Twilight of the Idols

by

Friedrich Nietzsche

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Twilight of the Idols can help.

Twilight of the Idols: The “Improvers” of Mankind Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
1. Nietzsche thinks philosophers should be “beyond good and evil.” This is in keeping with a formula he created: “that there are no moral facts whatever.” Like religion, moral judgment believes in a version of reality that doesn’t exist. Both moral and religious judgment mistake interpretation with fact. 
To go “beyond good and evil” is to reimagine a world where an overarching system of morality doesn’t exist. There’s no absolute moral authority to tell us right from wrong, and we have only our instincts to guide us. 
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
2. Throughout history, society has wanted to “improve” human behavior. But the notion of “improvement” often conceals more nefarious intentions. Nietzsche argues that “taming” or “breeding” are more suitable terms; if one referred to the act of “taming” an animal (which only serves to make it weak and sickly) as “improvement,” people would laugh.
Historically (and into Nietzsche’s present) society has used morals to “improve” human behavior. But Nietzsche thinks the external goal of “improvement” is simply a front. In reality, society just wants to “tam[e]” and “breed” people to follow a set of rules (morals) and be subservient.
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Quotes
Taming an animal is no different than what priests did to humans in the Middle Ages. Nietzsche relates how the Church hunted down the Teutons to improve them. When an improved Teuton was presented at the monastery, he was “like a caricature of a human being,” made into a “‘sinner’” and placed in a cage, imprisoned literally and by “terrifying concepts.” The Church taught the Teuton to hate himself and life—in other words, they made him a Christian.
The Teutonic Order was a Catholic crusading religious order founded in the 12th century to aid Christian Crusades to the Holy Land. When Nietzsche talks about improved Teutons, then, he’s talking about the non-Christian people whom the crusaders converted during Church-sanctioned crusades. Though the Teutonic order claimed that forced conversions would reform and improve the lives of “sinner[s],” these conversions did just the opposite: converts became less—not more—human, and their quality of life deteriorated.
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
3. Nietzsche considers the second aspect of morality: “the breeding of a definite race and species.” The best example of this comes from Indian morality, specifically the “Law of Manu,” which calls for the breeding of no more than four races: a priestly race, a warrior race, a trading and farming race, and a menial race (the Sudras). The Law of Manu also identifies a non-bred human, the Chandala. The Avadana-Shastra I holds that these people may receive only garlic and onions to eat (holy scripture forbids them corn, seed-bearing fruits, water, and fire). They can only drink water that comes from swamps or holes made by animals’ feet. They’re not allowed to wash their clothes or their own bodies, and Sudra women can’t help Chandala women with childbirth.
The Laws of Manu (also known as the Manusmriti or Mānava-Dharmaśāstra) is a Hindu text that covers juridical and spiritual matters. It’s been used to justify the caste system, as Nietzsche outlines in this passage. Chandala refers to a Hindu lower caste. Nietzsche here evokes the caste system as outlined in the Laws of Manu to illustrate how religion uses morality to justify (and directly contribute to) human suffering.
Themes
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Get the entire Twilight of the Idols LitChart as a printable PDF.
Twilight of the Idols PDF
4. The regulations imposed by the Law of Manu show us that “pure blood” is a destructive concept.  He sees this concept repeated in other religions’ texts, too, such as an ancient Hebrew text called the Law of Enoch. Nietzsche thinks that Christianity is a clear rejection of the caste system put forth in the Law of Manu—a ““revaluation of all Aryan values,” and embrace the Chandala “religion of love.”
The Laws of Manu sought to preserve “pure blood” by forbidding marriage and reproduction among people from different castes. Similar prohibitions exist in the Law of Enoch, and ancient Hebrew religious text. Nietzsche offers a rare moment of appreciation (rather than condemnation) for Christianity, which rejected the dehumanizing fixation with “pure blood.”
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Quotes
5. Creating morality requires a person to have “the unconditional will to the contrary.” This idea represents the core of Nietzsche’s intellectual pursuits. Nietzsche considers the idea of “pia fraus,” or pious fraud, noting how many religious teachers and philosophers haven’t “ever doubted their right to tell lies.” This shows how immorality has in fact supported society’s quest to moralize humanity.
Nietzsche is arguing that people who construct moral frameworks (such as the Church) enforce morality for immoral ends and by immoral means. For Nietzsche, morality is about power and control—not about improving and giving meaning to life.  
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon