By Albert E. S. Smythe
From THE LAMP, September 15, 1900.
THE death of Friedrich Nietzsche at the end of August is likely to bring his writings into even more prominence than they have been attaining. Prof. Bjerregaard has just been saying that he is the embodiment of a fundamental principle. He teaches Individualism in opposition to Collectivism, and “gentleman-morality.” in contrast with “slave-morality.” “An idealist is necessarily an individualist and of aristocratic notions; his aristocracy is, however, not the same as oppression and tyranny; it means higher type and profounder recognition of duty. Nietzsche condemns democracy, by which he understands the ‘vulgar equal-making’ of to-day, that kind of universality which is attained by levelling downward but not upward. He says that that kind of democracy has always been the downward steps of a degenerating power. Against democracy he places individual will, instinct and command. . . He admires the ‘lordly nature.’ He is ‘lord’ who has power to realize his will. He is ‘slave’ who is weak. He looks upon Napoleon as ‘lord’ and the ‘criminal is the type of the strong man under unfavourable conditions.’ Notions of this kind place him in strong antagonism to Christianity. He hates Christianity and calls its morals ‘slave-morals.’ The true man is the individualist and Nietzsche calls him the ‘Over-man.’ Nietzsche is in his own eyes the hero of the ideal man and his leader. He has dreamed himself into a world beyond ‘good and evil,” has risen to the state of the ‘Over-man,’ acts ‘lordly morals’ and is an embodiment of the ‘spirit of Zarathustra.’”
All this is capable, like every other good thing, of the most flagrant misconception, and the vagaries of his followers will as usual be attributed to Nietzsche, while the fact that he died in an insane asylum will serve the shallow-pated as reason sufficient to ignore his writings.
There can be no doubt of the need of a reaffirmation of the virtue of self-reliance and independence. “In our day when so many false movements are set agoing and when effeminacy and weakness of character are so prevalent among those tired of the old order of things, it is imperative that the doctrine of individualism and self-reliance should be taught and should get prominence. It is a doctrine thoroughly Anglo-Saxon and con genial to Americans.” It is in fact the doctrine which distinguishes the life of the new age from the life of the old. “The man of the old world,” says Goldwin Smith, “is born subordinate. The man of the new world is born independent, with a tendency to insubordination.”
The recognition of these things, and perhaps their acceptance, is what one finds in Nietzsche, rather than any attempt to change them. As this is the nature of life, we can best succeed by accommodating ourselves to it, and trusting nature to work out the correct result. The danger of this position for the weak or ignorant is manifest, and with the repudiation of ethics and morals, and the adoption of personal standards, it is not surprising if some find Nietzsche a blind guide. The unscrupulous and the bully is more likely to flourish under such auspices than more refined types. But there is a certain optimism in trusting nature to achieve the highest which is very attractive.
Dr. Redbeard has written in The Eagle and the Serpent, an English Nietzschean organ, that “the business of ‘Superior Persons’ is to ‘discover’ themselves by their own aggressive virility. They are under no obligation whatever to be selected by ‘less superior persons.’ Their strength and will is their all-sufficient warrant. The victor is ruler by the very fact of his victory. It is non-essential for superior persons to be ‘placed’ in the position of rulers. They invite themselves, and inaugurate themselves.”
The difficulty and the danger which beset this position have never been provided for in any other way than that of the underlying principle of Christianity, the foundation of occultism and Theosophy, the principle that all man’s powers, the very highest, are a trust and must be used in service. The service need not be ignoble, there need be no slavery about it. But if it cannot be accorded in the true spirit of service, if government itself cannot be rendered in the selflessness of true service, then there is no hope for the weak and the pitiful and the simple.
Madam Blavatsky recognized the facts of human inequality. “Logical and scientific observation of the phenomena in Nature, which alone leads man to the knowledge of eternal truths—provided he approaches the threshold of observation unbiased by preconception and sees with his spiritual eye before he looks at the physical aspect—does not lie within the province of the masses.”
It is this knowledge which gives power, and the use of that power makes a man either a governor and Master in the great sense, or an oppressive tyrant. All the experience we have had in recent years in the development of “occult” rulers and guides, goes to prove the utter inability of the ordinary “leader” to avoid enslaving his or her followers. Now the object of occultism is to make free men and women. “But in order to achieve this reform,” it is said in the Secret Doctrine, “the masses have to pass through a dual transformation: (a) to become divorced from every element of exoteric superstition and priestcraft, and (b) to become educated men, free from every danger of being enslaved whether by a man or an idea.” Again and again have we insisted on this necessity for freedom, but men forget its value, or fail to understand the necessity. They fling away their freedom, and seem to think that the favour of another may confer that which they are unable through their own weaknesses to cultivate or use.
In the realm of the gods all yield the noble service of freedom, and it has been grandly said of such that they never do anything that they have not first perceived in the heart of another. It is this law of consideration for others which obviates another weakness of the system of “lordly morals” and the “Over-man.” However high our inner ideals may be, they are still the product of finite imaginations, and will well bear checking by comparison with other standards of worth. “Try ye yourselves if ye are in the faith, prove yourselves,” says Paul; and elsewhere—“we are not bold to number or compare ourselves with certain of them that commend themselves; but they themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and com paring themselves with themselves, are without understanding.”
There is no more marked tendency among those who have shaken themselves free from some of the conventional forms of thought or action, than to lose sight of everything but their own self-constituted standards. Is it any wonder that such are without understanding, or that the essential fact of the unity of human interests is forgotten in the magnified importance of their own aims? Can we help each other to be free and to become Over-men, or are we so concerned in our own development, and so anxious for the opportunity to display our own kingly qualities that we merely demand of others their blind and slavish obedience? Not so is freedom attained, for he who would enslave another is already a slave in his own soul.
There has been no higher ideal conceived since its enunciation than that which declared that he who was greatest must be servant of all. No man can undertake the discharge of such transcendent obligation without an inherent greatness which the mere quality of the “Over-man” alone will not supply. Love, the inspiration of life, must be added to genius, before even the greatest can willingly, ay, joyfully, take up the burdens which weigh down his weaker fellows. Without Love, the “Over-man” may be a monster. With Love, the “Over-man” becomes a Man of God.