unter Umständen furchtbar zu sein -- sie hält den wohlgerathenen Typus Mensch aufrecht... was verhängnissvoll wirkt wie kein andres Verhängniss, das wäre nicht die grosse Furcht, sondern der grosse Ekel vor dem Menschen; insgleichen das grosse Mitleid mit dem Menschen. Gesetzt, dass diese beiden eines Tages sich begatteten, so würde unvermeidlich sofort etwas vom Unheimlichsten zur Welt kommen, der „letzte Wille“ des Menschen, sein Wille zum Nichts, der Nihilismus... Die Krankhaften sind des Menschen grosse Gefahr: nicht die Bösen, nicht die „Raubthiere“. Die von vornherein Verunglückten, Niedergeworfnen, Zerbrochnen -- sie sind es, die Schwächsten sind es, welche am Meisten das Leben unter Menschen unterminiren, welche unser Vertrauen zum Leben, zum Menschen, zu uns am gefährlichsten vergiften und in Frage stellen.

They are all men of ressentiment, physiologically unfortunate and worm-eaten, whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge, inexhaustible and insatiable in outbursts against the fortunate and happy and in masquerades of revenge and pretexts for revenge: when would they achieve the ultimate, subtlest, sublimest triumph of revenge?... if they succeeded in poisoning the consciences of the fortunate with their own misery, with all misery, so that one day the fortunate began to be ashamed of their good fortune and perhaps said one to another: "it is disgraceful to be fortunate: there is too much misery!"

Das sind alles Menschen des Ressentiment, diese physiologisch Verunglückten und Wurmstichigen, ein ganzes zitterndes Erdreich unterirdischer Rache, unerschöpflich, unersättlich in Ausbrüchen gegen die Glücklichen und ebenso in Maskeraden der Rache, in Vorwänden zur Rache: wann würden sie eigentlich zu ihrem letzten, feinsten, sublimsten Triumph der Rache kommen?... wenn es ihnen gelänge, ihr eignes Elend, alles Elend überhaupt den Glücklichen in's Gewissen zu schieben: so dass diese sich eines Tags ihres Glücks zu schämen bekönnen und vielleicht unter einander sich sagten: „es ist eine Schande, glücklich zu sein! es giebt zu viel Elend!“...

But no greater or more calamitous misunderstanding is possible than for the happy, well-­constituted, powerful in soul and body, to begin to doubt their right to happiness in this fashion... That the sick should not make the healthy sick... should surely be our supreme concern on earth; but this requires ... that the healthy should be segregated from the sick, guarded even from the sight of the sick, that they may not confound themselves with the sick. Or is it their task ... to be nurses or physicians?

Aber es könnte gar kein grösseres und verhängnissvolleres Missverständniss geben, als wenn dergestalt die Glücklichen, die Wohlgerathenen, die Mächtigen an Leib und Seele anfiengen, an ihrem Recht auf Glück zu zweifeln... Dass die Kranken nicht die Gesunden krank machen... das sollte doch der oberste Gesichtspunkt auf Erden sein: -- dazu aber gehört vor allen Dingen, dass die Gesunden von den Kranken abgetrennt bleiben, behütet selbst vor dem Anblick der Kranken, dass sie sich nicht mit den Kranken verwechseln. Oder wäre es etwa ihre Aufgabe, Krankenwärter oder Ärzte zu sein?

... no worse misunderstanding and denial of their task can be imagined... [The healthy] alone [certainly not the sick] are our warranty for the future, they alone are liable for the future of man... but if they are to be able to do what they alone [never the sick] ought to do, how can they at the same time be physicians, consolers, and "saviors of the sick"? (sect. 14, Essay 3)

Aber sie könnten ihre Aufgabe gar nicht schlimmer verkennen und verleugnen... sie allein sind die Bürgen der Zukunft, sie allein sind verpflichtet für die Menschen-Zukunft... aber damit sie können, was nur sie sollen, wie stünde es ihnen noch frei, den Arzt, den Trostbringer, den „Heiland“ der Kranken zu machen?...

It is thus that the priest -- the proper physician, consoler, and savior of the sick -- was in demand. The transcendence of the sick in order to act reflexively for itself, to provide itself with medical treatment -- that is the raison d'être, the ultimate meaning, of priesthood: the priest is the third man.

