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Title: Egotism in German Philosophy
Author: Santayana, George
Language: English
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Late Professor of Philosophy in Harvard University

London and Toronto
J. M. Dent & Sons Limited
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons

[Pg 5]

This book is one of the many that the present war has brought forth,
but it is the fruit of a long gestation. During more than twenty years,
while I taught philosophy at Harvard College, I had continual occasion
to read and discuss German metaphysics. From the beginning it wore in
my eyes a rather questionable shape. Under its obscure and fluctuating
tenets I felt something sinister at work, something at once hollow and
aggressive. It seemed a forced method of speculation, producing more
confusion than it found, and calculated chiefly to enable practical
materialists to call themselves idealists and rationalists to remain
theologians. At the same time the fear that its secret might be eluding
me, seeing that by blood and tradition I was perhaps handicapped in the
matter, spurred me to great and prolonged efforts to understand what
confronted me so bewilderingly. I wished to be as clear and just about
it as I could--more clear and just, indeed, than it ever was about

For the rest, German philosophy was never my chief interest, and I
write frankly as an outsider, with no professorial pretensions; merely
using my common [Pg 6] reason in the presence of claims put forth by
others to a logical authority and a spiritual supremacy which they are
far from possessing.

A reader indoctrinated in the German schools is, therefore, free not
to read further. My object is neither to repeat his familiar arguments
in their usual form, nor to refute them; my object is to describe them
intelligibly and to judge them from the point of view of the layman,
and in his interests. For those who wish to study German philosophy,
the original authors are at hand: all I would give here is the aroma of
German philosophy that has reached my nostrils. If the reader has smelt
something of the kind, so much the better: we shall then understand
each other. The function of history or of criticism is not passively
to reproduce its subject-matter. One real world, with one stout corpus
of German philosophy, is enough. Reflection and description are things
superadded, things which ought to be more winged and more selective
than what they play upon. They are echoes of reality in the sphere
of art, sketches which may achieve all the truth appropriate to them
without belying their creative limitations: for their essence is to be
intellectual symbols, at once indicative and original.

Egotism--subjectivity in thought and wilfulness in
morals--which is the soul of German philosophy, [Pg 7] is
by no means a gratuitous thing. It is a genuine expression of the
pathetic situation in which any animal finds itself upon earth, and
any intelligence in the universe. It is an inevitable and initial
circumstance in life. But like every material accident, it is a thing
to abstract from and to discount as far as possible. The perversity of
the Germans, the childishness and sophistry of their position, lies
only in glorifying what is an inevitable impediment, and in marking
time on an earthly station from which the spirit of man--at least
in spirit--is called to fly.

This glorified and dogged egotism, which a thousand personal and
technical evidences had long revealed to me in German philosophy,
might now, I should think, be evident to the whole world. Not that
the German philosophers are responsible for the war, or for that
recrudescence of corporate fanaticism which prepared it from afar. They
merely shared and justified prophetically that spirit of uncompromising
self-assertion and metaphysical conceit which the German nation is now
reducing to action. It is a terrible thing to have a false religion,
all the more terrible the deeper its sources are in the human soul.
Like many a false religion before it, this which now inspires the
Germans has made a double assault upon mankind, one with the secular
arm, and another by solemn asseverations and sophistries. This
assault, [Pg 8] though its incidental methods may be dubious, has been
bold and honest enough in principle. It has been like those which
all conquerors and all founders of militant religions have made at
intervals against liberty or reason. And the issue will doubtless be
the same. Liberty may be maimed, but not killed; reason may be bent,
but not broken. The dark aggression is to be repelled, if possible, by
force of arms; but failing that, it will be nullified in time by the
indomitable moral resistance which maturer races, richer in wisdom, can
exert successfully against the rude will of the conqueror.

[Pg 9]





What I propose in these pages to call German philosophy is not
identical with philosophy in Germany. The religion of the Germans is
foreign to them; and the philosophy associated with religion before
the Reformation, and in Catholic circles since, is a system native to
the late Roman Empire. Their irreligion is foreign too; the sceptical
and the scientific schools that have been conspicuous in other
countries have taken root in Germany as well. Thus, if we counted the
Catholics and the old-fashioned Protestants on the one hand, and the
materialists (who call themselves monists) on the other, we should very
likely discover that the majority of intelligent Germans held views
which German philosophy proper must entirely despise, and that this
philosophy seemed as strange to them as to other people.

For an original and profound philosophy has arisen in Germany, as
distinct in genius and method from [Pg 12] Greek and Catholic
philosophy as this is from the Indian systems. The great characteristic
of German philosophy is that it is deliberately subjective and limits
itself to the articulation of self-consciousness. The whole world
appears there, but at a certain remove; it is viewed and accepted
merely as an idea framed in consciousness, according to principles
fetched from the most personal and subjective parts of the mind, such
as duty, will, or the grammar of thought. The direction in which German
philosophy is profound is the direction of inwardness. Whatever we may
think of its competence in other matters, it probes the self--as
unaided introspection may--with extraordinary intentness and
sincerity. In inventing the transcendental method, the study of
subjective projections and perspectives, it has added a new dimension
to human speculation.

The foreign religion and the foreign irreligion of Germany are both
incompatible with German philosophy. This philosophy cannot accept any
dogmas, for its fundamental conviction is that there are no existing
things except imagined ones: God as much as matter is exhausted by
the thought of him, and entirely resident in this thought. The notion
that knowledge can _discover_ anything, or that anything previously
existing can be revealed, is discarded altogether: for there is nothing
to discover, and even [Pg 13] if there was, the mind could not reach
it; it could only reach the idea it might call up from its own depths.
This idea might be perhaps justified and necessary by virtue of its
subjective roots in the will or in duty, but never justified by its
supposed external object, an object with which nobody could ever
compare it. German philosophy is no more able to believe in God than in
matter, though it must talk continually of both.

At the same time this subjectivism is not irreligious. It is mystical,
faithful, enthusiastic: it has all the qualities that gave early
Protestantism its religious force. It is rebellious to external
authority, conscious of inward light and of absolute duties. It is
full of faith, if by faith we understand not definite beliefs held on
inadequate evidence, but a deep trust in instinct and destiny.

Rather than religious, however, this philosophy is romantic. It accepts
passionately the aims suggested to it by sentiment or impulse. It
despises prudence and flouts the understanding. In _Faust_ and in _Pier
Gynt_ we have a poetic echo of its fundamental inspiration, freed from
theological accommodations or academic cant. It is the adventure of a
wild, sensitive, boyish mind, that now plays the fairy prince and now
the shabby and vicious egoist; a rebel and an enthusiast, yet often
a sensualist to [Pg 14] boot by way of experiment; a man eager for
experience but blind to its lessons, vague about nature, and blundering
about duty, but confident that he can in some way play the magician and
bring the world round to serve his will and spiritual necessities.

Happiness and despair are alike impossible with such a temperament.
Its empiricism is perennial. It cannot lose faith in the vital impulse
it expresses; all its fancy, ingenuity, and daring philosophy are
embroideries which it makes upon a dark experience.

It cannot take outer facts very seriously; they are but symbols of its
own unfathomable impulses. So pensive animals might reason. The just
and humble side of German philosophy--if we can lend it virtues
to which it is deeply indifferent--is that it accepts the total
relativity of the human mind and luxuriates in it, much as we might
expect spiders or porpoises to luxuriate in their special sensibility,
making no vain effort to peep through the bars of their psychological

This sort of agnosticism in a minor key is conspicuous in the _Critique
of Pure Reason_. In a major key it reappears in Nietzsche, when he
proclaims a preference for illusion over truth. More mystically
expressed it pervades the intervening thinkers. The more profound they
are the more content and even delighted they are to consider nothing
but their own [Pg 15] creations. Their theory of knowledge proclaims
that knowledge is impossible. You know only your so-called knowledge,
which itself knows nothing; and you are limited to the autobiography of
your illusions.

The Germans express this limitation of their philosophy by calling
it idealism. In several senses it fully deserves this name. It is
idealistic psychologically in that it regards mental life as groundless
and all-inclusive, and denies that a material world exists, except as
an idea necessarily bred in the mind. It is idealistic, too, in that
it puts behind experience a background of concepts, and not of matter;
a ghostly framework of laws, categories, moral or logical principles
to be the stiffening and skeleton of sensible experience, and to
lend it some substance and meaning. It is idealistic in morals also,
in that it approves of pursuing the direct objects of will, without
looking over one's shoulder or reckoning the consequences. These direct
objects are ideals, whereas happiness, or any satisfaction based on
renunciation and compromise, seems to these spirited philosophers the
aim of a degraded, calculating mind. The word idealism, used in this
sense, should not mislead us; it indicates sympathy with life and its
passions, particularly the learned and political ones; it does not
indicate any distaste for material goods or material agencies. The
German moral imagination is in its first or dogmatic [Pg 16] stage,
not in the second or critical one. It is in love with life rather than
with wisdom.

There is accordingly one sense of the term idealism--the original
one--in which this philosophy knows nothing of it, the Platonic
and poetic sense in which the ideal is something _better_ than
the fact. The Platonic idealist is the man by nature so wedded to
perfection that he sees in everything not the reality but the faultless
ideal which the reality misses and suggests. Hegel, indeed, drew an
outline portrait of things, according to what he thought their ideal
essence; but it was uglier and more dreary than the things themselves.
Platonic idealism requires a gift of impassioned contemplation, an
incandescent fancy that leaps from the things of sense to the goals
of beauty and desire. It spurns the earth and believes in heaven, a
form of religion most odious to the Germans. They think this sort
of idealism not only visionary but somewhat impious; for their own
religion takes the form of piety and affection towards everything
homely, imperfect, unstable, and progressive. They yearn to pursue
the unattainable and encounter the unforeseen. This romantic craving
hangs together with their taste for the picturesque and emphatic
in the plastic arts, and for the up-welling evanescent emotions of
music. Yet their idealism is a religion of the actual. It rejects
nothing [Pg 17] in the daily experience of life, and looks to nothing
essentially different beyond. It looks only for more of the same thing,
believing in perpetual growth, which is an ambiguous notion. Under the
fashionable name of progress what these idealists sincerely cherish is
the vital joy of transition; and usually the joy of this transition
lies much more in shedding their present state than in attaining a
better one. For they suffer and wrestle continually, and by a curious
and deeply animal instinct, they hug and sanctify this endless struggle
all the more when it rends and bewilders them, bravely declaring it to
be absolute, infinite, and divine.

Such in brief is German philosophy, at least, such it might be said
to be if any clear account of it did not necessarily falsify it; but
one of its chief characteristics, without which it would melt away, is
ambiguity. You cannot maintain that the natural world is the product
of the human mind without changing the meaning of the word mind and
of the word human. You cannot deny that there is a substance without
turning into a substance whatever you substitute for it. You cannot
identify yourself with God without at once asserting and denying the
existence of God and of yourself. When you speak of such a thing as
the consciousness of society you must never decide whether you mean
the consciousness [Pg 18] individuals have of society or a fabled
consciousness which society is to have of itself: the first meaning
would spoil your eloquence, and the second would betray your mythology.

What is involved in all these equivocations is not merely a change
of vocabulary, that shifting use of language which time brings with
it. No, the persistence of the old meanings alone gives point to the
assertions that change them and identify them with their opposites.
Everywhere, therefore, in these speculations, you must remain in
suspense as to what precisely you are talking about. A vague, muffled,
dubious thought must carry you along as on a current. Your scepticism
must not derange your common sense; your conduct must not express your
radical opinions; a certain afflatus must bear you nobly onward through
a perpetual incoherence. You must always be thinking not of what you
are thinking of but of yourself or of "something higher" Otherwise you
cannot live this philosophy or understand it from within.

The mere existence of this system, as of any other, proves that a
provocation to frame it is sometimes found in experience or language
or the puzzles of reflection. Not that there need be any solidity in
it on that account. German philosophy is a sort of religion, and like
other religions it may be capable [Pg 19] of assimilating a great
amount of wisdom, while its first foundation is folly. This first folly
itself will not lack plausible grounds; there is provocation enough in
a single visit to a madhouse for the assertion that the mind can know
nothing but the ideas it creates; nevertheless the assertion is false,
and such facile scepticism loses sight of the essence of knowledge. The
most disparate minds, since they do not regard themselves, may easily
regard the same object. Only the maniac stares at his own ideas; he
confuses himself in his perceptions; he projects them into the wrong
places, and takes surrounding objects to be different from what they
are. But perceptions originally have external objects; they express
a bodily reaction, or some inward preparation for such a reaction.
They are reports. The porpoise and the spider are not shut up in their
self-consciousness; however foreign to us may be the language of their
senses, they know the sea and air that we know, and have to meet the
same changes and accidents there which we meet--and they even
have to meet us, sometimes, to their sorrow. Their knowledge does not
end in acquaintance with that sensuous language of theirs, whatever
it may be, but flies with the import of that language and salutes the
forces which confront them in action, and which also confront us. In
focussing these forces through the lenses and veils [Pg 20] of sense
knowledge arises; and to arrest our attention on those veils and
lenses and say they are all we know, belies the facts of the case and
is hardly honest. If we could really do that, we should be retracting
the first act of intelligence and becoming artificial idiots. Yet this
sophistication is the first principle of German philosophy (borrowed,
indeed, from non-Germans), and is the thesis supposed to be proved in
Kant's _Critique of Pure Reason_.



The German people, according to Fichte and Hegel, are called by the
plan of Providence to occupy the supreme place in the history of the

A little consideration of this belief will perhaps lead us more surely
to the heart of German philosophy than would the usual laborious
approach to it through what is called the theory of knowledge. This
theory of knowledge is a tangle of equivocations; but even if it were
correct it would be something technical, and the technical side of
a great philosophy, interesting as it may be in itself, hardly ever
determines its essential views. These essential views are derived
rather from instincts or traditions which the technique of the system
is designed to defend; or, at least, they decide how that technique
shall be applied and interpreted.

The moment we hear Fichte and Hegel mentioning a providential plan of
the world, we gather that in their view the history of things is not
infinite and endlessly various, but has a closed plot like a drama in
which one nation (the very one to which these [Pg 22] philosophers
belong) has the central place and the chief rôle: and we perceive at
once that theirs is a revealed philosophy. It is the heir of Judaism.
It could never have been formed by free observation of life and
nature, like the philosophy of Greece or of the Renaissance. It is
Protestant theology rationalised. The element of religious faith, in
the Protestant sense of the word faith, is essential to it. About the
witness of tradition, even about the witness of the senses, it may be
as sceptical as it likes. It may reduce nature and God to figments
of the mind; but throughout its criticism of all matters of fact it
will remain deeply persuaded that the questioning and striving spirit
within is indefeasible and divine. It will never reduce all things,
including the mind, to loose and intractable appearances, as might a
free idealism. It will employ its scepticism to turn all things into
ideas, in order to chain them the more tightly to the moral interests
of the thinker. These moral interests, human and pathetic as they may
seem to the outsider, it will exalt immeasurably, pronouncing them to
be groundless and immutable; and it will never tolerate the suspicion
that all things might not minister to them.

From the same tenet of Fichte and Hegel we may also learn that in
the plan of the world, as this revealed philosophy conceives it, the
principal figures [Pg 23] are not individuals, like the Creator, the
Redeemer, and one's own soul, but nations and institutions. It is of
the essence of Protestantism and of German philosophy that religion
should gradually drop its supernatural personages and comforting
private hopes and be absorbed in the duty of living manfully and
conscientiously the conventional life of this world.

Not the whole life of the world, however, since gay religions and many
other gay things are excluded, or admitted only as childish toys.
Positive religion, in fact, disappears, as well as the frivolous sort
of worldliness, and there remains only a consecrated worldliness that
is deliberate and imposed as a duty.

Just as in pantheism God is naturalised into a cosmic force, so in
German philosophy the Biblical piety of the earlier Protestants is
secularised into social and patriotic zeal.

German philosophy has inherited from Protestantism its earnestness and
pious intention; also a tendency to retain, for whatever changed views
it may put forward, the names of former beliefs. God, freedom, and
immortality, for instance, may eventually be transformed into their
opposites, since the oracle of faith is internal; but their names may
be kept, together with a feeling that what will now bear those names
is much more satisfying than what they originally stood for. If it
should seem that [Pg 24] God came nearest to us, and dwelt within us,
in the form of vital energy, if freedom should turn out really to mean
personality, if immortality, in the end, should prove identical with
the endlessness of human progress, and if these new thoughts should
satisfy and encourage us as the evanescent ideas of God, freedom, and
immortality satisfied and encouraged our fathers, why should we not
use these consecrated names for our new conceptions, and thus indicate
the continuity of religion amid the flux of science? This expedient is
not always hypocritical. It was quite candid in men like Spinoza and
Emerson, whose attachment to positive religion had insensibly given,
way to a half-mystical, half-intellectual satisfaction with the natural
world, as their eloquent imagination conceived it. But whether candid
or disingenuous, this habit has the advantage of oiling the wheels of
progress with a sacred unction. In facilitating change it blurs the
consciousness of change, and leads people to associate with their new
opinions sentiments which are logically incompatible with them. The
attachment of many tender-minded people to German philosophy is due to
this circumstance, for German philosophy is not tender.

The beauty and the torment of Protestantism is that it opens the door
so wide to what lies beyond it. This progressive quality it has fully
transmitted [Pg 25] to all the systems of German philosophy. Not that
each of them, like the earlier Protestant sects, does not think itself
true and final; but in spite of itself it suggests some next thing. We
must expect, therefore, that the more conservative elements in each
system should provoke protests in the next generation; and it is hard
to say whether such inconstancy is a weakness, or is simply loyalty
to the principle of progress. Kant was a puritan; he revered the rule
of right as something immutable and holy, perhaps never obeyed in the
world. Fichte was somewhat freer in his Calvinism; the rule of right
was the moving power in all life and nature, though it might have been
betrayed by a doomed and self-seeking generation. Hegel was a very free
and superior Lutheran; he saw that the divine will was necessarily and
continuously realised in this world, though we might not recognise the
fact in our petty moral judgments. Schopenhauer, speaking again for
this human judgment, revolted against that cruel optimism, and was
an indignant atheist; and finally, in Nietzsche, this atheism became
exultant; he thought it the part of a man to abet the movement of
things, however calamitous, in order to appropriate its wild force and
be for a moment the very crest of its wave.

Protestantism was not a reformation by accident, [Pg 26] because it
happened to find the church corrupt; it is a reformation essentially,
in that every individual must reinterpret the Bible and the practices
of the church in his own spirit. If he accepted them without renewing
them in the light of his personal religious experience, he would never
have what Protestantism thinks living religion. German philosophy has
inherited this characteristic; it is not a cumulative science that
can be transmitted ready made. It is essentially a reform, a revision
of traditional knowledge, which each neophyte must make for himself,
under pain of rendering only lip-service to transcendental truth,
and remaining at heart unregenerate. His chief business is to be
converted; he must refute for himself the natural views with which he
and all other men have begun life. And still these views--like
the temptations of Satan--inevitably form themselves afresh
in each generation, and even in the philosopher, between one spell
of introspective thought and another, so that he always has to
recapitulate his saving arguments from the beginning. Each new idealist
in each of his books, often in every lecture and every chapter, must
run back to refute again the same homely opponents--materialism,
naturalism, dualism, or whatever he may call them. Dead as each day
he declares these foes to be, he has to fight them again in his own
soul on the morrow. [Pg 27] Hence his continual preoccupation lest he
fall away, or lest the world should forget him. To preserve his freedom
and his idealism he must daily conquer them anew. This philosophy is
secondary, critical, sophistical; it has a perennial quarrel with
inevitable opinions.

Protestantism, in spite of its personal status, wished to revert
to primitive Christianity. In this desire it was guided partly
by a conventional faith in the Scriptures, and partly by a deep
sympathy with experimental religion. German religion and philosophy
are homesick: they wish to be quite primitive once more. And they
actually remain primitive in spirit, spontaneous and tentative, even
in the midst of the most cumbrous erudition, as a composition of
Dürer's, where flesh, fish, and fowl crowd every corner, still remains
primitive, puzzled, and oppressed. Such a naïve but overloaded mind
is lost in admiration of its own depth and richness; yet, in fact, it
is rather helpless and immature; it has not learned to select what
suffices, or to be satisfied with what is best.

Faith for the Germans must be a primitive and groundless assurance,
not knowledge credibly transmitted by others whose experience may
have been greater than our own. Even philosophy is not conceived as a
reasonable adjustment to what may have [Pg 28] been discovered to be
the constitution of the world; it is in the first instance a criticism,
to dissolve that reputed knowledge, and then, when primitive innocence
is happily restored, it is a wager or demand made beyond all evidence,
and in contempt of all evidence, in obedience to an innate impulse.
Of course, it is usual, as a concession to the weaker brethren,
to assume that experience, in the end, will seem to satisfy these
demands, and that we shall win our bets and our wars; but the point of
principle, borrowed by German philosophy from Protestantism, is that
the authority of faith is intrinsic and absolute, while any external
corroboration of it is problematical and not essential to the rightness
of the assumptions that faith makes. In this we have a fundamental
characteristic of the school. Carried (as it seldom is) to its logical
conclusion, it leads to the ultra-romantic and ultra-idealistic
doctrine that the very notion of truth or fact is a fiction of, the
will, invented to satisfy our desire for some fixed point of reference
in thought. In this doctrine we may see the culmination of the
Protestant rebellion against mediation in religion, against external
authority, and against dogma.

