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Full text of "Egotism in German philosophy"

EGOTISM IN GERMAN 
PHILOSOPHY 



All rights reserved 



EGOTISM 

IN 

GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 



BY 

Of S ANT AY AN A 

LATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY 




T 5 - 

1 > o. \ 



u. 



LONDON AND TORONTO 
J, M. DENT & SONS LIMITED 
NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER S SONS 



PREFACE 

THIS book is one of the many that the present war 
has brought forth, but it is the fruit of a long 
gestation. During more than twenty years, while I 
taught philosophy at Harvard College, I had con 
tinual occasion to read and discuss German meta 
physics. From the beginning it wore in my eyes a 
rather questionable shape. Under its obscure and 
fluctuating tenets I felt something sinister at work, 
something at once hollow and aggressive. It seemed 
a forced method of speculation, producing more con 
fusion than it found, and calculated chiefly to enable 
practical materialists to call themselves idealists and 
rationalists to remain theologians. At the same time 
the fear that its secret might be eluding me, seeing 
that by blood and tradition I was perhaps handi 
capped in the matter, spurred me to great and pro 
longed efforts to understand what confronted me so 
bewilderingly. I wished to be as clear and just about 
it as I could more clear and just, indeed, than it 
ever was about itself. 

For the rest, German philosophy was never my 
chief interest, and I write frankly as an outsider, with 
no professorial pretensions ; merely using my common 

5 



6 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

reason in the presence of claims put forth by others 
to a logical authority and a spiritual supremacy 
which they are far from possessing. 

A reader indoctrinated in the German schools is, 
therefore, free not to read further. My object is 
neither to repeat his familiar arguments in their 
usual form, nor to refute them; my object is to 
describe them intelligibly and to judge them from 
the point of view of the layman, and in his interests. 
For those who wish to study German philosophy, the 
original authors are at hand: all I would give here 
is the aroma of German philosophy that has reached 
my nostrils. If the reader has smelt something of 
the kind, so much the better: we shall then under 
stand each other. The function of history or of 
criticism is not passively to reproduce its subject- 
matter. One real world, with one stout corpus of 
German philosophy, is enough. Reflection and de 
scription are things superadded, things which ought 
to be more winged and more selective than what 
they play upon. They are echoes of reality in the 
sphere of art, sketches which may achieve all the 
truth appropriate to them without belying their 
creative limitations: for their essence is to be intel 
lectual symbols, at once indicative and original. 

Egotism subjectivity in thought and wilfulness 
in morals which is the soul of German philosophy, 



PREFACE 



is by no means a gratuitous thing. It is a genuine 
expression of the pathetic situation in which any 
animal finds itself upon earth, and any intelligence 
in the universe. It is an inevitable and initial cir 
cumstance in life. But like every material accident, 
it is a thing to abstract from and to discount as far 
as possible. The perversity of the Germans, the 
childishness and sophistry of their position, lies only 
in glorifying what is an inevitable impediment, and 
in marking time on an earthly station from which 
the spirit of man at least in spirit is called to fly. 
This glorified and dpgged egotism, which a thou 
sand personal and technical evidences had long 
revealed to me in German philosophy, might now, 
I should think, be evident to the whole world. Not 
that the German philosophers are responsible for the 
war, or for that recrudescence of corporate fanaticism 
which prepared it from afar. They merely shared 
and justified prophetically that spirit of uncom 
promising self-assertion and metaphysical conceit 
which the German nation is now reducing to action. 
It is a terrible thing to have a false religion, all the 
more terrible the deeper its sources are in the human 
soul. Like many a false religion before it, this which 
now inspires the Germans has made a double assault 
upon mankind, one with the secular arm, and another 
by solemn asseverations and sophistries. This assault, 



8 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

though its incidental methods may be dubious, has 
been bold and honest enough in principle. It has 
been like those which all conquerors and all founders 
of militant religions have made at intervals against 
liberty or reason. And the issue will doubtless be 
the same. Liberty may be maimed, but not killed; 
reason may be bent, but not broken. The dark 
aggression is to be repelled, if possible, by force of 
arms; but failing that, it will be nullified in time 
by the indomitable moral resistance which maturer 
races, richer in wisdom, can exert successfully against 
the rude will of the conqueror. 



CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAGE 

I. THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF GERMAN PHILOSOPHY . n 

II. THE PROTESTANT HERITAGE 21 

III. TRANSCENDENTALISM ....... 32 

IV. HINTS OF EGOTISM IN GOETHE ..... 43 
V. SEEDS OF EGOTISM IN KANT 54 

VI. TRANSCENDENTALISM PERFECTED . . . .65 

VII. FlCHTE ON THE MISSION OF GERMANY ... 73 

VIII. THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS ...... 84 

IX. EGOTISM AND SELFISHNESS. . . . . .99 

X. THE BREACH WITH CHRISTIANITY . . . .104 

XI. NIETZSCHE AND SCHOPENHAUER . . . . .114 

XII. THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE. . . . . .123 

XIII. THE SUPERMAN 136 

XIV. HEATHENISM ........ 144 

XV. GERMAN GENIUS . . . . . . . 154 

XVI. EGOTISM IN PRACTICE . . . . . .162 

INDEX ......... 169 



EGOTISM IN GERMAN 
PHILOSOPHY 

CHAPTER I 

THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

WHAT I propose in these pages to call German philo 
sophy is not identical with philosophy in Germany. 
The religion of the Germans is foreign to them; and 
the philosophy associated with religion before the 
Reformation, and in Catholic circles since, is a system 
native to the late Roman Empire. Their irreligion 
is foreign too; the sceptical and the scientific schools 
that have been conspicuous in other countries have 
taken root in Germany as well. Thus, if we counted 
the Catholics and the old-fashioned Protestants on 
the one hand, and the materialists (who call them 
selves monists) on the other, we should very likely 
discover that the majority of intelligent Germans 
held views which German philosophy proper must 
entirely despise, and that this philosophy seemed as 
strange to them as to other people. 

For an original and profound philosophy has arisen 
in Germany, as distinct in genius and method from 



ii 



12 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

Greek and Catholic philosophy as this is from the 
Indian systems. The great characteristic of German 
philosophy is that it is deliberately subjective and 
limits itself to the articulation of self-consciousness. 
The whole world appears there, but at a certain 
remove; it is viewed and accepted merely as an idea 
framed in consciousness, according to principles 
fetched from the most personal and subjective parts 
of the mind, such as duty, will, or the grammar of 
thought. The direction in which German philosophy 
is profound is the direction of inwardness. Whatever 
we may think of its competence in other matters, it 
probes the self as unaided introspection may with 
extraordinary intentness and sincerity. In inventing 
the transcendental method, the study of subjective 
projections and perspectives, it has added a new 
dimension to human speculation. 

The foreign religion and the foreign irreligion of 
Germany are both incompatible with German philo 
sophy. This philosophy cannot accept any dogmas, 
for its fundamental conviction is that there are no 
existing things except imagined ones: God as much 
as matter is exhausted by the thought of him, and 
entirely resident in this thought. The notion that 
knowledge can discover anything, or that anything 
previously existing can be revealed, is discarded 
altogether : for there is nothing to discover, and even 



CHARACTER OF GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 13 

if there was, the mind could not reach it; it could 
only reach the idea it might call up from its own depths. 
This idea might be perhaps justified and necessary 
by virtue of its subjective roots in the will or in duty, 
but never justified by its supposed external object, 
an object with which nobody could ever compare it. 
German philosophy is no more able to believe in 
God than in matter, though it must talk continually 
of both. 

At the same time this subjectivism is not irreligious. 
It is mystical, faithful, enthusiastic: it has all the 
qualities that gave early Protestantism its religious 
force. It is rebellious to external authority, conscious 
of inward light and of absolute duties. It is full of 
faith, if by faith we understand not definite beliefs 
held on inadequate evidence, but a deep trust in 
instinct and destiny. 

Rather than religious, however, this philosophy is 
romantic. It accepts passionately the aims suggested 
to it by sentiment or impulse. It despises prudence 
and flouts thejunderstanding. In Faust and in Pier 
Gynt we have a poetic echo of its fundamental in 
spiration, freed from theological accommodations or 
academic cant. It is the adventure of a wild, 
sensitive, boyish mind, that now plays the fairy 
prince and now the shabby and vicious egoist; a 
rebel and an enthusiast, yet often a sensualist to 



I 4 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

boot by way of experiment; a man eager for ex 
perience, but blind to its lessons, vague about nature, 
and blundering about duty, but confident that he 
can in some way play the magician and bring the 
world round to serve his will and spiritual necessities. 

Happiness and despair are alike impossible with 
such a temperament. Its empiricism is perennial. It 
cannot lose faith in the vital impulse it expresses; 
all its fancy, ingenuity, and daring philosophy are 
embroideries which it makes upon a dark experience. 
It cannot take outer facts very seriously; they are 
but symbols of its own unfathomable impulses. So 
pensive animals might reason. The just and humble 
side of German philosophy if we can lend it virtues 
to which it is deeply indifferent is that it accepts 
the total relativity of the human mind and luxuriates 
in it, much as we might expect spiders or porpoises 
to luxuriate in their special sensibility, making no 
vain effort to peep through the bars of their psycho 
logical prison. 

This sort of agnosticism in a minor key is con 
spicuous in the Critique of Pure Reason. In a major 
key it reappears in Nietzsche, when he proclaims a 
preference for illusion over truth. More mystically 
expressed it pervades the intervening thinkers. The 
more profound they are the more content and even 
delighted they are to consider nothing but their own 



CHARACTER OF GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 15 

creations. Their theory of knowledge proclaims that 
knowledge is impossible. You know only your so- 
called knowledge, which itself knows nothing; and 
you are limited to the autobiography of your illusions. 
The Germans express this limitation of their philo 
sophy by calling it idealism. In several senses it fully 
deserves this name. It is idealistic psychologically 
in that it regards mental life as groundless and all- 
inclusive, and denies that a material world exists, 
except as an idea necessarily bred in the mind. It 
is idealistic, too, in that it puts behind experience a 
background of concepts, and not of matter; a ghostly 
framework of laws, categories, moral or logical prin 
ciples to be the stiffening and skeleton of sensible 
experience, and to lend it some substance and mean 
ing. It is idealistic in morals also, in that it approves 
of pursuing the direct objects of will, without looking 
over one s shoulder or reckoning the consequences. 
These direct objects are ideals, whereas happiness, or 
any satisfaction based on renunciation and com 
promise, seems to these spirited philosophers the aim 
of a degraded, calculating mind. The word idealism, 
used in this sense, should not mislead us ; it indicates 
sympathy with life and its passions, particularly the 
learned and political ones; it does not indicate any 
distaste for material goods or material agencies. The 
German moral imagination is in its first or dogmatic 



16 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

stage, not in the second or critical one. It is in love 
with life rather than with wisdom. 