D Christianity (an ascetic ideal and a creation of the creative ascetic priest) subserving the preservation of life among the physiologically obstructed (in Europe).

Now the physiological, and so medical, condition, having inevitably arisen in the sick when they had maltreated themselves too much -- the condition that the ascetic priest was assigned the duty to treat, with his medical expertise -- his knowledge of the working of the will-to-power: to seek "some living thing upon which [one] can ... vent [one's] affect, actually or in effigy"; which is: "the greatest attempt on the part of the suffering to win relief, anesthesia -- the narcotic they cannot help desiring to deaden pain of any kind" (p. 127).

As is depicted below, the will-to-power, in an effort to deaden the pain it has caused itself, now turns outward for a second time, in a second round toward externality, toward an external object upon which to release its effect: cruelty.

The second stage of the psychology of the second man
Hatred for the purpose of anesthesia
  • 1 = the will to power redirected to itself due to confinement by the blond beast
  • 2 = the narcotic attempt to deaden pain, as advised by the ascetic priest

"Someone or other must be to blame for my feeling ill" (p. 127), by which saying the will-to-­power, cruelty, worked thusly; these sick animals had been before oriented entirely toward the internal but are now turned again external, continuously maltreating themselves but at the same time looking for external sentient beings to maltreat, on whom to blame their pain (p. 127 - 128). The full configuration of ressentiment is thus seen: the hatred of the most evil kind came from self-hatred.

But the treatment-plan of the ascetic priest consisted in a re-wounding, a repetition of the first ­wounding by the blond beast, i.e. another forced inward-discharge of will-to-power!

"I suffer: someone must be to blame for it" -- thus thinks every sickly sheep. But his shepherd, the ascetic priest, tells him: "Quite so, my sheep! Someone must be to blame for it: but you yourself are this someone... -- you alone are to blame for yourself!" -- This is brazen and false enough [for the blond beast is to blame for the pain]: but one thing at least is achieved by it, the direction of ressentiment is altered (sect. 15, Es. 3, p. 128).

The third stage of the psychology of the second man
The priestly medication for pain
  • 1 = the will to power redirected to itself due to confinement by the blond beast
  • 2 = the narcotic attempt to deaden pain, as advised by the ascetic priest
  • 3 = the will to power redirected by the priest back to itself again: sin

The words that worked this alteration -- "you alone are to blame for yourself!" -- crystallized, according to Nietzsche, into the (religious) concepts of guilt, sin, sinfulness, and damnation (note: the brand names of medicine), which were natural to their (sickly) instincts and hence easy for them to learn: maltreated by themselves, the sickly already had a talent for bad conscience -- the consciousness (conscience) of guilt.

And these priestly words and concepts were produced with a view to priestly ends: "to render the sick to a certain degree harmless, to work the self-destruction of the incurable, to direct the ressentiment of the less severely afflicted sternly back upon themselves... and in this way to exploit the bad instincts of all sufferers [instincts for cruelty, on self and on others] for the purpose of self-discipline, self-surveillance, and self-overcoming" (p. 128). "The transcendence of the sickly!"

These priestly words (the religious concepts) for the purpose of the re-direction of ressentiment accumulated into a thick sediment of doctrines and practices called Christianity, Nietzsche says. As the medication for the sick, Christianity was not so much a cure as a re-wounding serving to console their pain, from the first wound, and now probably from the second wound as well -- that by Christianity itself ... in any case from their "feeling of physiological inhibition" (the will-to-power feeling itself inhibited). A palliative: the meaning of religion (i.e. the ascetic ideal) in general and of Christianity in particular.

[The ascetic priest] combats only the suffering itself, the discomfiture of the sufferer, not its cause, not the real sickness [if anything, he worsens the sickness]... [But] the alleviation of suffering, "consolation" of every kind -- here lies his genius (sect. 17, Es. 3, p. 129 - 130).

Nur das Leiden selbst, die Unlust des Leidenden wird von ihm bekämpft, nicht deren Ursache, nicht das eigentliche Kranksein... Die Milderung des Leidens, das „Trösten“ jeder Art, -- das erweist sich als sein Genie selbst...

And that subserves the preservation of life nonetheless!

This priestly genius (for palliation) has been immortalized in the three strategies the ascetic priest has invented for combating the feeling of displeasure (which came from the feeling of inhibition), all recognizable as the essentials of the Christian way-of-life.

a.) "This dominating sense of displeasure is combated, first, by means that reduce the feeling of life in general to its lowest point": "the attempt to win for man an approximation to what in certain animals is hibernation, in many tropical plants estivation, the minimum metabolism at which life will still subsist without really entering consciousness." Does not this technique -- the mastery of which requires courage, perseverance, and above all intensive training: training in hibernation -­- does it not seem to one to be the general formula of religion or (in particular) asceticism? Is Nietzsche right about this? In this way one has obtained the many "trainings" so frequently seen in Christianity in particular and in world-religions in general: abstinence from women and the rejection of worldly instincts (i.e. the instincts for life) in general; Pascal's principle, cited by Nietzsche, il faut s'abêtir; moral "selflessness," and more. An astonishing amount of human energy has been expended to this end... of hibernation!

b.) "Much more common than this hypnotic muting of all sensitivity, of the capacity to feel pain... is a different training against states of depression which is at any rate easier: mechanical activity": sometimes referred to as "the blessings of work." "The alleviation [i.e. that for which the sufferer is to be trained] consists in this, that the interest of the sufferer is directed entirely away from his suffering -- that activity, and nothing but activity, enters consciousness, and there is consequently little room left in it for suffering." Now this works because "the chamber of human consciousness is small" (p.134; c.f. also the sections on man's natural "forgetfulness", Essay 2).

c.) "An even more highly valued means of combating depression is the prescribing of a petty pleasure that is easily attainable and can be made into a regular event... The most common form in which pleasure is thus prescribed as a curative is that of the pleasure of giving pleasure (doing good, giving, relieving, helping, encouraging, consoling, praising, rewarding)." Doing good to others -- a most celebrated variant of which is, as everyone knows, "love thy neighbor" -- ­works for pain-deadening because it is a slight excitement of the will-to-power ("the strongest, most life-affirming drive" -- or simply life itself); because doing good to others always entails a slight sense of power on the part of the helper, "the happiness of 'slight superiority,' involved in all doing good, being useful, helping, and rewarding..." (p.135). But caution: this extremely effective and highly successful -- and no doubt the most celebrated -- pain-relieving medication must be prescribed in the most cautious doses (and this the ascetic priest did): "otherwise [those treated with this medication] hurt one another, obedient, of course, to the same basic instinct [the same instinct that prompted them to help: the will-to-power]" (ibid.).

When considering the historical origins of Christianity one can readily see -- Nietzsche notes -- that the "will to mutual aid" ( i.e. the will-to-power prescribed in small doses for pain) naturally led up to "the formation of a herd, to community, to congregation": the infant form of the Christian community. "All the sick and sickly instinctively strive after a herd organization as a means of shaking off their dull displeasure and feeling of weakness: the ascetic priest divines this instinct and furthers it; whenever there are herds, it is the instinct of weakness that has willed the herd and the prudence of the priest that has organized it... [in contrast] the strong are as naturally inclined to separate as the weak are to congregate" (p.135 - 6).

"[T]he general muting of the feeling of life, mechanical activity, the petty pleasure, above all 'love of one's neighbor,' herd organization, the awakening of the communal feeling of power through which the individual's discontent with himself is drowned in his pleasure in the prosperity of the community -- these are, by modem standards, [the ascetic priest's] innocent means in the struggle with displeasure" (p.136).

d.) The ascetic priest's guilty means -- there is, in addition to the innocent ones listed above, this guilty one -- for deadening "dull, paralyzing, protracted pain" operates according to the principle of the orgy of feeling, that curative effect might be produced by a sudden, violent arousal in the sufferer of great affects: thus, what the orgies of feeling do, i.e. how they work and why they are effective as pain-relievers: "To wrench the human soul from its moorings, to immerse it in terrors, ice, flames, and raptures to such an extent that it is liberated from all petty displeasure, gloom, and depression as by a flash of lightning" (p.139).

The forms in which the orgy of feeling is prescribed: "Fundamentally, every great affect has this power, provided it explodes suddenly: anger, fear, voluptuousness, revenge, hope, triumph, despair, cruelty... always [however] under cover of a religious interpretation and justification."