The Protestant precept to search the Scriptures, and the sense
that every man must settle the highest questions for himself, have
contributed to the zeal [Pg 29] with which science and scholarship
have been pursued in Germany. In no other country has so large, so
industrious, and (amid its rude polemics) so co-operative a set of
professors devoted itself to all sorts of learning. But as the original
motive was to save one's soul, an apologetic and scholastic manner
has often survived: the issue is prejudged and egotism has appeared
even in science. For favourable as Protestantism is to investigation
and learning, it is almost incompatible with clearness of thought and
fundamental freedom of attitude. If the controlling purpose is not
political or religious, it is at least "philosophical," that is to say,

We must remember that the greater part of the "facts" on which theories
are based are reported or inferred facts_--all_ in the historical
sciences, since the documents and sources must first be pronounced
genuine or spurious by the philosophical critic. Here presumptions and
private methods of inference determine what shall be admitted for a
fact, to say nothing of the interpretation to be given to it. Hence a
piece of Biblical or Homeric criticism, a history of Rome or of Germany
often becomes a little system of egotistical philosophy, posited and
defended with all the parental zeal and all the increasing conviction
with which a prophet defends his supernatural inspirations.

[Pg 30] The distinction between Mary and Martha is not a German
distinction: in Germany the rapt idealist is busy about many things,
so that his action is apt to be heady and his contemplation perturbed.
Only the principle is expected to be spiritual, the illustrations must
all be material and mundane. There is no paradox in German idealism
turning to material science, commerce, and war for a fresh field
of operation. No degeneracy is implied in such an extension of its
vocation, especially when the other ideals of the state--pure
learning, art, social organisation--are pursued at the same time
with an equal ardour. The test of a genuine German idealist is that he
should forget and sink his private happiness in whatever service the
state may set him to do.

In view of this political fidelity the changing opinions of men are all
indifferent to true religion. It is not a question of _correctness_ in
opinion or conduct, since for the idealist there can be no external
standard of truth, existence, or excellence on which such correctness
could depend. Ideas are so much real experience and have no further
subject-matter. Thought is simply more or less rich, elaborate, or
vehement, like a musical composition, and more or less consistent
with itself. It is all a question of depth and fulness of experience,
obtained by hacking one's way through this visionary and bewitched [Pg
31] existence, the secret purpose of which is to serve the self in its
development. In this philosophy imagination that is sustained is called
knowledge, illusion that is coherent is called truth, and will that is
systematic is called virtue.

Evidently the only sanction or vindication that such a belief will
look for is the determination to reassert it. Religion is here its own
heaven, and faith the only proof of its own truth. What is harmonised
in the end is not the experience through which people have actually
passed but only the echoes of that experience chiming in the mystic
ear. Memory too can play the egotist. Subjectivism can rule even within
the subject and can make him substitute his idea of himself, in his
most self-satisfied moment, for the poor desultory self that he has
actually been.

The German philosophers have carried on Protestantism beyond itself.
They have separated the two ingredients mingled in traditional
religions. One of these ingredients--the vital faith or self-trust
of the animal will--they have retained. The other--the lessons of
experience--they have rejected. To which element the name of religion
should still be given, if it is given to either, is a matter of

The important thing is that, call it religion or irreligion, we should
know what we are clinging to.



Fichte called Locke the worst of philosophers, but it was ungrateful
of him, seeing that his own philosophy was founded on one of Locke's
errors. It was Locke who first thought of looking into his own breast
to find there the genuine properties of gold and of an apple; and it
is clear that nothing but lack of consecutiveness and courage kept
him from finding the whole universe in the same generous receptacle.
This method of looking for reality in one's own breast, when practised
with due consecutiveness and courage by the Germans, became the
transcendental method; but it must be admitted that the German breast
was no longer that anatomical region which Locke had intended to probe,
but a purely metaphysical point of departure, a migratory ego that
could be here, there, and everywhere at once, being present at any
point from which thought or volition might be taken to radiate. It was
no longer so easy to entrap as the soul of Locke, which he asserted
travelled with him in his coach from London to Oxford. But the practice
of [Pg 33] looking for all things within one's own breast, in the
subtler sense of searching for them in one's memory and experience,
begat in time the whole romantic and subjective school of philosophy.

Leibniz, the first of German philosophers, although an enemy of Locke's
sensualism and of his slackness in logic, was even more explicit in
assigning a mental seat to all sensible objects. The soul, he said,
had no windows and, he might have added, no doors; no light could
come to it from without; and it could not exert any transitive force
or make any difference beyond its own insulated chamber. It was a
_camera obscura_, with a universe painted on its impenetrable walls.
The changes which went on in it were like those in a dream, due to the
charge of pent-up energies and fecundities within it; for the Creator
had wound it up at the creation like a clock, destined to go for ever,
striking infinite hours, with ever richer chimes.

Here, in miniature, with a clearness and beauty never afterwards
equalled, we have the nature and movement of the transcendental self
set forth before us: a closed circle of experience, admitting of no
relations with anything beyond, but infinite in its own potential
developments, and guided by an inner force, according to an innate
unconscious plan. All duties, all principles of interpretation, all
data, all [Pg 34] visioned objects, operated within this single life,
diversifying its field of view, and testifying to its secret endowment.

Nevertheless, the later idealists, ungrateful to Locke for their
first principle, were ungrateful also to Leibniz for their ultimate
conception, anticipated by him in all its completeness. There
were reasons, of course, for this ingratitude. Leibniz, like the
transcendentalists, had supposed that the objects of sense, as
experience reveals them, were begotten out of the latent nature of the
soul; but he had also conceived that there were many souls, as many as
atoms in the physical world, and that the images arising in each were
signs of the presence and actual condition of its companions. Thus
perception, while yielding directly only an idea, as in a dream, was
indirectly symbolic of an outer reality, like a dream significant and
capable of interpretation. And being an undaunted rationalist, Leibniz
assumed that the sooth-sayer capable of reading this dream was reason,
and that whatever reason conceived to be right and necessary actually
must be true in the great outer world.

It was at this point that Kant deviated into his radical
subjectification of knowledge. His mind had been more open than that
of Leibniz to the influences of English psychology, it had stewed
longer in its [Pg 35] own juice, and he could not help asking how, if
the senses could reveal only ideas of sense, reason was ever able to
reveal anything but ideas of reason. Those inferences about the vast
world outside, which Leibniz had allowed his spirits to make in their
solitary confinement, were reduced by the more scrupulous Kant to
scribblings upon their prison walls. These scribblings he officially
termed the ideas of pure--that is, of unsupported--reason;
but in his private capacity he gently continued to agree with Leibniz
and to believe them true.

There was no anomaly, according to Kant, in this situation. An idea
might by chance be the image of a reality, but we could never know that
it was. For the proof would have to be supplied by a further idea, and
would terminate in that. The hypothesis and the corroboration would
alike be mental, since experience was of ideas and could envisage
nothing but the vicissitudes of the mind.

If you had asked Leibniz what determined the order in which perceptions
came into any mind, he would doubtless have answered that the Creator
did so, or (translating that symbol into its analytic equivalent in his
system) that what did so was the innate destiny or predisposition of
that mind to develop in harmony with the best possible universe. Here
is a very remarkable unconscious principle of [Pg 36] evolution seated
in the spirit and presiding over all its experience. This is precisely
what is meant by a transcendental principle.

This principle, unconscious as it is, sometimes betrays its mighty
workings to consciousness. Besides the incidental multitude of ideas
which it breeds, it makes itself felt in subterranean strains and
rumblings, in the sense of movement and of longing. This darker but
deeper manifestation of the transcendental clock-work Leibniz called
appetition, and under the name of Will it has played a great part
in later German systems. To call it Will is, of course, to speak
improperly and mythologically, for actual willing requires an idea of
what is willed. When we say a man doesn't know what he wants, we mean
that he can will nothing, for lack of a clear idea of his interests
and situation, although he doubtless wants or lacks many specific
things, the absence of which is rendering him unhappy and restless.
These instinctive appetitions for objects of which the mind is ignorant
may, by a figure of speech, be called unconscious Will; a phrase
which would be a contradiction in terms if this word Will (which I
write with a capital letter) were not used metaphorically. From this
metaphor, when its boldness seems to be dulled by use, we may pass
insensibly to giving the name of Will to that whole transcendental
potency [Pg 37] of the soul which, like the mainspring of a watch,
lay coiled up tightly within it from the beginning of time. A man's
transcendental Will can then be called the source of everything that
ever happens to him--his birth, his character, his whole life,
and his death--all that he most detests and most emphatically
does not will, like his nightmares, being an expression of the
original pregnancy of his spirit, and its transcendental principle of

There is but one thing to add touching a point often left by these
philosophers in the most hopeless obscurity. In Leibniz the number
of spirits was infinite: in the later systems they are reduced to
one. This difference seems greater than it is, for when such terms
as Spirit or Will are used metaphorically, standing for unconscious
laws of continuity or development, and when the Will or Spirit present
in me now may be said to have presided over the destinies of my soul
infinite ages before I was born, there seems to be no good reason why
the same Spirit or Will should not preside over all the inhabitants of
the universe at all times, be they gods or humming-birds. Such a Spirit
or Will resembles the notion of Providence, or the law of evolution,
or the pre-established harmony of Leibniz far more than it resembles a
mind. Those philosophers, intent on proving that the Spirit can be only
one, might [Pg 38] have proceeded, therefore, by urging that a Spirit
was at best a formal and abstract law, covering such disparate facts,
that all flesh and fowl, all demons and angels, might just as well be
animated by a single Spirit. As it takes all sorts of things to make a
world, it might take all sorts of things to express a Spirit.

This cool and consciously verbal way of making all one, however, is
not the way of the Germans. No doubt in practice the unity of the
Spirit or Will in their systems amounts to nothing more, yet their
intention and illusion is rather that whenever two things can be called
manifestations of one Spirit in the loosest and most metaphorical
sense of this word they are thereby proved to be data in one spirit in
the most intimate and psychological sense of the same. So that what
really happens to transcendentalists is not that they unite all the
transcendental units of Leibniz into one even looser transcendental
unit, but that they limit the universe to what in Leibniz was one of
an infinite number of parallel careers. Nay, they limit even that one
career to the experience present at one point, that of the most intense
and comprehensive self-consciousness.

The unity they desire and believe in is accordingly an actual and
intense unity. All its elements are to be viewed at once, bound and
merged together by [Pg 39] the simultaneous intuition of all their
relations, and this in a single, unchanging, eternal moment of thought,
or rather of unutterable feeling. The union is, therefore, real,
psychic, mystical, and so close that everything that was to be united
there, by a curious irony, remains outside.

What can lead serious thinkers, we may ask, into such pitfalls
and shams? In this case, a powerful and not unworthy motive. All
transcendentalism takes the point of view of what it calls knowledge;
whenever it mentions anything--matter, God, oneself--it means
not that thing but the idea of it. By knowledge it understands the
image or belief, the fact of cognition. Whatever is thought of exists,
or can exist, in this philosophy, only for thought; yet this thought
is called not illusion but knowledge, because knowledge is what the
thought feels that it is.

Evidently on this principle none of Leibniz's spirits could know any
other, nor could any phase of the same spirit know any other phase.
The unbridgeable chasm of want of experience would cut off knowledge
from everything but its "content," the ideas it has of its objects.
Those fabled external objects would be brought back into my ideas, and
identified with them; my ideas in turn would be drawn in and identified
with the fact that I entertain them and this fact itself would condense
into the [Pg 40] more intimate and present fact that intensely,
vaguely, deeply I feel that I am, or am tending to be, something or
other. My Will or Spirit, the rumble of my unconscious appetitions,
thus absorbs my ideas, my ideas absorb their objects, and these objects
absorb the world, past, present, and future. Earth and heaven, God and
my fellowmen are mere expressions of my Will, and if they were anything
more, I could not now be alive to their presence. My Will is absolute.
With that conclusion transcendentalism is complete.

Is such transcendentalism impossibly sceptical? Is it absurdly
arrogant? Is it wonderfully true?

In so complex a world as this, there is room for a great number of
cross-vistas: when all has been surveyed from one point of view
and in one set of terms, nothing excludes the same reality from
being surveyed from a different centre and expressed in a different
notation. To represent a man, sculpture is apparently exhaustive; yet
it does not exclude painting, or the utterly disparate description
of the man in words; surveys in which there need be no contradiction
in the deliverance, though there is the widest diversity and even
incommensurability in the methods. Each sort of net drawn through
the same sea catches a different sort of fish; and the fishermen may
quarrel about what the sea contained, if each regards his draught as
exhaustive. Yet the sea [Pg 41] contained all their catches, and also
the residue, perhaps infinite, that escaped them all.

Now one net which every intelligent being casts over things is that of
his own apprehension, experience, and interests. He may not reflect
often on his personal principle of selection and arrangement; he
may be so interested in the movements he sees through his glass as
never to notice the curious circular frame, perhaps prismatic, which
his glass imposes on the landscape. Yet among all the properties of
things, the adventitious properties imputed to them in apprehension
are worth noting too; indeed, it chastens and transforms our whole
life if we have once noted them and taken them to heart. Not that this
circumstance implies for a moment what the dizziness of idealists has
inferred, that things exist only as perceived or when we perceive
them. What follows is rather that, besides the things and in the
most interesting contrast to their movement, there is the movement
of our minds in observing them. If, for instance, I happen not to
know the name of my great-grandfather, and am vexed at my ignorance,
I may search the parish records and discover it, together with many
circumstances of his life. This does not prove that my interest in
genealogy created my great-grandfather, as a consistent egotist would
assert; but it does show how my interest was a [Pg 42] nucleus for my
discoveries and for the terms, such as great-grandfather, in which I
express them--for it was no intrinsic property of that worthy man
that he was to become my great-grandfather after his death, or that I
was to discover him.

This vortex which things, as apprehension catches them, seem to form
round each whirling spectator, is the fascinating theme of lyric
poetry, of psychological novels, and of German philosophy. Dominated
as this philosophy is by the transcendental method, it regards views,
and the history and logic of views, as more primitive and important
than the objects which these views have in common. The genial Professor
Paulsen of Berlin (whose pupil I once had the advantage of being) had
a phrase that continually recurred in his lectures: _Man kann sagen_,
as much as to say, Things will yield the following picture, if one
cares to draw it. And he once wrote an article in honour of Kant very
pertinently entitled: _Was uns Kant sein kann_; because no veritable
disciple of Kant accepts what Kant taught as he taught it, but each
rises from the study of the master having irresistibly formed one or
more systems of his own. To take what views we will of things, if
things will barely suffer us to take them, and then to declare that
the things are mere terms in the views we take of them--that is



All transcendentalists are preoccupied with the self, but not all
are egotists. Some regard as a sad disability this limitation of
their knowledge to what they have created; they are humble, and
almost ashamed to be human, and to possess a mind that must cut them
off hopelessly from all reality. On the other hand there are many
instinctive egotists who are not transcendentalists, either because
their attention has not been called to this system, or because they
discredit all speculation, or because they see clearly that the senses
and the intellect, far from cutting us off from the real things that
surround us, have the function of adjusting our action to them and
informing our mind about them. Such an instinctive egotist does not
allege that he creates the world by willing and thinking it, yet he is
more interested in his own sensations, fancies, and preferences than
in the other things in the world. The attention he bestows on things
seems to him to bathe in light their truly interesting side. What he
chiefly considers is his own experience--what he [Pg 44] cared
for first, what second, what he thinks to-day, what he will probably
think to-morrow, what friends he has had, and how they have lost
their charm, what religions he has believed in, and in general what
contributions the universe has made to him and he to the universe. His
interest in personality need not be confined to his own; he may have a
dramatic imagination, and may assign their appropriate personality to
all other people; every situation he hears of or invents may prompt him
to conceive the thrilling passions and pungent thoughts of some _alter
ego_, in whom latent sides of his own nature may be richly expressed.
And impersonal things, too, may fascinate him, when he feels that they
stir his genius fruitfully; and he will be the more ready to scatter
his favours broadcast in that what concerns him is not any particular
truth or person (things which might prove jealous and exclusive), but
rather the exercise of his own powers of universal sympathy.

Something of this sort seems to appear in Goethe; and although his
contact with philosophical egotism was but slight, and some of his wise
maxims are incompatible with it, yet his romanticism, his feeling for
development in everything, his private life, the nebulous character of
his religion, and some of his most important works, like _Faust_ and
_Wilhelm Meister_, are all so full of the spirit of German [Pg 45]
philosophy, that it would be a pity not to draw some illustration for
our subject from so pleasant a source.

There are hints of egotism in Goethe, but in Goethe there are hints of
everything, and it would be easy to gather an imposing mass of evidence
to the effect that he was not like the transcendentalists, but far
superior to them. For one thing he was many-sided, not encyclopædic; he
went out to greet the variety of things, he did not pack it together.
He did not even arrange the phases of his experience (as he did those
of Faust) in an order supposed to be a progress, although, as the
commentators on _Faust_ inform us, not a progress in mere goodness.
Hegel might have _understood_ all these moral attitudes, and described
them in a way not meant to appear satirical; but he would have
criticised and demolished them, and declared them obsolete--all
but the one at which he happened to stop. Goethe _loved_ them all;
he hated to outgrow them, and if involuntarily he did so, at least
he still honoured the feelings that he had lost. He kept his old age
genial and green by that perennial love. In order to hold his head
above water and be at peace in his own heart, he did not need to be a
Christian, a pagan, or an epicurean; yet he lent himself unreservedly,
in imagination, to Christianity, paganism, and sensuality--three
things [Pg 46] your transcendental egotist can never stomach: each in
its way would impugn his self-sufficiency.

Nevertheless the sympathies of Goethe were only romantic or æsthetic;
they were based on finding in others an interesting variation from
himself, an exotic possibility, rather than an identity with himself in
thought or in fate. Christianity was an atmosphere necessary to certain
figures, that of Gretchen, for instance, who would have been frankly
vulgar without it; paganism was a learned masque, in which one could be
at once distinguished and emancipated; and sensuality was a sentimental
and scientific licence in which the free mind might indulge in due
season. The sympathy Goethe felt with things was that of a lordly
observer, a traveller, a connoisseur, a philanderer; it was egotistical

Nothing, for instance, was more romantic in Goethe than his classicism.
His _Iphigenie_ and his _Helena_ and his whole view of antiquity were
full of the pathos of distance. That pompous sweetness, that intense
moderation, that moral somnambulism were too intentional; and Goethe
felt it himself. In _Faust_, after Helen has evaporated, he makes
the hero revisit his native mountains and revert to the thought of
Gretchen. It is a wise home-coming, because that craze for classicism
which Helen symbolised alienated the mind from real life and led [Pg
47] only to hopeless imitations and lackadaisical poses. Gretchen's
garden, even the _Walpurgisnacht_, was in truth more classical. This
is only another way of saying that in the attempt to be Greek the
truly classical was missed even by Goethe, since the truly classical
is not foreign to anybody. It is precisely that part of tradition
and art which does not alienate us from our own life or from nature,
but reveals them in all their depth and nakedness, freed from the
fashions and hypocrisies of time and place. The effort to reproduce
the peculiarities of antiquity is a proof that we are not its natural
heirs, that we do not continue antiquity instinctively. People can
mimic only what they have not absorbed. They reconstruct and turn into
an archæological masquerade only what strikes them as outlandish. The
genuine inheritors of a religion or an art never dream of reviving it;
its antique accidents do not interest them, and its eternal substance
they possess by nature.

The Germans are not in this position in regard to the ancients. Whether
sympathetic like Goethe, or disparaging like Burckhardt, or both
at once, like Hegel, they have seen in antiquity its local colour,
its mannerisms, its documents, and above all its contrasts with the
present. It was not so while the traditions of antiquity were still
living and [Pg 48] authoritative. But the moderns, and especially the
Germans, have not a humble mind. They do not go to school with the
Greeks unfeignedly, as if Greek wisdom might possibly be true wisdom,
a pure expression of experience and reason, valid essentially for us.
They prefer to take that wisdom for a phase of sentiment, of course
outgrown, but still enabling them to reconstruct learnedly the image of
a fascinating past. This is what they call giving vitality to classical
studies, turning them into _Kulturgeschichte_. This is a vitality lent
by the living to the dead, not one drawn by the young and immature from
a perennial fountain. In truth classical studies were vital only so
long as they were still authoritative morally and set the standard for
letters and life. They became otiose and pedantic when they began to
serve merely to recover a dead past in its trivial detail, and to make
us grow sentimental over its remoteness, its beauty, and its ruins.

How much freer and surer was Goethe's hand when it touched the cord of
romanticism! How perfectly he knew the heart of the romantic egotist!
The romantic egotist sets no particular limits to the range of his
interests and sympathies; his programme, indeed, is to absorb the
whole world. He is no wounded and disappointed creature, like Byron,
that takes to sulking and naughtiness because things [Pg 49] taste
bitter in his mouth. He finds good and evil equally digestible. The
personal egotism of Byron or of Musset after all was humble; it knew
how weak it was in the universe. But absolute egotism in Goethe, as in
Emerson, summoned all nature to minister to the self: all nature, if
not actually compelled to this service by a human creative fiat, could
at least be won over to it by the engaging heroism of her favourite
child. In his warm pantheistic way Goethe felt the swarming universal
life about him; he had no thought of dragooning it all, as sectarians
and nationalists would, into vindicating some particular creed or
nation. Yet that fertile and impartial universe left each life free and
in uncensored competition with every other life. Each creature might
feed blamelessly on all the others and become, if it could, the focus
and epitome of the world. The development of self was the only duty, if
only the self was developed widely and securely enough, with insight,
calmness, and godlike irresponsibility.

Goethe exhibited this principle in practice more plainly, perhaps,
than in theory. His family, his friends, his feelings were so many
stepping-stones in his moral career; he expanded as he left them
behind. His love-affairs were means to the fuller realisation of
himself. Not that his love-affairs were sensual or his infidelities
callous; far from it. They [Pg 50] often stirred him deeply and
unsealed the springs of poetry in his heart; that was precisely their
function. Every tender passion opened before him a primrose path into
which his inexorable genius led him to wander. If in passing he must
tread down some flower, that was a great sorrow to him; but perhaps
that very sorrow and his inevitable remorse were the most needful and
precious elements in the experience. Every pathetic sweetheart in
turn was a sort of Belgium to him; he violated her neutrality with a
sigh; his heart bled for her innocent sufferings, and he never said
afterwards in self-defence, like the German Chancellor, that she was
no better than she should be. But he must press on. His beckoning
destiny, the claims of his spiritual growth, compelled him to sacrifice
her and to sacrifice his own lacerated feelings on the altar of duty
to his infinite self. Indeed, so truly supreme was this vocation that
universal nature too, he thought, was bound to do herself some violence
in his behalf and to grant him an immortal life, that so noble a
process of self-expansion might go on for ever.

Goethe's perfect insight into the ways of romantic egotism appears
also in _Faust_, and not least in the latter parts of it, which are
curiously prophetic. If the hero of that poem has a somewhat incoherent
character, soft, wayward, emotional, yet at the same [Pg 51] time
stubborn and indomitable, that circumstance only renders him the fitter
vehicle for absolute Will, a metaphysical entity whose business is to
be vigorous and endlessly energetic while remaining perfectly plastic.
Faust was at first a scholar, fervid and grubbing, but so confused
and impatient that he gave up science for magic. Notwithstanding
the shams of professional people which offended him, a private and
candid science was possible, which might have brought him intellectual
satisfaction; and the fact would not have escaped him if he had been a
simple lover of truth. But absolute Will cannot be restricted to any
single interest, much less to the pursuit of a frigid truth in which
it cannot believe; for the Will would not be absolute if it recognised
any truth which it had to discover; it can recognise and love only the
truth that it makes. Its method of procedure, we are told, consists in
first throwing out certain assumptions, such perhaps as that everything
must have a cause or that life and progress must be everlasting; and
the truth is then whatever conforms to these assumptions. But since
evidently these assumptions might be utterly false, it is clear that
what interests absolute Will is not truth at all, but only orthodoxy.
A delightful illustration of this is given by Faust when, emulating
Luther for a moment, he undertakes to translate the [Pg 52] first
verse of Saint John--that being the Gospel that impresses him
most favourably. The point is not prosaically to discover what the
Evangelist meant, but rather what he must and shall have meant. _The
Word_ will never do; _the Sense_ would be somewhat better; but _In the
beginning was Force_ would have even more to recommend it. Suddenly,
however, what absolute Will demands flashes upon him, and he writes
down contentedly: _In the beginning was the Deed_:

    Auf einmal seh' ich Rat
    Und schreibe getrost: Im Anfang war die That!

Yet even in this exciting form, the life of thought cannot hold him
long. He aches to escape from it; not that his knowledge of the
sciences, as well as his magic, will not accompany him through life;
he will not lose his acquired art nor his habit of reflection, and in
this sense his career is really a progress, in that his experience
accumulates; but the living interest is always something new. He turns
to miscellaneous adventures, not excluding love; from that he passes to
imperial politics, a sad mess, thence to sentimental classicism, rather
an unreality, and finally to war, to public works, to trade, to piracy,
to colonisation, and to clearing his acquired estates of tiresome
old natives, who insist on ringing church bells and are impervious
to the new _Kultur_. These public [Pg 53] enterprises he finds more
satisfying, perhaps only because he dies in the midst of them.

Are these hints of romantic egotism in Goethe mere echoes of his youth
and of the ambient philosophy, echoes which he would have rejected if
confronted with them in an abstract and doctrinal form, as he rejected
the system of Fichte? Would he not have judged Schopenhauer more
kindly? Above all, what would he have thought of Nietzsche, his own
wild disciple? No doubt he would have wished to buttress and qualify in
a thousand ways that faith in absolute Will which they emphasised so
exclusively, Schopenhauer in metaphysics and Nietzsche in morals. But
the same faith was a deep element in his own genius, as in that of his
country, and he would hardly have disowned it.



Kant is remarkable among sincere philosophers for the pathetic
separation which existed between his personal beliefs and his official
discoveries. His personal beliefs were mild and half orthodox and
hardly differed from those of Leibniz; but officially he was entangled
in the subjective criticism of knowledge, and found that the process
of knowing was so complicated and so exquisitely contrived to make
knowledge impossible, that while the facts of the universe were there,
and we might have, like Leibniz, a shrewd and exact notion of what they
were, officially we had no right to call them facts or to allege that
we knew them. As there was much in Kant's personal belief which this
critical method of his could not sanction, so there were implications
and consequences latent in his critical method which he never absorbed,
being an old man when he adopted it. One of these latent implications
was egotism.

The fact that each spirit was confined to its own perceptions condemned
it to an initial subjectivity and agnosticism. What things might exist
besides his ideas he could never know. That such things [Pg 55]
existed was not doubted; Kant never accepted that amazing principle of
dogmatic egotism that nothing is able to exist unless I am able to know
it. On the contrary he assumed that human perceptions, with the moral
postulates which he added to them, were symbols of a real world of
forces or spirits existing beyond. This assumption reduced our initial
idiotism to a constitutional taint of our animal minds, not unlike
original sin, and excluded that romantic pride and self-sufficiency in
which a full-fledged transcendentalism always abounds.

To this contrite attitude of Kant's agnosticism his personal character
and ethics corresponded. A wizened little old bachelor, a sedentary
provincial scribe, scrupulous and punctual, a courteous moralist who
would have us treat humanity in the person of another as an end and
never merely as a means, a pacifist and humanitarian who so revered the
moral sense according to Shaftesbury and Adam Smith that, after having
abolished earth and heaven, he was entirely comforted by the sublime
truth that nevertheless it remained wrong to tell a lie--such a
figure has nothing in it of the officious egotist or the superman.
Yet his very love of exactitude and his scruples about knowledge,
misled by the psychological fallacy that nothing can be an object of
knowledge except some idea in the mind, led him [Pg 56] in the end
to subjectivism; while his rigid conscience, left standing in that
unnatural void, led him to attribute absoluteness to what he called the
categorical imperative. But this void outside and this absolute oracle
within are germs of egotism, and germs of the most virulent species.

The categorical imperative, or unmistakable voice of conscience, was
originally something external enough--too external, indeed, to
impose by itself a moral obligation. The thunders of Sinai and the
voice from the whirlwind in Job fetched their authority from the
suggestion of power; there spoke an overwhelming physical force of
which we were the creatures and the playthings, a voice which far from
interpreting our sense of justice, or our deepest hopes, threatened to
crush and to flout them. If some of its commandments were moral, others
were ritual or even barbarous; the only moral sanction common to them
all came from our natural prudence and love of life; our wisdom imposed
on us the fear of the Lord. The prophets and the gospel did much to
identify this external divine authority with the human conscience;
an identification which required a very elaborate theory of sin and
punishment and of existence in other worlds, since the actual procedure
of nature and history can never be squared with any ideal of right.

[Pg 57] In Kant, who in this matter followed Calvin, the independence
between the movement of nature, both within and without the soul, and
the ideal of right was exaggerated into an opposition. The categorical
imperative was always authoritative, but perhaps never obeyed. The
divine law was far from being like the absolute Will in Fichte, Hegel,
and Schopenhauer, a name for a universal metaphysical force, or even
for the flux of material substance. On the contrary the sublimity of
the categorical imperative lay precisely in the fact that, while matter
and life moved on in their own unregenerate way, a principle which they
_ought_ to follow, overarched and condemned them, and constrained them
to condemn themselves. Human nature was totally depraved and incapable
of the least merit, nor had it any power of itself to become righteous.
Its amiable spontaneous virtues, having but a natural motive, were
splendid vices. Moral worth began only when the will, transformed at
the touch of unmerited grace, surrendered every impulse in overwhelming
reverence for the divine law.

This Calvinistic doctrine might seem to rebuke all actual inclinations,
and far from making the will morally absolute, as egotism would, to
raise over against it an alien authority, what _ought_ to be willed.
Such was, of course, Kant's ostensible intention; but [Pg 58] sublime
as such a situation was declared to be, he felt rather dissatisfied in
its presence. A categorical imperative crying in the wilderness, a duty
which nobody need listen to, or suffer for disregarding, seemed rather
a forlorn authority. To save the face of absolute right another world
seemed to be required, as in orthodox Christianity, in which it might
be duly vindicated and obeyed.

Kant's scepticism, by which all knowledge of reality was denied us,
played conveniently into the hands of this pious requirement. If the
whole natural world, which we can learn something about by experience,
is merely an idea in our minds, nothing prevents any sort of real
but unknown world from lying about us unawares. What could be more
plausible and opportune than that the categorical imperative which the
human mind, the builder of this visible world, had rejected, should in
that other real world be the head stone of the corner?

This happy thought, had it stood alone, might have seemed a little
fantastic; but it was only a laboured means of re-establishing the
theology of Leibniz, in which Kant privately believed, behind the
transcendental idealism which he had put forward professorially. The
dogmatic system from which he started seemed to him, as it stood,
largely indefensible and a little oppressive. To purify it he [Pg 59]
adopted a fallacious principle of criticism, namely, that our ideas are
all we can know, a principle which, if carried out, would undermine
that whole system, and every other. He, therefore, hastened to adopt
a corrective principle of reconstruction, no less fallacious, namely,
that conscience bids us assume certain things to be realities which
reason and experience know nothing of. This brought him round to a
qualified and ambiguous form of his original dogmas, to the effect that
although there was no reason to think that God, heaven, and free-will
exist, we ought to act as if they existed, and might call that wilful
action of ours faith in their existence.

Thus in the philosophy of Kant there was a stimulating ambiguity in
the issue. He taught rather less than he secretly believed, and his
disciples, seizing the principle of his scepticism, but lacking his
conservative instincts, believed rather less than he taught them.
Doubtless in his private capacity Kant hoped, if he did not believe,
that God, free-will, and another life subsisted in fact, as every
believer had hitherto supposed; it was only the method of proving their
reality that had been illegitimate. For no matter how strong the usual
arguments might seem (and they did not seem very strong) they could
convey no transcendent assurance; on the contrary, the more proofs
you draw for anything from reason and [Pg 60] experience, the better
you prove that that thing is a mere idea in your mind. It was almost
prudent, so to speak, that God, freedom, and immortality, if they had
claims to reality, should remain without witness in the sphere of
"knowledge," as inadvertently or ironically it was still called; but to
circumvent this compulsory lack of evidence God had at least implanted
in us a veridical conscience, which if it took itself seriously (as it
ought to do, being a conscience) would constrain us to postulate what,
though we could never "know" it, happened to be the truth. Such was the
way in which the good Kant thought to play hide-and-seek with reality.

The momentum of his transcendental method, however, led to a
very different and quite egotistical conclusion. An adept in
transcendentalism can hardly suppose that God, free-will, and heaven,
even if he postulates them, need exist at all. Existence, for him, is
an altogether inferior category. Even a specific moral law, thundering
unalterable maxims, must seem to him a childish notion. What the ego
postulates is nothing fixed and already existing, but only such ideal
terms as, for the moment, express its attitude. If it is striving to
remember, it posits a past; if it is planning, it posits a future; if
it is consciously eloquent, it posits an audience. These things do not
and cannot exist otherwise than in [Pg 61] their capacity of things
posited by the ego. All, therefore, that the categorical imperative
can mean for the complete transcendentalist is that he should live
as if all things were real which are imaginatively requisite for
him, if he is to live hard: this intensity of life in him being
itself the only reality. At that stage of development at which Kant
found himself, God, freedom, and immortality may have been necessary
postulates of practical reason. But to suppose that these imagined
objects, therefore, existed apart from the excellent philosopher
whose conscience had not yet transcended them, would be not to have
profited by his teaching. It would be merely to repeat it. A later
and more advanced transcendentalist, instead of God, freedom, and
immortality, might just as dutifully posit matter, empire, and the
beauty of a warrior's death. His conscience might no longer be an echo
of Christianity, but the trumpet-blast of a new heathenism. It is for
the ego who posits to judge what it should posit.

The postulates of practical reason, by which Kant hoped to elude the
subjectivity which he attributed to knowledge, are no less subjective
than knowledge, and far more private and variable. The senses and
the intellect, if they deceive us, seem to deceive us all in much
the same way, and the dream they [Pg 62] plunge us into in common
seems to unite us; but what obscurity, diversity, hostility in the
ideals of our hearts! The postulates that were intended to save the
Kantian philosophy from egotism are the most egotistical part of it.
In the categorical imperative we see something native and inward to
the private soul, in some of its moods, quietly claiming to rule the
invisible world, to set God on his throne and open eternity to the
human spirit. The most subjective of feelings, the feeling of what
ought to be, legislates for the universe. Egotism could hardly go

But this is not all. The categorical imperative, not satisfied with
proclaiming itself secretly omnipotent, proclaims itself openly
ruthless. Kant expressly repudiated as unworthy of a virtuous will any
consideration of happiness, or of consequences, either to oneself or to
others. He was personally as mild and kindly as the Vicar of Wakefield
(whose goodness he denied to be moral because it was natural), but his
moral doctrine was in principle a perfect frame for fanaticism. Give
back, as time was bound to give back, a little flesh to this skeleton
of duty, make it the voice not of a remote Mosaic decalogue, but of
a rich temperament and a young life, and you will have sanctified
beforehand every stubborn passion and every romantic crime. In the
guise of an infallible [Pg 63] conscience, before which nothing has a
right to stand, egotism is launched upon its irresponsible career.

The categorical imperative, as Kant personally conceived it, was
that of the conscience of the eighteenth century, which had become
humanitarian without ceasing to be Christian, the conscience of the
Puritans passing into that of Rousseau. But the categorical principle
in morals, like the ego in logic, can easily migrate. If to-day you are
right in obeying your private conscience against all considerations
of prudence or kindness (though you are prudent and kind by nature,
so that this loyalty to a ruthless Duty is a sacrifice for you),
to-morrow you may be right in obeying the categorical imperative
of your soul in another phase, and to carry out no matter what
irresponsible enterprise, though your heart may bleed at the victims
you are making. The principle of fanaticism is present in either case;
and Kant provides, in his transcendental agnosticism, a means of
cutting off all protests from experience or common sense, or a more
enlightened self-interest. These protests, he thinks, are not only
ignoble, but they come from a deluded mind, since the world they regard
is a creature of the imagination, whereas the categorical imperative,
revealed to the inner man, is a principle prior to all worlds and,
therefore, not to be corrected by any suasion which this particular
[Pg 64] world, now imagined by us, might try to exercise on our free

Thus it is from Kant, directly or indirectly, that the German
egotists draw the conviction which is their most tragic error. Their
self-assertion and ambition are ancient follies of the human race; but
they think these vulgar passions the creative spirit of the universe.
Kant, or that soul within Kant which was still somewhat cramped in its
expression, was the prophet and even the founder of the new German



Fichte purified the system of Kant of all its inconsistent and humane
elements; he set forth the subjective system of knowledge and action in
its frankest and most radical form. The ego, in order to live a full
and free life, posited or feigned a world of circumstances, in the
midst of which it might disport itself; but this imagined theatre was
made to suit the play, and though it might seem to oppress the Will
with all sorts of hindrances, and even to snuff it out altogether, it
was really only a mirage which that Will, being wiser than it knew, had
raised in order to enjoy the experience of exerting itself manfully.

It would seem obvious from this that the Will could never be defeated,
and that in spite of its name it was identical with destiny or the laws
of nature: and those transcendentalists who lean to naturalism, or
pass into it unawares, like Schelling or Emerson, actually understand
the absolute Will in this way. But not so Fichte, nor what I take to
be the keener and more heroic romantic school, whose last prophet
was Nietzsche. The Germans, in [Pg 66] the midst of their fantastic
metaphysics, sometimes surprise us by their return to immediate
experience: after all, it was in wrestling with the Lord that their
philosophy was begotten. As a matter of fact, the will is often
defeated--especially if we are stubborn in defining our will;
and this tragic fact by no means refutes the Fichtean philosophy,
which knows how to deal with it heroically. It conceives that what is
inviolable is only what ought to be, the unconscious plan or idea of
perfect living which is hidden in the depths of all life: a will not
animated in some measure by this idea cannot exist, or at least cannot
be noticed or respected by this philosophy. But when, where, how often
and how far this divine idea shall be carried out is left unexplained.
Actual will may be feeble or wicked in any degree; and in consequence
the world that ought to be evoked in its maximum conceivable richness,
may dwindle and fade to nothing.

The Will may accordingly be defeated; not, indeed, by imagined
external things, but by its own apathy and tergiversation. In this
case, according to the logic of this system (which is as beautifully
thought out as that of Plotinus), the dissolving world will appear to
be overwhelmingly formidable and real. In expiring because we have no
longer the warmth to keep it alive, it will seem to be killing us; for
the passivity of the ego, says Fichte, is posited as activity [Pg 67]
in the non-ego. That way of speaking is scholastic; but the thought, if
we take the egotistical point of view, is deep and true.

So any actual will may perish by defect and die out; but actual will
may also perish by sublimation. The true object of absolute Will is
not things or pleasures or length of life, but willing itself; and the
more intense and disinterested this willing is, the better it manifests
absolute Will. The heroic act of dashing oneself against overwhelming
obstacles may, therefore, be the highest fulfilment of the divine idea.
The will dares to perish in order to have dared everything. In its
material ruin it remains ideally victorious. If we consider the matter
under the form of eternity, we shall see that this heroic and suicidal
will has accomplished what it willed; it has not only lived perilously
but perished nobly.

It is hardly necessary to point out how completely this theory
justifies any desperate enterprise to which one happens to be wedded.
It justifies, for instance, any wilful handling of history and science.
The Will by right lays down the principles on which things must and
shall be arranged. If things slip somehow from the traces, so much the
grander your "scientific deed" in striving to rein them in. After all,
you first summoned them into being only that you might drive them.
If they seem to run wild and upset you, [Pg 68] like the steeds of
Hippolytus, you will, at least, not have missed the glory, while you
lived and drove, of assuming the attitude of a master. Call spirits
from the vasty deep: if they do not come, what of it? That will only
prove the absolute self-sufficiency of your duty to call them.

What tightens this speculative bond between Fichte and the Nietzschean
school is that he himself applied his theory of absolute Will to
national life. This ego, which was identical with mind in general,
he identified also with the German people. If the Germans suffered
their national will to be domesticated in the Napoleonic empire, the
creative spirit of the universe would be extinguished, and God himself,
who existed only when incarnate in mankind, would disappear. It was
evidently one's duty to prevent this if possible; and Fichte poured out
all the vehemence of his nature into the struggle for freedom. The mere
struggle, the mere protest in the soul, according to his system, would
secure the end desired: self-assertion, not material success, was the
goal. A happy equilibrium once established in human life would have
been only a temptation, a sort of Napoleonic or Mephistophelian quietus
falling on the will to strive.

I am not sure how far Fichte, in his romantic and puritan tension
of soul, would have' relished the [Pg 69] present organisation of
Germany. He was a man of the people, a radical and an agitator as much
as a prophet of nationalism, and the shining armour in which German
freedom is now encased might have seemed to him too ponderous. He might
have discerned in victory the beginning of corruption.

Nevertheless we should remember that a perfected idealism has a
tendency to change into its opposite and become a materialism for all
practical purposes. Absolute Will is not a natural being, not anybody's
will or thought; it is a disembodied and unrealised genius which first
comes into operation when it begins to surround itself with objects
and points of resistance, so as to become aware of its own stress
and vocation. What these objects or felt resistances may be is not
prejudged; or rather it is prejudged that they shall be most opposite
to spirit, and that spirit shall experience its own passivity--one
mode of its fated and requisite experience--in the form of an
influence which it imputes to dead and material things.

The whole business of spirit may, therefore, well be with matter.
Science might be mechanical, art might be cumbrous and material,
all the instruments of life might be brutal, life itself might be
hard, bitter, and obsessed, and yet the whole might remain a direct
manifestation of pure spirit, absolute freedom, and creative duty.
This speculative possibility [Pg 70] is worth noting: it helps us to
understand modern Germany. It is no paradox that idealists should be so
much at home among material things. These material things, according
to them, are the offspring of their spirit. Why should they not sink
fondly into the manipulation of philological details or chemical
elements, or over-ingenious commerce and intrigue? Why should they
not dote on blood and iron? Why should these fruits of the spirit be
uncongenial to it?

A theoretical materialist, who looks on the natural world as on a soil
that he has risen from and feeds on, may perhaps feel a certain piety
towards those obscure abysses of nature that have given him birth; but
his delight will be rather in the clear things of the imagination,
in the humanities, by which the rude forces of nature are at once
expressed and eluded. Not so the transcendentalist. Regarding his mind
as the source of everything, he is moved to solemn silence and piety
only before himself: on the other hand, what bewitches him, what he
loves to fondle, is his progeny, the material environment, the facts,
the laws, the blood, and the iron in which he conceives (quite truly,
perhaps) that his spirit perfectly and freely expresses itself. To
despise the world and withdraw into the realm of mind, as into a
subtler and more congenial sphere, is quite contrary to his idealism.
Such a retreat might bring him [Pg 71] peace, and he wants war. His
idealism teaches him that strife and contradiction, as Heraclitus said,
are the parents of all things; and if he stopped striving, if he grew
sick of ambition and material goods, he thinks he would be forsaking
life, for he hates as he would death what another kind of idealists
have called salvation.

We are told that God, when he had made the world, found it very good,
and the transcendentalist, when he assumes the Creator's place, follows
his example. The hatred and fear of matter is perhaps not a sign of a
pure spirit. Even contemplatively, a divine mind may perfectly well
fall in love with matter, as the Moon-goddess did with Endymion. Such
matter might be imagined only, as if Diana had merely dreamt of her
swain; and the fond image might not be less dear on that account. The
romantic poet finds his own spirit greeting him in rocks, clouds, and
waves; the musician pours out his soul in movement and tumult; why
should not the transcendental general, or engineer, or commercial
traveller find his purest ideal in trade, crafts, and wars? Grim work,
above all, is what absolute Will demands. It needs the stimulus of
resistance to become more intensely conscious of Self, which is said
to be its ultimate object in imagining a world at all. Acquisition
interests it more than possession, because the sense [Pg 72] of effort
and power is then more acute. The more material the arts that engage
it, and the more complicated and worldly its field of action, the more
intense will be its exertion, and the greater its joy. This is no
idealism for a recluse or a moping poet; it does not feel itself to be
something incidental and fugitive in the world, like a bird's note,
that it should fear to be drowned in the crash of material instruments
or to be forced to a hideous tension and shrillness: shrillness and
tension are its native element. It is convinced that it has composed
all the movements there are or can be in existence, and it feels all
the more masterful, the more numerous and thunderous is the orchestra
it leads. It is entirely at home in a mechanical environment, which it
can prove transcendentally to be perfectly ideal. Its most congenial
work is to hack its way through to the execution of its World-Plan. Its
most adequate and soul-satisfying expression is a universal battle.



When the ancient Jews enlarged their conception of Jehovah so as to
recognise in him the only living God to whom all nature and history
were subject, they did not cease to regard the universal power as
at the same time their special national deity. Here was a latent
contradiction. It was ingeniously removed by saying that Jehovah, while
not essentially a tribal deity, had chosen Israel for his people by a
free act of grace with no previous merit on their part; so that the
pride of the Jews was not without humility.

No humility, however, is mingled with the claim which the Germans now
make to a similar pre-eminence. "Modern critics," says Max Stirner,
"inveigh against religion because it sets up God, the divine, or
the moral law over against man, regarding them as external things,
whereas the critics transform all these objects into ideas in the
human mind. Nevertheless the essential mistake of religion, to assign
a mission to man at all, is not avoided by these critics, who continue
to insist that man shall be divine, or ideally human, or what not;
morality, [Pg 74] freedom, humanity, etc., are his essence." Now a
divinity which is subjective or immanent evidently cannot choose any
nation, save by dwelling and manifesting itself more particularly in
them. They can be highly favoured only in that they are intrinsically
superior, and on that account may be figuratively called vessels of
election. Therefore, if the spirit which is in a nation is not one
spirit among many in the world (as the primitive Hebrews supposed and
as a naturalistic philosophy would maintain), but is the one holy and
universal spirit, and if at the same time this spirit dwells in that
nation pre-eminently, or even exclusively, humility on the part of this
nation would evidently be out of place. Accordingly, the Germans cannot
help bearing witness to the divine virtues and prerogatives which they
find in themselves, some of which are set forth by Fichte as follows:

The present age stands precisely in the middle of earthly time, between
the era in which men were still self-seeking, earthly, and impulsive,
and the coming era in which they will live for the sake of pure ideals.
The Germans prefigure this better age, and are leading the rest of
the world into it. They have created the modern world by uniting the
political heritage of classical Europe with the true religion that
lingered in Asia, and they have raised [Pg 75] the two to a higher
unity in their _Kultur_. From them is drawn the best blood of most
other nations and the spiritual force that has fashioned them all.

The Germans have never forsaken their native land nor suffered
seriously from immigration. Their language is primitive, and they have
never exchanged it for a foreign one. Hence German alone is truly
a mother-tongue. Its intellectual terms retain a vital and vivid
connection with sensible experience. True poetry and philosophy,
therefore, exist only in German. Captious persons who judge by mere
crude feeling may fancy that German is not very melodious; but these
matters cannot be rightly judged without reference to first principles,
which in this case would prove that the sweetest language is that which
exhausts all possible sounds and combines them in all available ways.
Whether German or some other language comes nearest to this _a priori_
ideal of euphony must be left for empirical observation to decide.

The German nature, being pure, deep, earnest, and bold, has
instinctively seized upon the true essence of Christianity and
discarded with abhorrence all the lies and corruption that obscured
it. This essence is the imperative need of turning from the natural
to the ideal life. The German knows that his own soul is safe; but
this is not enough for him [Pg 76] in his unselfishness. His zeal is
kindled easily for warmth and light everywhere; and this zeal of his is
patient and efficacious, taking hold on real life and transforming it.
As he presses on he finds more than he sought, for he has plunged into
the quick stream of life which forges ahead of itself and carries him
forward with it. The dead heart of other nations may dream of gods in
the clouds, or of some perfect type of human life already exemplified
in the past and only to be approached or repeated in the future. The
spirit of the German is no coinage of earth; it is the living source of
all the suns, and rushes to create absolutely new things for ever. The
German mind is the self-consciousness of God.

I do not see that the strain of war or the intoxication of victory
could add much to these boasts, uttered by Fichte when, for the moment,
he had abandoned all hope of military self-assertion on the part of
his country, and relied on education and philosophy alone to preserve
and propagate German righteousness. Even in detail, what he says often
seems strangely like what official Germany is now saying. Even the
hysterical hatred of England is not absent. In England Fichte did not
see the champion of Protestantism, morality, and political liberty, nor
the constant foe of Napoleon, but only a universal commercial vampire.
His contempt for [Pg 77] the Latin races, too, was boundless. In
the matter of race, indeed, he entertained a curious idea that there
must have been, from all eternity until the beginning of history, a
primitive Normal People, a tribe of Adams and Eves; because according
to a principle which he adopted from Calvinistic theology, if all men
had been originally slaves to nature none could ever have become free.
This Normal People were, of course, the ancestors of the Germans.
Earth-born savage tribes must have existed also for the Normal People
to subdue, since but for some such conquest the primitive equilibrium
would never have been broken, Eden and the jungle would never have been
merged together, and history, which is a record of novelties, would
never have begun. The theory of evolution has rendered the reasons
for such a view obsolete; but the idea that the bulk of mankind are
mongrels formed by the union of blonde godlike creatures with some sort
of anthropoid blacks, recurred later in Gobineau and has had a certain
vogue in Germany.

Fichte, following Calvin and Kant, made a very sharp distinction
between the life of nature and that of duty. The ideal must be pursued
without the least thought of advantage. Trades, he says, must be
practised spontaneously, without any other reward than longer vigils.
The young must never hear it [Pg 78] mentioned that any one could ever
be incited or guided in life by the thought of his own preservation or
well-being. Knowledge is no report of existing things or laws which
have happened to be discovered. Knowledge is the very life of God,
and self-generated. It is "an intellectual activity for its own sake,
according to rules for their own sake." In plain English, it is pure
imagination. But the method to be imposed on this madness is fixed
innately, both for thought and for morals. Only frivolity can interfere
with a unanimous idealism.

We must not suppose that this prescription of austere and abstract aims
implies any aversion on Fichte's part to material progress, compulsory
_Kultur_, or military conquest. German idealism, as we have seen, is
not Platonic or ascetic, that it should leave the world behind. On the
contrary, its mission is to consecrate the world and show that every
part of it is an organ of the spirit. This is a form of piety akin
to the Hebraic. Even the strictest Calvinists, who taught that the
world was totally depraved, were able, in every sense of the phrase,
to make a very good thing of it. They reclaimed, they appropriated,
they almost enjoyed it. So Fichte gives us prophetic glimpses of an
idealistic Germany conquering the world. The state does not aim at
self-preservation, still less is it concerned to come to the aid
of those [Pg 79] members of the human family that lag behind the
movement of the day. The dominion of unorganised physical force must be
abolished by a force obedient to reason and spirit. True life consists
in refashioning human relations after a model innate in the mind. The
glorious destiny of Germany is to bring forth and establish the world
anew. Natural freedom is a disgraceful thing, a mere medley of sensual
and intellectual impulses without any principle of order. It is for the
Germans to decide whether a providential progress exists by becoming
themselves the providence that shall bring progress about, or whether
on the contrary every higher thought is folly. If they should fail,
history would never blame them, for in that case there would be no more

The sole animating principle of history is the tendency towards a
universal Christian European monarchy. This tendency is deeper than
the plans of men and stronger than their intentions. "That a state,
even when on the very point of making war, should solemnly assert
its love of peace and its aversion to conquest, is nothing; for in
the first place it must needs make this asseveration and so hide its
real intention if it would succeed in its design; and the well-known
principle _Threaten war that thou mayst have peace_ may also be
inverted in this way: _Promise peace that thou mayst begin war with
advantage_; and [Pg 80] in the second place the state may be wholly in
earnest in its peaceful assurances, so far as its self-knowledge has
gone; but let the favourable opportunity for aggrandisement present
itself, and the previous good resolution is forgotten."

If the people are disinclined to obey the Idea, the government must
constrain them to do so. All the powers of all the citizens must be
absorbed in the state. Personal liberty could be turned to no good use
when such individuality and variety of training as are good for the
state have been provided for by its regulations. Nor must any idleness
be tolerated. An ideal education must make men over so that they shall
be incapable of willing anything but what that education wills them to
will. The state may then rely upon its subjects, "for whoever has a
well-grounded will, wills what he wills for all eternity."

As to foreign relations, the state, in obedience to its ideal mission,
must conquer the surrounding barbarians and raise them to a state of
culture. It is this process almost exclusively that has introduced
progress into history. "What impels the Macedonian hero ... to seek
foreign lands? What chains victory to his footsteps and scatters
before him in terror the countless hordes of his enemies? Is this
mere fortune? No; it is an Idea.... The civilised must rule and the
uncivilised must obey, if Right is to be the law [Pg 81] of the
world.... Tell me not of the thousands who fell round his path; speak
not of his own early death. After the realisation of his Idea, what was
there greater for him to do than to die?"

This enthusiasm for Alexander (which Hegel shared) is not merely
retrospective. "At last in one nation of the world the highest, purest
morality, such as was never seen before among men, will arise and will
be made secure for all future time, and thence will be extended over
all other peoples. There will ensue a transformation of the human race
from earthly and sensual creatures into pure and noble spirits." "Do
you know anything higher than death?... Who has a right to stand in the
way of an enterprise begun in the face of this peril?"

It may seem curious that an uncompromising puritan like Fichte, a
prophet sprung from the people, a theoretical republican who quarrelled
with his students for forming clubs and fighting duels, a fierce
idealist full of contempt for worldlings, should have so perfectly
supplied the Junkers and bankers with their philosophy. But the
phenomenon is not new. Plato, divine and urbane as he was, supplied the
dull Spartans with theirs. Men of idealistic faith are confident that
the foundations of things must be divine, and when, upon investigating
these foundations, they come upon sinister principles--blind
[Pg 82] impulse, chance, murderous competition--they fanatically
erect these very principles into sacred maxims. All strength, they are
antecedently convinced, must come from God; therefore if deception,
wilfulness, tyranny, and big battalions are the means to power, they
must be the chosen instruments of God on earth. In some such way the
Catholic Church, too, for fear of impiety, is seen blessing many a
form of deceit and oppression. Thus the most ardent speculation may
come to sanction the most brutal practice. The primitive passions so
sanctioned, because they seem to be safe and potent, are probably too
narrowly organised to sustain themselves long; and meantime they miss
and trample down the best things that mankind possesses. Nevertheless
they are a force like any other, a force not only vehement but
contagious, and capable of many victories though of no stable success.
Such passions, and the philosophies that glorify them, are sincere,
absorbing, and if frankly expressed irrefutable.

The transcendental theory of a world merely imagined by the ego, and
the will that deems itself absolute are certainly desperate delusions;
but not more desperate or deluded than many another system that
millions have been brought to accept. The thing bears all the marks
of a new religion. The fact that the established religions of Germany
are still forms [Pg 83] of Christianity may obscure the explicit and
heathen character of the new faith: it passes for a somewhat faded
speculation, or for the creed of a few extremists, when in reality it
dominates the judgment and conduct of the nation. No religious tyranny
could be more complete. It has its prophets in the great philosophers
and historians of the last century; its high priests and pharisees
in the government and the professors; its faithful flock in the
disciplined mass of the nation; its heretics in the socialists; its
dupes in the Catholics and the liberals, to both of whom the national
creed, if they understood it, would be an abomination; it has its
martyrs now by the million, and its victims among unbelievers are even
more numerous, for its victims, in some degree, are all men.



When we are discussing egotism need we speak of Hegel? The tone of this
philosopher, especially in his later writings, was full of contempt
for everything subjective: the point of view of the individual, his
opinions and wishes, were treated as of no account unless they had been
brought into line with the providential march of events and ideas in
the great world. This realism, pronounced and even acrid as it was,
was still idealistic in the sense that the substance of the world was
conceived not to be material but conceptual--a law or logic which
animated phenomena and was the secret of their movement. The world was
like a riddle or confused oracle; and the solution to the puzzle lay in
the romantic instability or self-contradiction inherent in every finite
form of being, which compelled it to pass into something different.
The direction of this movement we might understand sympathetically in
virtue of a sort of vital dialectic or dramatic necessity in our own
reflection. Hegel was a solemn sophist: he made discourse the key to

[Pg 85] This technical realism in Hegel was reinforced by his
historical imagination, which continually produces an impression of
detachment, objectivity, and impersonal intelligence; he often seems to
be lost in the events of his story and to be plucking the very heart
out of the world. Again, he adored the state, by which in his view
the individual should be entirely subjugated, not for the benefit of
other individuals (that would be a sort of vicarious selfishness no
less barren than private profit), but in the rapt service of common
impersonal ends.

The family was a first natural group in which the individual should be
happy to lose himself, the trade-guild was another, and the state was
the highest and most comprehensive of all; there was nothing worthy or
real in a man except his functions in society.

Nevertheless this denial of egotism is apparent only. It is a play
within the play. On the smaller stage the individual--save for his
lapses and stammerings--is nothing but the instrument and vehicle
of divine decrees; in fact he is a puppet, and the only reality of him
is the space he fills in the total spectacle. But that little stage is
framed in by another, often overlooked, but ever present; and on this
larger and nearer stage the ego struts alone. It is I that pull the
strings, enjoy the drama, supply its plot and moral, and possess the
freedom and actuality which [Pg 86] my puppets lack. On the little
stage the soul of a man is only one of God's ideas, and his whole worth
lies in helping out the pantomime; on the big stage, God is simply my
idea of God and the purpose of the play is to express my mind. The
spectacle in which every individual dances automatically to the divine
tune is only my dream.

The philosophy of Hegel is accordingly subjective and all its realism
is but a pose and a tone wilfully assumed. That this is the truth of
the matter might be inferred, apart from many continual hints and
implications, from the fact that the system is transcendental and
founded on Kant. Objectivity can, therefore, be only a show, a matter
of make-believe, something imputed to things and persons by the mind,
whose poetic energies it manifests. Everything must be set down as
a creation of mind, simply because it is an object of thought or

This underlying subjectivism also explains the singular satisfaction of
Hegel, whose glance was comprehensive enough, with so strangely limited
a world as he describes to us. He described what he knew best or had
heard of most, and felt he had described the universe. This illusion
was inevitable, because his principle was that the universe was created
by description and resided in it. The mission of Hegel, as he himself
conceived it, was not to [Pg 87] discover the real world or any part
of it: in theory he retracted all belief in a real world and set in its
place his conception or knowledge of it--therefore quite adequate
to its object. If China was the oldest country he had heard of, the
world began with China, and if Prussia was the youngest and he (as he
had to be) its latest philosopher, the world ended with Prussia and
with himself. This seems a monstrous egotism, but it is not arbitrary;
in one sense it was the least pretentious of attitudes, since it was
limited to the description of a current view, not of a separate or
prior object. The value of a philosophy could lie only in the fullness
and fidelity with which it might focus the conceptions of the age in
which it arose. Hegel hoped to do this for his own times; he did not
covet truth to anything further.

The same attitude explains the servility of his moral philosophy, which
is simply an apology for the established order of things and for the
prejudices of his time and country. His deepest conviction was that
no system of ethics could be more, and if it tried to be more would
be less, because it would be merely personal. When, for instance,
he condemned harshly the Roman _patria potestas_ it was because it
offended the individualism of the Protestant and modern conscience;
and if in the next breath he condemned even more harshly the
sentimentalists [Pg 88] who made tender feeling and good intentions the
test of virtue, it was because these individual consciences absolved
themselves from conformity to the established church and state. To
inquire whether in itself or in respect to human economy generally,
the morality of Buddha, or Socrates, or Rousseau was the best would
have seemed to him absurd: the question could only be what approaches
or contributions each of these made to the morality approved by the
Lutheran community and by the Prussian ministry of education and
public worship. The truth, then as now, was whatever every good German
believed. This pious wish of Hegel's to interpret the orthodoxy of his
generation was successful, and the modest hopes of his philosophy were
fulfilled. Never perhaps was a system so true to its date and so false
to its subject.

The egotism of Hegel appears also in his treatment of mathematical and
physical questions. The infinite he called the false infinite, so as to
avoid the dilemmas which it placed him in, such as why the evolution of
the Idea began six thousand years ago, or less; what more could happen
now that in his self-consciousness that evolution was complete; why it
should have gone on in this planet only, or if it had gone on elsewhere
also, why the Idea evolving there might not have been a different Idea.
But all such questions [Pg 89] are excluded when one understands that
this philosophy is only a point of view: the world it describes is a
vista not separable from the egotistical perspectives that frame it in.
The extent of the world need not be discussed, because that extent is
an appearance only; in reality the world has no extent, because it is
only my present idea.

The infinite thus lost its application; but the word was too idealistic
to be discarded. Accordingly the title of true infinite was bestowed
on the eventual illusion of completeness, on an alleged system of
relations out of relation to anything beyond. That nothing existent,
unless it was the bad infinite, could be absolute in this manner did
not ruffle Hegel, for the existent did not really concern him but
only "knowledge," that is, a circle of present and objectless ideas.
Knowledge, however limited in fact, always has the completeness in
question for the egotist, whose objects are not credited with existing
beyond himself. Egotism could hardly receive a more radical expression
than this: to declare the ego infinite because it can never find
anything that is beyond its range.

The favourite tenet of Hegel that everything involves its opposite is
also a piece of egotism; for it is equivalent to making things conform
to words, not words to things; and the ego, particularly in [Pg 90]
philosophers, is a nebula of words. In defining things, if you insist
on defining them, you are constrained to define them by their relation
to other things, or even exclusion of them. If, therefore, things are
formed by your definitions of them, these relations and exclusions will
be the essence of things. The notion of such intrinsic relativity in
things is a sophism even in logic, since elementary terms can never be
defined yet may be perfectly well understood and arrested in intuition;
but what here concerns us is rather the egotistical motive behind that
sophism: namely, that the most verbal and subjective accidents to which
the names of things are subject in human discourse should be deputed to
be the groundwork of the things and their inmost being.

Egotistical, too, was Hegel's tireless hatred of what he called the
abstract understanding. In his criticisms of this faculty and the
opinions it forms there is much keenness and some justice. People
often reason in the abstract, floating on words as on bladders: in
their knowingness they miss the complexity and volume of real things.
But the errors or abuses into which verbal intelligence may fall
would never produce that implacable zeal with which Hegel persecutes
it. What obsesses him is the fear that, in spite of its frivolity,
the understanding may some day understand: that it may correct its
inadequacies, [Pg 91] trace the real movement of things, and seeing
their mechanism lose that _effet d'ensemble_, that dramatic illusion,
which he calls reason.

Imagine a landscape-painter condemned to have a naturalist always at
his elbow: soon it would not be merely the errors of the naturalist
that would irritate him, but the naturalist himself. The artist intent
on panoramic effects does not wish to be forced to look through a
microscope; in changing his focus he loses his subjective object: not
reality but appearance is the reality for him. Hegel, since it was his
mission to substitute so-called knowledge for being, had to go further;
he had to convince himself, not only that the structure of nature
discovered by the understanding was irrelevant to his own conceptual
mythology, but that such a structure did not exist. He was not willing
to confess (as the landscape-painter might) that he _was_ an egotist;
that it was the subjective that interested him, and that in so great a
world the subjective too has its place. No! he must pretend that his
egotism was not egotism, but identity with the absolute, and that those
who dared to maintain that the world wagged in its own way, apart from
the viewing mind, were devils, because they suggested that the viewing
mind was not God.

