(1844 - 1900)
Twilight of the Idols: the problem of Socrates
sublime one saw I today, a solemn one, a penitent of the
spirit: Oh, how my soul laughed at his ugliness! (thus
Concerning life, the wisest men of all ages
have judged alike: it is no good. Always and everywhere one has heard
the same sound from their mouths-a sound full of doubt, full of melancholy,
full of weariness of life, full of resistance to life. Even Socrates said,
as he died: "To live-that means to be sick a long time: I owe Asclepius
the Savior a rooster." Even Socrates was tired of it. What does that
evidence? What does it evince? Formerly one would have said (oh, it has
been said, and loud enough, and especially by our pessimists): At least
something of all this must be true! The consensus of the sages evidences
the truth." Shall we still talk like that today? May we? "At
least something must be sick here," we retort. These wisest men of
all ages- they should first be scrutinized closely. Were they all perhaps
shaky on their legs? late? tottery? decadents? Could it be that wisdom
appears on earth as a raven, inspired by a little whiff of carrion?
This irreverent thought that the great sages
are types f decline first occurred to me precisely in a case where it
is most strongly opposed by both scholarly and scholar]y prejudice: I
recognized Socrates and Plato to be symptoms of degeneration, tools of
the Greek dissolution, pseudo-Greek, anti-Greek (Birth of Tragedy,
1872 ) . The consensus of the sages-I comprehended this ever more clearly-proves
least of all that they were right in what they agreed on: it shows rather
that they themselves, these wisest men, agreed in some physiological respect,
and hence adopted the same negative attitude to life-had to adopt it.
Judgments, judgments of value, concerning life, for it or against it,
can, in the end, never be true: they have value only as symptoms, they
are worthy of consideration only as symptoms; in themselves such judgments
are stupidities. One must by all means stretch out one's fingers and make
the attempt to grasp this amazing finesse, that the value of life cannot
be estimated. Not by the living, for they arc an interested party, even
a bone of contention, and not judges; not by the dead, for a different
reason. For a philosopher to see a problem in the value of life is thus
an objection to him, a question mark concerning his wisdom, an un-wisdom.
Indeed? All these great wise men-they were not only decadents but not
wise at all? But I return to the problem of Socrates.
In origin, Socrates belonged to the lowest
class: Socrates was plebs. We know, we can still see for ourselves how
ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks
almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all? Ugliness is often enough
the expression of a development that has been crossed, thwarted by crossing.
Or it appears as declining development. The anthropologists among the
criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in
fronte, monstrum in animo. But the criminal is a decadent. Was Socrates
a typical criminal? At least that would not be contradicted by the famous
judgment of the physiognomist which sounded so offensive to the friends
of Socrates. A foreigner who knew about faces once passed through Athens
and told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum-that he harbored
in himself all the bad vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered:
"You know me, sir!"
Socrates' decadence is suggested not only
by the admitted wantonness and anarchy of his instincts, but also by the
hypertrophy of the logical faculty and that barbed malice which distinguishes
him. Nor should we forget those auditory hallucinations which, as "the
daemon of Socrates," have been interpreted religiously. Everything
in him is exaggerated, buffo, a caricature; everything is at the same
time concealed, ulterior, subterranean. I seek to comprehend what idiosyncrasy
begot that Socratic equation of reason, virtue, and happiness that most
bizarre of all equations, which, moreover is opposed to all the instincts
of the earlier Greeks.
With Socrates, Greek taste changes in favor
of dialectics. What really happened there? Above all, a noble taste is
thus vanquished, with dialectics the plebs come to the top. Before Socrates,
dialectic manners were repudiated in good society: they were considered
bad manners, they were compromising. The young were warned against them.
Furthermore, all such presentations of one's reasons were distrusted.
Honest things, like honest men, do not carry their reasons in their hands
like that. It is indecent to show all five fingers. What must first be
proved is worth little. Wherever authority still forms part of good bearing,
where one does not give reasons but commands, the dialectician is a kind
of buffoon: one laughs at him, one does not take him seriously. Socrates
was the buffoon who got himself taken seriously: what really happened
One chooses dialectic only when one has no
other means. One knows that one arouses mistrust with it, that it is not
very persuasive. Nothing is easier to erase than a dialectical effect:
the experience of every meeting at which there are speeches proves this.
