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Nietzsche's "On the Genealogy of Morals," part 6

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We began talking about the concept of the ascetic ideal in our previous article. This ideal is not something of which the strong partake. It refers to certain tendencies of the priest and the herd. The ascetic gives up ordinary, human desires. In this sense, Nietzsche's use of the word is characteristic of the colloquial usage. We think of the ascetic as a monk who gives up the ordinary intake of food, for example, and instead engages in extreme fasting. Thus, they deliberately deprive themselves of ordinary physiological needs. The ascetic, for Nietzsche, finds his meaning in such activities. Life has lost meaning for him because life has become exhaustive for him and he wills only the dissolution of his own person. He expresses this will to nothingness in the deprivation of his body of its ordinary means of sustenance.

For Nietzsche, not only does the warrior not participate in such activities, but he does not even understand it. He rather simply, naively and unreflectively imposes his own power on others. Nietzsche sees the ascetic as weak and mentally diseased. For Nietzsche, the 'bad conscience' is characterized by the negation of such desires. It is not simply that they internalized repressive norms from without; rather, they deliberately impose them on themselves, and they delight in doing this. Not only does the priest do this, but the herd does as well.

Nietzsche does not merely see the priest with contempt. Indeed, he is impressed with the priest's originality. Such norms had never existed among humans before. The priest's self-denial represents a new phase in the degree of sophistication of humanity's reflexivity. However, Nietzsche does not see such a mentality as healthy because he sees it as a fundamentally anti-life tendency. For Nietszche, the priest is the incarnation of life turned against itself and negating itself. The priest, Nietzsche argues, uses the ideology which he invents to cause the herd to fight against the warrior class. It is in this sense, for Nietzsche, that the priest represents the 'shepherd' of the herd.

Nietzsche sees the ascetic ideal as an example of an attempt to give meaning to life and meaning to suffering; but it is an attempt, according to Nietzsche, which represents an exhaustion towards life and a kind of living death. An important example of life turning against itself, for Nietzsche, is Richard Wagner's later turning towards praising chastity in contradistinction to the initially erotic tone of his meaning. Sexuality, for Nietzsche, is natural and healthy, and to radically repress it is something he sees as a strike against life itself. He sees this tendency in Wagner's later work.

As noted before, the ascetic ideal has different meanings for different kinds of people. Nietzsche denies that the ascetic ideal has any meaning for the artist. For the philosopher, however, the ascetic ideal represents a commitment to objectivity, detachment, universality and impersonality. Nietzsche, on the other hand, argues that philosophy must be intimately in touch with the instincts, and that philosophers must be able to appreciate the fact that thought is inherently impassioned. For Nietzsche, true objectivity does not come from neutrality, but from collating numerous impassioned perspectives.

Nietzsche wants philosophy to be involved in the instincts rather than being detached. Within every animal there is a drive for every animal to do what they're already good at and to avoid what they're not good at. The philosopher abhors marriage because marriage is a hindrance and calamity. We're not good at it. Philosophers hardly ever get married. One cannot even imagine them married. We cannot imagine them doing two basic things that go along with marriage, such as having sex, living a life of healthy and vital desire with whom you want to have sex and even generate offspring whom you have to raise and care about, and also, having affection, growing with that person, the philosopher does not like doing either of these things. Having a household is also involved, trying to grow your place. Married philosophers deviate from the ideal of the philosophers.

For Nietzsche, the ascetic ideal for the philosopher is a kind of megalomaniacal narcissism. This is why he sees the notion of a philosopher getting married as something comedic. The ascetic philosopher wants to dominate and control things in such a way that they have no distractions and are able to spend all of their life and time and energy contemplating, reading about, and writing about, whatever it is that interests them. This is why, for example, Buddha saw the birth of his son as a burden. Sadler notes that for the ascetic philosopher, the only reason Socrates got married was because Socrates believed that if he could get along with his shrew of a wife, he could get along with anyone.

The marriage was not born of true sexual attraction for love; both of which, for the ascetic philosopher, are undesirable aspects of life, since the ascetic philosopher wants to get rid of all passions oriented towards sexuality. Sadler notes that the priest, as a kind of proto-philosophical contemplative, for Nietzsche, affirms the virtues of poverty, humility and chastity. This anticipates the philosopher's desire to avoid fame, women and princes. He does not want reputation or fame, or political power or sexuality. These things distract him from his true calling in life, which is to be able to engage in the contemplation he values. Let all the world perish and burn, but let me still be able to read and write and think about what it is that interests me. As noted before, Nietzsche believes that the priest represents a kind of proto-philosopher contemplative, and that the warriors would have been suspicious of the priestly preoccupation with reading and contemplating. The warrior would have suspected them of being part of the herd. Nonetheless, for Nietzsche, the priests had the unique reflective ability to create an ideology by which they would be able to dominate the herd and the warrior class. For Nietzsche, the priestly class currently reigns supreme, and has reigned supreme in the West since the fall of the Romans.

Sadler, Gregory. [Gregory B. Sadler]. (2013, January 23). Existentialism: Friedrich Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals (part 3). Retrieved from: