Another concept central to Twilight of the Idols (and to Nietzschean philosophy in general) is the individual’s struggle against institutional power. Nietzsche also condemns contemporary society’s embrace of selflessness and altruism over self-affirmation. This theme resonates with the “will to power,” a concept that appears in many of Nietzsche’s works, though he never provides a clear definition for the concept, which has resulted in various interpretations (and, some scholars claim, misinterpretations). Put simply, the idea behind the will to power is that people have an innate drive to exercise power or mastery over others. Furthermore, different people exercise their will to power in different ways—some good, some bad (Nietzsche doesn’t place judgment on the will to power, arguing instead that it is neither moral nor immoral). For example, while a tyrant might exercise their will to power through tyranny, a scientist might exercise their will to power through finding a cure for an infectious disease. Throughout history and into the present day, Nietzsche argues, institutions (and systems of belief or morality) have undermined the individual’s will to power, imposing laws and social norms on people that inhibit individualism—that discourage exceptional people from standing out and realizing their full, empowered potential.
But Nietzsche’s will to power is a complex (and, some scholars say, misunderstood) idea. In Twilight of the Idols, for instance, Nietzsche explicitly states that equality is destructive and that no great societies have emerged out of liberal democracies (he claims that liberalism makes “herd animal[s]” of people. Nietzsche argues that society tries to achieve equality by suppressing strong people’s freedom in order to lift up the weak—and that, ultimately, this impulse will be the death of civilization as we know it. A significant number of scholars reject the way certain thinkers have misrepresented Nietzschean philosophy as precursor to fascism, citing numerous instances in which Nietzsche condemns Nazism and anti-Semitism. At the same time, it’s imprudent to ignore the elitism and scathing attacks on classical liberalism and democracy that Nietzsche puts forth in Twilight of the Idols. Thus, Nietzsche’s stance on individual freedom is complex and imperfect. While his weariness of exploitative, harmful institutions and his celebration of individual creativity might resonate with today’s audience in certain regards, it’s not unfounded to also point to the way his attack on equality and altruism undermines human rights and progressive undertakings.
The Will to Power ThemeTracker
The Will to Power 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.
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.
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…
There is no more dangerous error than that of mistaking the consequence for the cause. I call it reason’s intrinsic form of corruption. None the less, this error is among the most ancient and most recent habits of mankind: it is even sanctified among us, it bears the names ‘religion’ and ‘morality’.
In physiological terms: in the struggle with the beast, making it sick can be the only means of making it weak. This the Church understood: it corrupted the human being, it weakened him—but it claimed to have ‘improved’ him…
‘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.
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.