It is this latent but colossal egotism that makes [Pg 92] plausible
the strange use which Hegel sometimes makes of the word substance. His
substance is but his grammar of discourse; for he was not looking for
substance, in which he could not consistently believe, but only for the
ultimate synthetic impression which he might gather from appearances.
For the theatre-goer, the function of scenery and actors is that they
should please and impress him: but what, in the end, impresses and
pleases him? The cumulative burden and force of the play; the enhanced
life which it has stimulated in himself. This, for that ruthless
egotist, the aesthete, is the _substance_ of all things theatrical. Of
course, in fact, nothing could be falser, for the author and actors are
real people, with lives far outrunning their function in the theatre
and truly grounding it. Even the stage machinery has its natural
history, and the artisans who made it have theirs, both full of mute
inglorious tragedies. These real substances behind his entertainment
the spectator, in his æsthetic egotism, laughs at as irrelevant; for
him, as for Hamlet, the play's the thing. What is most his own, his
imaginative reaction on the spectacle, the terms in which he finds
it easiest and most exciting to describe it, he calls the substance
of it: a term which betrays the profound impudence of the deliberate
egotist; the deepest reality he will recognise is merely specious,
[Pg 93] existing only for the mind that imagines it. What is supposed
to rescue the system of Hegel from subjectivism is the most subjective
of things--a dialectic which obeys the impulses of a theoretical
_parti pris_, and glorifies a fixed idea.

When we have understood all this, those traits of Hegel's which at
first sight seem least egotistical--his historical insight and
his enthusiasm for organised society--take on a new colour.
That historical insight is not really sympathetic; it is imperious,
external, contemptuous, feigned. If you are a modern reading the
Greeks, especially if you read them in the romantic spirit of Goethe's
classicism, and know of them just what Hegel knew, you will think
his description wonderfully penetrating, masterly, and complete: but
would Æschylus or Plato have thought it so? They would have laughed,
or rather they would not have understood that such a description
referred to them at all. It is the legend of the Greeks, not the life
of the Greeks, that is analysed by him. So his account of mediæval
religion represents the Protestant legend, not the Catholic experience.
What we know little or nothing about seems to us in Hegel admirably
characterised: what we know intimately seems to us painted with the eye
of a pedantic, remote, and insolent foreigner. It is but an idea of his
own that he is foisting upon us, calling it our soul. [Pg 94] He is
creating a world in his head which might be admirable, if God had made

Every one is subject to such illusions of perspective and to the pathos
of distance, now favourable, now unfavourable to what he studies; but
Hegel, thinking he had the key to the divine design, fancied himself
deeply sympathetic because he saw in everything some fragment of
himself. But no part of the world was that; every part had its own
inalienable superiority, which to transcend was to lose for ever. To
the omniscient egotist every heart is closed. The past will never give
away its secret except to some self-forgetful and humble lover who by
nature has a kindred destiny. The egotist who thinks to grasp it, so
as to serve it up at his philosophic banquet, or exhibit it in his
museum of antiquities, grasps only himself; and in that sense, to his
confusion, his egotism turns out true.

The egotism that appears in this lordly way of treating the past is
egotism of the imagination, the same that was expressed in the romantic
love of nature, which was really a very subtle, very studious, very
obstinate love of self, intent on finding some reference and deference
to oneself in everything. But there is also an egotism of passion,
which in Hegel appears in his worship of the state. "The passions" is
the old and fit name for what the Germans call [Pg 95] ideals. The
passions are not selfish in the sense in which the German moralists
denounce selfishness; they are not contrived by him who harbours them
for his ulterior profit. They are ideal, dangerous, often fatal. Even
carnal passions are not selfish, if by the self we understand the
whole man: they are an obsession to which he sacrifices himself. But
the transcendental philosophy with its migratory ego can turn any
single passion, or any complex of passions, into a reputed centre of
will, into a moral personage. As the passion usurps more and more of
the man's nature it becomes a fierce egotist in his place; it becomes
fanaticism or even madness.

This substitution of a passion for a man, when nobody thought the ego
migratory, seemed a disease. What folly, we said to the human soul,
to sacrifice your natural life to this partial, transitory, visionary
passion! But the German idealist recognises no natural life, no
natural individual. His ego can migrate into any political body or any
synthetic idea. Therefore, his passions, far from seeming follies to
him, seem divine inspirations, calls to sacrifice, fidelities to the

I am far from wishing to say that a German idealist is commonly just to
all the passions and raises them in turn to be his highest and absolute
will. His passions are generally few and mental. Accidents of [Pg 96]
training or limitations of temperament keep him respectable; but he is
never safe. Dazzle him with a sophism, such, for instance, as that "the
more evil the more good," or hypnotise him with a superstition, such as
that "organisation is an end in itself," and nothing more is needed to
turn him into a romantic criminal.

Even the absolute requires an enemy to whet its edge upon, and the
state, which according to Hegel is morally absolute, requires rival
states in order that its separate individuality may not seem to vanish,
and with it the occasion for blessed and wholesome wars. Hegel rejects
the notion that nations have any duties to one another because, as
he asserts, there is no moral authority or tribunal higher than the
state, to which its government could be subject. This assertion is
evidently false, since in the first place there is God or, if the
phrase be preferred, there is the highest good of mankind, hedging
in very narrowly the path that states should follow between opposite
vices; and in the second place there is the individual, whose natural
allegiance to his family, friends, and religion, to truth and to art,
is deeper and holier than his allegiance to the state, which for the
soul of man is an historical and geographical accident. No doubt at
the present stage of civilisation there is more to be gained than lost
by [Pg 97] co-operating loyally with the governments under which we
happen to live, not because any state is divine, but because as yet no
less cumbrous machinery is available for carrying on the economy of
life with some approach to decency and security. For Hegel, however,
the life of the state was the moral substance, and the souls of men but
the accidents; and as to the judgment of God he asserted that it was
none other than the course of history. This is a characteristic saying,
in which he seems to proclaim the moral government of the world, when
in truth he is sanctifying a brutal law of success and succession.
The best government, of course, succumbs in time like the worst,
and sooner; the dark ages followed upon the Roman Empire and lasted
twice as long. But Hegel's God was simply the world, or a formula
supposed to describe the world. He despised every ideal not destined
to be realised on earth, he respected legality more than justice, and
extant institutions more than moral ideals; and he wished to flatter a
government in whose policy war and even crime were recognised weapons.

This reign of official passion is not, let me repeat, egotism in the
natural man who is subject to it; it is the sacrifice of the natural
man and of all men to an abstract obsession, called an ideal. The vice
of absoluteness and egotism is transferred [Pg 98] to that visionary
agent. The man may be docile and gentle enough, but the demon he
listens to is ruthless and deaf. It forbids him to ask, "At what price
do I pursue this ideal? How much harm must I do to attain this good?"
No; this imperative is categorical. The die is cast, the war against
human nature and happiness is declared, and an idol that feeds on
blood, the Absolute State, is set up in the heart and over the city.



In a review of egotism in German philosophy it would hardly be
excusable to ignore the one notable writer who has openly adopted
egotism in name as well as in fact. The work of Max Stirner on the
single separate person and what he may call his own hardly belongs
to German philosophy as I have been using the words: it lacks the
transcendental point of departure, as well as all breadth of view,
metaphysical subtlety, or generous afflatus; it is a bold, frank, and
rather tiresome protest against the folly of moral idealism, against
the sacrifice of the individual to any ghostly powers such as God,
duty, the state, humanity, or society; all of which this redoubtable
critic called "spooks" and regarded as fixed ideas and pathological
obsessions. This crudity was relieved by a strong mother-wit and a
dogged honesty; and it is not impossible that this poor schoolmaster,
in his solitary meditations, may have embodied prophetically a
rebellion against polite and religious follies which is brewing in the
working classes--classes which to-morrow perhaps will absorb all
mankind and give for the first time a plebeian tone to philosophy.

[Pg 100] Max Stirner called the migratory ego back to its nest. He
exorcised that "spook" which had been ascending and descending the
ladder of abstractions, lodged now in a single passion, now in a
political body, now in a logical term, now in the outspread universe.
The only true ego, he insisted, was the bodily person, the natural
individual who is born and dies. No other organ or seat existed for
the mind, or for any of its functions. Personal interests were the
only honest interests a man could have, and if he was brow-beaten or
indoctrinated into sacrificing them, that moral coercion was a scandal
and a wrong. The indomitable individual should shake off those chains,
which were only cobwebs, and come into his own.

Egotism thus becomes individualism, and threatens to become
selfishness. The logic of these positions does not seem to have been
clear to Max Stirner. That the individual must _possess_ all his wishes
and aspirations, even the most self-denying and suicidal, is obvious;
he is the seat of those very obsessions and superstitions which Max
Stirner deplored. The same thing is true of knowledge: a man can
know only what _he_ knows and what his faculties make him capable of
knowing. This fact is the excuse for transcendentalism, and the element
of truth in it. But the fact that volition and knowledge must have
their [Pg 101] seat in some person prejudges nothing about the scope of
their objects. The fallacy of egotism begins with the inference that,
therefore, a person can know only his ideas and can live only for his
own benefit. On the contrary, what makes knowledge knowledge is that
our sensibility may report something which is not merely our feeling;
and our moral being arises when our interests likewise begin to range
over the world. To deny that a man is capable of generosity because
his generosity must be his own, is insufferable quibbling. Even our
vanities and follies are disinterested in their way; their egotism is
not a calculated selfishness. When a man orders his tomb according to
his taste, it is not in the hope of enjoying his residence in it.

Max Stirner, while deprecating all subordination of the individual to
society, expected people, even after they were emancipated, to form
voluntary unions for specific purposes, such as playing games. Did
he think that such companionship and co-operation would go without
gregarious feelings and ideal interests? Would not a player wish his
side to win? Would he not impose a rather painful strain upon himself
at times for the sake of that "spook," victory? All the sacrifices that
society or religion imposes on a man, when they are legitimate, are
based on the same principle.

[Pg 102] The protest of Max Stirner against sham ideals and aims forced
upon us by social pressure should not then have extended to ideals
congenial to the natural man and founded on his instincts. Since the
seat of our enthusiasms must be personal, their appeal should be so
too, if they are to inspire us efficaciously; but every art and science
shows that they may be utterly impersonal in their object. It was not
in proposing ideal aims that the German philosophers were wrong: that
was the noble and heroic side of their doctrine, as well as a point in
which their psychology was correct. Their error lay in defining these
aims arbitrarily and imposing them absolutely, trying to thrust into us
ideals like endless strife and absolute will, which perhaps our souls
abhor. But if our souls abhor those things, it is because they love
something else; and this other thing they love for its own sake, so
that the very refusal to sacrifice to those idols is a proof of faith
in a true God.

The conclusion of Max Stirner, that because those idols are false,
and the worship of them is cruel and superstitious, therefore we must
worship nothing and merely enjoy in a piggish way what we may call our
own, is a conclusion that misreads human nature. It overlooks the fact
that man lives by the imagination, that the imagination--when not
chaotic and futile--is exercised in the arts of life, that the
objects [Pg 103] of these arts are impersonal, and that to achieve
these objects brings us a natural happiness.

The Germans are by nature a good stolid people, and it is curious that
their moralists, of every school, are so fantastic and bad. The trouble
lies perhaps in this, that they are all precipitate. They have not
taken the trouble to decipher human nature, which is an _endowment_,
something many-sided, unconscious, with a margin of variation, and have
started instead with the will, which is only an _attitude_, something
casual, conscious, and narrowly absolute. Nor have they learned
to respect sufficiently the external conditions under which human
nature operates and to which it must conform--God, the material
world, the nature and will of other men. Their morality consequently
terminates in ideals, casual, conscious, and absolute expressions of
the passions, or else expires in a mysticism which renounces all moral
judgment. A reasonable morality terminates instead in the arts, by
which human ideals and passions are compounded with experience and
adapted to the materials they must work in. The immaturity of the
German moralists appears in their conception that the good is life,
which is what an irrational animal might say: whereas for a rational
being the good is only the good part of life, that healthy, stable,
wise, kind, and beautiful sort of life which he calls happiness.

[Pg 104] CHAPTER X


German philosophy has a religious spirit, but its alliance with
Christianity has always been equivocal and external. Even in the
speculations of Leibniz, concerned as he was about orthodoxy, there was
a spirit of independence and absolutism which was rationalistic, not to
say heathen. The principle of sufficient reason, for instance, demands
that God and nature shall explain their existence and behaviour to us,
as timid parents explain their behaviour to their censorious children.
By rendering everything necessary, even the acts of God, it takes the
place of God and makes him superfluous. Such frigid optimism as this
principle involves, besides being fatalistic, is deeply discouraging to
that hope of deliverance which is the soul of Christianity: for if this
is the best world possible, how poor must be that realm of possible
worlds where everything is tainted, and there is no heaven! The theory,
too, that each soul contains the seeds of its whole experience and
suffices for its own infinite development, destroys the meaning of
creation, revelation, miracles, sin, grace, and [Pg 105] charity. Thus
without intending it, even the obsequious but incredibly intelligent
Leibniz undermined all the doctrines of Christianity in the act of
thinking them afresh, and insinuated into them a sort of magic heathen

Kant, Fichte, and Hegel were less punctilious in their theology, but
they still intended to be or to seem Christians. They felt that what
made the sanctity of traditional religion and its moral force could
be recovered in a purer form in their systems. This feeling of theirs
was not unwarranted; at least, many religious minds, after the first
shock of losing their realistic faith, have seen in transcendentalism
a means, and perhaps the only safe means, of still maintaining a sort
of Christianity which shall not claim any longer to be a miraculous or
exceptional revelation, but only a fair enough poetic symbol for the
principles found in all moral life. That he who loses his life shall
save it, for instance, is a maxim much prized and much glossed by
Hegelians. They lend it a meaning of their own, which might, indeed,
be said to be the opposite of what the Gospel meant; for there the
believer is urged to discard the very world with which Hegel asks him
to identify himself. The idea is that if you surrender your private
interests to those of your profession, science, or country, you become
thereby a good and important person, and [Pg 106] unintentionally a
happy one. You will then feel that the world shares your thoughts and
renders them perpetual, while you, being absorbed in ideal pursuits,
forget your private miseries and mortality.

In this sort of moral psychology there is evidently some truth; but the
"law of experience" which it points to is but a loose and ambiguous
law, which disguises more facts than it expresses. Honest minds will
rebel against the suggestion that when you outgrow a desire you have
fulfilled it; and they will detect the furtive irony in bidding you
live hard in order not to feel the vanity of living. To drown sorrow
in work, and to forget private failures in public interests, is
certainly possible, but it is only drugging yourself with hurry and
routine, which may not be more advantageous to others than it really
is to yourself. Impersonal or "ideal" aims are not necessarily less
delusive or "higher" than personal ones; in fact there is far more
likelihood that they are conventional humbug. This pathological hygiene
of idealism, which always stops at some uncriticised impulse, thinks it
secures health when perhaps it has only increased the dose of illusion.

Nevertheless transcendentalism has this important element in common
with Christianity and with the other Hebraic religions, that it regards
human interests as the core of the universe and God as the [Pg 107]
God of man, who disposes all things for man's benefit. In its eyes
the sphere of providence and moral life is bounded by the history
of a part of Europe and Asia for a few thousand years. So long as
transcendentalism is taken to imply some such philosophy of history it
can compound its differences with liberal Christianity, since they are
at one in the cardinal point of their faith, which is the apotheosis of
the human spirit.

Yet this human egotism, which comforts so many minds, offends others,
in their way no less religious. Of course, those who believe in the
infinity of the universe, be they mystics or naturalists, smile at
such pettiness and fatuity. But even among transcendentalists, some
are repelled; for the dominion which they attribute to their ego
is a dominion over appearances only; they do not pretend that the
grammar of the human intellect can lay down the law for the world at
large. At the same time, in their own house they wish to keep their
freedom. That prescribed evolution and that reversible optimism of
the absolute transcendentalists are repulsive to them; they resent
that such a precise and distasteful career should be imposed on their
transcendental individuality, and should swallow it up. It is these
rebels that have carried romanticism and German philosophy into its
last phase. They have broken at [Pg 108] last with Christianity and at
the same time with the theological and cosmic transcendentalism that
was its treacherous ally, and hoped to be its heir.

The transcendentalism of Schopenhauer, sweeping as it was in its
way, retained the modest and agnostic character it had had in Kant:
he proclaimed that the world was his idea, but meant only (what is
undeniable) that his _idea_ of the world was his idea. The egotistical
doctrine that the whole universe is but the image of it created by the
mind disappeared altogether in his system. The so-called Will which
he still placed behind everything was no longer his own will evolving
experience out of nothing; it was a fanciful name for whatever force
or substance might lie behind experience, animating all its objects,
determining their inherent life, and constituting them facts collateral
with himself. If his metaphysics remained idealistic, it was on
account of his romantic habit of assimilating the life of nature to
that of man, as hasty introspection reveals it; so that the universe
is described in moral and poetical terms rather than in the terms of

The consequences of this change were important. The Will became
infinite in what Hegel called the evil sense, that is, in the true one.
It was no longer possible to speak of a plan of creation, nor of a
dramatic progress in history, with its beginning in [Pg 109] Eden and
its end in Berlin. Life was seen to radiate, as it really does, from an
elementary form into all sorts of disparate and incomparable growths,
capable of endless diversity. No limit, no forced co-operation, no
stereotyped method was imputed to life. The pocket universe of Hegel
opened out to the stars, so hateful to that philosopher. Man lost his
importance and at the same time the insufferable burden of his false
pretensions. In Schopenhauer frankness returned, and with frankness
clearness. Yet he could not quite reconcile man to his actual place in
nature. A deep prejudice still intervened.

Both Christianity and romanticism had accustomed people to disregard
the intrinsic value of things. Things ought to be useful for salvation,
or symbols of other greater but unknown things: it was not to be
expected that they should be simply good in themselves. This life was
to be justified, if justified at all, only as servile work or tedious
business may be justified, not as health or artistic expression justify
themselves. Unless some external and ulterior end could be achieved
by living, it was thought that life would be vanity. Remove now the
expectation of a millennium or of a paradise in the sky, and it may
seem that all serious value has disappeared from our earthly existence.
Yet this feeling is only a temporary after-image of a particular

[Pg 110] The romantic poets, through pride, restlessness, and longing
for vague impossible things, came to the same conclusion that the
church had reached through censoriousness and hope. To be always
dissatisfied seemed to that Faust-like age a mark of loftiness. To
be dissatisfied is, indeed, a healthy and promising thing, when what
troubles us can be set right; but the romantic mind despises such
incidental improvements which far from freeing the wild egotistical
soul would rather fatten and harness it. It is beneath the romantic
pessimist to remember that people, in all ages, sometimes achieve what
they have set their hearts on, and that if human will and conduct
were better disciplined, this contentment would be more frequent and
more massive. On the contrary, he asserts that willing is always and
everywhere abortive.

How can he persuade himself of something so evidently false? By that
mystical misinterpretation of human nature which is perhaps the core
of romanticism. He imagines that what is desired is not: this or
that--food, children, victory, knowledge, or some other specific
goal of a human instinct--but an abstract and perpetual happiness
behind all these alternating interests. Of course an abstract and
perpetual happiness is impossible, not merely because events are
sure to disturb any equilibrium we may think we have established in
our lives, but for the [Pg 111] far more fundamental reason that we
have no abstract and perpetual instinct to satisfy. The desire for
self-preservation or power or union with God is no more perpetual or
comprehensive than any other: it is commonly when we are in straits
that we become aware of such objects, and to achieve them, or imagine
we achieve them, will give us only a momentary satisfaction, like any
other success. A highest good to be obtained apart from each and every
specific interest is more than unattainable; it is unthinkable. The
romanticist, chasing wilfully that _ignis fatuus_, naturally finds his
life arduous and disappointing. But he might have learned from Plato or
any sound moralist, if his genius could allow him to learn anything,
that the highest good of man is the sum and harmony of those specific
goods upon which his nature is directed. But because the romantic will
was unteachable, all will was declared to be foolish.

Schopenhauer was led into his pessimism also by the spirit of
opposition; his righteous wrath was aroused by the sardonic and
inhuman optimism of Hegel, the arguments for which were so cogent, so
Calvinistic, and so irrelevant that they would have lost none of their
force if they had been proposed in hell. The best possible world and
the worst possible world are, indeed, identical for that philosophy.
Schopenhauer needed to change nothing in the [Pg 112] description of
life, as the other idealists conceived it, in order to prove that life
was a tragedy; for they were as romantic as himself and as far from
feeling the intrinsic value of happiness, and the possibility of real
progress. Real progress has little to do with perpetual evolution.
It occurs only in certain places and times, when nature or art comes
to the assistance of some definite interest already embodied, as the
interest in security and mutual confidence, knowledge, or the fine arts
is already embodied in mankind. Schopenhauer was not insensible to
these achievements; he felt by instinct the infinity and luxuriance of
the moral world. It was in part this secret sympathy with nature that
alienated him from Christianity and from transcendental metaphysics.
But because natural goods cannot be desired or possessed for ever,
he thought their value was cancelled, even for those who desired and
possessed them. The leaven of romanticism was still at work, forbidding
him to recognise a natural order, with which a vital harmony might be
established. The ground of life, the Will in all things, was something
lurid and tempestuous, itself a psychological chaos. The alternative to
theism in the mind of Schopenhauer was not naturalism but anarchy.