It can only be self-defense for those who no longer have other weapons.
One must have to enforce one's right: until one reaches that point, one
makes no use of it. The Jews were dialecticians for that reason; Reynard
the Fox was one - and Socrates too?
Is the irony of Socrates an expression of
revolt? Of plebeian ressentiment? Does he, as one oppressed, en joy his
own ferocity in the knife-thrusts of his syllogisms? Does he avenge himself
on the noble people whom he fascinates? As a dialectician, one holds a
merciless tool in one's hand; one can become a tyrant by means of it;
one compromises those one conquers. The dialectician leaves it to his
opponent to prove that he is no idiot: he makes one furious and helpless
at the same time. The dialectician renders the intellect of his opponent
power less. Indeed? Is dialectic only a form of revenge in Socrates?
I have given to understand how it was that
Socrates could repel: it is therefore all the more necessary to explain
his fascination. That he discovered a new kind of agon, that he became
its first fencing master for the noble circles of Athens, is one point.
He fascinated by appealing to the agonistic impulse of the Greeks - he
introduced a variation into the wrestling match between young men and
youths. Socrates was also a great erotic.
But Socrates guessed even more. He saw through
his noble Athenians; he comprehended that his own case, his idiosyncrasy,
was no longer exceptional. The same kind of degeneration was quietly developing
every where: old Athens was coming to an end. And Socrates understood
that all the world needed him-his means, his cure, his personal artifice
of self-preservation. Every where the instincts were in anarchy; everywhere
one was within five paces of excess: monstrum in animo was the general
danger. "The impulses want to play the tyrant; one must invent a
counter-tyrant who is stronger." When the physiognomist had revealed
to Socrates who he was-a cave of bad appetites-the great master of irony
let slip another word which is the key to his character. "This is
true," he said, "but I mastered them all." How did Socrates
become master over himself His case was, at bottom, merely the extreme
case, only the most striking instance of what was then beginning to be
a universal distress: no one was any longer master over himself, the instincts
turned against each other. He fascinated, being this extreme case; his
awe-inspiring ugliness proclaimed him as such to all who could see: he
fascinated, of course, even more as an answer, a solution, an apparent
cure of this case.
When one finds it necessary to turn reason
into a tyrant, as Socrates did, the danger cannot be slight that something
else will play the tyrant. Rationality was then hit upon as the savior;
neither Socrates nor his "patients" had any choice about being
rational: it was de rigueur, it was their last resort. The fanaticism
with which all Greek reflection throws itself upon rationality betrays
a desperate situation; there was danger, there was but one choice: either
to perish or to be absurdly rational. The moralism of the Greek philosophers
from Plato on is pathologically conditioned; so is their esteem of dialectics.
Reason=virture=happiness, that means merely that one must imitate Socrates
and counter the dark appetites with a permanent daylight - the daylight
of reason. One must be clever, clear, bright at any price: any concession
to the instincts, to the unconscious, leads downward.
I have given to understand how it was that
Socrates fascinated: he seemed to be a physician, a savior. Is it necessary
to go on to demonstrate the error in his faith in "rationality at
any price"? It is a self-deception on the part of philosophers and
moralists if they believe that they are extricating themselves from decadence
when they merely wage war against it. Extrication lies beyond their strength:
what they choose as a means, as salvation, is itself but another expression
of decadence; they change its expression, but they do not get rid of decadence
itself. Socrates was a misunderstanding; the whole improvement-morality,
including the Christian, was a misunderstanding. The most blinding daylight;
rationality at any price; life, bright, cold, cautious, conscious, without
instinct, in opposition to the instincts-all this too was a mere disease,
another disease, and by no means a return to "virtue," to "health,"
to happiness. To have to fight the instincts-that is the formula of decadence:
as long as life is ascending, happiness equals instinct.
Did he himself still comprehend this, this
most brilliant of all self-outwitters? Was this what he said to himself
in the end, in the wisdom of his courage to die? Socrates wanted to die:
not Athens, but he himself chose the hemlock; he forced Athens to sentence
him. "Socrates is no physician," he said softly to himself;
"here death alone is the physician. Socrates himself has merely been
sick a long time."
qu'on fait n'est jamais compris mais seulement loué ou blâmé.
Nietzsche, Gay Science