The Newer Ethics
THE NEWER ETHICS
By Helene Stoecker, Ph.D.
"The noble one wishes to create something new, and a new virtue.
"The good one willcth that . old things should be preserved."
IF one believes in the eternal growth and continual development of life and sees in struggle the father of all things, then one must also realize that the duty of humanity lies in seeking newer and higher forms of society. The oft-repeated reproach that because one does not pretend to have reached the last goal of human development, one must consequently deny that a newer code of ethics could even be created, cannot be taken seriously. Then, with Zarathustra, one remembers that the greatest danger for the future development of mankind comes through the "good and just," those who speak and feel in their heart: "We know already what is good and just, we have it; alas, for those who still seek for it!" The "good and just" have since time immemorial crucified those who wrote "new words on new scrolls." Our work does not lie with those who are in contented possession of all virtue and wisdom, but rather with those who seek new and higher goals for humanity.
Nothing is more mistaken than to imagine that because one seeks newer ethics, one would consequently abolish all standards of morality. We cannot be without standards. There only remains the question of establishing their relative values. Life, as it comes with the value of our human consciousness, has grown to have the highest of all values. Everything, therefore, which tends to strengthen and broaden life must be considered as a higher form of social development. On the other hand, everything which depreciates its value must be considered harmful and immoral.
Consequently, customs which may have been considered "good" under a now obsolete form of society, would not be so if measured by the standards of a later development. No one can denv this who believes in the growth of life.
When we study Nietzsche's attempt to establish a newer standard of ethics, we are struck by the fact that his viewpoint continues and developes the ethics of Christianity. His teachings have added a deeper psychological meaning, made necessary by the growth of life during the two centuries which lie between. It is quite logical that Nietzsche should emphasize certain sides of his philosophy, thus making a seeming contrast to Christian teachings. We must remember that every seeker after truth, in order to gain a hearing, lays stress on those points in which his teachings differ from the old. The biblical quotation, "Ye have heard that which has been said unto your fathers, but verily I say unto you—" is still the best form of introduction for all expression of spiritual expansion.
Granted that Nietzsche's philosophy is identical with certain underlying principles of Christianity, it is his views of sex life which show an important advance over those of the older school.
To him the greatest of all new commandments is to plant the love of life in all creatures—to give life the character of the eternal—to live in such a way as to make it worth while to live forever.
The strongest expression of the love of life—sexuality—can therefore, under the newer ethics, no longer be considered as "sin."
So it is Nietzsche who, with his philosophy of the love of life, teaches the beauty and purity of love, which for hundreds of years has been branded as vicious by the unhealthy imagination of the church.
Nietzsche liked to think of himself as the last follower of the god Dionysos, because it seemed to him that even to-day the teachings of the Grecian mysteries are the best foundation for religion and ethics. Eternal life and the eternal return of life, the triumph of life over death and change, life as the collective continuation through procreation, through the mystery of generation, were to him the essence of these teachings. To Nietzsche, as to the Greeks, sex was symbolic of all the inner and deeper meaning of ancient piety, and everything pertaining to the procreative act, pregnancy and birth, awakened only the highest and purest emotions. This is, indeed, a contrast to the teachings of the Christian church wont to surround the source of life with ignominy and shame.
Those who, like Nietzsche, realize the effect which this ecclesiastic view of life, dominant for hundreds of years, has had on human development, must also understand how necessary has become the emancipation from it. So much has come under the ban of the church as "impure," that those influenced by its teachings cannot know that there is no necessary contrast between chastity and sensuality. True unions, real love has nothing in common with either. When Nietzsche feels that the preaching of chastity is "an excitement of the abnormal," he does not mean that unrestrained sex energy is a sign of the morally free-minded. Quite the contrary!
As a fundamental thinker and psychologist, he believes that asceticism was meant only for those for whom it is necessary to destroy their sexual impulses; only for those, however, whose impulses are abnormal. In Zarathustra Nietzsche defends three things which until now have been held in contempt: self-love, love of power and voluptuousness. He shows how a difference in the point of view modifies everything; how that which is considered "bad" by the unhealthy mind contributes to the joy of life—with the normal and healthy; how that which is the best of all can be perverted into vice—by the deformed and weakminded. But to those who feel the joy of life, who believe in it,—the very strength of their passions keeps them pure, their very passions become virtues.
"Voluptuousness—for the rabble the slow fire on which they are burnt; but for free hearts—innocent and free— tlie earthly bliss of Eden, the overflowing thankfulness of all the future towards the present. Voluptuousness— a sweet poison unto the withered only, but the great invigoration of the heart and the reverently spared wine of wines for those who have the will of a lion."
Nietzsche considered the creation of life as the highest and most sacred of all mysteries, often expressing his deepest thoughts in allegories symbolic of procreation, pregnancy and of the relation of mother and child. It was his most earnest demand to put sex-life on the highest possible plane; every expression of contumely, contempt and impurity was to him a crime against life itself, a sin against the holiest spirit of it.
As he lifted physical love above contempt and ignominy, so did Nietzsche also appreciate its spiritual side, in its deepest meaning. He has exposed the fallacy that unselfishness is the equivalent of love, proving, on the contrary, that it is the personality rich in power, having an intuitive sense of its own well-being, which is capable of the greatest sacrifice and the greatest love. The "poor" cannot give freely. The proof of a great love is not abnegation; but rather an ideal so lofty that there is no question of the personal equation. The love of the sexes must not consist of the mere desire for possession. Two beings that love each other must strive towards a common ideal, above their own self. Unfortunately, there are but few who know such love.