This romantic travesty of life and this conception of metaphysical
anarchy were inherited by Nietzsche [Pg 113] and regarded by him as
the last word of philosophy. But he made the breach with Christianity
still wider. The grief of Schopenhauer in the presence of such a world,
his desperate and exotic remedy--the denial of the will--and
his love of contemplation were all evidences of a mind still half
Christian: his pessimism itself was so much homage to the faith he
had lost. Such backward glances were not for the impetuous Nietzsche,
who felt he was a prophet of the future, and really was one. Romantic
anarchy delighted him; and he crowned it with a rakish optimism, as
with the red cap of Liberty. He was in hearty sympathy with absolute
Will; he praised it even for being vain and maleficent, if it was only
proud enough to praise itself.



It is hardly fair to a writer like Nietzsche, so poetical, fragmentary,
and immature, to judge him as a philosopher; yet he wished to be so
judged, and planned a system which was to be an emendation of that
of Schopenhauer. The will to live would become the will to dominate;
pessimism founded on reflection would become optimism founded on
courage; the suspense of the will in contemplation would yield to a
more biological account of intelligence and taste; finally in the
place of pity and asceticism (Schopenhauer's two principles of morals)
Nietzsche would set up the duty of asserting the will at all costs and
being cruelly but beautifully strong.

These points of difference from Schopenhauer cover the whole philosophy
of Nietzsche. I will consider them in order, leaving the last for the
next chapter.

The change from "the will to live" to "the will to be powerful" is only
a change of metaphors: both are used merely to indicate the general
movement of nature. The choice of a psychological symbol for this
purpose is indifferent scientifically, since the [Pg 115] facts in any
case remain the same and our knowledge of them is not enlarged; yet it
is an interesting indication of the mind of the poet using it, because
whatever a man knows and loves best, that he takes his metaphors from.
Nietzsche had his reasons for liking to call the universal principle a
lust for power. He believed he was the herald of two hundred years of
war, he was in love with the vague image of a military aristocracy, and
he was not without a certain biological acumen.

An acorn in the ground does not strive to persevere in the state it
happens to be in, but expands, absorbs surrounding elements, and
transforms them into its own substance, which itself changes its form.
Here then is a will to grow, not simply a will to live or to preserve
oneself; in fact, as Nietzsche eloquently said, here is a will to
perish. It is true that when the oak is full grown it seems to pass
to the defensive and no longer manifests the will either to perish
or to grow. Even while the will to grow is operating, its scope is
not indefinite. It would be grotesque to imagine that the acorn, like
the ego of German philosophy, tended to annex the whole earth and
the whole sky and to make a single oak of the universe. If we take a
broad view, perhaps the ancient myth that nature tends to re-embody
certain fixed types, though inaccurate, gives a better picture of the
facts than [Pg 116] the modern myth that she is striving to change in
one predetermined direction. Nevertheless, the fact that Nietzsche's
attention was fascinated by the will to grow and to dominate shows that
he was in sympathy with young things, that his heart was big with the
future, and that his age believed in progress.

The change from pessimism to optimism, verbally so complete, did not
imply any divergence between Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in their
description of the facts; it was all a matter of a little more spirit
in the younger thinker and a little more conscience in the elder.
Romantic poets and their heroes are well known to oscillate between
passionate despair and passionate enterprise. Schopenhauer affected
passionate despair, Nietzsche recommended passionate enterprise, each
being wedded exclusively to one of those moods which Faust or Byron
could feel alternately and reduce to act with all the dashing tumult of
anarchy. The value which the world has in the eyes of its inhabitants
is necessarily mixed, so that a sweeping optimism or pessimism can be
only a theoretic pose, false to the natural sentiment even of those who
assume it. Both are impressionistic judgments passed on the world at
large, not perhaps without some impertinence.

Yet it is these poses or attitudes, or, if you like, these
impertinences, that give importance to [Pg 117] transcendental
philosophers; it is their representative and contagious side; their
views of things would concern us little, if it was the things
themselves that we wished to understand, but our whole study is a study
in romanticism. The temper of the age ignored that man is a teachable
animal living in a natural world. All that was a vulgar convention; in
truth a disembodied Will was directed on any and every ideal at random,
and when any of these fantastic objects seemed to be attained nothing
was really accomplished, nothing was accumulated or learned. The wish
for some other will-o'-the-wisp immediately succeeded, always equally
passionate and equally foolish.

It is amazing that such a picture of human experience should have
met with anything but general derision; but when people read books
they compare them with other books, and when they turn to things they
forget books altogether. Hence the most palpable falsehoods are held
by general consent at certain moments, because they follow logically
from what the books of the previous generation had maintained. This
absurdity of Schopenhauer's is a plausible variation of idealism; to
see how absurd it is you must remember the facts of life, the existence
of any degree of civilisation or progress. In these the travail of
human nature appears; for human nature is not [Pg 118] merely a name
for a certain set of passions known to literature; in that sense
Schopenhauer fully acknowledged it, and even thought it immutable;
it is rather the constitution of an animal capable of training and
development. What is more patent than that a man may learn something by
experience and may be trained? But if he can be trained he is capable
of adaptation and, therefore, of happiness, and the preposterous
assertion that all desires are equally arbitrary and equally fruitless
is blown to the winds.

The belief in a romantic chaos lends itself to pessimism, but it
also lends itself to absolute self-assertion. Kant had boasted that
he had removed knowledge in order to make room for faith; in other
words, he had returned to chaos in order to find freedom. The great
egotists, who detested the pressure of a world they had not posited
or created, followed gladly in that path; but Schopenhauer was not
an egotist. Like Goethe he was probably more selfish personally than
those other philosophers whom their very egotism had made zealous and
single-minded; but in imagination and feeling he was, like Goethe,
genial and humane: the freedom and exuberance of nature impressed
him more than his own. Had he been an egotist, as Fichte, Hegel, and
Nietzsche were, he might have been an optimist like them. He was
rather a happy man, hugely enjoying [Pg 119] a great many things,
among them food and music; and he taught that music was a direct
transcript of the tormented will to live. How simple it would have been
for him, if he had been an egotist, to enjoy the spectacle of that
tormented will as much as the music which was its faithful image! But
no; such æsthetic cruelty, which was Nietzsche's delight, would have
revolted Schopenhauer. He thought tragedy beautiful because it detached
us from a troubled world and did not think a troubled world good, as
those unspeakable optimists did, because it made such a fine tragedy.
It is pleasant to find that among all these philosophers one at least
was a gentleman.

If Will is the sole substance or force in the universe, it must be
present in everything that exists, yet Schopenhauer affirmed that it
was absent in æsthetic contemplation; and he looked to an ultimate
denial of the Will, which if it was to be an act and not merely a void
would evidently be impossible on his principles. The Will might well
say to those who attempted to deny it: "They reckon ill who leave me
out; when me they fly, I am the wings." In perceiving and correcting
this contradiction, Nietzsche certainly improved the technique of the

Yet that contradiction was not substantial; it was verbal merely, and
due to the fond use of the term [Pg 120] Will for what might more
properly be called matter, energy, or movement. Will taken in the
metaphorical sense can never be in abeyance, so long as anything is
going on; but will taken in its proper sense is in abeyance often; and
this is what Schopenhauer saw and meant to say. Actual and conscious
will is a passing phenomenon; it is so little necessary to life that
it always disappears when life is at its height. All pure pleasures,
including those of seeing and thinking, are without it: they are
ingenuous, and terminate in their present object. A philosopher should
have learned from Aristotle, if not from his own experience, that at
the acme of life we live in the eternal, and that then, as Schopenhauer
said, we no longer pry but gaze, and are freed from willing.

This is not to say that Nietzsche was not very happy and witty in his
description of the passions that dominate artists and philosophers,
and in urging that the life of the spirit was an impassioned thing. To
prove it, he might have quoted Schopenhauer himself, in those moving
passages where he describes the ecstasy of thought and the spell of
beauty. It is not the dead or the bloodless that have such feelings. Of
course, if the operations of the brain, and the whole instinctive life
of the soul, were interrupted neither these feelings nor any others
would arise. This was at bottom Schopenhauer's conviction. His [Pg 121]
great intuition, the corner-stone of his philosophy, was precisely the
priority of automatism and instinct over the intellect. His only error
came from having given to these underlying processes the name of Will,
when properly the will is one expression of them only, as the intellect

Nietzsche, who adopted the same metaphor, was led by it into the very
confusion which he criticised in Schopenhauer. Nietzsche had no great
technical competence: he saw the inconsistency only when he disliked
the result; when the result fell in with his first impressions he
repeated the inconsistency. He often condemned other moralists for
being enemies to life: he reproached the greater part of mankind for
loving inglorious ease and resenting the sufferings inseparable from
the will to be mighty and to perish. But this churlish attitude of the
vulgar would be quite impossible if the heroic will to be powerful were
the essence of everybody and even of material things. If I am nothing
but the will to grow, how can I ever will to shrink?

But this inconsistency in Nietzsche, like that in Schopenhauer, was
an honourable one that came of forgetting a false generalisation
in the presence of a clear fact. That the will to be powerful is
everywhere was a false generalisation; but it was a clear fact that
some people are pious Christians or Epicurean [Pg 122] philosophers,
who do not care at all about conquering the world. They want to be
let alone, and perhaps have a shrewd suspicion that no one lives
under such dire compulsions as he who undertakes to tyrannise over
others. This slave-morality of theirs might be called Will, though it
is rather instinct and habit; but it is certainly not a will to be
powerful: it is the opposite of that passion. Thus Nietzsche, by an
honest self-contradiction, pointed to people who denied the will to be
powerful, in order to abuse them, just as Schopenhauer had pointed to
people who denied or suspended the will to live, in order to praise



Nietzsche occasionally spoke disparagingly of morality, as if the
word and the thing had got a little on his nerves; and some of his
best-known phrases might give the impression that he wished to
drop the distinction between good and evil and transcend ethics
altogether. Such a thought would not have been absurd in itself or even
unphilosophical. Many serious thinkers, Spinoza for instance, have
believed that everything that happens is equally necessary and equally
expressive of the will of God, be it favourable or unfavourable to
our special interests and, therefore, called by us good or bad. A too
reverent immersion in nature and history convinces them that to think
any part of reality better or worse than the rest is impertinent or
even impious. It is true that in the end these philosophers usually
stultify themselves and declare enthusiastically that whatever is is
right. This rapturous feeling can overcome anybody in certain moods,
as it sometimes overcame Nietzsche; but in yielding to it, besides
contradicting all other moral judgments, these mystics break their
difficult resolution never to judge at all.

[Pg 124] Nietzsche, however, was entirely free from this divine
impediment in morals. The courage to cling to what his soul
loved--and this courage is the essence of morality--was
conspicuous in him. He was a poet, a critic, a lover of form and of
distinctions. Few persons have ever given such fierce importance to
their personal taste. What he disliked to think of, say democracy, he
condemned with the fulminations of a god; what he liked to think of,
power, he seriously commanded man and nature to pursue for their single

What Nietzsche disparaged, then, under the name of morality was not
all morality, for he had an enthusiastic master-morality of his own to
impose. He was thinking only of the Christian virtues and especially
of a certain Protestant and Kantian moralism with which perhaps he
had been surfeited. This moralism conceived that duty was something
absolute and not a method of securing whatever goods of all sorts are
attainable by action. The latter is the common and the sound opinion,
maintained, for instance, by Aristotle; but Nietzsche, who was not
humble enough to learn very much by study, thought he was propounding
a revolutionary doctrine when he put goods and evils beyond and above
right and wrong: for this is all that his _Jenseits von Gut und Böse_
amounts to. Whatever seemed to him [Pg 125] admirable, beautiful,
eligible, whatever was good in the sense opposed not to _böse_ but
to _schlecht_, Nietzsche loved with jealous affection. Hence his ire
against Christianity, which he thought renounced too much. Hence his
hatred of moralism, which in raising duty to the irresponsible throne
of the absolute had superstitiously sacrificed half the goods of life.
Nietzsche, then, far from transcending ethics, re-established it on its
true foundations, which is not to say that the sketchy edifice which
he planned to raise on these foundations was in a beautiful style of
architecture or could stand at all.

The first principle of his ethics was that the good is power. But this
word power seems to have had a great range of meanings in his mind.
Sometimes it suggests animal strength and size, as in the big blonde
beast; sometimes vitality, sometimes fortitude, sometimes contempt
for the will of others, sometimes (and this is perhaps the meaning he
chiefly intended) dominion over natural forces and over the people,
that is to say, wealth and military power. It is characteristic of this
whole school that it confuses the laws which are supposed to preside
over the movement of things with the good results which they may
involve; so Nietzsche confuses his biological insight, that all life
is the assertion of some sort of power--the power to breathe, for
instance--with the [Pg 126] admiration he felt for a masterful
egotism. But even if we identify life or any kind of existence with
the exertion of strength, the kinds of strength exerted will be
heterogeneous and not always compatible. The strength of Lucifer does
not insure victory in war; it points rather to failure in a world
peopled by millions of timid, pious, and democratic persons. Hence
we find Nietzsche asking himself plaintively, "Why are the feeble
victorious?" The fact rankled in his bosom that in the ancient world
martial aristocracies had succumbed before Christianity, and in the
modern world before democracy. By strength, then, he could not mean the
power to survive, by being as flexible as circumstances may require.
He did not refer to the strength of majorities, nor to the strength of
vermin. At the same time he did not refer to moral strength, for of
moral strength he had no idea.

The arts give power, but only in channels prescribed by their own
principles, not by the will of untrained men. To be trained is to be
tamed and harnessed, an accession of power detestable to Nietzsche.
His Zarathustra had the power of dancing, also of charming serpents
and eagles: no wonder that he missed the power, bestowed by goodness,
of charming and guiding men; and a Terpsichorean autocrat would be
hard to imagine. A man intent on algebra [Pg 127] or on painting is
not striving to rule anybody; his dominion over painting or algebra is
chiefly a matter of concentration and self-forgetfulness. So dominion
over the passions changes them from attempts to appropriate anything
into sentiments of the mind, colouring a world which is no longer
coveted. To attain such autumnal wisdom is, if you like, itself a power
of feeling and a kind of strength; but it is not helpful in conquering
the earth.

Nietzsche was personally more philosophical than his philosophy. His
talk about power, harshness, and superb immorality was the hobby of a
harmless young scholar and constitutional invalid. He did not crave in
the least either wealth or empire. What he loved was solitude, nature,
music, books. But his imagination, like his judgment, was captious;
it could not dwell on reality, but reacted furiously against it.
Accordingly, when he speaks of the will to be powerful, power is merely
an eloquent word on his lips. It symbolises the escape from mediocrity.
What power would be when attained and exercised remains entirely beyond
his horizon. What meets us everywhere is the sense of impotence and a
passionate rebellion against it.

The phrases in which Nietzsche condensed and felt his thought were
brilliant, but they were seldom just. We may perhaps see the principle
of his ethics [Pg 128] better if we forget for a moment the will to
be powerful and consider this: that he knew no sort of good except
the beautiful, and no sort of beauty except romantic stress. He was
a belated prophet of romanticism. He wrote its epitaph, in which he
praised it more extravagantly than anybody, when it was alive, had had
the courage to do.

Consider, for example, what he said about truth. Since men were
governed solely by the will to be powerful, the truth for its own sake
must be moonshine to them. They would wish to cultivate such ideas,
whether true or false, as might be useful to their ambition. Nietzsche
(more candid in this than some other pragmatists) confessed that truth
itself did not interest him; it was ugly; the bracing atmosphere of
falsehood, passion, and subjective perspectives was the better thing.
Sometimes, indeed, a more wistful mood overtook him, and he wondered
whether the human mind would be able to endure the light of truth. That
was the great question of the future. We may agree that a mind without
poetry, fiction, and subjective colouring would not be human, nor a
mind at all; and that neither truth nor the knowledge of truth would
have any intrinsic value if nobody cared about it for its own sake.
But some men do care; and in ignoring this fact Nietzsche expresses
the false and pitiful notion that we can be [Pg 129] interested in
nothing except in ourselves and our own future. I am solitary, says the
romantic egotist, and sufficient unto myself. The world is my idea, new
every day: what can I have to do with truth?

This impulse to turn one's back on truth, whether in contempt or in
despair, has a long history. Lessing had said that he preferred the
pursuit of truth to the truth itself; but if we take this seriously
(as possibly it was not meant) the pursuit of truth at once changes
its character. It can no longer be the pursuit of truth, truth not
being wanted, but only the pursuit of some fresh idea. Whether one of
these ideas or another comes nearer to the truth would be unimportant
and undiscoverable. Any idea will do, so long as it is pregnant with
another that may presently take its place; and as presumably error will
precipitate new ideas more readily than truth, we might almost find
it implied in Lessing's maxim that, as Nietzsche maintained, what is
really good is neither truth nor the pursuit of truth (for you might
find it, and what would you do then?), but rather a perpetual flux of

This view is also implied in the very prevalent habit of regarding
opinions as justified not by their object but by their date. The
intellectual ignominy of believing what we believe simply because of
the time and place of our birth, escapes many evolutionists. [Pg 130]
Far from trying to overcome this natural prejudice of position, they
raise it into a point of pride. They declare all opinions ever held
in the past to be superseded, and are apparently content that their
own should be superseded to-morrow, but meantime they cover you with
obloquy if you are so backward or so forward as not to agree with them
to-day. They accept as inevitable the total dominion of the point of
view. Each new date, even in the life of an individual thinker, is
expected by them to mark a new phase of doctrine. Indeed, truth is an
object which transcendental philosophy cannot envisage: the absolute
ego must be satisfied with consistency. How should the truth, actual,
natural, or divine, be an expression of the living will that attempts,
or in their case despairs, to discover it? Yet that everything, even
the truth, is an expression of the living will, is the corner-stone of
this philosophy.

Consider further the spirit in which Nietzsche condemned Christianity
and the Christian virtues. Many people have denounced Christianity on
the ground that it was false or tyrannical, while perhaps admitting
that it was comforting or had a good moral influence. Nietzsche
denounced it--and in unmeasured terms--on the ground that
(while, of course, as true as any other vital lie) it was mean,
depressing, slavish, and plebeian. How beastly was [Pg 131] the
precept of love! Actually to love all these grotesque bipeds was
degrading. A lover of the beautiful must wish almost all his neighbours
out of the way. Compassion, too, was a lamentable way of assimilating
oneself to evil. That contagious misery spoiled one's joy, freedom, and
courage. Disease should not be nursed but cauterised; the world must be
made clean.

Now there is a sort of love of mankind, a jealous love of what man
might be, in this much decried maxim of unmercifulness. Nietzsche
rebelled at the thought of endless wretchedness, pervasive mediocrity,
crying children, domestic drudges, and pompous fools for ever. _Die
Erde war zu lange schon ein Irrenhaus!_ His heart was tender enough,
but his imagination was impatient. When he praised cruelty, it was on
the ground that art was cruel, that it made beauty out of suffering.
Suffering, therefore, was good, and so was crime, which made life
keener. Only crime, he said, raises a man high enough for the lightning
to strike him. In the hope of sparing some obscure person a few groans
or tears, would you deprive the romantic hero of so sublime a death?

Christians, too, might say they had their heroes, their saints; but
what sort of eminence was that? It was produced by stifling half the
passions. A [Pg 132] sister of charity could not be an Arminius;
devotion to such remedial offices spoilt the glory of life. Holiness
was immoral; it was a half-suicide. _All_ experience, the ideal of
Faust, was what a spirited man must desire. All experience would
involve, I suppose, passing through all the sensations of a murderer,
a maniac, and a toad; even through those of a saint or a sister of
charity. But the romantic mind despises results; it is satisfied with

Consider, too, the romantic demand for a violent chiaroscuro, a
demand which blossoms into a whole system of ethics. Good and evil,
we are told, enhance one another, like light and shade in a picture;
without evil there can be no good, so to diminish the one is to
undermine the other, and the greatest and most heroic man is he who
not only does most good but also most harm. In his love of mischief,
in his tenderness for the adventurer who boldly inflicts injury and
suffering on others and on himself, in order to cut a more thrilling
and stupendous figure in his own eyes, Nietzsche gave this pernicious
doctrine its frankest expression; but unfortunately it was not wholly
his own. In its essence it belongs to Hegel, and under various
sophistical disguises it has been adopted by all his academic followers
in England and America. The arguments used to defend it are old
sophisms borrowed from the Stoics, who [Pg 133] had turned the physical
doctrine of Heraclitus, that everything is a mixture of contraries,
into an argument for resignation to inevitable evils and detachment
from tainted goods. The Stoics, who were neither romantic nor worldly,
used these sophisms in an attempt to extirpate the passions, not to
justify them. They were sufficiently refuted by the excellent Plutarch
where he observes that according to this logic it was requisite and
necessary that Thersites should be bald in order that Achilles might
have leonine hair. The absurdity is, indeed, ludicrous, if we are
thinking of real things and of the goods and evils of experience; but
egotists never think of that; what they always think of is the picture
of those realities in their imagination. For the observer, effects of
contrast do alter the values of the elements considered; and, indeed,
the elements themselves, if one is very unsympathetic, may not have
at all in contemplation the quality they have in experience: whence
æsthetic cruelty. The respect which Hegel and Nietzsche have for those
sophisms becomes intelligible when we remember what imperturbable
egotists they were.

