Friedrich Nietzsche wrote Twilight of the Idols over the course of one week in 1888. A response to his growing popularity and influence, the work’s primary goal is to provide the reader with a brief introduction to the main ideas of Nietzschean philosophy and cultural criticism. At their core, most of the ideas Nietzsche puts forth in Twilight of the Idols relate back to his belief that contemporary western society (and German society especially) is decadent, nihilistic, and on the verge of collapse. Though Nietzsche blames numerous institutions and belief systems for this decline, many of his critiques relate back to the idea that society is too preoccupied with the past; that is, society organizes its art, culture, and politics around the goal of returning to a time of (supposedly) superior moral and social systems. This view argues that contemporary humanity exists in a fallen, depraved state and that the only way for humans to find fulfillment—and for humanity to regain its former glory—is to look to the past. But Nietzsche condemns such a view, attacking the “Egyptianism” of philosophers who make “conceptual mummies” of antiquated ideas. In other words, these philosophers worship the past as good and, correspondingly, regard change and natural progress—straying from the past—as destructive and bad. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche condemns such a view, framing this idealization of the past (or, to borrow from the work’s title, making an “idol” of the past) as a “going-back” whose attachment to old ideals stalls progress. Instead, Nietzsche suggests a “going-up” to nature that severs the present from the past—that smashes it “with a hammer”; it is only through abandoning old, flawed ideas and redirecting our gaze forward, Nietzsche argues, that civilization may achieve a better future.
History and the Decline of Civilization ThemeTracker
History and the Decline of Civilization Quotes in Twilight of the Idols
Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part.
Another form of recovery, in certain cases even more suited to me, is to sound out idols. …There are more idols in the world than there are realities: that is my ‘evil eye’ for this world, that is also my ‘evil ear’. … For once to pose questions here with a hammer and perhaps to receive for answer that famous hollow sound which speaks of inflated bowels—what a delight for one who has ears behind his ears—for an old psychologist and pied piper like me, in presence of whom precisely that which would like to stay silent has to become audible…
31. When it is trodden on a worm will curl up. That is prudent. It thereby reduces the chance of being trodden on again. In the language of morals: humility.
39. The disappointed man speaks. – I sought great human beings, I never found anything but the apes of their ideal.
In every age the wisest have passed the identical judgement on life: it is worthless. … Everywhere and always their mouths have uttered the same sound—a sound full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness with life, full of opposition to life.
Judgements, value judgements concerning life, for or against, can in the last resort never be true: they possess value only as symptoms, they come into consideration only as symptoms—in themselves such judgements are stupidities. One must reach out and try to grasp this astonishing finesse, that the value of life cannot be estimated.
All that philosophers have handled for millennia has been conceptual mummies; nothing actual has escaped from their hands alive.
We possess scientific knowledge today to precisely the extent that we have decided to accept the evidence of the senses—to the extent that we have learned to sharpen and arm them and to think them through to their conclusions.
To talk about ‘another’ world than this is quite pointless, provided that an instinct for slandering, disparaging and accusing life is not strong within us: in the latter case we revenge ourselves on life by means of the phantasmagoria of ‘another’, a ‘better’ life.
6. We have abolished the real world: what world is left? the apparent world perhaps? … But no! with the real world we have also abolished the apparent world!
To exterminate the passions and desires merely in order to do away with their folly and its unpleasant consequences—this itself seems to us today merely an acute form of folly. We no longer admire dentists who pull out the teeth to stop them hurting.
But to attack the passions at their roots means to attack life at its roots: the practice of the Church is hostile to life…
All naturalism in morality, that is all healthy morality, is dominated by an instinct of life—some commandment of life is fulfilled through a certain canon of ‘shall’ and ‘shall not’, some hindrance and hostile element on life’s road is thereby removed. Anti-natural morality, that is virtually every morality that has hitherto been taught, reverenced and preached, turns on the contrary precisely against the instincts of life—it is a now secret, now loud and impudent condemnation of these instincts. By saying ‘God sees into the heart’ it denies the deepest and the highest desires of life and takes God for the enemy of life….The saint in whom God takes pleasure is the ideal castrate….Life is at an end where the ‘kingdom of God’ begins…
Expressed in a formula one might say: every means hitherto employed with the intention of making mankind moral has been thoroughly immoral.
‘Are there any German philosophers? are there any German poets? are there any good German books?’—people ask me abroad. I blush; but with the courage which is mine even in desperate cases I answer: ‘Yes, Bismarck!’
The most spiritual human beings, assuming they are the most courageous, also experience by far the most painful tragedies: but it is precisely for this reason that they honour life, because it brings against them its most formidable weapons.
An ‘altruistic’ morality, a morality under which egoism languishes—is under all circumstances a bad sign. This applies to individuals, it applies especially to peoples. The best are lacking when egoism begins to be lacking. To choose what is harmful to oneself, to be attracted by ‘disinterested’ motives, almost constitutes the formula for décadence.
For what is freedom? That one has the will to self-responsibility. That one preserves the distance which divides us. That one has become more indifferent to hardship, toil, privation, even to life. That one is ready to sacrifice men to one’s cause, oneself not excepted.
The criminal type is the type of the strong human being under unfavourable conditions, a strong human being made sick. What he lacks is the wilderness, a certain freer and more perilous nature and form of existence in which all that is attack and deference in the instinct of the strong human being comes into its own. His virtues have been excommunicated by society; the liveliest drives within him forthwith blend with the depressive emotions, with suspicion, fear, dishonour.
Ultimately my mistrust of Plato extends to the very bottom of him: I find him deviated so far from all the fundamental instincts of the Hellenes, so morally infected, so much an antecedent Christian—he already has the concept ‘good’ as the supreme concept—that I should prefer to describe the entire phenomenon ‘Plato’ by the harsh term ‘higher swindle’ or, if you prefer, ‘idealism’, than by any other.
Affirmation of life even in its strangest and sternest problems, the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustibility through the sacrifice of its highest types—that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I recognized as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not so as to get rid of pity and terror, not so as to purify oneself of a dangerous emotion and through its vehement discharge—it was thus Aristotle understood it—: but, beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming—that joy which also encompasses joy in destruction.
And if your hardness will not flash and cut and cut to pieces: how can you one day—create with me?