Nietzsche has probed, with characteristic psychological perception—itself a mark of genius—into the varied meanings of "love," investing the crude simplicity of the word with all the innumerable shades of meaning which it actually possesses in the living world.
Nietzsche was one of the first to satisfy our moral feelings upon the sex question, in relation to children. He realized the danger of letting the latter grow up in entire ignorance of the most vital subject, and of allowing women to marry without the least preparation for, or realization of the meaning of, the most important questions of life. He believes that because of this women are handicapped and should therefore be treated with the greatest gentleness.
Nietzsche's idea of great love corresponds to the feminine; he believes that it is the length, not the strength, of higher emotions which makes the noblest beings.
Nietzsche agrees with those who realize that the misery of prostitution is greatly aggravated by the ill repute in which it is held. This must-be laid to the door of the "good," whose indiscriminate judgments are responsible for the exterior and interior misery of mankind. Moreover, the "good," like the Pharisees, regard the misery they have thus created as proof of the correctness of their opinions! But are not most of the so-called crimes merely inability or unwillingness to cater to the hypocrisy of the "good"?
With great penetration and ingenuity Nietzsche examined the reasons for condemning women who give themselves before marriage; he shows that to be "moral" in the conventional sense means merely to fear public sentiment. The girl who enters sex relations without permission of the law or clergy is not considered merely unwise; she is branded as "immoral." She did not follow the custom; she disobeyed it. The kernel of reproach strikes at disobedience to custom. But what is the character of the disobedience thus condemned and reproached? They call the girl "impure"—but the reproach is not in reference to what she does; because the correctly married woman also does it, without being called impure. It is, then, the unconventionality of the act, the defiance of accepted standards, the lack of fear as to social judgment, that are reproached and condemned. It is, therefore, fear which holds the community together.
Naturally, Nietzsche finds much to criticize in the present form of the marriage relation. To him the highest goal of humanity is the uplifting and ennobling of the race, and that the present institution of marriage can never accomplish.
But he has recognized the value of faith in the superhuman passions of mankind. The institution of marriage clings stubbornly to the belief that love, altho a passion, is, as such, capable of life-long duration; and that such love is the rule, not the exception. In spite of the fact that experience proves this claim a mere pious fraud, conventional marriage invests love with the tenacity of the noblest sentiment. All institutions which foster a belief in the durability of passion and acknowledge the responsibility of this durability—though in itself foreign to the nature of passion—lift it on a higher plane. Of course, Nietzsche realizes that this supposed transformation of the essential nature of passion has brought with it much that is false and hypocritical, but he believes, nevertheless, that even at such a price the superhuman meaning, uplifting mankind, is to be highly valued.
As a scholar and follower of Plato, Nietzsche wishes to benefit posterity through marriage. To have progeny is the best education, for it makes one responsible, whole, and capable of self-denial. In more than one sense— especially in the spiritual sense—parents are brought up by their children. Nietzsche, therefore, considers the greatest commandment of human love to be not "Thou shall not kill," but rather the injunction to the degenerate, "Thou shalt not beget." The first seems naive to him in comparison to the latter; for there are cases where it is a crime against society to beget children, as with all those afflicted with chronic diseases, or with neurasthenics of the third degree. There are few social responsibilities as fundamental as this, and as society must care for the issue of these unfortunates, it is wiser to prevent than to cure. In general, the state wishes quantity, not quality, and is not over-particular as to the kind of children born. Therefore, in the interests of the race, marriage must be taken more seriously.
Nothing seemed to Nietzsche more despicable or more detrimental to the interests of the race than marriage for money or position. That children of such origin are apt to be worthless is easily realized.
With the greatest possible earnestness Nietzsche wrote of these social wrongs, emphasizing especially that social responsibility is the truest sign of morality and social fitness. To him, the realization that responsibility is an extraordinary privilege, marks the sovereign individual.
Not to bow slavishly to custom, but each to find out for himself that which is his personal duty, and take the entire responsibility for his acts—this newer and uplifting code of ethics is far removed from the gloomy dogmas of the "good and just." Each one to choose his way: "This is mine—where is yours? There is no royal road to virtue."
This much is revealed by the most superficial study of the newer ethics, showing us how to live and teach its far-reaching purpose. It strikes at the root of the old and confused notions, which identify "morality" with the fear of conventional standards, "virtue" with "abstaining from sexual intercourse."
In place of the old, negative morality, ever preaching prohibition, the newer ethics, with earnest, joyful and fruitful purpose proclaims personal responsibility, the uplifting of life, the ennobling of the race.
In Zarathustra Nietzsche has concentrated, in poetical form, the outlines of a new and ennobling code of morality. Studying the manner of treatment of the problems it contains, one wonders whether the Christian Bible or any other religio-ethical literature can compare with his trueness of touch and breadth of understanding.
The strength of his language and the religious earnestness of his purpose are embodied in the following quotation:
"Thou art young and wishest to marry and have a child. But I ask thee, art thou a man who dareth wish for a child? Art thou the victorious one, the self-subduer, the master of thy senses and thy virtues? Thus I ask thee.
"I would that thy child were born of thy victory and thy freedom. Thus thou shalt build beyond thyself. But first thou must be built thyself—square in body and soul. Thou shalt not only propagate thyself, but propagate thyself upwards! To this may the garden of marriage help thee!
"Marriage,—thus I call the will of two beings to create another who shall be more than they who created it. Marriage I call reverence unto each other, as unto those who will such a will.
"You shall some day love beyond yourselves; but first learn to love! And therefore ye have had to drink the bitter cup of your love. Bitterness is in the cup even of the best love: thus it bringeth longing for the Superman! Speak, brother, is that thy will unto marriage? Holy I call such a will and such a marriage."