Nietzsche’s own “speculative beginning of human history” sees the onset of morals as the result of a slave revolt which has had a two-thousand year history (Nietzsche 2009, 23). Looking backwards in time, he finds that a specific distortion has taken place. Nietzsche juxtaposes the moral “sphere” of the lords and that of the slaves (ibid, 27). The difference between the two resides in the fact that the first sphere is active in the sense that it generates its own worth, while the second sphere is based on ressentiment of the other and thus bases its worth on the rejection of the other. In addition, slave morality reacts specifically to the pre-existing morality of the lords, so that what the lords had called good [Gut] the slaves now call evil [Böse], a derivative term (ibid, 26). Another linguistic trick that serves slave morality is the invention of a moral subject, understood as a substratum that stands apart from all action and is free to act, and in that sense responsible for its actions. For Nietzsche, this ‘being’ hiding behind ‘doing’ is a grammatical fiction, inspired by the subject-predicate structure of our language and eagerly taken on by the moralists (ibid, 35). In reality, there is only ‘doing’ or power, and whether it can express itself is a mute question since there is no power without expression.

In Nietzsche’s work, this genealogy takes the shape of a critique of a specific kind of Verfeindung, namely the above-mentioned ressentiment. This kind of animosity creates and deepens the ultimate smallness of man, which is “our greatest danger, since its very sight tires one out… (ibid, 34).” There is no value in moral value: rather, it is a turn for the worse. To flesh out this notion of danger that Nietzsche sees at the heart of moralism, we need to make the connection between morality, in this sense, and the wrong kind of responsibility, which is for him a kind of Selbstverfeindung. At that point, the philosopher lays aside his hammer and gives us other tools; ones can be used to introduce a new kind of responsibility, one that does not revolve around the wrongheaded distinction between being and doing.

The first step of this part of the analysis goes from slave morality to responsibility. Nietzsche’s analysis allows him to see a being that has gradually immersed himself in a history of self-transformation; and this history is simultaneously the history of responsibility (ibid, 47). In order to become trustworthy and own up to promises – in order “to be allowed the making of promises” – he needs to be able to speak well of himself, to ensure the continuity of will between present and future. This is considered as a right to responsibility by those who have earned it because of the pain involved in earning the privilege. Man has to become “calculable, regular [regelmässig], necessary; also to himself”. This goes against the nature of man, which consists of an essential forgetfulness. Nietzsche understands this as an active capacity of mankind, as it enables one to move forward into the future (ibid, 46-47). In order to become responsible, something has to be opposed to this forgetfulness: to put it briefly, pain and torture. “With the help of this kind of memory device, one finally came ‘to reason’!” (ibid, 51)

The whole sphere of obligations and rights (…) has been watered, like the beginning of everything that is great upon the earth, thoroughly and for a long time, with blood. And might one add, that this world has fundamentally never really shed a certain smell of blood and torture? (even not with the old Kant; the categorical imperative reeks of cruelty [Grausamkeit]?” (Nietzsche 2009, 55)

Bad conscience is the malady that results from the fundamental change in the history of man: his becoming beholden to society and peace. There is now no external enemy or resistance, no possibility for action in the sense of the lords, whose virtue lay in externalizing qualities. The old drives, which can no longer discharge themselves towards the outside, turn inward: Nietzsche calls this the interiorization of man (ibid, 76). “The terrible strongholds, with which stately organisation has protected itself from the old instincts of freedom – especially punishments belong to these strongholds – bring about that all said instincts of wild, free, roaming people have turned inward, against the man himself.” Nietzsche uses the image of man “pushed into a pressing narrowness and regularity of morals”, pursuing himself, gnawing at himself like a wild animal in a cage: in short, suffering from himself (ibid, 77). Then, unannounced, the undercurrent that has been present throughout Nietzsche’s genealogy comes to the fore. Having repeatedly expressed his admiration for the artistic creativity and organizing capacity of the lords, he now likens the moralists to them, saying that they have the same “active power” as the lords, only turned inward: this power expresses the instinct of freedom or the will to power, it is “rich in future” and represents the “great promise” of mankind (ibid, 77-78; 80). This is where Nietzsche’s constructive work begins.

[1] Cited by Honig 1993, 46. it should be noted that Honig here takes a specific suggestion by Nietzsche – that the joy in letting others suffer depends in part on the social status of both parties – and takes it on as a general description of Nietzsche’s work. The expression Nietzsche uses is “Dies vermuthungsweise gesprochen”: ‘This is said based on an assumption’ (Nietzsche 2009, 55).

 

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