•. . . an act of the most spiritual revenge . . . . It was the Jews who, with awe-inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God) and to hang onto this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence), saying "the wretched alone are the good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious, alone are blessed by God . . .—and you, the powerful and noble, are on the contrary the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity, and you shall be in all eternity the unblessed, the accursed, and damned!" (GM I:7)
Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals , perhaps together with Beyond Good and Evil , is one of the five or six seminal works in secular ethical theory. It is also the most outrageous of those seminal works in ethics. Plato gives us the perfect society; Aristotle gives us a portrait of the happy, virtuous life; Kant provides an analysis of morality and practical reason; John Stuart Mill gives us the principle of utility with its benign insistence on collective high-quality happiness. Nietzsche, by contrast, offers us a diagnosis in which morals emerge as something mean-spirited and pathetic. What we know as morality is in fact "slave morality," so named not only because of its historical origins but because of its continuing servile and inferior nature. The basis of slave morality, he tells us, is resentment (he uses the French "ressentiment "), a bitter emotion based on a sense of inferiority and frustrated vindictiveness. He contrasts slave morality with what he calls "master" morality, which he presents as noble and self-secure. His descriptions leave little question which of these two "moral types" he (and consequently we) find preferable. Nietzsche's "genealogy" of morals is designed to make the novice reader uncomfortable with his or her slavish attitudes, but it is also written to inspire a seductive sense of superiority, the urge to be (if
An earlier version of this essay was presented at a meeting of the North American Nietzsche Society in December 1984. Some of the arguments have now appeared elsewhere, in my "Nietzsche, Postmodernism, and Resentment," in Clayton Koelb, Nietzsche and Postmodernism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), and in chap. 6 of my Passion for Justice (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990).
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