There is accordingly one sense of the term idealism 
the original one in which this philosophy knows 
nothing of it, the Platonic and poetic sense in which 
the ideal is something better than the fact. The 
Platonic idealist is the man by nature so wedded to 
perfection that he sees in everything not the reality 
but the faultless ideal which the reality misses and 
suggests. Hegel, indeed, drew an outline portrait of 
things, according to what he thought their ideal 
essence; but it was uglier and more dreary than 
the things themselves. Platonic idealism requires a 
gift of impassioned contemplation, an incandescent 
fancy that leaps from the things of sense to the goals 
of beauty and desire. It spurns the earth and believes 
in heaven, a form of religion most odious to the 
Germans. They think this sort of idealism not only 
visionary but somewhat impious; for their own 
religion takes the form of piety and affection towards 
everything homely, imperfect, unstable, and pro 
gressive. They yearn to pursue the unattainable and 
encounter the unforeseen. This romantic craving 
hangs together with their taste for the picturesque 
and emphatic in the plastic arts, and for the up- 
welling evanescent emotions of music. Yet their 
idealism is a religion of the actual. It rejects nothing 



CHARACTER OF GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 17 

in the daily experience of life, and looks to nothing 
essentially different beyond. It looks only for more 
of the same thing, believing in perpetual growth, 
which is an ambiguous notion. Under the fashionable 
name of progress what these idealists sincerely cherish 
is the vital joy of transition; and usually the joy of 
this transition lies much more in shedding their 
present state than in attaining a better one. For 
they suffer and wrestle continually, and by a curious 
and deeply animal instinct, they hug and sanctify 
this endless struggle all the more when it rends and 
bewilders them, bravely declaring it to be absolute, 
infinite, and divine. 

Such in brief is German philosophy, at least, such 
it might be said to be if any clear account of it did 
not necessarily falsify it; but one of its chief charac 
teristics, without which it would melt away, is 
ambiguity. You cannot maintain that the natural 
world is the product of the human mind without 
changing the meaning of the word mind and of the 
word human. You cannot deny that there is a 
substance without turning into a substance whatever 
you substitute for it. You cannot identify yourself 
with God without at once asserting and denying the 
existence of God and of yourself. When you speak 
of such a thing as the consciousness of society you 
must never decide whether you mean the conscious- 

B 



i8 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

ness individuals have of society or a fabled con 
sciousness which society is to have of itself: the first 
meaning would spoil your eloquence, and the second 
would betray your mythology. 

What is involved in all these equivocations is not 
merely a change of vocabulary, that shifting use of 
language which time brings with it. No, the per 
sistence of the old meanings alone gives point to the 
assertions that change them and identify them with 
their opposites. Everywhere, therefore, in these 
speculations, you must remain in suspense as to 
what precisely you are talking about. A vague, 
muffled, dubious thought must carry you along as 
on a current. Your scepticism must not derange 
your common sense; your conduct must not express 
your radical opinions; a certain afflatus must bear 
you nobly onward through a perpetual incoherence. 
You must always be thinking not of what you are 
thinking of but of yourself or of " something higher." 
Otherwise you cannot live this philosophy or under 
stand it from within. 

The mere existence of this system, as of any other, 
proves that a provocation to frame it is sometimes 
found in experience or language or the puzzles of 
reflection,, Not that there need be any solidity in it 
on that account. German philosophy is a sort of 
religion, and like other religions it may be capable 



CHARACTER OF GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 19 

of assimilating a great amount of wisdom, while its 
first foundation is folly. This first folly itself will 
not lack plausible grounds; there is provocation 
enough in a single visit to a madhouse for the assertion 
that the mind can know nothing but the ideas it 
creates; nevertheless the assertion is false, and such 
facile scepticism loses sight of the essence of know 
ledge. The most disparate minds, since they do not 
regard themselves, may easily regard the same object. 
Only the maniac stares at his own ideas; he confuses 
himself in his perceptions ; he projects them into the 
wrong places, and takes surrounding objects to be 
different from what they are. But perceptions 
originally have external objects; they express a 
bodily reaction, or some inward preparation for such 
a reaction. They are reports. The porpoise and the 
spider are not shut up in their self-consciousness; 
however foreign to us may be the language of their 
senses, they know the sea and air that we know, and 
have to meet the same changes and accidents there 
which we meet and they even have to meet us, 
sometimes, to their sorrow. Their knowledge does 
not end in acquaintance with that sensuous language 
of theirs, whatever it may be, but flies with the 
import of that language and salutes the forces which 
confront them in action, and which also confront us. 
In focussing these forces through the lenses and veils 



20 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

of sense knowledge arises ; and to arrest our attention 
on those veils and lenses and say they are all we 
know, belies the facts of the case and is hardly 
honest. If we could really do that, we should be 
retracting the first act of intelligence and becoming 
artificial idiots. Yet this sophistication is the first 
principle of German philosophy (borrowed, indeed, 
from non-Germans), and is the thesis supposed to be 
proved in Kant s Critique of Pure Reason. 



CHAPTER II 

THE PROTESTANT HERITAGE i 

THE German people, according to Fichte and Hegel, \ 
are called by the plan of Providence to occupy the 
supreme place in the history of the universe. 

A little consideration of this belief will perhaps 
lead us more surely to the heart of German philo 
sophy than would the usual laborious approach to 
it through what is called the theory of knowledge. 
This theory of knowledge is a tangle of equivocations ; 
but even if it were correct it would be something 
technical, and the technical side of a great philo 
sophy, interesting as it may be in itself, hardly ever 
determines its essential views. These essential views 
are derived rather from instincts or traditions which 
the technique of the system is designed to defend; 
or, at least, they decide how that technique shall be 
applied and interpreted. 

The moment we hear Fichte and Hegel mentioning 
a providential plan of the world, we gather that in 
their view the history of things is not infinite and 
endlessly various, but has a closed plot like a drama 

in which one nation (the very one to which these 

21 



22 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

philosophers belong) has the central place and the 
chief r61e: and we perceive at once that theirs is a 
revealed philosophy. It is the heir of Judaism. It 
could never have been formed by free observation of 
life and nature, like the philosophy of Greece or of 
the Renaissance. It is Protestant theology rationalised. 
The element of religious faith, in the Protestant sense 
of the word faith, is essential to it. About the witness 
of tradition, even about the witness of the senses, it 
may be as sceptical as it likes. It may reduce nature 
and God to figments of the mind; but throughout 
its criticism of all matters of fact it will remain 
deeply persuaded that the questioning and striving 
spirit within is indefeasible and divine. It will never 
reduce all things, including the mind, to loose and 
intractable appearances, as might a free idealism. It 
will employ its scepticism to turn all things into ideas, 
in order to chain them the more tightly to the moral 
interests of the thinker. These moral interests, 
human and pathetic as they may seem to the out 
sider, it will exalt immeasurably, pronouncing them 
to be groundless and immutable; and it will never 
tolerate the suspicion that all things might not 
minister to them. 

From the same tenet of Fichte and Hegel we may 
also learn that in the plan of the world, as this 
revealed philosophy conceives it, the principal figures 



THE PROTESTANT HERITAGE 23 

are not individuals, like the Creator, the Redeemer, 
and one s own soul, but nations and institutions. It 
is of the essence of Protestantism and of German 
philosophy that religion should gradually drop its 
supernatural personages and comforting private hopes 
and be absorbed in the duty of living manfully and 
conscientiously the conventional life of this world. 
Not the whole life of the world, however, since gay 
religions and many other gay things are excluded, 
or admitted only as childish toys. Positive religion, 
in fact, disappears, as well as the frivolous sort of 
worldliness, and there remains only a consecrated 
worldliness that is deliberate and imposed as a duty. 
Just as in pantheism God is naturalised into a cosmic 
force, so in German philosophy the Biblical piety of 
the earlier Protestants is secularised into social and 
patriotic zeal. 

German philosophy has inherited from Protestant 
ism its earnestness and pious intention; also a 
tendency to retain, for whatever changed views it 
may put forward, the names of former beliefs. 
God, freedom, and immortality, for instance, may 
eventually be transformed into their opposites, since 
the oracle of faith is internal; but their names may 
be kept, together with a feeling that what will now 
bear those names is much more satisfying than what 
they originally stood for. If it should seem that 



24 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

God came nearest to us, and dwelt within us, in the 
form of vital energy, if freedom should turn out 
really to mean personality, if immortality, in the end, 
should prove identical with the endlessness of human 
progress, and if these new thoughts should satisfy 
and encourage us as the evanescent ideas of God, 
freedom, and immortality satisfied and encouraged 
our fathers, why should we not use these consecrated 
names for our new conceptions, and thus indicate 
the continuity of religion amid the flux of science? 
This expedient is not always hypocritical. It was 
quite candid in men like Spinoza and Emerson, whose 
attachment to positive religion had insensibly given 
way to a half-mystical, half-intellectual satisfaction 
with the natural world, as their eloquent imagination, 
conceived it. But whether candid or disingenuous,, 
this habit has the advantage of oiling the wheels 
of progress with a sacred unction. In facilitating 
change it blurs the consciousness of change, and 
leads people to associate with their new opinions 
sentiments which are logically incompatible with 
them. The attachment of many tender-minded 
people to German philosophy is due to this circum 
stance, for German philosophy is not tender. 

The beauty and the torment of Protestantism is 
that it opens the door so wide to what lies beyond 
it. This progressive quality it has fully transmitted 



THE PROTESTANT HERITAGE 25 

to all the systems of German philosophy. Not that 
each of them, like the earlier Protestant sects, does 
not think itself true and final; but in spite of itself 
it suggests some next thing. We must expect, there 
fore, that the more conservative elements in each 
system should provoke protests in the next genera 
tion; and it is hard to say whether such inconstancy 
is a weakness, or is simply loyalty to the principle 
of progress. Kant was a puritan; he revered the 
rule of right as something immutable and holy, 
perhaps never obeyed in the world. Fichte was 
somewhat freer in his Calvinism; the rule of right 
was the moving power in all life and nature, though 
it might have been betrayed by a doomed and self- 
seeking generation. Hegel was a very free and 
superior Lutheran; he saw that the divine will was 
necessarily and continuously realised in this world, 
though we might not recognise the fact in our petty 
moral judgments. Schopenhauer, speaking again for 
this human judgment, revolted against that cruel 
optimism, and was an indignant atheist; and finally, 
in Nietzsche, this atheism became exultant; he 
thought it the part of a man to abet the movement 
of things, however calamitous, in order to appro 
priate its wild force and be for a moment the very 
crest of its wave. 

Protestantism was not a reformation by accident, 



26 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

because it happened to find the church corrupt; it 
is a reformation essentially, in that every individual 
must reinterpret the Bible and the practices of the 
church in his own spirit. If he accepted them with 
out renewing them in the light of his personal religious 
experience, he would never have what Protestantism 
thinks living religion. German philosophy has in 
herited this characteristic; it is not a cumulative 
science that can be transmitted ready made. It is 
essentially a reform, a revision of traditional know 
ledge, which each neophyte must make for himself, 
under pain of rendering only lip-service to trans 
cendental truth, and remaining at heart unregenerate. 
His chief business is to be converted; he must refute 
for himself the natural views with which he and all 
other men have begun life. And still these views 
like the temptations of Satan inevitably form them 
selves afresh in each generation, and even in the 
philosopher, between one spell of introspective 
thought and another, so that he always has to re 
capitulate his saving arguments from the beginning. 
Each new idealist in each of his books, often in every 
lecture and every chapter, must run back to refute 
again the same homely opponents materialism, 
naturalism, dualism, or whatever he may call them. 
Dead as each day he declares these foes to be, he 
has to fight them again in his own soul on the morrow. 