But the chief form of the orgy of feeling was the exploited sense of guilt. The instinct for cruelty, the life-instinct in general terms, forced, in order to attain its necessary release, back upon itself, now the only niche of existence permitted it by the blond beast -- this raw guilt (seen earlier) the ascetic priest undertook to exploit by molding it as does an artist into a definite form, sin: suffering from himself (from his own will-to-power) the sick had been thirsting for remedies and narcotics, above all reasons for his suffering -- "reasons relieve" (p.140) -- thus he "at last takes counsel with one who knows hidden things, too -- and behold! he receives a hint, he receives from his sorcerer, the ascetic priest, the first hint as to the 'cause' of his suffering: he must seek it in himself, in some guilt, in a piece of the past, he must understand his suffering as a punishment."

It is with this guilty narcotics that Nietzsche returns us, having completed a loop, to the core of that elaborate, highly systematic regiment of narcotics dit "Christianity": this core that is the doctrine of (even original) sin, constituted in the creative words ("you alone are to blame for yourself") of the ascetic priest uttered for the purpose of pain-deadening, but resulting in a re-wounding and for which the above-listed innocent means are mere supplement. That the sick, the discontent, should vent, for release, for pain-palliation, their instinct on themselves, once more -- rather than on others -- such is the raison d'être of sin.

Moreover, it is not until this second wounding of the ascetic priest has completed the constitution of the weak into the "sinner" ("from now on he is like a hen imprisoned by a chalk line. He can no longer get out of this chalk circle: the invalid has been transformed into 'the sinner'" [p.141]) that the second type of man, the man of bad-conscience, of ressentiment, has reached his full potential, has developed his talent for self-torture to the maximum of his capability.

E Nietzsche's general assessment of the priestly medication

In respect to the effectiveness of the priestly medication (Christianity in general and its" guilty core" in particular), Nietzsche admits this much: "the old depression, heaviness, and weariness were indeed overcome through this system of procedures; life again became very interesting: awake, everlastingly awake, sleepless, glowing, charred, spent and yet not weary... one no longer protested against pain, one thirsted for pain, 'more pain! more pain!' the desire of his [the ascetic priest's] disciples and initiates has cried for centuries" (p. 141).

But the question decisive to the assessment of a medication needs still answering, the question of benefit which contemporary doctors and psychiatrists too often forget: Has the system ever benefited any of the sick (or the patients)?

1.) "If one intends [the word 'benefit'] to convey that such a system of treatment has improved men, I shall not argue: only I should have to add what 'improved' signifies to me... 'tamed,' 'weakened,' 'discouraged,' 'made refined,' 'made effete,' 'emasculated' (thus almost the same thing as harmed)."

2.) But "it invariably makes them sicker...; one need only ask psychiatrists what happens to patients who are methodically subjected to the torments of repentance, states of contrition, and fits of redemption."

Nietzsche then states his conclusion concerning the effect of the ascetic ideal as a medication:

I know of hardly anything else that has had so destructive an effect upon the health and racial strength of Europeans as this ideal; one may without any exaggeration call it the true calamity in the history of European health" (p. 143).


In the philosophy of Nietzsche we see how Western philosophy -- whose goal since the Hellenic beginning is to bring order to the soul, either so as to prepare it for major salvation after life or, at least, for minor salvation as happiness in this life -- has degenerated down to its lowest. The glorification of the pre-morality of the unenlightened nomads ("master morality") and the corresponding "transvaluation" (sneering) of conventional morality passed down from the axial age as "slave morality" recall indeed the "inverted philosophy of existence" (in Voegelin's words) of Callicles in Plato's Gorgias (or "justice as the advantage of the stronger" of Polymarchus in the Republic): Nietzsche is doing to Christianity exactly what Callicles is doing to Socrates' philosophon. Callicles' "philosophy" is:

Existence must not be interpreted in terms of the Eros towards the Agathon [which in the case of Christianity is agape towards and from the transcendent God], but in terms of the stronger or weaker physis. Nature is the fundamental reality, and the victorious assertion of the physis [here, the primitive instinct called the will-to-power] is the meaning of life. The order of the soul, which for Socrates originates in the eroticism of the mystic [and in the Christian case, in faith and love], is brushed aside as a convention invented by the weaker natures to restrain the stronger ones [here, by ressentiment]. Nobody prefers the suffering of injustice [which the Christians prefer] to its doing; those who say so are of a slavish character; no man of a lordly nature [here, the blond beast] would agree (483 a - c). This is... the deliberate transvaluation of values from an existential counterposition. Callicles knows that he can maintain it only if he can invalidate the Socratic position. With his distinction of physis and nomos he strikes at the heart of Socratic eroticism: "You pretend only that you are searching for the truth! As a matter of fact, you are propagating what holds a vulgar appeal for the masses!" (482 e). Polus was still in despair: how could a man entertain such fantastic proposition as Socrates [that he'd prefer suffering injustice to doing injustice; i.e. the lot of the conquered to the lot of blond beast in the present case]? Callicles knows the motive. Socrates [likened to the ascetic priest here appealing to the second man of ressentiment]... is a demagogue who seeks favor by a pretense to respectability. Callicles is in the know of ideologies; he [just like Nietzsche] gets behind the other man and reveals the dubious motive behind the façade of ideas... (Order and History, vol. II, Plato and Aristotle, p. 32).

Nietzsche is thus Callicles re-appearing.

Justice and injustice in the conventional sense are distinguished as desire for equality and pleonexy [the desire to have more than others]. By nature, however, pleonexy is just; and just order, in the animal realm as well as among humans, among cities as well as among peoples, is the rule of the stronger over the weaker one (483 c - d). The men who make history follow this law of nature [i.e. the blond beast]... (ibid., p. 33).

The position of Callicles hinges on the identification of good and just with the self-assertive expression of the stronger nature [i.e. the will-to-power here]... (ibid., p. 34).

In this way Nietzsche turns Christian enlightened morals into "slave morality". The amiticia between God and human which forms the human soul and then the human community in order (of which humility, self-abasement, and deep empathy for others are reflections) -- along with the motivation toward asceticism: the salvational state of the soul -- is either forgotten, misunderstood, or denied, taken as a slavish weakness or deceptive device to restrain the strong. This is exactly what Plato has had to fight against among his corrupted contemporaries of politicians, rhetoricians, and sophists, and what we have to fight against again today. It results from, as analyzed in the case of Plato, the complete eclipse of the highest component of the soul by the lowest component.

That said, it is true that the Christian enlightened ethics could have degenerated among the many into the slave morality Nietzsche criticizes. Nonetheless, to find positive values in On the Genealogy of Morals, we should focus our attention instead on Nietzsche's enormous talent in the understanding of human psychology, or psychopathology. Sentient beings, whether animals or humans, have all been seen engaged in self-torment, gaining satisfaction in being oppressed or oppressing themselves, when they cannot direct themselves outward, to venture, to exploit, to run free, to exercise mastery over the environment, and gain satisfaction that way -- the natural way. A dog that has been abused and caged up by its owner curls up and wallows in self-pity; a feet-bound, immobilized woman in pre-modern China that served her master as just one concubine among many developed hatred of her self and for her own kind (womankind) as inferior, delighted in self-sacrifice for, and masochist devotion to, the master, thinking that the female kind deserved such lowly fate because of their natural inferiority and sinfulness; a teenager who had been horribly abused by his step-father during childhood, even witnessing his sister being beaten to death, barricaded himself under the table in a psychiatric ward and refused to talk for four years (see Torey Hayden's Murphy's Boy, 1983); someone with borderline personality disorder who was also abused and locked up during childhood cuts her- or himself with razor blade in order to derive satisfaction from self-destruction. These are all instances of the reflexivity of the will-to-power. Even pigs that are caged up in horrendously cramped condition in the factory farm and bite and eat each other out of frustration can be taken as manifesting this reflexivity. In another way, one can interpret this as a defense mechanism: if a sentient being cannot gain, or is prevented from gaining, satisfaction and fulfillment from performing what it is made to perform -- venturing, running free, etc. -- then, to escape from the pain that results from it, it learns to find satisfaction and fulfillment precisely in self-confinement and self-destruction. Satisfaction and fulfillment nonetheless. Nietzsche's nomos, or perspective, was modern, de-animized, structural, so he could not understand religion and (classical) philosophy; but human psychology is something that has remained constant since time immemorial, not subject to the differentiation of consciousness which affects the cognitive, not the emotive, aspect of humanity. In The Elementary Structures of Kinship Lévi-Strauss describes seeing, while among the "primitives" in South America, a man always curled up in the corner, immersed in sadness, and fed only by his sister. The villagers explained that he was a bachelor.