This egotism in morals is partly mystical. There is a luxurious joy
in healing the smart of evil in one's mind, without needing to remove
or diminish the evil in the world. The smart may be healed by [Pg
134] nursing the conviction that evil after all is good, no matter how
much of it there is or how much of it we do. In part, however, this
egotism is romantic; it does not ask to be persuaded that evil, in
the end, is good. It feels that evil is good in the present; it is so
intense a thing to feel and so exciting a thing to do. Here we have
what Nietzsche wished to bring about, a reversal of all values. To do
evil is the true virtue, and to be good is the most hopeless vice.
Milk is for babes; your strong man should be soaked in blood and in
alcohol. We should live perilously; and as material life is the power
to digest poisons, so true excellence is the power to commit all manner
of crimes, and to survive.

That there is no God is proved by Nietzsche pragmatically, on the
ground that belief in the existence of God would have made him
uncomfortable. Not at all for the reason that might first occur to
us: to imagine himself a lost soul has always been a point of pride
with the romantic genius. The reason was that if there had been any
gods he would have found it intolerable not to be a god himself. Poor
Nietzsche! The laurels of the Almighty would not let him sleep.

It is hard to know if we should be more deceived in taking these
sallies seriously or in not taking them so. On the one hand it all
seems the swagger [Pg 135] of an immature, half-playful mind, like a
child that tells you he will cut your head off. The dreamy impulse,
in its inception, is sincere enough, but there is no vestige of any
understanding of what it proposes, of its conditions, or of its
results. On the other hand these explosions are symptomatic; there
stirs behind them unmistakably an elemental force. That an attitude
is foolish, incoherent, disastrous, proves nothing against the
depth of the instinct that inspires it. Who could be more intensely
unintelligent than Luther or Rousseau? Yet the world followed them,
not to turn back. The molecular forces of society, so to speak, had
already undermined the systems which these men denounced. If the
systems have survived it is only because the reformers, in their
intellectual helplessness, could supply nothing to take their place.
So Nietzsche, in his genial imbecility, betrays the shifting of great
subterranean forces. What he said may be nothing, but the fact that
he said it is all-important. Out of such wild intuitions, because the
heart of the child was in them, the man of the future may have to build
his philosophy. We should forgive Nietzsche his boyish blasphemies. He
hated with clearness, if he did not know what to love.



In his views on matters of fact Nietzsche, as becomes the naïve
egotist, was quite irresponsible. If he said the course of history
repeated itself in cycles, it was because the idea pleased him; it
seemed a symbol of self-approval on the world's part. If he hailed the
advent of a race of men superior to ourselves and of stronger fibre, it
was because human life as it is, and especially his own life, repelled
him. He was sensitive and, therefore, censorious. He gazed about him,
he gazed at himself, he remembered the disappointing frailties and
pomposity of the great man, Wagner, whom he had once idolised. His
optimism for the moment yielded to his sincerity. He would sooner
abolish than condone such a world, and he fled to some solitary
hillside by the sea, saying to himself that man was a creature to be

Dissatisfaction with the actual is what usually leads people to frame
ideals at all, or at least to hold them fast; but such a negative
motive leaves the ideal vague and without consistency. If we could
suddenly have our will, we should very likely find the result trivial
or horrible. So the superman of [Pg 137] Nietzsche might prove, if
by magic he could be realised. To frame solid ideals, which would,
in fact, be better than actual things, is not granted to the merely
irritable poet; it is granted only to the master-workman, to the
modeller of some given substance to some given use--things which
define his aspiration, and separate what is relevant and glorious in
his dreams from that large part of them which is merely ignorant and
peevish. It was not for Nietzsche to be an artist in morals and to
institute anything coherent, even in idea.

The superman of Nietzsche is rendered the more chimerical by the
fact that he must contradict not only the common man of the present
but also the superior men, the half-superhuman men, of the past. To
transcend humanity is no new ambition; that has always been the effort
of Indian and Christian religious discipline and of Stoic philosophy.
But this spiritual superiority, like that of artists and poets, has
come of abstraction; a superiority to life, in that these minds were
engrossed in the picture or lesson of life rather than in living; and
if they powerfully affected the world, as they sometimes did, it was
by bringing down into it something supermundane, the arresting touch
of an ulterior wisdom. Nietzsche, on the contrary, even more than most
modern philosophers, loved mere life with the pathetic intensity
of [Pg 138] the wounded beast; his superman must not rise above our
common condition by his purely spiritual resources, or by laying up
his treasure in any sort of heaven. He must be not a superior man but
a kind of physiological superman, a griffin in soul, if not in body,
who instead of labouring hands and religious faith should have eagle's
wings and the claws of a lion. His powers should be superior to ours
by resembling those of fiercer and wilder animals. The things that
make a man tame--Nietzsche was a retired professor living in a
boarding-house--must be changed into their opposites. But man
has been tamed by agriculture, material arts, children, experience;
therefore these things are to be far from the superman. If he must
resemble somebody, it will be rather the _condottieri_ of the
renaissance or the princes and courtiers of the seventeenth century;
Cæsar Borgia is the supreme instance. He must have a splendid presence
and address, gallantry, contempt for convention, loyalty to no country,
no woman, and no idea, but always a buoyant and lordly assertion of
instinct and of self. In the helter-skelter of his irritable genius,
Nietzsche jumbled together the ferocity of solitary beasts, the
indifference and _hauteur_ of patricians, and the antics of revellers,
and out of that mixture he hoped to evoke the rulers of the coming age.

[Pg 139] How could so fantastic an ideal impose on a keen satirist
like Nietzsche and a sincere lover of excellence? Because true human
excellence seemed to him hostile to life, and he felt--this was
his strong and sane side, his lien on the future--that life must
be accepted as it is or may become, and false beliefs, hollow demands,
and hypocritical, forced virtues must be abandoned. This new wisdom
was that which Goethe, too, had felt and practised; and of all masters
of life Goethe was the one whom Nietzsche could best understand. But a
master of life, without being in the least hostile to life, since he
fulfils it, nevertheless uses life for ends which transcend it. Even
Goethe, omnivorous and bland as he was, transcended life in depicting
and judging and blessing it. The saints and the true philosophers have
naturally emphasised more this renunciation of egotism: they have seen
all things in the light of eternity--that is, as they are in
truth--and have consequently felt a reasonable contempt for mere
living and mere dying; and in that precisely lies moral greatness.
Here Nietzsche could not follow; rationality chilled him; he craved

How life can be fulfilled and made beautiful by reason was never better
shown than by the Greeks, both by precept and example. Nietzsche in his
youth was a professor of Greek literature: one would have [Pg 140]
expected his superman to be a sort of Greek hero. Something of the
Dorian harshness in beauty, something of the Pindaric high-born and
silent victor may have been fused into Nietzsche's ideal; certainly
Bacchic freedom and ardour were to enter in. But on the whole it
is remarkable how little he learned from the Greeks, no modesty or
reverence, no joy in order and in loveliness, no sense for friendship,
none for the sanctity of places and institutions. He repeated the
paradoxes of some of their sophists, without remembering how their
wise men had refuted them. For example, he gave a new name and a new
prominence to the distinction between what he called the Dionysiac
and the Apollonian elements in Greek genius. He saw how false was
that whitewashed notion of the Greek mind which young ladies derived
from sketching a plaster cast of the Apollo Belvidere.[1] He saw that
a demonic force, as the generation of Goethe called it, underlay
everything; what he did not see was that this demonic force was under
control, which is the secret of the [Pg 141] whole matter. The point
had been thoroughly elucidated by Plato, in the contrast he drew
between inspiration and art. But Plato was rather ironical about
inspiration, and had a high opinion of art; and Nietzsche, with, his
contrary instinct, rushes away without understanding the mind of the
master or the truth of the situation. He thinks he alone has discovered
the divinity of Dionysus and of the Muses, which Plato took as a matter
of course but would not venerate superstitiously. Inspiration, like
will, is a force without which reason can do nothing. Inspiration must
be presupposed; but in itself it can do nothing good unless it is in
harmony with reason, or is brought into harmony with it. This two-edged
wisdom that makes impulse the stuff of life and reason its criterion,
is, of course, lost on Nietzsche, and with it the whole marvel of Greek
genius. There is nothing exceptional in being alive and impulsive; any
savage can run wild and be frenzied and enact histrionic passions: the
virtue of the Greeks lay in the exquisite firmness with which they
banked their fires without extinguishing them, so that their life
remained human (indeed, remained infra-human, like that of Nietzsche's
superman) and yet became beautiful: they were severe and fond of
maxims, on a basis of universal tolerance; they governed themselves
rationally, with a careful freedom, while well aware [Pg 142] that
nature and their own bosoms were full of gods, all of whom must be

After all, this defect in appreciation is inseparable from the
transcendental pose. The ancients, like everything else, never seem to
the egotist a reality co-ordinate with himself, from which he might
still have something to learn. They are only so much "content" for his
self-consciousness, so much matter for his thought to transcend. They
can contain nothing for him but the part of his outgrown self which he
deigns to identify with them. His mind must always envelop them and be
the larger thing. No wonder that in this school learning is wasted for
the purposes of moral education. Whoever has seen the learned egotist
flies at his approach. History in his hands is a demonstration of his
philosophy. Science is a quarry of proofs for his hobbies. If we do
not agree with him we are not merely mistaken (every philosopher tells
us that), but we are false to ourselves and ignorant of our ideal
significance. His ego gives us our place in the world. He informs us
of what we mean, whatever we may say; and he raises our opinions, as
he might his food, to a higher unity in his own person. He is priest
in every temple. He approaches a picture-gallery or a foreign religion
in a dictatorial spirit, with his _a priori_ categories ready on his
lips; pedantry and vanity speak in his [Pg 143] every gesture, and the
lesson of nothing can reach his heart.

No, neither the philosophy inherited by Nietzsche nor his wayward
imagination was fit to suggest to him a nobler race of men. On the
contrary, they shut him off from comprehension of the best men that
have existed. Like the utopias or ideals of many other satirists and
minor philosophers, the superman is not a possibility, it is only a
protest. Our society is outworn, but hard to renew; the emancipated
individual needs to master himself. In what spirit or to what end
he will do so, we do not know, and Nietzsche cannot tell us. He
is the jester, to whom all incoherences are forgiven, because all
indiscretions are allowed. His mind is undisciplined, and his tongue
outrageous, but he is at bottom the friend of our conscience, and full
of shrewd wit and tender wisps of intuition. Behind his "gay wisdom"
and trivial rhymes lies a great anguish. His intellect is lost in a
chaos. His heart denies itself the relief of tears and can vent itself
only in forced laughter and mock hopes that gladden nobody, least of
all himself.

[1] I was about to say: How false was the notion of Winkelmann about
the grandeur and repose of the Greek spirit. But Winkelmann, if his
sense for the chained monsters in the Greek soul was inadequate, was
at least in real sympathy with what had inspired Greek sculpture, love
and knowledge of the human body in the life, made gentle by discipline
and kept strong by training. For that reason Winkelmann seems hardly a
German: his learning was deficient and his heart was humble. He did
not patronise the ancients, he believed in them.



Schopenhauer somewhere observes that the word heathen, no longer
in reputable use elsewhere, had found a last asylum in Oxford, the
paradise of dead philosophies. Even Oxford, I believe, has now
abandoned it; yet it is a good word. It conveys, as no other word can,
the sense of vast multitudes tossing in darkness, harassed by demons
of their own choice. No doubt it implies also a certain sanctimony in
the superior person who uses it, as if he at least were not chattering
in the general Babel. What justified Jews, Christians, and Moslems
(as Mohammed in particular insisted) in feeling this superiority was
the possession of a Book, a chart of life, as it were, in which the
most important features of history and morals were mapped out for the
guidance of teachable men. The heathen, on the contrary, were abandoned
to their own devices, and even prided themselves on following only
their spontaneous will, their habit, presumption, or caprice.

Most unprejudiced people would now agree that the value of those sacred
histories and rules of life did not depend on their alleged miraculous
origin, [Pg 145] but rather on that solidity and perspicacity in their
authors which enabled them to perceive the laws of sweet and profitable
conduct in this world. It was not religion merely that was concerned,
at least not that outlying, private, and almost negligible sphere to
which we often apply this name; it was the whole fund of experience
mankind had gathered by living; it was wisdom. Now, to record these
lessons of experience, the Greeks and Romans also had their Books;
their history, poetry, science, and civil law. So that while the
theologically heathen may be those who have no Bible, the morally and
essentially heathen are those who possess no authoritative wisdom,
or reject the authority of what wisdom they have; the untaught or
unteachable who disdain not only revelation but what revelation stood
for among early peoples, namely, funded experience.

In this sense the Greeks were the least heathen of men. They were
singularly docile to political experiment, to law, to methodical art,
to the proved limitations and resources of mortal life. This life they
found closely hedged about by sky, earth, and sea, by war, madness, and
conscience with their in-dwelling deities, by oracles and local genii
with their accustomed cults, by a pervasive fate, and the jealousy of
invisible gods. Yet they saw that these divine forces were constant,
and that they exercised [Pg 146] their pressure and bounty with so
much method that a prudent art and religion could be built up in their
midst. All this was simply a poetic prologue to science and the arts;
it largely passed into them, and would have passed into them altogether
if the naturalistic genius of Greece had not been crossed in Socrates
by a premature discouragement, and diverted into other channels.

Early Hebraism itself had hardly been so wise. It had regarded its
tribal and moral interests as absolute, and the Creator as the champion
and omnipotent agent of Israel. But this arrogance and inexperience
were heathen. Soon the ascendency of Israel over nature and history
was proclaimed to be conditional on their fidelity to the Law; and
as the spirit of the nation under chastisement became more and more
penitential, it was absorbed increasingly in the praise of wisdom.
Salvation was to come only by repentance, by being born again with a
will wholly transformed and broken; so that the later Jewish religion
went almost as far as Platonism or Christianity in the direction
opposite to heathenism.

This movement in the direction of an orthodox wisdom was regarded
as a progress in those latter days of antiquity when it occurred,
and it continued to be so regarded in Christendom until the rise of
romanticism. The most radical reformers simply [Pg 147] urged that
the current orthodoxy, religious or scientific, was itself imperfectly
orthodox, being corrupt, overloaded, too vague, or too narrow. As
every actual orthodoxy is avowedly incomplete and partly ambiguous,
a sympathetic reform of it is always in order. Yet very often the
reformers are deceived. What really offends them may not be what is
false in the received orthodoxy, but what though true is uncongenial to
them. In that case heathenism, under the guise of a search for a purer
wisdom, is working in their souls against wisdom of any sort. Such is
the suspicion that Catholics would throw on Protestantism, naturalists
on idealism, and conservatives generally on all revolutions.

But if ever heathenism needed to pose as constructive reform, it is now
quite willing and able to throw off the mask. Desire for any orthodox
wisdom at all may be repudiated; it may be set down to low vitality
and failure of nerve. In various directions at once we see to-day an
intense hatred and disbelief gathering head against the very notion of
a cosmos to be discovered, or a stable human nature to be respected.
Nature, we are told, is an artificial symbol employed by life; truth
is a temporary convention; art is an expression of personality; war
is better than peace, effort than achievement, and feeling than
intelligence; change is deeper than [Pg 148] form; will is above
morality. Expressions of this kind are sometimes wanton and only half
thought out; but they go very deep in the subjective direction. Behind
them all is a sincere revulsion against the difficult and confused
undertakings of reason; against science, institutions, and moral
compulsions. They mark an honest retreat into immediate experience
and animal faith. Man used to be called a rational animal, but his
rationality is something eventual and ideal, whereas his animality is
actual and profound. Heathenism, if we consider life at large, is the
primal and universal religion.

It has never been my good fortune to see wild beasts in the jungle,
but I have sometimes watched a wild bull in the ring, and I can
imagine no more striking, simple, and heroic example of animal faith;
especially when the bull is what is technically called noble, that
is, when he follows the lure again and again with eternal singleness
of thought, eternal courage, and no suspicion of a hidden agency that
is mocking him. What the red rag is to this brave creature, their
passions, inclinations, and chance notions are to the heathen. What
they will they will; and they would deem it weakness and disloyalty
to ask whether it is worth willing or whether it is attainable. The
bull, magnificently sniffing the air, surveys the arena with the cool
contempt and [Pg 149] disbelief of the idealist, as if he said: "You
seem, you are a seeming; I do not quarrel with you, I do not fear you.
I am real, you are nothing." Then suddenly, when his eye is caught by
some bright cloak displayed before him, his whole soul changes. His
will awakes and he seems to say: "You are my destiny; I want you, I
hate you, you shall be mine, you shall not stand in my path. I will
gore you. I will disprove you. I will pass beyond you. I shall be, you
shall not have been." Later, when sorely wounded and near his end, he
grows blind to all these excitements. He smells the moist earth, and
turns to the dungeon where an hour ago he was at peace. He remembers
the herd, the pasture beyond, and he dreams: "I shall not die, for I
love life. I shall be young again, young always, for I love youth. All
this outcry is nought to me, this strange suffering is nought. I will
go to the fields again, to graze, to roam, to love."

So exactly, with not one least concession to the unsuspected reality,
the heathen soul stands bravely before a painted world, covets some
bauble, and defies death. Heathenism is the religion of will, the faith
which life has in itself because it is life, and in its aims because it
is pursuing them.

In their tentative, many-sided, indomitable way, the Germans have been
groping for four hundred [Pg 150] years towards a restoration of their
primitive heathenism. Germany under the long tutelage of Rome had
been like a spirited and poetic child brought up by very old and very
worldly foster-parents. For many years the elfin creature may drink in
their gossip and their maxims with simple wonder; but at last he will
begin to be restive under them, ask himself ominous questions, protest,
suffer, and finally break into open rebellion. Naturally he will not
find at first theories and precepts of his own to take the place of his
whole education; he will do what he can with his traditions, revising,
interpreting, and patching them with new ideas; and only if he has
great earnestness and speculative power will he ever reach an unalloyed
expression of his oppressed soul.

Now in Germany speculative power and earnestness existed in a high
degree, not, of course, in most people, but in the best and most
representative; and it was this _élite_ that made the Reformation, and
carried it on into historical criticism and transcendental philosophy,
until in the nineteenth century, in Schopenhauer, Wagner, and
Nietzsche, the last remnants of Christian education were discarded and
the spontaneous heathen morality of the race reasserted itself in its
purity. That this assertion was not consistent, that it was thrown into
the language and images of some alien system, is not to be [Pg 151]
wondered at; but the Christianity of Parsifal, like the Buddhism of the
denial of the will, is a pure piece of romanticism, an exotic setting
for those vacillations and sinkings which absolute Will may very well
be subject to in its absolute chaos.

The rebellion of the heathen soul is unmistakable in the Reformation,
but it is not recognised in this simple form, because those who feel
that it was justified do not dream that it was heathen, and those
who see that it was heathen will not admit that it was justified.
Externally, of course, it was an effort to recover the original essence
of Christianity; but why should a free and absolute being care for
that original essence when he has discovered it, unless his own mind
demanded that very thing? And if his mind demanded it, what need has
he to read that demand into an ancient revelation which, as a matter
of fact, turned on quite other matters? It was simply the inertia
of established prejudice that made people use tradition to correct
tradition; until the whole substance of tradition, worn away by that
internal friction, should be dissolved, and impulse and native genius
should assert themselves unimpeded.

Judaism and Christianity, like Greek philosophy, were singly inspired
by the pursuit of happiness, in whatever form it might be really
attainable: now [Pg 152] on earth if possible, or in the millennium,
or in some abstracted and inward life, like that of the Stoics,
or in the last resort, in a different life altogether beyond the
grave. But heathenism ignores happiness, despises it, or thinks it
impossible. The regimen and philosophy of Germany are inspired by this
contempt for happiness, for one's own happiness as well as for other
people's. Happiness seems to the German moralists something unheroic,
an abdication before external things, a victory of the senses over
the will. They think the pursuit of happiness low, materialistic,
and selfish. They wish everybody to sacrifice or rather to forget
happiness, and to do "deeds."

It is in the nature of things that those who are incapable of happiness
should have no idea of it. Happiness is not for wild animals, who
can only oscillate between apathy and passion. To be happy, even to
conceive happiness, you must be reasonable or (if Nietzsche prefers
the word) you must be tamed. You must have taken the measure of your
powers, tasted the fruits of your passions and learned your place in
the world and what things in it can really serve you. To be happy you
must be wise. This happiness is sometimes found instinctively, and
then the rudest fanatic can hardly fail to see how lovely it is; but
sometimes it comes of having learned something by experience (which
empirical people never [Pg 153] do) and involves some chastening
and renunciation; but it is not less sweet for having this touch of
holiness about it, and the spirit of it is healthy and beneficent. The
nature of happiness, therefore, dawns upon philosophers when their
wisdom begins to report the lessons of experience: an _a priori_
philosophy can have no inkling of it.

Happiness is the union of vitality with art, and in so far as vitality
is a spiritual thing and not mere restlessness and vehemence, art
increases vitality. It obviates friction, waste, and despair. Without
art, vitality is painful and big with monsters. It is hurried easily
into folly and crime; it ignores the external forces and interests
which it touches. German philosophy does this theoretically, by
dethroning the natural world and calling it an idea created by the ego
for its own purposes; and it does this practically also by obeying the
categorical imperative--no longer the fabled imperatives of Sinai
or of Königsberg, but the inward and vital imperative which the bull
obeys, when trusting absolutely in his own strength, rage, and courage,
he follows a little red rag and his destiny this way and that way.