THE PROTESTANT HERITAGE 27 

Hence his continual preoccupation lest he fall away, 
or lest the world should forget him. To preserve 
his freedom and his idealism he must daily conquer 
them anew. This philosophy is secondary, critical, 
sophistical; it has a perennial quarrel with inevitable 
opinions. 

Protestantism, in spite of its personal status, 
wished to revert to primitive Christianity. . In this 
desire it was guided partly by a conventional faith 
in the Scriptures, and partly by a deep sympathy 
with experimental religion. German religion and 
philosophy are homesick: they wish to be quite 
primitive once more. And they actually remain 
primitive in spirit, spontaneous and tentative, even 
in the midst of the most cumbrous erudition, as a 
composition of Diirer s, where flesh, fish, and fowl 
crowd every corner, still remains primitive, puzzled, 
and oppressed. Such a naive but overloaded mind 
is lost in admiration of its own depth and richness; 
yet, in fact, it is rather helpless and immature; it 
has not learned to select what suffices, or to be 
satisfied with what is best. 

Faith for the Germans must be a primitive and 
groundless assurance, not knowledge credibly trans 
mitted by others whose experience may have been 
greater than our own. Even philosophy is not con 
ceived as a reasonable adjustment to what may have 



28 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

been discovered to be the constitution of the world; 
it is in the first instance a criticism, to dissolve that 
reputed knowledge, and then, when primitive inno 
cence is happily restored, it is a wager or demand 
made beyond all evidence, and in contempt of all 
evidence, in obedience to an innate impulse. Of 
course, it is usual, as a concession to the weaker 
brethren, to assume that experience, in the end, will 
seem to satisfy these demands, and that we shall 
win our bets and our wars ; but the point of principle, 
borrowed by German philosophy from Protestantism, 
is that the authority of faith is intrinsic and absolute, 
while any external corroboration of it is problematical 
and not essential to the Tightness of the assumptions 
that faith makes. In this we have a fundamental 
characteristic of the school. Carried (as it seldom is) 
to its logical conclusion, it leads to the ultra-romantic 
and ultra-idealistic doctrine that the very notion of 
truth or fact is a fiction of the will, invented to 
satisfy our desire for some fixed point of reference 
in thought. In this doctrine we may see the culmina 
tion of the Protestant rebellion against mediation in 
religion, against external authority, and against 
dogma. 

The Protestant precept to search the Scriptures, 
and the sense that every man must settle the highest 
questions for himself, have contributed to the zeal 



THE PROTESTANT HERITAGE 29 



with which science and scholarship have been pur 
sued in Germany. In no other country has so large, 
so industrious, and (amid its rude polemics) so co 
operative a set of professors devoted itself to all 
sorts of learning. But as the original motive was to 
save one s soul, an apologetic and scholastic manner 
has often survived: the issue is prejudged and 
egotism has appeared even in science. For favourable 
as Protestantism is to investigation and learning, 
it is almost incompatible with clearness of thought 
and fundamental freedom of attitude. If the con 
trolling purpose is not political or religious, it is at 
least " philosophical," that is to say, arbitrary. 

We must remember that the greater part of the 
" facts " on which theories are based are reported or 
inferred facts all in the historical sciences, since the 
documents and sources must first be pronounced 
genuine or spurious by the philosophical critic. Here 
presumptions and private methods of inference 
determine what shall be admitted for a fact, to say 
nothing of the interpretation to be given to it. Hence 
a piece of Biblical or Homeric criticism, a history of 
Rome or of Germany often becomes a little system 
of egotistical philosophy, posited and defended with 
all the parental zeal and all the increasing conviction 
with which a prophet defends his supernatural 
inspirations. 



30 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

The distinction between Mary and Martha is not 
a German distinction : in Germany the rapt idealist 
is busy about many things, so that his action is apt to 
be heady and his contemplation perturbed. Only the 
principle is expected to be spiritual, the illustrations 
must all be material and mundane. There is no 
paradox in German idealism turning to material 
science, commerce, and war for a fresh field of opera 
tion. No degeneracy is implied in such an extension 
of its vocation, especially when the other ideals of 
the state pure learning, art, social organisation 
are pursued at the same time with an equal ardour. 
The test of a genuine German idealist is that he 
should forget and sink his private happiness in 
whatever service the state may set him to do. 

In view of this political fidelity the changing 
opinions of men are all indifferent to true religion. 
It is not a question of correctness in opinion or 
conduct, since for the idealist there can be no ex 
ternal standard of truth, existence, or excellence on 
which such correctness could depend. Ideas are so 
much real experience and have no further subject- 
matter. Thought is simply more or less rich, elaborate, 
or vehement, like a musical composition, and more 
or less consistent with itself. It is all a question of 
depth and fulness of experience, obtained by hacking 
one s way through this visionary and bewitched 



THE PROTESTANT HERITAGE 31 

existence, the secret purpose of which is to serve 
the self in its development. In this philosophy 
imagination that is sustained is called knowledge, 
illusion that is coherent is called truth, and will that 
is systematic is called virtue. 

Evidently the only sanction or vindication that 
such a belief will look for is the determination to 
reassert it. Religion is here its own heaven, and 
faith the only proof of its own truth. What is har 
monised in the end is not the experience through 
which people have actually passed but only the 
echoes of that experience chiming in the mystic ear. 
Memory too can play the egotist. Subjectivism can 
rule even within the subject and can make him 
substitute his idea of himself, in his most self-satisfied 
moment, for the poor desultory self that he has 
actually been. 

The German philosophers have carried on Pro 
testantism beyond itself. They have separated the 
two ingredients mingled in traditional religions. One 
of these ingredients the vital faith or self-trust of 
the animal will they have retained. The other the 
lessons of experience they have rejected. To which 
element the name of religion should still be given, 
if it is given to either, is a matter of indifference. 
The important thing is that, call it religion or irre- 
ligion, we should know what we are clinging to. 



CHAPTER III 

TRANSCENDENTALISM 

FICHTE called Locke the worst of philosophers, but 
it was ungrateful of him, seeing that his own philo 
sophy was founded on one of Locke s errors. It was 
Locke who first thought of looking into his own 
breast to find there the genuine properties of gold 
and of an apple; and it is clear that nothing but 
lack of consecutiveness and courage kept him from 
finding the whole universe in the same generous 
receptacle. This method of looking for reality in 
one s own breast, when practised with due consecu 
tiveness and courage by the Germans, became the 
transcendental method; but it must be admitted 
that the German breast was no longer that ana 
tomical region which Locke had intended to probe, 
but a purely metaphysical point of departure, a 
migratory ego that could be here, there, and every 
where at once, being present at any point from 
which thought or volition might be taken to radiate. 
It was no longer so easy to entrap as the soul of 
Locke, which he asserted travelled with him in his 
coach from London to Oxford. But the practice of 

32 



TRANSCENDENTALISM 33 

looking for all things within one s own breast, in the 
subtler sense of searching for them in one s memory 
and experience, begat in time the whole romantic 
and subjective school of philosophy. 

Leibniz, the first of German philosophers, although 
an enemy of Locke s sensualism and of his slackness 
in logic, was even more explicit in assigning a mental 
seat to all sensible objects. The soul, he said, had 
no windows and, he might have added, no doors; 
no light could come to it from without ; and it could 
not exert any transitive force or make any difference 
beyond its own insulated chamber. It was a camera 
obscura, with a universe painted on its impenetrable 
walls. The changes which went on in it were like 
those in a dream, due to the charge of pent-up 
energies and fecundities within it; for the Creator 
had wound it up at the creation like a clock, destined 
to go for ever, striking infinite hours, with ever richer 
chimes. 

Here, in miniature, with a clearness and beauty 
never afterwards equalled, we have the nature and 
movement of the transcendental self set forth before 
us: a closed circle of experience, admitting of no 
relations with anything beyond, but infinite in its 
own potential developments, and guided by an inner 
force, according to an innate unconscious plan. All 
duties, all principles of interpretation, all data, all 



34 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

visioned objects, operated within this single life, 
diversifying its field of view, and testifying to its 
secret endowment. 

Nevertheless, the later idealists, ungrateful to 
Locke for their first principle, were ungrateful also 
to Leibniz for their ultimate conception, anticipated 
by him in all its completeness. There were reasons, 
of course, for this ingratitude. Leibniz, like the tran- 
scendentalists, had supposed that the objects of sense, 
as experience reveals them, were begotten out of the 
latent nature of the soul; but he had also conceived 
that there were many souls, as many as atoms in 
the physical world, and that the images arising in 
each were signs of the presence and actual condition 
of its companions. Thus perception, while yielding 
directly only an idea, as in a dream, was indirectly 
symbolic of an outer reality, like a dream significant 
and capable of interpretation. And being an un 
daunted rationalist, Leibniz assumed that the sooth 
sayer capable of reading this dream was reason, and 
that whatever reason conceived to be right and 
necessary actually must be true in the great outer 
world. 

It was at this point that Kant deviated into his 
radical subjectification of knowledge. His mind had 
been more open than that of Leibniz to the influences 
of English psychology, it had stewed longer in its 



TRANSCENDENTALISM 35 

own juice, and he could not help asking how, if the 
senses could reveal only ideas of sense, reason was 
ever able to reveal anything but ideas of reason. 
Those inferences about the vast world outside, which 
Leibniz had allowed his spirits to make in their 
solitary confinement, were reduced by the more 
scrupulous Kant to scribblings upon their prison 
walls. These scribblings he officially termed the 
ideas of pure that is, of unsupported reason; but 
in his private capacity he gently continued to agree 
with Leibniz and to believe them true. 

There was no anomaly, according to Kant, in this 
situation. An idea might by chance be the image of 
a reality, but we could never know that it was. For 
the proof would have to be supplied by a further 
idea, and would terminate in that. The hypothesis 
and the corroboration would alike be mental, since 
experience was of ideas and could envisage nothing 
but the vicissitudes of the mind. 

If you had asked Leibniz what determined the 
order in which perceptions came into any mind, he 
would doubtless have answered that the Creator did 
so, or (translating that symbol into its analytic 
equivalent in his system) that what did so was the 
innate destiny or predisposition of that mind to 
develop in harmony with the best possible universe. 
Here is a very remarkable unconscious principle of 



36 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

evolution seated in the spirit and presiding over all 
its experience. This is precisely what is meant by 
a transcendental principle. 

