Nietzsche argues that man suffers of himself because of the genealogy of the ascetic ideal in morality. The history of the ascetic priest’s role in bringing about a “slave revolt in morality” has continued formed morality around the ascetic ideal. The battle between master morality and slave morality creates ressentiment for master morality that Nietzsche argues is the origin of the ascetic priest’s values of “selflessness, self-denial, self-sacrifice” (Nietzsche 59). The consequence of the ascetic priest's ideals is that it denies life and changes the goals of reflecting upon the self.
The ascetic ideal's monopoly on morality causes the will to power to become an inward struggle rather than the struggle against others. By giving meaning to suffering, ascetic ideals redirect ressentiment for nobility against slave morality, creating “bad conscience.” Through “guilt” and “bad conscience,” the slave’s “will to power” necessary for life affirmation instead forces ressentiment to affect the inner struggle of an individual which requires the life-denying ascetic ideal to find meaning. By tracing the genealogy of slave morality to its historical origins, Nietzsche argues we can assess why the ascetic ideal is so powerful in making man “suffer of man, of himself.”
First Treatise: “'Good and Bad,' 'Good and Evil'”
Nietzsche argues that man has forgotten why the “usefulness of the unegoistic action is supposed to be the origin of its praise”(Nietzsche 11). He argues that initially nobles defined the world as “good and bad.” A noble does what he wants and considers himself “good” as he asserts his will to power and takes his political superiority as evidence of his virtue, labeling others as simply “bad” as almost an afterthought to his virtue. The virtues extolled by the “good” do not appear to equate valuation with usefulness. Nietzsche argues that the ascetic priest's “powerlessness” makes him an enemy to values of nobility. Out of this powerlessness the ascetic priest's “hate grows into something enormous and uncanny” and the “spirit of priestly revenge” threatens the values of the nobility (16). Under the leadership of the ascetic priest, who competes with nobility for power and prestige, “spiritual revenge” is brought upon the oppressors (17).
Nietzsche says “The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment becomes creative and gives birth to values” (19). The concept of the afterlife in Christian morality creates ascetic ideals as a means of a will to power for the slave while holding off ressentiment as revenge in afterlife. A slave does what he has to do and is told not to do what he wants to do. He does what is useful and sees the master's label of “good” virtues as lacking virtue. A slave then has doubts and questions about existence on earth and finds meaning in his suffering. It defines his purpose against the master's oppression, defining his enemy's will to power as “evil” and thus the slave's suffering as “good.”
The ascetic priest's goal is not to end the people's oppression or suffering but to enact revenge upon the nobility, albeit with good conscience. By beginning the slave revolt in morality, “good” becomes not asserting oneself in the egoistic way of their “evil” enemies. The fight of ressentiment eventually becomes an internal struggle of self control and asceticism on behalf of the people themselves. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of suffering, where people reject wealth and strength in the world for the rewards that poverty and meekness promise in the afterlife. The ascetic ideal however reflects a difficulty to create a “synthesis of an inhuman and a superhuman”(32). This inability to recognize either as a part of nature results in the life-denying to give people a feeling of choice, responsibility, and freedom.
Second Treatise: “Guilt, Bad Conscience”
“To breed an animal that is permitted to promise” Nietzsche explains how the ascetic priests denial of the nature of man changes the dynamic of punishment and revenge (35). “Bad conscience” may successfully bring the nobility through a “slave revolt of morality” but it also implements the problems of the ascetic priest's revenge that prevents people from becoming like the nobility, for even their “good” qualities are “evil” under ascetic ideals. In this way, the slave's “will to power” is "driven back, suppressed, imprisoned within" by “bad conscience.”
“Bad conscience” arises because the people's ressentiment for the previous nobility is turned against their own “egoistic” actions. The individual's reflection upon themselves becomes a struggle against their will to power and makes denying life the meaning of existence for the self. “Unegoistic” actions become “good” and the ascetic ideal becomes the only viable method of exerting the “will to power,” with the promise of self-mastery and reward in the afterlife. In essence, the ascetic ideal becomes the only way to affirm life by denying its conditions. Nietzche argues that “By devaluing life, the ascetic priest attempts to gain a sense of power over life.” (Maudemarie Clark xxxii) However, it is impossible to gain such power over life because “from the highest biological standpoint, conditions of justice can never be anything but exceptional conditions, as a partial restriction of the true will of life—which is out after power” (50).
|Monica Crowley, one of Nixon's research assistants, notes in Nixon in Winter that Richard Nixon "read with curious interest the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche [...] Nixon asked to borrow my copy of Beyond Good and Evil, a title that inspired the title of his final book, Beyond Peace."|
In “How Does the Ascetic Ideal Function in Nietzsche's Genealogy?,” Lawrence Hatab explains that the concept of “life affirmation goes far beyond life enhancement; it aims for a global affirmation of all life conditions, even those that run counter to one’s interests.” It is important to make distinctions between the dichotomy of life enhancement and suicidal nihilism and the dichotomy of life affirmation and life denial (Hatab 111). The ascetic ideal may enhance life but not necessarily affirm life. Nietzsche's argument that man "will rather will nothingness than not will" becomes the paradoxical problem the ascetic ideal poses in forcing ressentiment and bad conscience against an individual's will to power.
The ascetic priest's morality gives self reflection and suffering meaning through the ascetic ideal. Nietzsche writes “If one disregards the ascetic ideal: man, the animal man, has until now had no meaning”(117). The ascetic ideal gives purpose to the self reflection that makes man suffer. The effort to fill the void of meaning left in the denial of the will to power. The ascetic ideal affirms life by affirming the reality of suffering but it denies life by asserting suffering as a purpose or virtue. Through giving life meaning the ascetic ideal saves the ability to will through guilt and bad conscience but also denies life's conditions. Stemming from the ascetic priest's genealogical ressentiment against the master's will to power, the denial of “egoistic” actions causes man to suffer over his will to power in a way that no longer affirms life.
|Nietzsche (right) renounced and criticized his friend, Richard Wagner (middle), in The Case of Wagner: A Musician's Problem for his anti-semitism after lauding him as a hero for "fulfilling a need in music to go beyond the analytic and dispassionate understanding of music" in The Birth of Tragedy.|
The ascetic ideal traps self reflection by making self-denial necessary to affirm the meaning of life. The individual's inward effort to deny the ascetic ideal causes him to suffer of meaninglessness because other external efforts of finding life affirming meaning have lost legitimacy as “egoistic.” The effort to deny the will to power results from a confusion by making life affirmation synonymous with life enhancement. Man suffers because the ascetic ideal's genealogical history of denying nature makes him believe there is no other viable value to which he can will himself. The ascetic ideal forces an individual acting in self reflection to find either meaning in suffering or to suffer from a lack of meaning. Though man has the affirmation of a will through self reflection, he suffers because the ascetic ideal denies any alternative value in nature as possibly providing life affirming purpose.