It comes as no surprise to people who have studied Friedrich Nietzsche that he had some of the most balanced perspectives of any philosopher preceding him. His thinking was so far ahead of his time that he bears revisiting over and again. So, I’d like to share this passage from Human, All -Too- Human with you in which Nietzsche outlines some of his thoughts on growth and deterioration. Nietzsche ought to speak for himself, but I might do some unpacking of my own in future posts – the last paragraph is extremely topical for occupiers and state officials: Enjoy
Ennoblement through degeneration: History teaches us that the best-preserved tribe among a people is the one in which most men have a living communal sense as a consequence of sharing their customary and indisputable principles – in other words, in consequence of a common faith. Here the good, robust mores thrive; here the subordination of the individual is learned and the character receives firmness, first as a gift and then is further cultivated. The danger to these strong communities founded on homogeneous individuals who have character is growing stupidity, which is gradually increased by heredity, and which, in any case, follows all stability like a shadow. It is the individuals who have fewer ties and are much more uncertain and morally weaker upon whom spiritual progress depends in such communities; they are the men who make new and manifold experiments. Innumerable men of this sort perish because of their weakness without any very visible effect; but in general, especially if they have descendants, they loosen up and from time to time inflict a wound on the stable element of a community. Precisely in this wounded and weakened spot the whole structure is inoculated, as it were, with something new; but its over-all strength must be sufficient to accept this new element into its blood and assimilate it. Those who degenerate are of the highest importance wherever progress is to take place; every great progress must be preceded by partial weakening. The strongest natures hold fast to the type, the weaker ones help to develop it further.
It is somewhat the same with the individual: rarely is degeneration, a crippling, even a vice or any physical or moral damage, unaccompanied by some gain on the other side. The sicker man in a warlike and restless tribe, for example, may have more occasion to be by himself and may thus become calmer and wiser; the one-eyed will have one stronger eye; the blind will see more deeply within, and in any case have a keener sense of hearing. So the famous struggle for existence does not seem to me to be the only point of view from which to explain the progress or the strengthening of a human being or a race. Rather, two things must come together: first, the increase of stable power through close spiritual ties such as faith and communal feeling; then, the possibility of reaching higher goals through the appearance of degenerate types and, as a consequence, a partial weakening and wounding of the stable power: it is precisely the weaker natures who, being more delicate and freer, make progress possible.
A people who crumble somewhere and become weak, but remain strong and healthy on the whole, are able to accept the infection of the new and absorb it to their advantage. In the case of the individual the task of education is this: to put him on his path so firmly and surely that, as a whole, he can never again be diverted. Then, however, the educator must wound him, or utilize the wounds destiny inflicts upon him; and when pain and need have thus developed, something new and noble can then be inoculated in the wounded spots. His whole nature will absorb this, and later, in its fruits, show the ennoblement.
Concerning the state, Machiavelli says that “the form of government is of very little importance, although the half-educated think otherwise. The great goal of statesmanship should be duration, which outweighs everything else because it is far more valuable than freedom.” Only where the greatest duration is securely established and guaranteed is continual development and ennobling inoculation at all possible. Of course, authority, the dangerous companion of all duration, will usually try to resist the process.