This principle, unconscious as it is, sometimes 
betrays its mighty workings to consciousness. Besides 
the incidental multitude of ideas which it breeds, it 
makes itself felt in subterranean strains and rumblings, 
in the sense of movement and of longing. This darker 
but deeper manifestation of the transcendental clock 
work Leibniz called appetition, and under the name 
of Will it has played a great part in later German 
systems. To call it Will is, of course, to speak 
improperly and mythologically, for actual willing 
requires an idea of what is willed. When we say a 
man doesn t know what he wants, we mean that he 
can will nothing, for lack of a clear idea of his 
interests and situation, although he doubtless wants 
or lacks many specific things, the absence of which 
is rendering him unhappy and restless. These in 
stinctive appetitions for objects of which the mind 
is ignorant may, by a figure of speech, be called 
unconscious Will; a phrase which would be a con 
tradiction in terms if this word Will (which I write 
with a capital letter) were not used metaphorically. 
From this metaphor, when its boldness seems to be 
dulled by use, we may pass insensibly to giving the 
name of Will to that whole transcendental potency 



TRANSCENDENTALISM 37 

of the soul which, like the mainspring of a watch, 
lay coiled up tightly within it from the beginning of 
time. A man s transcendental Will can then be called 
the source of everything that ever happens to him 
his birth, his character, his whole life, and his death 
all that he most detests and most emphatically 
does not will, like his nightmares, being an expression 
of the original pregnancy of his spirit, and its tran 
scendental principle of development. 

There is but one thing to add touching a point 
often left by these philosophers in the most hopeless 
obscurity. In Leibniz the number of spirits was 
infinite: in the later systems they are reduced to 
one. This difference seems greater than it is, for 
when such terms as Spirit or Will are used meta 
phorically, standing for unconscious laws of con 
tinuity or development, and when the Will or Spirit 
present in me now may be said to have presided over 
the destinies of my soul infinite ages before I was 
born, there seems to be no good reason why the 
same Spirit or Will should not preside over all the 
inhabitants of the universe at all times, be they gods 
or humming-birds. Such a Spirit or Will resembles 
the notion of Providence, or the law of evolution, 
or the pre-established harmony of Leibniz far more 
than it resembles a mind. Those philosophers, intent 
on proving that the Spirit can be only one, might 



38 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

have proceeded, therefore, by urging that a Spirit 
was at best a formal and abstract law, covering such 
disparate facts, that all flesh and fowl, all demons 
and angels, might just as well be animated by a 
single Spirit. As it takes all sorts of things to make 
a world, it might take all sorts of things to express 
a Spirit. 

This cool and consciously verbal way of making 
all one, however, is not the way of the Germans. 
No doubt in practice the unity of the Spirit or Will 
in their systems amounts to nothing more, yet their 
intention and illusion is rather that whenever two 
things can be called manifestations of one Spirit in 
the loosest and most metaphorical sense of this word 
they are thereby proved to be data in one spirit in 
the most intimate and psychological sense of the 
same. So that what really happens to transcen- 
dentalists is not that they unite all the transcendental 
units of Leibniz into one even looser transcendental 
unit, but that they limit the universe to what in 
Leibniz was one of an infinite number of parallel 
careers. Nay, they limit even that one career to the 
experience present at one point, that of the most 
intense and comprehensive self-consciousness. 

The unity they desire and believe in is accordingly 
an actual and intense unity. All its elements are to 
be viewed at once, bound and merged together by 



TRANSCENDENTALISM 39 

the simultaneous intuition of all their relations, and 
this in a single, unchanging, eternal moment of 
thought, or rather of unutterable feeling. The union 
is, therefore, real, psychic, mystical, and so close that 
everything that was to be united there, by a curious 
irony, remains outside. 

What can lead serious thinkers, we may ask, into 
such pitfalls and shams ? In this case, a powerful 
and not unworthy motive. All transcendentalism 
takes the point of view of what it calls knowledge; 
whenever it mentions anything matter, God, oneself 
it means not that thing but the idea of it. By 
knowledge it understands the image or belief, the 
fact of cognition. Whatever is thought of exists, or 
can exist, in this philosophy, only for thought; yet 
this thought is called not illusion but knowledge, 
because knowledge is what the thought feels that it is. 
Evidently on this principle none of Leibniz s 
spirits could know any other, nor could any phase 
of the same spirit know any other phase. The un 
bridgeable chasm of want of experience would cut off 
knowledge from everything but its " content," the 
ideas it has of its objects. Those fabled external 
objects would be brought back into my ideas, and 
identified with them; my ideas in turn would be 
drawn in and identified with the fact that I entertain 
them and this fact itself would condense into the 



40 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

more intimate and present fact that intensely, vaguely, 
deeply I feel that I am, or am tending to be, some 
thing or other. My Will or Spirit, the rumble of my 
unconscious appetitions, thus absorbs my ideas, my 
ideas absorb their objects, and these objects absorb 
the world, past, present, and future. Earth and 
heaven, God and my fellowmen are mere expressions 
of my Will, and if they were anything more, I could 
not now be alive to their presence. My Will is absolute. 
With that conclusion transcendentalism is complete. 

Is such transcendentalism impossibly sceptical ? Is 
it absurdly arrogant ? Is it wonderfully true ? 

In so complex a world as this, there is room for a 
great number of cross-vistas : when all has been 
surveyed from one point of view and in one set of 
terms, nothing excludes the same reality from being 
surveyed from a different centre and expressed in a 
different notation. To represent a man, sculpture 
is apparently exhaustive; yet it does not exclude 
painting, or the utterly disparate description of the 
man in words; surveys in which there need be no 
contradiction in the deliverance, though there is the 
widest diversity and even incommensurability in the 
methods. Each sort of net drawn through the same 
sea catches a different sort of fish; and the fishermen 
may quarrel about what the sea contained, if each 
regards his draught as exhaustive. Yet the sea con- 



TRANSCENDENTALISM 41 

tained all their catches, and also the residue, perhaps 
infinite, that escaped them all. 

Now one net which every intelligent being casts 
over things is that of his own apprehension, experience, 
and interests. He may not reflect often on his personal 
principle of selection and arrangement; he may be 
so interested in the movements he sees through his 
glass as never to notice the curious circular frame, 
perhaps prismatic, which his glass imposes on the 
landscape. Yet among all the properties of things, 
the adventitious properties imputed to them in appre 
hension are worth noting too; indeed, it chastens 
and transforms our whole life if we have once noted 
them and taken them to heart. Not that this circum 
stance implies for a moment what the dizziness of 
idealists has inferred, that things exist only as per 
ceived or when we perceive them. What follows is 
rather that, besides the things and in the most 
interesting contrast to their movement, there is the 
movement of our minds in observing them. If, for 
instance, I happen not to know the name of my 
great-grandfather, and am vexed at my ignorance, 
I may search the parish records and discover it, 
together with many circumstances of his life. This 
does not prove that my interest in genealogy created 
my great-grandfather, as a consistent egotist would 
assert; but it does show how my interest was a 



42 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

nucleus for my discoveries and for the terms, such 
as great-grandfather, in which I express them for 
it was no intrinsic property of that worthy man that 
he was to become my great-grandfather after his 
death, or that I was to discover him. 

This vortex which things, as apprehension catches 
them, seem to form round each whirling spectator, 
is the fascinating theme of lyric poetry, of psycho 
logical novels, and of German philosophy. Dominated 
as this philosophy is by the transcendental method, 
it regards views, and the history and logic of views, 
as more primitive and important than the objects 
which these views have in common. The genial 
Professor Paulsen of Berlin (whose pupil I once had 
the advantage of being) had a phrase that continually 
recurred in his lectures: Man kann sagen, as much 
as to say, Things will yield the following picture, if 
one cares to draw it. And he once wrote an article 
in honour of Kant very pertinently entitled: Was 
uns Kant sein kann ; because no veritable disciple 
of Kant accepts what Kant taught as he taught it, 
but each rises from the study of the master having 
irresistibly formed one or more systems of his own. 
To take what views we will of things, if things will 
barely suffer us to take them, and then to declare 
that the things are mere terms in the views we take 
of them that is transcendentalism. 



CHAPTER IV 

HINTS OF EGOTISM IN GOETHE 

ALL transcendentalists are preoccupied with the self, 
but not all are egotists. Some regard as a sad dis 
ability this limitation of their knowledge to what 
they have created; they are humble, and almost 
ashamed to be human, and to possess a mind that 
must cut them off hopelessly from all reality. On 
the other hand there are many instinctive egotists 
who are not transcendentalists, either because their 
attention has not been called to this system, or 
because they discredit all speculation, or because 
they see clearly that the senses and the intellect, far 
from cutting us off from the real things that surround 
us, have the function of adjusting our action to them 
and informing our mind about them. Such an 
instinctive egotist does not allege that he creates 
the world by willing and thinking it, yet he is more 
interested in his own sensations, fancies, and pre 
ferences than in the other things in the world. The 
attention he bestows on things seems to him to 
bathe in light their truly interesting side. What he 
chiefly considers is his own experience what he 

43 



44 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

cared for first, what second, what he thinks to-day, 
what he will probably think to-morrow, what friends 
he has had, and how they have lost their charm, 
what religions he has believed in, and in general 
what contributions the universe has made to him 
and he to the universe. His interest in personality 
need not be confined to his own; he may have a 
dramatic imagination, and may assign their appro 
priate personality to all other people ; every situation 
he hears of or invents may prompt him to conceive 
the thrilling passions and pungent thoughts of some 
alter ego, in whom latent sides of his own nature may 
be richly expressed. And impersonal things, too, 
may fascinate him, when he feels that they stir his 
genius fruitfully; and he will be the more ready to 
scatter his favours broadcast in that what concerns 
him is not any particular truth or person (things 
which might prove jealous and exclusive), but rather 
the exercise of his own powers of universal sympathy. 
Something of this sort seems to appear in Goethe; 
and although his contact with philosophical egotism 
was but slight, and some of his wise maxims are 
incompatible with it, yet his romanticism, his feeling 
for development in everything, his private life, the 
nebulous character of his religion, and some of his 
most important works, like Faust and Wilhelm 
Meister r are all so full of the spirit of German 



HINTS OF EGOTISM IN GOETHE 45 

philosophy, that it would be a pity not to draw 
some illustration for our subject from so pleasant a 
source. 

There are hints of egotism in Goethe, but in Goethe 
there are hints of everything, and it would be easy 
to gather an imposing mass of evidence to the effect 
that he was not like the transcendentalists, but far 
superior to them. For one thing he was many-sided, 
not encyclopaedic; he went out to greet the variety 
of things, he did not pack it together. He did not 
even arrange the phases of his experience (as he did 
those of Faust) in an order supposed to be a progress, 
although, as the commentators on Faust inform us, 
not a progress in mere goodness. Hegel might have 
understood all these moral attitudes, and described 
them in a way not meant to appear satirical; but 
he would have criticised and demolished them, and 
declared them obsolete all but the one at which 
he happened to stop. Goethe loved them all; he 
hated to outgrow them, and if involuntarily he did 
so, at least he still honoured the feelings that he had 
lost. He kept his old age genial and green by that 
perennial love. In order to hold his head above 
water and be at peace in his own heart, he did not 
need to be a Christian, a pagan, or an epicurean; 
yet he lent himself unreservedly, in imagination, to 
Christianity, paganism, and sensuality three things 



46 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

your transcendental egotist can never stomach : each 
in its way would impugn his self-sufficiency. 