It is customary to judge religions and philosophies by their truth,
which is seldom their strong point; yet the application of that
unsympathetic criterion is not unjust, since they aspire to be true,
maintain that they are so, and forbid any opposed view, no matter
how obvious and inevitable, to be called true in their stead. But
when religions and philosophies are dead, or when we are so removed
from them by time or training that the question of their truth is
not a living question for us, they do not on that account lose all
their interest; then, in fact, for the first time they manifest their
virtues to the unbeliever. He sees that they are expressions of human
genius; that however false to their subject-matter they may be, like
the conventions of art they are true to the eye and to the spirit that
fashioned them. And as nothing in the world, not even the truth, is so
interesting as human genius, these incredible or obsolete religions and
philosophies become delightful to us. The sting is gone out of their
errors, which no longer threaten to delude us, and they have acquired
a beauty invisible to the eye of their authors, because [Pg 155] of
the very refraction which the truth suffered in that vital medium.

German philosophy is a work of genius. To be heathen is easy; to have
an absolute will and a belief in chaos--or rather a blind battle
with chance--is probably the lot of most animals; but to be
condemned to be learned, industrious, moral, and Christian, and yet,
through that veil of unavoidable phenomena and conventions, to pierce
to absolute will and freedom, and to set them forth persuasively as
the true reality, in spite of all the ordered appearances which do not
cease to confront and to occupy us--that is a work of genius. It
is a wonderful achievement, to have recovered atavistically the depths
of the primitive soul, in the midst of its later sophistication. In
this philosophy the ancestral ego, the soul perplexed and incredulous
at being born into this world, returns to haunt us in broad day-light
and to persuade us with its ghostly eloquence that not that ego but
this world is the ghost.

The egotism which in German philosophy is justified by a theory in
German genius is a form of experience. It turns everything it touches
into a part of its own life, personal, spontaneous, sincere, original.
It is young and self-sufficient; yet as a continual change of view is
incompatible with art and learning, we see in Germany, even more than
elsewhere, [Pg 156] a division of labour between genius and tradition;
nowhere are the types of the young rebel and the tireless pedant so
common and so extreme.

The notion that something that moves and lives, as genius does, can
at the same time be absolute has some interesting implications. Such
a genius and all its works must be unstable. As it has no external
sources and no external objects, as its own past can exercise no
control over it (for that would be the most lifeless of tyrannies), it
is a sort of shooting star, with no guarantees for the future. This,
for the complete egotist, has no terrors. A tragic end and a multitude
of enemies may seem good to the absolute hero and necessary to his
perfect heroism. In the same way, to be without a subject-matter or an
audience may seem good to the absolute poet, who sings to himself as he
goes, exclusively for the benefit of that glorious and fleeting moment.
Genius could not be purer than that: although perhaps it might be hard
to prove that it was genius.

A kindred implication, which perhaps might be less welcome to the
egotist himself, is that an absolute genius is formless, and that the
absolute freedom with which it thinks it takes on now this form and
now that, is not really freedom at all, but subjection to unknown and
perhaps ironical forces. Absolute Will, of which a perfectly free
genius is an expression, [Pg 157] cannot say specifically what it
craves, for essentially it should crave everything indiscriminately. In
practice, however, it must seem to aim at this or that precise result.
These specific aims are suggested to it by circumstances, foisted upon
it in its replete innocence; for it is all expectation, all vague
heartiness and zeal for it knows not what. The logic it proclaims at
any time and calls eternal is but the fashionable rhetoric of that
hour. Absolute Will is a great dupe on whom fortune forces card after
card. Like Faust it is helpless before the most vulgar temptations.
Why should it not fulfil itself now by the pursuit of magic, now by
the seduction of a young girl, now by an archæological pose, now by
a piratical or an engineering enterprise? True, there are limits to
its gullibility; there are suggestions from which it recoils. The
German ego, after swallowing Christianity whole, will in Luther stick
at Indulgences. Faust sometimes turns on Mephistopheles, as the worm
will turn: he says that he covets all experience, but in that he does
himself a great injustice; there are experiences he scorns. After all
this ego is not really absolute; it is specifically and pathetically
human and directed upon a few natural ends. That is what saves it; for
a mind can have no distinction and a soul no honour if its only maxim
is to live on. It may take up with enthusiasm [Pg 158] whatever it
takes up, but it will take up anything; and it may do mightily whatever
it does, but it will not do it long.

Consider, in this respect, the pathetic history of the German people.
It conquered the Roman empire and it became Roman, or wished to become
so. It had had a mythology and a morality of its own (very like
in principle to those it has since rediscovered), yet it accepted
Christianity with the docility of a child. It began to feel, after some
centuries, how alien to its genius this religion was, but it could find
relief only in a fresh draught from the same foreign sources, or others
more remote. To cease to be Roman it tried to become Hebraic and Greek.
In studying these models, however, it came upon a new scent. What
passed for revelation or for classical perfection was of human national
growth, stratified like the rocks, and not divine or authoritative at
all. If you only made hypotheses enough, you could prove how it all
arose according to necessary laws, logical, psychological, historical,
economical, and æsthetical. Above all, you could prove how nobody had
understood anything properly before, and how the key to it all was in
your single hand.

Yet the triumphs of theory alone soon seemed unsatisfying. Wine,
science, and song once seemed to make Germany happy, but if a prince
imposed [Pg 159] military discipline, might not that be an even better
thing? For a time wistfulness, longing, and the feeling of Titanic
loneliness and of a world to be evoked and snuffed out like a dream,
seemed to fill the cup of intense living, and the greatest and happiest
of Germans could cry--

_Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt_ _weiss, was ich leide,_ _allein und
abgetrennt_ _von aller Freude_.

But presently true intensity of life appeared to lie rather in being a
victorious general, or an ironmaster, or a commercial traveller, or a
reveller in the Friedrich-strasse, or a spy and conspirator anywhere in
the world.

All these turbid and nondescript ambitions are in a sense artificial;
the Germans accept them now as a thousand years ago they accepted
Christianity, because such things are suddenly thrust upon them. By
nature they are simple, honest, kindly, easily pleased. There is no
latent irony or disbelief in their souls. The pleasures of sense, plain
and copious, they enjoy hugely, long labour does not exasperate them,
science fills them with satisfaction, music entrances them. There ought
to be no happier or more innocent nation in this world. Unfortunately
their very goodness and simplicity render them helpless; they are what
they are dragooned to be. There is no social or intellectual disease
to which, in spots, [Pg 160] they do not succumb, as to an epidemic:
their philosophy itself is an example of this. They have the defects
of the newly prosperous; they are far too proud of their possessions,
esteeming them for being theirs, without knowing whether they are
good of their kind. Culture is a thing seldom mentioned by those who
have it. The real strength of the Germans lies not in those external
achievements of which at this moment they make so much--for they
may outgrow this new materialism of theirs--it lies rather in what
they have always prized, their _Gemüth_ and their music.

Perhaps these two things have a common root. Emotion is inarticulate,
yet there is a mighty movement in it, and a great complexity of
transitions and shades. This intrinsic movement of the feelings is
ordinarily little noticed because people are too wide awake, or too
imaginative. Everything is a fact or a picture to them, and their
emotions seem to them little but obvious qualities of things. They
roundly call _things_ beautiful, painful, holy, or ridiculous; they do
not speak of their _Gemüth_, although, of course, it is by virtue of
their emotions that they pass such judgments. But when the occasions of
our emotions, the objects that call them forth, are not so instantly
focussed, when we know better what we feel than why we feel it, then
we seem to have a richer and more massive sensibility. Our feelings
[Pg 161] absorb our attention because they remain a thing apart: they
seem to us wonderfully deep because we do not ground them in things

Now music is a means of giving form to our inner feelings without
attaching them to events or objects in the world. Music is articulate,
but articulate in a language which avoids, or at least veils the
articulation of the world we live in; it is, therefore, the chosen art
of a mind to whom the world is still foreign. If this seems in one way
an incapacity, it is also a privilege. Not to be at home in the world,
to prize it chiefly for echoes which it may have in the soul, to have a
soul that can give forth echoes, or that can generate internal dramas
of sound out of its own resources--may this not be a more enviable
endowment than that of a mind all surface, a sensitive plate only able
to photograph this not too beautiful earth? In any case, for better or
for worse, inward sensibility, unabsorbed in worldly affairs, exists
in some people; a life, as it were, still in the womb and not yet in
contact with the air. But let these inspired musicians, masters in
their own infinite realms, beware of the touch of matter. Let them not
compose a system of the universe out of their _Gemüth,_ as they might a
symphony. Let them not raise their baton in the face of the stars or of
the nations, and think to lead them like an orchestra.



Theories in their own ethereal essence can have no influence on events.
But the men who conceive and adopt a theory form, in doing so, certain
habits of discrimination and of reaction to things. In fact, they have
conceived and adopted their theory because their habits of apprehension
and action suggested it to them, or could be brought to suggest it: the
explicit theory is a symbol and omen of their practical attitude, of
their way, as the phrase has it, of grasping the situation.

All philosophies have the common property of being speculative, and,
therefore, their immediate influence on those who hold them is in
many ways alike, however opposed the theories may be to one another:
they all make people theoretical. In this sense any philosophy, if
warmly embraced, has a moralising force, because, even if it belittles
morality, it absorbs the mind in intellectual contemplation, accustoms
it to wide and reasoned comparisons, and makes the sorry escapades of
human nature from convention seem even more ignominious than its ruling

The particular theory of egotism arises from an [Pg 163] exorbitant
interest in ourselves, in the medium of thought and action rather than
in its objects. It is not necessarily incorrect, because the self
is actual and indispensable; but the insistence on it is a little
abnormal, because the self, like consciousness, ought to be diaphanous.
Egotism in philosophy is, therefore, a pretty sure symptom of excessive
pedantry and inordinate self-assertion.

In the lofty theory of egotism life is represented as a sort of game of
patience, in which the rules, the cards, the table, and the empty time
on our hands, all are mere images created by the fancy, as in a dream.
The _sense_ of being occupied, though one really has nothing to do,
will then be the secret of the whole affair, and the sole good to be
attained by living. Of course this fantastic theory is put forward only
on great occasions, when an extreme profundity is in place; but like
other esoteric doctrines it expresses very well the spirit in which
those people live habitually who would appeal to it in the last resort.
Obviously such an egotist should in consistency be a man of principle.
He would feel it to be derogatory to his dignity, and contrary to his
settled purpose, to cheat at the game he has instituted. That luck
should sometimes go against him is pre-ordained by himself; otherwise
the game would have no zest, and to be interested, to be pressed, [Pg
164] even to be annoyed seems the highest good to him in his great
tedium. He will, therefore, be assiduous, patient, and law-abiding; and
the idea of ever abandoning his chosen game for anything less forced
and less arbitrary will seem to him disloyalty to himself, and a great

Indeed, nothing beside his own purpose will have any value in his
eyes, or even any existence. He will therefore inevitably act without
consideration for others, without courtesy, without understanding.
When he chooses to observe anything external--and he is
studious--his very attentions will be an insult; for he will
assume that his idea of that external thing is the reality of it, and
that other people can have only such rights and only such a character
as he is willing to assign to them. It follows from his egotistical
principles that in judging others he should be officious and rude,
learned and mistaken.

What the egotist calls his will and his ideals are, taken together,
simply his passions; but the passions of the egotist are turned into
a system and go unrebuked. A man who lowers his precepts to the level
of his will may the more easily raise his practice to the level of his
precepts. He endows his life with a certain coherence, momentum, and
integrity, just because he has suppressed all vain aspiration and all
useless shame. He does not call himself a sinner; [Pg 165] he would be
at a loss for a reason to think himself one; for really his standard of
virtue expresses nothing but his prevalent will. Is it not intelligible
that such a morality should be more efficacious, more unifying,
heavier, and more convinced than one which begins by condemning our
natural passions and the habitual course of human life?

In fact, egotism in practice is a solemn and arduous business; there is
nothing malicious about it and nothing gay. There is rather a stolid
surprise that such honest sentiments and so much enterprise should not
meet everywhere with applause. If other people are put thereby at a
disadvantage, why should they not learn their lesson and adopt in their
turn the methods of the superman? If they are touched by the vanity
and the charm of existence and neglect the intense pursuit of their
absolute will, why do they complain if they are jostled and beaten?
Only he deserves life and freedom, said Goethe, who is forced daily to
win them afresh.

If the egotist suffers passion to speak in his philosophy, it is
perhaps because he has so little passion. Men of frank passions quickly
see the folly of them; but the passions of the egotist are muffled,
dull, like the miserly passions of old men; they are diffused into
sensuality and sentiment, or hardened into maxims. Egotistical lovers
can hold hands for hours [Pg 166] and chastely kiss each other for
years; such tokens of affection help to keep them in love and at the
same time are a sop to more troublesome impulses. Sentimentality and
gush mark the absence of passion: the blood has been diluted to lymph.
Hence the egotist can the more easily mistake his passions for duties,
and his cupidities for ideals. His devotion to these ideals is pure and
enthusiastic; but in serving them he fattens steadily, as punctual at
his work as at his meals, as dutifully moved by the approved music as
by the official patriotism, vicious when it seems manly to be vicious,
brutal when it seems politic to be brutal; he feels he is impeccable,
and he must die in his sins. Nothing can ruffle the autonomous
conscience of this kind of idealist, whose nature may be gross, but
whose life is busy and conventional, and who loudly congratulates
himself daily on all he knows and does.

Turn the circumstances about as you like, the egotist finds only one
ultimate reason for everything. It is not a reason; it is absolute
will. Suppose we asked the ego, in the Fichtean system, why it posited
a material world to be its implacable enemy and rebellious toy, and why
without necessity it raised this infinity of trouble for itself and for
the unhappy world which it created by its fiat. It could only reply:
"Because such is the categorical imperative [Pg 167] within me; because
so I will, so I must, and so my absolute duty and its logic require. If
the consequences are tragic--and in the end I know they must be
tragic--that only proves the sublime unselfishness of my egotism,
the purity of my sacred folly, the ideality of my groundless will. All
reasons, all justifications which might appeal to me must be posterior
to my will; my will itself can have no justification and no reason."

Let us admire the sincerity of this searching confession. Virtue
itself, if it relied on self-consciousness for its philosophy, could
not justify itself on other grounds. If the difference between virtue
and vice is hereby obliterated, that only proves that the difference is
not founded on self-consciousness but on the circumstances and powers
under which we live. What self-consciousness can disclose is not the
basis of anything. All will is the expression of some animal I body,
frail and mortal, but teachable and rich in resource. The environment
in which this will finds itself controls and rewards its various
movements, and establishes within it the difference between virtue and
vice, wisdom and folly.

The whole transcendental philosophy, if made ultimate, is false, and
nothing but a private perspective. The will is absolute neither in the
individual nor in humanity. Nature is not a product of [Pg 168] the
mind, but on the contrary there is an external world, ages prior to
any idea of it, which the mind recognises and feeds upon. There is a
steady human nature within us, which our moods and passions may wrong
but cannot annul. There is no categorical imperative but only the
operation of instincts and interests more or less subject to discipline
and mutual adjustment. Our whole life is a compromise, an incipient
loose harmony between the passions of the soul and the forces of
nature, forces which likewise generate and protect the souls of other
creatures, endowing them with powers of expression and self-assertion
comparable with our own, and with aims no less sweet and worthy in
their own eyes; so that the quick and honest mind cannot but practise
courtesy in the universe, exercising its will without vehemence or
forced assurance, judging with serenity, and in everything discarding
the word absolute as the most false and the most odious of words. As
Montaigne observes, "He who sets before him, as in a picture, this
vast image of our mother Nature in her entire majesty; who reads in
her aspect such universal and continual variety; who discerns himself
therein, and not himself only but a whole kingdom, to be but a most
delicate dot--he alone esteems things according to the just
measure of their greatness."

[Pg 169]

Alexander the Great, a model for German idealists, 80, 81
Aristotle, 120, 124

Belief in God, disproved pragmatically, 134
Bull-psychology, 148, 153
Burckhardt, 47
Byron, 48, 49

Cæsar Borgia, a superman, 138
Calvinism, in Kant, 57; in Fichte, 25, 77; in Hegel, 111
Categorical imperative, its origin, 56; its prerogatives, 62;
    its dangers, 63
Chancellor, the German, his chivalrous after-thought about Belgium, 50
Christianity, foreign to Germany, 11;
    undermined by German philosophy, 104, 105;
    patronised by Goethe, 46;
    abandoned by romantic individualists, 107;
    denounced by Nietzsche, 130-132;
    has one element in common with egotism, 106
Classicism, romantic in Goethe, 46;
    missed by Nietzsche, 139-142;
    when truly vital, 48
Conquest, a sublime duty, 80, 81
Contraries, alleged to be inseparable, 89, 90
Criticism, historical, has a transcendental basis, 29
_Critique of Pure Reason_, its agnosticism, 14;
    its sophistical foundation, 20

Durer, 27

Egotism, defined, 6;
    distinguished from selfishness, 95-97, 100-102, 118;
    based on error, 167;
    implicit in the Kantian imperative and postulates, 62-64;
    implies integrity, force, self-complacency, 163-166;
    is odious in pedants, 142
Emerson, 24, 49; quoted, 119
England, judged by Fichte, 76
Evil, justified, 123, 132-134

Faith, German conception of it, 13, 27;
    corroborated only by itself, 31, 68
Faust, typical egotist, 13, 14;
    prefigures the evolution of Germany, 50, 51, 157;
    improves on Saint John, 52
Fichte, 65-83

_Gemüth_, why self-conscious, 160
German ethics, its faults, 103
German language, its merits, 75
German nation, its purity, 75;
    its mission, 78, 79;
    in what sense the chosen people, 73, 74;
    necessary to the continued existence of God, 68;
    and of history, 79; its fortunes, 158-160
German philosophy, not all philosophy in Germany, 11;
    primitive, 27; subjective, 12;
    in what senses idealistic, 15;
    in what sense not so, 16;
    ambiguous, 17, 18;
    a revelation, 22;
    must continually be proved afresh, 26;
    is a work of genius, 155
Gobineau, 77
Goethe, 43-53; quoted, 159, 165
Good and evil above right and wrong, 124
Gospel, amended by Faust, 52;
    glossed by Hegelians, 105

Happiness, not for the egotist, 14, 15;
    he despises it, 152;
    not abstract nor absolute, 110, 111;
    attainable, 118; its nature, 152, 153
Heathenism, use of the word, 144;
    contrast with paganism, 145, 146;
    its modern form, 147, 148
Hegel, 84-98
Human nature, 117, 118

Idealism, meanings of the word, 15, 16;
    fosters practical materialism, 5, 69-72, 78, 81, 82;
    should be imposed on the young, 80;
    its mystical issue, 38-40
Ideals, when captious, when solid, 137
Infinity, evaded by Hegel, 88, 89;
    recognised again by Schopenhauer, 108, 109

Kant, 54-64; 25, 34, 35, 42
Knowledge, assumed to be impossible, 15;
    abuse of the term, 39, 60

Leibniz, anticipates transcendentalism, 33;
    his insidious theology, 104
Lessing, on truth, 129
Locke, sets the ball rolling, 32
Luther, 135, 157

Max Stirner, 99-103; quoted, 73
Montaigne, quoted, 168 Music, 16, 161
Musset, 49
Mysticism, in knowledge, 38-40; in morals, 123

Nietzsche, 114-143

Optimism, egotistical, 25, 111, 114, 116, 118, 119

Passion, not naturally egotistical, 101;
    may become so, 95, 98;
    dull in egotists, 165, 166
Paulsen, 42
Perception, terminates in things not in ideas, 19
Pessimism, inherits disregard of intrinsic values, 109;
    reacts against optimism, 25, 111;
    is arbitrary, 116
Pier Gynt, typical egotist, 13, 14
Plato, his idealism contrasted with the German, 16;
    his oppressive politics, 81;
    on inspiration, 141
Postulates of practical reason, equivocal, 58-64
Power, divers meanings of the word, 125-127
Preservation, no law of nature, 115
Progress, when illusory, 17; when real, 112
Protestantism, 21-31, 151

Religion in German philosophy, 7, 13, 75, 76, 82, 83
Rome and German genius, 150

Schopenhauer, 108-122
Selfishness, distinguished from egotism, 95, 97, 100-102, 118
Society, its alleged consciousness, 17, 18; a "spook," 99
Socrates, 146
Spinoza, religious feeling transferred to nature, 24;
    his mysticism in ethics, 123
Spirit, its meanings, 37; its mystic unity, 38
State, the absolute, an idol, 96-98
Substance, egotistical use of the term, 17, 92
Superman, 136-143

Tender minds, how attracted to German philosophy, 24
Transcendentalism, 32-42
Truth, a figment of the will, 28;
    made in Germany, 88;
    less valuable than illusion, 14, 128-130;
    not the strong point of philosophies, 154

Understanding, hostility of Hegel to the, 90, 91

Wagner, 136, 150
War, a boon, 96; how it should be started, 79;
    is to rage for two hundred years, 115
Wilhelm Meister, 44
Will, used metaphorically, 36, 114;
    should be disinterested, 67;
    may be fulfilled in defeat, 66, 67;
    is unstable and indeterminate, 156-158;
    may be denied, 119, 120
Winkelmann, 140, note

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