“Letting Go” Is Not Freedom

The will, or the “seed” as I sometimes call it, allows us to reach our greatest heights when present.  When it is absent or crippled, however, we find ourselves descending into horrors hardly fathomable to the healthy mind.  Take care of the seed — if not for its promise of great heights, then at least out of respect for the descent.


Every morality isin contrast to laisser aller [letting go]a part of tyranny against “nature,” also against “reason”: that is, however, not yet an objection to it. For to object, we would have to decree, once again on the basis of some morality or other, that all forms of tyranny and irrationality are not permitted. The essential and invaluable part of every morality is that it is a lengthy compulsion: to understand Stoicism or Port Royal or Puritanism people should remember the compulsion under which every language so far has achieved strength and freedom the metrical compulsion, the tyranny of rhyme and rhythm.

In every people how much trouble poets and orators have made for themselves! – not excepting some contemporary prose writers in whose ears a relentless conscience dwells – “for the sake of some foolishness,” as utilitarian fools say, who think that makes them clever, – “out of obsequiousness to arbitrary laws,” as the anarchists say, who think that makes them “free,” even free spirited. The strange fact, however, is that everything there is or has been on earth to do with freedom, refinement, boldness, dance, and masterly certainty, whether it is in thinking itself, or in governing, or in speaking and persuading, in arts just as much as in morals, developed only thanks to the “tyranny of such arbitrary laws,” and in all seriousness, the probability is not insignificant that this is “nature” and “natural” – and not that laisser aller!

Every artist knows how far from the feeling of letting himself go his “most natural” condition is, the free ordering, setting, disposing, shaping in moments of “inspiration” – and how strictly and subtly he obeys at that very moment the thousand–fold laws which make fun of all conceptual formulations precisely because of their hardness and decisiveness (even the firmest idea, by comparison, contains something fluctuating, multiple, ambiguous –).

The essential thing “in heaven and on earth,” so it appears, is, to make the point again, that there is obedience for a long time and in one direction: in the process there comes and always has come eventually something for whose sake living on earth is worthwhile, for example, virtue, art, music, dance, reason, spirituality – something or other transfiguring, subtle, amazing, and divine.

The long captivity of the spirit, the mistrustful compulsion in our ability to communicate our thoughts, the discipline which the thinker imposed on himself to think within the guiding principles of a church or court or with Aristotelian assumptions, the long spiritual will to interpret everything which happens according to a Christian scheme and to discover and justify the Christian god once again in every coincidence – all this powerful, arbitrary, hard, dreadful, anti-rational activity has turned out to be the means by which the European spirit cultivated its strength, its reckless curiosity, and its subtle flexibility. Admittedly by the same token a great deal of irreplaceable force and spirit must have been overwhelmed in the process, crushed, and ruined as well (for here as everywhere “nature” reveals herself as she is, in her totally extravagant and indifferent magnificence, which is an outrage, but something noble). The fact that for thousands of years European thinkers only thought in order to prove something – nowadays, by contrast, we distrust any thinker who “wants to prove something” – and the fact that for them what was to emerge as the result of their strictest thinking was always already clearly established, something like with the Asiatic astrologers earlier, or like the harmless Christian moralistic interpretation of the most intimate personal experience “for the honour of God” or “for the salvation of the soul” still present today – this tyranny, this arbitrariness, this strict and grandiose stupidity, has trained the spirit. Apparently slavery is, in the cruder and more refined sense, the indispensable means for disciplining and cultivating the spirit. We can examine every morality in this way: “nature” in it is what teaches hatred of the laisser aller, of that all-too-great freedom, and plants the need for limited horizons, for work close at hand – it teaches the narrowing of perspective and also, in a certain sense, stupidity as a condition of living and growth. “You are to obey someone or other and for a long time: otherwise you perish and lose final respect for yourself” – this seems to me to be the moral imperative of nature, which, of course, is neither “categorical,” as old Kant wanted the imperative to be (hence the “otherwise”), nor directed at the individual (what does nature care about individuals!), but rather at peoples, races, ages, classes, but above all at the whole animal “man,” at the human beings.

 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil



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