Nevertheless the sympathies of Goethe were only 
romantic or aesthetic; they were based on finding in 
others an interesting variation from himself, an exotic 
possibility, rather than an identity with himself in 
thought or in fate. Christianity was an atmosphere 
necessary to certain figures, that of Gretchen, for 
instance, who would have been frankly vulgar with 
out it; paganism was a learned masque, in which one 
could be at once distinguished and emancipated; and 
sensuality was a sentimental and scientific licence in 
which the free mind might indulge in due season. The 
sympathy Goethe felt with things was that of a lordly 
observer, a traveller, a connoisseur, a philanderer; it 
was egotistical sympathy. 

Nothing, for instance, was more romantic in Goethe 
than his classicism. His Ifhigenie and his Helena 
and his whole view of antiquity were full of the 
pathos of distance. That pompous sweetness, that 
intense moderation, that moral somnambulism were 
too intentional; and Goethe felt it himself. In 
Faust, after Helen has evaporated, he makes the 
hero revisit his native mountains and revert to the 
thought of Gretchen. It is a wise home-coming, 
because that craze for classicism which Helen sym 
bolised alienated the mind from real life and led 



HINTS OF EGOTISM IN GOETHE 47 

only to hopeless imitations and lackadaisical poses. 
Gretchen s garden, even the Walpurgisnacht, was in 
truth more classical. This is only another way of 
saying that in the attempt to be Greek the truly 
classical was missed even by Goethe, since the truly 
classical is not foreign to anybody. It is precisely 
that part of tradition and art which does not alienate 
us from our own life or from nature, but reveals 
them in all their depth and nakedness, freed from 
the fashions and hypocrisies of time and place. The 
effort to reproduce the peculiarities of antiquity is a 
proof that we are not its natural heirs, that we do 
not continue antiquity instinctively. People can 
mimic only what they have not absorbed. They 
reconstruct and turn into an archaeological masquerade 
only what strikes them as outlandish. The genuine 
inheritors of a religion or an art never dream of 
reviving it; its antique accidents do not interest 
them, and its eternal substance they possess by 
nature. 

The Germans are not in this position in regard to 
the ancients. Whether sympathetic like Goethe, or 
disparaging like Burckhardt, or both at once, like 
Hegel, they have seen in antiquity its local colour, 
its mannerisms, its documents, and above all its 
contrasts with the present. It was not so while the 
traditions of antiquity were still living and authori- 



48 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

tative. But the moderns, and especially the Germans, 
have not a humble mind. They do not go to school 
with the Greeks unfeignedly, as if Greek wisdom might 
possibly be true wisdom, a pure expression of ex 
perience and reason, valid essentially for us. They 
prefer to take that wisdom for a phase of sentiment, 
of course outgrown, but still enabling them to recon 
struct learnedly the image of a fascinating past. 
This is what they call giving vitality to classical 
studies, turning them into Kulturgeschtcbte. This is 
a vitality lent by the living to the dead, not one 
drawn by the young and immature from a perennial 
fountain. In truth classical studies were vital only 
so long as they were still authoritative morally and 
set the standard for letters and life. They became 
otiose and pedantic when they began to serve merely 
to recover a dead past in its trivial detail, and to 
make us grow sentimental over its remoteness, its 
beauty, and its ruins. 

How much freer and surer was Goethe s hand 
when it touched the cord of romanticism! How 
perfectly he knew the heart of the romantic egotist! 
The romantic egotist sets no particular limits to the 
range of his interests and sympathies ; his programme, 
indeed, is to absorb the whole world. He is no 
wounded and disappointed creature, like Byron, that 
takes to sulking and naughtiness because things 



HINTS OF EGOTISM IN GOETHE 49 

taste bitter in his mouth. He finds good and evil 
equally digestible. The personal egotism of Byron 
or of Musset after all was humble; it knew how 
weak it was in the universe. But absolute egotism 
in Goethe, as in Emerson, summoned all nature to 
minister to the self: all nature, if not actually com 
pelled to this service by a human creative fiat, could 
at least be won over to it by the engaging heroism 
of her favourite child. In his warm pantheistic way 
Goethe felt the swarming universal life about him; 
he had no thought of dragooning it all, as sectarians 
and nationalists would, into vindicating some parti 
cular creed or nation. Yet that fertile and impartial 
universe left each life free and in uncensored com 
petition with every other life. Each creature might 
feed blamelessly on all the others and become, if it 
could, the focus and epitome of the world. The 
development of self was the only duty, if only the 
self was developed widely and securely enough, with 
insight, calmness, and godlike irresponsibility. 

Goethe exhibited this principle in practice more 
plainly, perhaps, than in theory. His family, his 
friends, his feelings were so many stepping-stones 
in his moral career; he expanded as he left them 
behind. His love-affairs were means to the fuller 
realisation of himself. Not that his love-affairs were 
sensual or his infidelities callous; far from it. They 



So EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

often stirred him deeply and unsealed the springs 
of poetry in his heart; that was precisely their 
function. Every tender passion opened before him 
a primrose path into which his inexorable genius 
led him to wander. If in passing he must tread 
down some flower, that was a great sorrow to him; 
but perhaps that very sorrow and his inevitable 
remorse were the most needful and precious elements 
in the experience. Every pathetic sweetheart in turn 
\ was a sort of Belgium to him; he violated her neu 
trality with a sigh; his heart bled for her innocent 
sufferings, and he never said afterwards in self- 
defence, like the German Chancellor, that she was 
** no better than she should be. But he must press on. 
His beckoning destiny, the claims of his spiritual 
growth, compelled him to sacrifice her and to sacrifice 
his own lacerated feelings on the altar of duty to 
his infinite self. Indeed, so truly supreme was this 
vocation that universal nature too, he thought, was 
bound to do herself some violence in his behalf and 
to grant him an immortal life, that so noble a process 
of self-expansion might go on for ever. 

Goethe s perfect insight into the ways of romantic 
egotism appears also in Faust, and not least in the 
latter parts of it, which are curiously prophetic. If 
the hero of that poem has a somewhat incoherent 
character, soft, wayward, emotional, yet at the same 



HINTS OF EGOTISM IN GOETHE 51 

time stubborn and indomitable, that circumstance 
only renders him the fitter vehicle for absolute Will, 
a metaphysical entity whose business is to be vigor 
ous and endlessly energetic while remaining perfectly 
plastic. Faust was at first a scholar, fervid and 
grubbing, but so confused and impatient that he 
gave up science for magic. Notwithstanding the 
shams of professional people which offended him, 
a private and candid science was possible, which 
might have brought him intellectual satisfaction ; 
and the fact would not have escaped him if he had 
been a simple lover of truth. But absolute Will 
cannot be restricted to any single interest, much less 
to the pursuit of a frigid truth in which it cannot 
believe; for the Will would not be absolute if it 
recognised any truth which it had to discover; it 
can recognise and love only the truth that it makes. 
Its method of procedure, we are told, consists in first 
throwing out certain assumptions, such perhaps as 
that everything must have a cause or that life and 
progress must be everlasting; and the truth is then 
whatever conforms to these assumptions. But since 
evidently these assumptions might be utterly false, 
it is clear that what interests absolute Will is not 
truth at all, but only orthodoxy. A delightful illus 
tration of this is given by Faust when, emulating 
Luther for a moment, he undertakes to translate the 



52 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

first verse of Saint John that being the Gospel that 
impresses him most favourably. The point is not 
prosaically to discover what the Evangelist meant, 
but rather what he must and shall have meant. The 
Word will never do; the Sense would be somewhat 
better; but In the beginning was Force would have 
even more to recommend it. Suddenly, however, 
what absolute Will demands flashes upon him, and 
he writes down contentedly : In the beginning was 
the Deed: 

Auf einmal seh ich Rat 

Und schreibe getrost: Im Anfang war die That! 

Yet even in this exciting form, the life of thought 
cannot hold him long. He aches to escape from it; 
not that his knowledge of the sciences, as well as his 
magic, will not accompany him through life ; he will 
not lose his acquired art nor his habit of reflection, 
and in this sense his career is really a progress, 
in that his experience accumulates; but the living 
interest is always something new. He turns to mis 
cellaneous adventures, not excluding love ; from that 
he passes to imperial politics, a sad mess, thence to 
sentimental classicism, rather an unreality, and finally 
to war, to public works, to trade, to piracy, to coloni 
sation, and to clearing his acquired estates of tire 
some old natives, who insist on ringing church bells 
and are impervious to the new Kultur. These public 



HINTS OF EGOTISM IN GOETHE 53 

enterprises he finds more satisfying, perhaps only 
because he dies in the midst of them. 

Are these hints of romantic egotism in Goethe 
mere echoes of his youth and of the ambient philo 
sophy, echoes which he would have rejected if con 
fronted with them in an abstract and doctrinal form, 
as he rejected the system of Fichte ? Would he not 
have judged Schopenhauer more kindly ? Above all, 
what would he have thought of Nietzsche, his own 
wild disciple ? No doubt he would have wished to 
buttress and qualify in a thousand ways that faith in 
absolute Will which they emphasised so exclusively, 
Schopenhauer in metaphysics and Nietzsche in morals. 
But the same faith was a deep element in his own 
genius, as in that of his country, and he would hardly 
have disowned it. 



CHAPTER V 

SEEDS OF EGOTISM IN KANT 

KANT is remarkable among sincere philosophers fof 
the pathetic separation which existed between his 
personal beliefs and his official discoveries. His 
personal beliefs were mild and half orthodox and 
hardly differed from those of Leibniz; but officially 
he was entangled in the subjective criticism of 
knowledge, and found that the process of knowing 
was so complicated and so exquisitely contrived to 
make knowledge impossible, that while the facts of 
the universe were there, and we might have, like 
Leibniz, a shrewd and exact notion of what they 
were, officially we had no right to call them facts 
or to allege that we knew them. As there was much 
in Kant s personal belief which this critical method 
of his could not sanction, so there were implications 
and consequences latent in his critical method which 
he never absorbed, being an old man when he adopted 
it. One of these latent implications was egotism. 

The fact that each spirit was confined to its own 
perceptions condemned it to an initial subjectivity 
and agnosticism. What things might exist besides 
his ideas he could never know. That such things 

54 



S^EDS OF EGOTISM IN KANT 55 

existed was not doubted; Kant never accepted that 
amazing principle of dogmatic egotism that nothing 
is able to exist unless I am able to know it. On the 
contrary he assumed that human perceptions, with 
the moral postulates which he added to them, were 
symbols of a real world of forces or spirits existing 
beyond. This assumption reduced our initial idiotism 
to a constitutional taint of our animal minds, not 
unlike original sin, and excluded that romantic pride 
and self-sufficiency in which a full-fledged transcen 
dentalism always abounds. 

