Nietzsche bemoans the necessary struggle to remain happy in increasingly dismal times, saying, “Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part,” and, “Only excess of strength is proof of strength.” Next, Nietzsche states Twilight of the Idols’s core purpose: to “sound out idols,” since the world now contains more idols than “realities.” It’s only through eliminating these idols that humanity will recover its lost state of happiness.
One of the major claims Nietzsche makes in Twilight of the Idols is that the modern world is exceedingly nihilistic. So when Nietzsche claims, “Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part,” he’s saying that unless we overcome this nihilism and regard life and the world with “high spirits,” we’ll never feel fulfilled or energized. When Nietzsche argues that “excess of strength is proof of strength,” he’s implicitly critiquing the abstract ideals that philosophy and conventional (Christian) morality have taught humans to aspire to. He’s saying that only physical, demonstratable strength matters—not some abstract, idealized notion of virtuous strength. Finally, this passage identifies the book’s core theme: to “sound out idols” and reclaim life’s “realities.” Nietzsche states that he’s going to debunk and eliminate the false idols—the idealized abstracts—that have systematically devalued life and killed people’s “high spirits” by making their lives seem meaningless.
Nietzsche promises to “pose questions here with a hammer,” and he hopes his questions will stimulate his dampened, disillusioned audience. He ends the preface by declaring this book to be a “grand declaration of war.”