To this contrite attitude of Kant s agnosticism 
his personal character and ethics corresponded. A 
wizened little old bachelor, a sedentary provincial 
scribe, scrupulous and punctual, a courteous moralist 
who would have us treat humanity in the person of 
another as an end and never merely as a means, a 
pacifist and humanitarian who so revered the moral 
sense according to Shaftesbury and Adam Smith 
that, after having abolished earth and heaven, he 
was entirely comforted by the sublime truth that 
nevertheless it remained wrong to tell a lie such a 
figure has nothing in it of the officious egotist or the 
superman. Yet his very love of exactitude and his 
scruples about knowledge, misled by the psycho 
logical fallacy that nothing can be an object of 
knowledge except some idea in the mind, led him 



56 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

in the end to subjectivism; while his rigid conscience, 
left standing in that unnatural void, led him to 
attribute absoluteness to what he called the cate 
gorical imperative. But this void outside and this 
absolute oracle within are germs of egotism, and 
germs of the most virulent species. 

The categorical imperative, or unmistakable voice 
of conscience, was originally something external 
enough too external, indeed, to impose by itself 
a moral obligation. The thunders of Sinai and 
the voice from the whirlwind in Job fetched their 
authority from the suggestion of power; there spoke 
an overwhelming physical force of which we were 
the creatures and the playthings, a voice which far 
from interpreting our sense of justice, or our deepest 
hopes, threatened to crush and to flout them. If 
some of its commandments were moral, others were 
ritual or even barbarous; the only moral sanction 
common to them all came from our natural prudence 
and love of life; our wisdom imposed on us the fear 
of the Lord. The prophets and the gospel did much 
to identify this external divine authority with the 
human conscience; an identification which required 
a very elaborate theory of sin and punishment and 
of existence in other worlds, since the actual pro 
cedure of nature and history can never be squared 
with any ideal of right. 



SEEDS OF EGOTISM IN KANT 57 

In Kant, who in this matter followed Calvin, the 
independence between the movement of nature, both 
within and without the soul, and the ideal of right 
was exaggerated into an opposition. The categorical 
imperative was always authoritative, but perhaps 
never obeyed. The divine law was far from being 
like the absolute Will in Fichte, Hegel, and Schopen 
hauer, a name for a universal metaphysical force> 
or even for the flux of material substance. On the 
contrary the sublimity of the categorical imperative 
lay precisely in the fact that, while matter and life 
moved on in their own unregenerate way, a principle 
which they ought to follow, overarched and con 
demned them, and constrained them to condemn 
themselves. Human nature was totally depraved 
and incapable of the least merit, nor had it any power 
of itself to become righteous. Its amiable spontaneous 
virtues, having but a natural motive, were splendid 
vices. Moral worth began only when the will, trans 
formed at the touch of unmerited grace, surrendered 
every impulse in overwhelming reverence for the 
divine law. 

This Calvinistic doctrine might seem to rebuke 
all actual inclinations, and far from making the will 
morally absolute, as egotism would, to raise over 
against it an alien authority, what ought to be willed. 
Such was, of course, Kant s ostensible intention; but 



58 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

sublime as such a situation was declared to be, he 
felt rather dissatisfied in its presence. A categorical 
imperative crying in the wilderness, a duty which 
nobody need listen to, or suffer for disregarding, 
seemed rather a forlorn authority. To save the face 
of absolute right another world seemed to be required, 
as in orthodox Christianity, in which it might be duly 
vindicated and obeyed. 

Kant s scepticism, by which all knowledge of 
reality was denied us, played conveniently into the 
hands of this pious requirement. If the whole natural 
world, which we can learn something about by ex 
perience, is merely an idea in our minds, nothing 
prevents any sort of real but unknown world from 
lying about us unawares. What could be more 
plausible and opportune than that the categorical 
imperative which the human mind, the builder of 
this visible world, had rejected, should in that other 
real world be the head stone of the corner ? * 

This happy thought, had it stood alone, might 
have seemed a little fantastic; but it was only a 
laboured means of re-establishing the theology of 
Leibniz, in which Kant privately believed, behind 
the transcendental idealism which he had put forward 
professorially. The dogmatic system from which he 
started seemed to him, as it stood, largely inde 
fensible and a little oppressive. To purify it he 



SEEDS OF EGOTISM IN KANT 59 

adopted a fallacious principle of criticism, namely, 
that our ideas are all we can know, a principle which, 
if carried out, would undermine that whole system, 
and every other. He, therefore, hastened to adopt 
a corrective principle of reconstruction, no less fal 
lacious, namely, that conscience bids us assume 
certain things to be realities which reason and ex 
perience know nothing of. This brought him round 
to a qualified and ambiguous form of his original 
dogmas, to the effect that although there was no 
reason to think that God, heaven, and free-will exist, 
we ought to act as if they existed, and might call 
that wilful action of ours faith in their existence. 

Thus in the philosophy of Kant there was a stimu 
lating ambiguity in the issue. He taught rather less 
than he secretly believed, and his disciples, seizing 
the principle of his scepticism, but lacking his con 
servative instincts, believed rather less than he taught 
them. Doubtless in his private capacity Kant hoped, 
if he did not believe, that God, free-will, and another 
life subsisted in fact, as every believer had hitherto 
supposed; it was only the method of proving their 
reality that had been illegitimate. For no matter how 
strong the usual arguments might seem (and they 
did not seem very strong) they could convey no 
transcendent assurance; on the contrary, the more 
proofs you draw for anything from reason and 



60 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

experience, the better you prove that that thing is 
a mere idea in your mind. It was almost prudent, 
so to speak, that God, freedom, and immortality, if 
they had claims to reality, should remain without 
witness in the sphere of " knowledge," as inad 
vertently or ironically it was still called; but to 
circumvent this compulsory lack of evidence God 
had at least implanted in us a veridical conscience, 
which if it took itself seriously (as it ought to do, 
being a conscience) would constrain us to postulate 
what, though we could never " know " it, happened 
to be the truth. Such was the way in which the good 
Kant thought to play hide-and-seek with reality. 
. The momentum of his transcendental method, 
however, led to a very different and quite egotistical 
conclusion. An adept in transcendentalism can 
hardly suppose that God, free-will, and heaven, even 
if he postulates them, need exist at all. Existence, 
for him, is an altogether inferior category. Even a 
specific moral law, thundering unalterable maxims, 
must seem to him a childish notion. What the ego 
postulates is nothing fixed and already existing, but 
only such ideal terms as, for the moment, express 
its attitude. If it is striving to remember, it posits 
a past; if it is planning, it posits a future; if it is 
consciously eloquent, it posits an audience. These 
things do not and cannot exist otherwise than in 



SEEDS OF EGOTISM IN KANT 61 

their capacity of things posited by the ego. All, 
therefore, that the categorical imperative can mean 
for the complete transcendentalist is that he should 
live as if all things were real which are imaginatively 
requisite for him, if he is to live hard: this intensity 
of life in him being itself the only reality. At that 
stage of development at which Kant found himself, 
God, freedom, and immortality may have been 
necessary postulates of practical reason. But to 
suppose that these imagined objects, therefore, 
existed apart from the excellent philosopher whose 
conscience had not yet transcended them, would be 
not to have profited by his teaching. It would be 
merely to repeat it. A later and more advanced 
transcendentalist, instead of God, freedom, and 
immortality, might just as dutifully posit matter, 
empire, and the beauty of a warrior s death. His 
conscience might no longer be an echo of Chris 
tianity, but the trumpet-blast of a new heathenism. 
It is for the ego who posits to judge what it should 
posit. 

The postulates of practical reason, by which Kant 
hoped to elude the subjectivity which he attributed 
to knowledge, are no less subjective than knowledge, 
and far more private and variable. The senses and 
the intellect, if they deceive us, seem to deceive us 
all in much the same way, and the dream they 



62 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

plunge us into in common seems to unite us; but 
what obscurity, diversity, hostility in the ideals of 
our hearts! The postulates that were intended to 
save the Kantian philosophy from egotism are the 
most egotistical part of it. In the categorical im 
perative we see something native and inward to the 
private soul, in some of its moods, quietly claiming 
to rule the invisible world, to set God on his throne 
and open eternity to the human spirit. The most 
subjective of feelings, the feeling of what ought to be, 
legislates for the universe. Egotism could hardly go 
further. 

But this is not all. The categorical imperative, not 
satisfied with proclaiming itself secretly omnipotent, 
proclaims itself openly ruthless. Kant expressly re 
pudiated as unworthy of a virtuous will any con 
sideration of happiness, or of consequences, either 
to oneself or to others. He was personally as mild 
and kindly as the Vicar of Wakefield (whose goodness 
he denied to be moral because it was natural), but 
his moral doctrine was in principle a perfect frame 
for fanaticism. Give back, as time was bound to give 
back, a little flesh to this skeleton of duty, make it 
the voice not of a remote Mosaic decalogue, but of a 
rich temperament and a young life, and you will have 
sanctified beforehand every stubborn passion and 
every romantic crime. In the guise of an infallible 



SEEDS OF EGOTISM IN KANT 63 

conscience, before which nothing has a right to stand, 
egotism is launched upon its irresponsible career. 

The categorical imperative, as Kant personally con 
ceived it, was that of the conscience of the eighteenth 
century, which had become humanitarian without 
ceasing to be Christian, the conscience of the Puritans 
passing into that of Rousseau. But the categorical 
principle in morals, like the ego in logic, can easily 
migrate. If to-day you are right in obeying your 
private conscience against all considerations of pru 
dence or kindness (though you are prudent and kind 
by nature, so that this loyalty to a ruthless Duty is 
a sacrifice for you), to-morrow you may be right in 
obeying the categorical imperative of your soul in 
another phase, and to carry out no matter what irre 
sponsible enterprise, though your heart may bleed 
at the victims you are making. The principle of 
fanaticism is present in either case; and Kant 
provides, in his transcendental agnosticism, a means 
of cutting off all protests from experience or common 
sense, or a more enlightened self-interest. These 
protests, he thinks, are not only ignoble, but they 
come from a deluded mind, since the world they 
regard is a creature of the imagination, whereas the 
categorical imperative, revealed to the inner man, 
is a principle prior to all worlds and, therefore, not 
to be corrected by any suasion which this particular 



64 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

world, now imagined by us, might try to exercise on 
our free minds. 

Thus it is from Kant, directly or indirectly, that 
the German egotists draw the conviction which is 
their most tragic error. Their self-assertion and 
ambition are ancient follies of the human race; but 
they think these vulgar passions the creative spirit 
of the universe. Kant, or that soul within Kant 
which was still somewhat cramped in its expression, 
was the prophet and even the founder of the new 
German religion. 



CHAPTER VI 

TRANSCENDENTALISM PERFECTED 

FICHTE purifiedjhe system of Kant of all its i 
sistent_and humane elements; he set forth the sub 
jective system of knowledge and action in its frankest 
and most radical form. The ego, in order to live a 
full and free life, posited or feigned a world of circum 
stances, in the midst of which it might disport itself; 
but this imagined theatre was made to suit the play, 
and though it might seem to oppress the Will with 
all sorts of hindrances, and even to snuff it but 
altogether, it was really only a mirage which that 
Will, being wiser than it knew, had raised in order 
to enjoy the experience of exerting itself manfully. 

It would seem obvious from this that the Will 
could never be defeated, and that in spite of its 
name it was identical with destiny or the laws of 
nature: and those transcendentalists who lean to 
naturalism, or pass into it unawares, like % Schelling 
or Emerson, actually understand the absolute Will 
in this way. But not so Fichte, nor what I take 
to be the keener and more heroic romantic school, 
whose last prophet was Nietzsche. The Germans, in 

6 5 E 



66 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

the midst of their fantastic metaphysics, sometimes 
surprise us by their return to immediate experience : 
after all, it was in wrestling with the Lord that their 
philosophy was begotten. As a matter of fact, the 
will is often defeated especially if we are stubborn 
in defining our will; and this tragic fact by no means 
refutes the Fichtean philosophy, which knows how 
to deal with it heroically. It conceives that what is 
inviolable is only what ought to be, the unconscious 
plan or idea of perfect living which is hidden in the 
depths of all life : a will not animated in some measure 
by this idea cannot exist, or at least cannot be noticed 
or respected by this philosophy. But when, where, 
how often and how far this divine idea shall be carried 
put is left unexplained. Actual will may be feeble 
or wicked in any degree; and in consequence the 
world that ought to be evoked in its maximum con 
ceivable richness, may dwindle and fade to nothing. 
The Will may accordingly be defeated; not, indeed, 
by imagined external things, but by its own apathy 
and tergiversation. In this case, according to the 
logic of this system (which is as beautifully thought 
out as that of Plotinus), the dissolving world will 
appear to be overwhelmingly formidable and real. 
In expiring because we have no longer the warmth 
to keep it alive, it will seem to be killing us; for the 
passivity of the ego, says Fichte, is posited as activity 



TRANSCENDENTALISM PERFECTED 67 

in the non-ego. That way of speaking is scholastic; 
but the thought, if we take the egotistical point of 
view, is deep and true. 

So any actual will may perish by defect and die 
out; but actual will may also perish by sublimation. 
The true object of absolute Will is not things or 
pleasures or length of life, but willing itself; and the 
more intense and disinterested this willing is, the 
better it manifests absolute Will. The heroic act of 
dashing oneself against overwhelming obstacles may, 
therefore, be the highest fulfilment of the divine idea. 
The will dares to perish in order to have dared every 
thing. In its material ruin it remains ideally victorious. 
If we consider the matter under the form of eternity, 
we shall see that this heroic and suicidal will has 
accomplished what it willed; it has not only lived 
perilously but perished nobly. 

It is hardly necessary to point out how completely 
this theory justifies any desperate enterprise to which 
one happens to be wedded. It justifies, for instance, 
any wilful handling of history and science. The Will 
by right lays down the principles on which things 
must and shall be arranged. If things slip somehow 
from the traces, so much the grander your " scientific 
deed " in striving to rein them in. After all, you first 
summoned them into being only that you might 
drive them. If they seem to run wild and upset you, 



68 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

like the steeds of Hippolytus, you will, at least, not 
have missed the glory, while you lived and drove, 
of assuming the attitude of a master. Gall spirits 
from the vasty deep: if they do not come, what of 
it ? That will only prove the absolute self-sufficiency 
of your duty to call them. 

What tightens this speculative bond between 
Fichte and the Nietzschean school is that he himself 
applied his theory of absolute Will to national life. 
This ego, which was identical with mind in general, 
he identified also with the German people. If the 
Germans suffered their national will to be domes 
ticated in the Napoleonic empire, the creative spirit 
of the universe would be extinguished, and God 
himself, who existed only when incarnate in man 
kind, would disappear. It was evidently one s duty 
to prevent this if possible; and Fichte poured out 
all the vehemence of his nature into the struggle for 
freedom. The mere struggle, the mere protest in the 
soul, according to his system, would secure the end 
desired: self-assertion, not material success, was the 
goal. A happy equilibrium once established in human 
life would have been only a temptation, a sort of 
Napoleonic or Mephistophelian quietus falling on the 
will to strive. 

I am not sure how far Fichte, in his romantic and 
puritan tension of soul, would have relished the 



TRANSCENDENTALISM PERFECTED 69 

present organisation of Germany. He was a man 
of the people, a radical and an agitator as much as 
a prophet of nationalism, and the shining armour in 
which German freedom is now encased might have 
seemed to him too ponderous. He might have dis 
cerned in victory the beginning of corruption. 

Nevertheless we should remember that a perfected 
idealism has a tendency to change into its opposite 
and become a materialism for all practical purposes. 
Absolute Will is not a natural being, not anybody s 
will or thought; it is a disembodied and unrealised 
genius which first comes into operation when it begins 
to surround itself with objects and points of resistance, 
so as to become aware of its own stress and vocation. 
What these objects or felt resistances may be is not 
prejudged; or rather it is prejudged that they shall 
be most opposite to spirit, and that spirit shall ex 
perience its own passivity one mode of its fated and 
requisite experience in the form of an influence 
which it imputes to dead and material things. 

The whole business of spirit may, therefore, well 
be with matter. Science might be mechanical, art 
might be cumbrous and material, all the instruments 
of life might be brutal, life itself might be hard, 
bitter, and obsessed, and yet the whole might remain 
a direct manifestation of pure spirit, absolute free 
dom, and creative duty. This speculative possibility 



TO EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

is worth noting: it helps us to understand modern 
Germany. It is no paradox that idealists should be 
so much at home among material things. These 
material things, according to them, are the offspring 
of their spirit. Why should they not sink fondly into 
the manipulation of philological details or chemical 
elements, or over-ingenious commerce and intrigue? 
Why should they not dote on blood and iron ? Why 
should these fruits of the spirit be uncongenial to it ? 
A theoretical materialist, who looks on the natural 
world as on a soil that he has risen from and feeds 
on, may perhaps feel a certain piety towards those 
obscure abysses of nature that have given him birth; 
but his delight will be rather in the clear things of 
the imagination, in the humanities, by which the 
rude forces of nature are at once expressed and 
eluded. Not so the transcendentalist. Regarding his 
mind as the source of everything, he is moved to 
solemn silence and piety only before himself: on 
the other hand, what bewitches him, what he loves 
to fondle, is his progeny, the material environment, 
the facts, the laws, the blood, and the iron in which 
he conceives (quite truly, perhaps) that his spirit 
perfectly and freely expresses itself. To despise the 
world and withdraw into the realm of mind, as into 
a subtler and more congenial sphere, is quite contrary 
to his idealism. Such a retreat might bring him 



TRANSCENDENTALISM PERFECTED 71 

peace, and he wants war. His idealism teaches him 
that strife and contradiction, as Heraclitus said, are 
the parents of all things; and if he stopped striving, 
if he grew sick of ambition and material goods, he 
thinks he would be forsaking life, for he hates as he 
would death what another kind of idealists have 
called salvation. 

We are told that God, when he had made the 
world, found it very good, and the transcendentalist, 
when he assumes the Creator s place, follows his 
example. The hatred and fear of matter is perhaps 
not a sign of a pure spirit. Even contemplatively, a 
divine mind may perfectly well fall in love with 
matter, as the Moon-goddess did with Endymion. 
Such matter might be imagined only, as if Diana 
had merely dreamt of her swain ; and the fond image 
might not be less dear on that account. The romantic 
poet finds his own spirit greeting him in rocks, clouds, 
and waves ; the musician pours out his soul in move 
ment and tumult ; why should not the transcendental 
general, or engineer, or commercial traveller find his 
purest ideal in trade, crafts, and wars? Grim work, 
above all, is what absolute Will demands. It needs 
the stimulus of resistance to become more intensely 
conscious of Self, which is said to be its ultimate 
object in imagining a world at all. Acquisition 
interests it more than possession, because the sense 



72 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

of effort and power is then more acute. The more 
material the arts that engage it, and the more com 
plicated and worldly its field of action, the more 
intense will be its exertion, #nd the greater its joy. 
This is no idealism for a recluse or a moping poet ; 
it does not feel itself to be something incidental and 
fugitive in the world, like a bird s note, that it should 
fear to be drowned in the crash of material instru 
ments or to be forced to a hideous tension and shrill 
ness: shrillness and tension are its native element* 
It is convinced that it has composed all the move 
ments there are or can be in existence, and it feels 
all the more masterful, the more numerous and 
thunderous is the orchestra it leads. It is entirely 
at home in a mechanical environment, which it can 
prove transcendentally to be perfectly ideal. Its 
most congenial work is to hack its way through to 
the execution of its World-Plan. Its most adequate 
and soul-satisfying expression is a universal battle. 



CHAPTER VII 

FICHTE ON THE MISSION OF GERMANY 

WHEN the ancient Jews enlarged their conception 
of Jehovah so as to recognise in him the only living 
God to whom all nature and history were subject, 
they did not cease to regard the universal power as 
at the same time their special national deity. Here 
was a latent contradiction. It was ingeniously re 
moved by saying that Jehovah, while not essentially 
a tribal deity, had chosen Israel for his people by a 
free act of grace with no previous merit on their part ; 
so that the pride of the Jews was not without humility. 
No humility, however, is mingled with the claim 
which the Germans now make to a similar pre 
eminence. " Modern critics," says Max Stirner, 
" inveigh against religion because it sets up God> 
the divine, or the moral law over against man,, 
regarding them as external things, whereas the critics 
transform all these objects into ideas in the human 
mind. Nevertheless the essential mistake of religion,, 
to assign a mission to man at all, is not avoided by 
these critics, who continue to insist that man shall 
be divine, or ideally human, or what not; morality,, 

73 



74 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

freedom, humanity, etc., are his essence." Now a 
divinity which is subjective or immanent evidently 
cannot choose any nation, save by dwelling and 
manifesting itself more particularly in them. They 
can be highly favoured only in that they are intrin 
sically superior, and on that account may be figura 
tively called vessels of election. Therefore, if the 
spirit which is in a nation is not one spirit among 
many in the world (as the primitive Hebrews supposed 
and as a naturalistic philosophy would maintain), but 
is the one holy and universal spirit, and if at the 
same time this spirit dwells in that nation pre 
eminently, or even exclusively, humility on the part 
of this nation would evidently be out of place. 
Accordingly, the Germans cannot help bearing 
witness to the divine virtues and prerogatives 
which they find in themselves, some of which are 
set forth by Fichte as follows : 

The present age stands precisely in the middle of 
earthly time, between the era in which men were 
still self-seeking, earthly, and impulsive, and the 
coming era in which they will live for the sake of 
pure ideals. The Germans prefigure this better age, 
and are leading the rest of the world into it. They 
have created the modern world by uniting the 
political heritage of classical Europe with the true 
religion that lingered in Asia, and they have raised 



THE MISSION OF GERMANY 75 

the two to a higher unity in their Kultur. From 
them is drawn the best blood of most other nations 
and the spiritual force that has fashioned them all. 

The Germans have never forsaken their native 
land nor suffered seriously from immigration. Their 
language is primitive, and they have never exchanged 
it for a foreign one. Hence German alone is truly a 
mother-tongue. Its intellectual terms retain a vital 
and vivid connection with sensible experience. True 
poetry and philosophy, therefore, exist only in Ger 
man. Captious persons who judge by mere crude 
feeling may fancy that German is not very melodious ; 
but these matters cannot be rightly judged without 
reference to first principles, which in this case would 
prove that the sweetest language is that which 
exhausts all possible sounds and combines them in 
all available ways. Whether German or some other 
language comes nearest to this a priori ideal of 
euphony must be left for empirical observation to 
decide. 

The German nature, being pure, deep, earnest, 
and bold, has instinctively seized upon the true 
essence of Christianity and discarded with abhorrence 
all the lies and corruption that obscured it. This 
essence is the imperative need of turning from the 
natural to the ideal life. The German knows that 
his own soul is safe; but this is not enough for him 



76 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

in his unselfishness. His zeal is kindled easily for 
warmth and light everywhere; and this zeal of his 
is patient and efficacious, taking hold on real life 
and transforming it. As he presses on he finds more 
than he sought, for he has plunged into the quick 
stream of life which forges ahead of itself and carries 
him forward with it. The dead heart of other nations 
may dream of gods in the clouds, or of some perfect 
type of human life already exemplified in the past 
and only to be approached or repeated in the future. 
The spirit of the German is no coinage of earth; it 
is the living source of all the suns, and rushes to 
create absolutely new things for ever. The German 
mind is the self-consciousness of God. 

I do not see that the strain of war or the intoxica 
tion of victory could add much to these boasts, 
uttered by Fichte when, for the moment, he had 
abandoned all hope of military self-assertion on the 
part of his country, and relied on education and 
philosophy alone to preserve and propagate German 
righteoiisness. Even in detail, what he says often 
seems strangely like what official Germany is now 
saying. Even the hysterical hatred of England is 
not absent. In England Fichte did not see the 
champion of Protestantism, morality, and political 
liberty, nor the constant foe of Napoleon, but only 
a universal commercial vampire. His contempt for 



THE MISSION OF GERMANY 77 

the Latin races, too, was boundless. In the matter 
of race, indeed, he entertained a curious idea that 
there must have been, from all eternity until the 
beginning of history, a primitive Normal People, a 
tribe of Adams and Eves; because according to a 
principle which he adopted from Calvinistic theology, 
if all men had been originally slaves to nature none 
could ever have become free. This Normal People 
were, of course, the ancestors of the Germans. Earth- 
born savage tribes must have existed also for the 
Normal People to subdue, since but for some such 
conquest the primitive equilibrium would never have 
been broken, Eden and the jungle would never have 
been merged together, and history, which is a record 
of novelties, would never have begun. The theory 
of evolution has rendered the reasons for such a 
view obsolete; but the idea that the bulk of man 
kind are mongrels formed by the union of blonde god 
like creatures with some sort of anthropoid blacks, 
recurred later in Gobineau and has had a certain 
vogue in Germany. 

Fichte, following Calvin and Kant, made a very 
sharp distinction between the life of nature and that 
of duty. The ideal must be pursued without the 
least thought of advantage. Trades, he says, must 
be practised spontaneously, without any other reward 
than longer vigils. The young must never hear it 



78 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

mentioned that any one could ever be incited or 
guided in life by the thought of his own preservation 
or well-being. Knowledge is no report of existing 
things or laws which have happened to be discovered. 
Knowledge is the very life of God, and self-generated. 
It is " an intellectual activity for its own sake, accord 
ing to rules for their own sake." In plain English, it 
is pure imagination. But the method to be imposed 
on this madness is fixed innately, both for thought 
and for morals. Only frivolity can interfere with a 
unanimous idealism. 

We must not suppose that this prescription of 
austere and abstract aims implies any aversion on 
Fichte s part to material progress, compulsory Kultur, 
or military conquest. German idealism, as we have 
seen, is not Platonic or ascetic, that it should leave 
the world behind. On the contrary, its mission is to 
consecrate the world and show that every part of it 
is an organ of the spirit. This is a form of piety akin 
to the Hebraic. Even the strictest Calvinists, who 
taught that the world was totally depraved, were 
able, in every sense of the phrase, to make a very 
good thing of it. They reclaimed, they appropriated, 
they almost enjoyed it. So Fichte gives us prophetic 
glimpses of an idealistic Germany conquering the 
world. The state does not aim at self-preservation, 
still less is it concerned to come to the aid of those 



THE MISSION OF GERMANY 79 

members of the human family that lag behind the 
movement of the day. The dominion of unorganised 
physical force must be abolished by a force obedient 
to reason and spirit. True life consists in refashioning 
human relations after a model innate in the mind. 
The glorious destiny of Germany is to bring forth 
and establish the world anew. Natural freedom is a 
disgraceful thing, a mere medley of sensual and 
intellectual impulses without any principle of order. 
It is for the Germans to decide whether a providential 
progress exists by becoming themselves the provi 
dence that shall bring progress about, or whether on 
the contrary every higher thought is folly. If they 
should fail, history would never blame them, for in 
that case there would be no more history. 

The sole animating principle of history is the 
tendency towards a universal Christian European 
monarchy. This tendency is deeper than the plans 
of men and stronger than their intentions. " That 
a state, even when on the very point of making war, 
should solemnly assert its love of peace and its aversion 
to conquest, is nothing; for in the first place it must 
needs make this asseveration and so hide its real 
intention if it would succeed in its design; and the 
well-known principle Threaten war that tbou mayst 
have peace may also be inverted in this way : Promise 
peace that tbou mayst begin war with advantage ; and 



86 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

in the second place the state may be wholly in 
earnest in its peaceful assurances, so far as its self- 
knowledge has gone; but let the favourable oppor 
tunity for aggrandisement present itself, and the 
previous good resolution is forgotten." 

If the people are disinclined to obey the Idea, the 
government must constrain them to do so. All the 
powers of all the citizens must be absorbed in the 
state. Personal liberty could be turned to no good 
use when such individuality and variety of training 
as are good for the state have been provided for by 
its regulations. Nor must any idleness be tolerated. 
An ideal education must make men over so that 
they shall be incapable of willing anything but what 
that education wills them to will. The state may 
then rely upon its subjects, " for whoever has a well- 
grounded will, wills what he wills for all eternity." 

As to foreign relations, the state, in obedience to 
its ideal mission, must conquer the surrounding bar 
barians and raise them to a state of culture. It is 
this process almost exclusively that has introduced 
progress into history. " What impels the Macedonian 
hero ... to seek foreign lands ? What chains victory 
to his footsteps and scatters before him in terror the 
countless hordes of his enemies ? Is this mere fortune ? 
No; it is an Idea. ... The civilised must rule and 
the uncivilised must obey, if Right is to be the law 



THE MISSION OF GERMANY 81 

of the world. . . . Tell me not of the thousands who 
fell round his path; speak not of his own early death. 
After the realisation of his Idea, what was there 
greater for him to do than to die ? " 

This enthusiasm for Alexander (which Hegel 
shared) is not merely retrospective. " At last in one 
nation of the world the highest, purest morality, such 
as was never seen before among men, will arise and 
will be made secure for all future time, and thence 
will be extended over all other peoples. There will 
ensue a transformation of the human race from 
earthly and sensual creatures into pure and noble 
spirits." " Do you know anything higher than 
death? . . . Who has a right to stand in the way 
of an enterprise begun in the face of this peril ? " 

It may seem curious that an uncompromising 
puritan like Fichte, a prophet sprung from the people, 
a theoretical republican who quarrelled with his 
students for forming clubs and fighting duels, a 
fierce idealist full of contempt for worldlings, should 
have so perfectly supplied the Junkers and bankers 
with their philosophy. But the phenomenon is not 
new. Plato, divine and urbane as he was, supplied 
the dull Spartans with theirs. Men of idealistic faith 
are confident that the foundations of things must 
be divine, and when, upon investigating these foun 
dations, they come upon sinister principles blind 



82 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

impulse, chance, murderous competition they fanati 
cally erect these very principles into sacred maxims. 
All strength, they are antecedently convinced, must 
come from God; therefore if deception, wilfulness, 
tyranny, and big battalions are the means to power, 
they must be the chosen instruments of God on 
earth. In some such way the Catholic Church, too, 
for fear of impiety, is seen blessing many a form of 
deceit and oppression. Thus the most ardent specu 
lation may come to sanction the most brutal practice. 
The primitive passions so sanctioned, because they 
seem to be safe and potent, are probably too narrowly 
organised to sustain themselves long; and meantime 
they miss and trample down the best . things that 
mankind possesses. Nevertheless they are a force like 
any other, a force not only vehement but contagious, 
and capable of many victories though of no stable 
success. Such passions, and the philosophies that 
glorify them, are sincere, absorbing, and if frankly 
expressed irrefutable. 

The transcendental theory of a world merely 
imagined by the ego, and the will that deems itself 
absolute are certainly desperate delusions ; but not 
more desperate or deluded than many another system 
that millions have been brought to accept. The thing 
bears all the marks of a new religion. The fact that 
the established religions of Germany are still forms 



THE MISSION OF GERMANY 83 

of Christianity may obscure the explicit and heathen 
character of the new faith: it passes for a somewhat 
faded speculation, or for the cree.d of a few extremists, 
when in reality it dominates the judgment and con 
duct of the nation. No religious tyranny could be 
more complete. It has its prophets in the great 
philosophers and historians of the last century; its 
high priests and pharisees in the government and 
the professors ; its faithful flock in the disciplined 
mass of the nation; its heretics in the socialists; its 
dupes in the Catholics and the liberals, to both of 
whom the national creed, if they understood it, would 
be an abomination; it has its martyrs now by the 
million, and its victims among unbelievers are even 
more numerous, for its victims, in some degree, are 
all men. 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 

WHEN we are discussing egotism need we speak of 
Hegel? The tone of this philosopher, especially in 
his later writings, was full of contempt for everything 
subjective: the point of view of the individual, his 
opinions and wishes, were treated as of no account 
unless they had been brought into line with the 
providential march of events and ideas in the great 
world." This realism, pronounced and even acrid as 
it was, was still idealistic in the sense that the sub 
stance of the world was conceived not to be material 
but conceptual a law or logic which animated phe 
nomena and was the secret of their movement. The 
world was like a riddle or confused oracle; and the 
solution to the puzzle lay in the romantic instability 
or self-contradiction inherent in every finite form of 
being, which compelled it to pass into something 
different. The direction of this movement we might 
understand sympathetically in virtue of a sort of 
vital dialectic or dramatic necessity in our own 
reflection, Hegel was a solemn sophist: he made 
discourse the key to reality. 

84 



THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 85 

This technical realism in Hegel was reinforced by 
his historical imagination, which continually produces 
an impression of detachment, objectivity, and im 
personal intelligence; he often seems to be lost in 
the events of his story and to be plucking the very 
heart out of the world. Again, he adored the state, 
by which in his view the individual should be entirely 
subjugated, not for the benefit of other individuals 
(that would be a sort of vicarious selfishness no less 
barren than private profit), but in the rapt service of 
common impersonal ends. 

The family was a first natural group in which the 
individual should be happy to lose himself, the trade- 
guild was another, and the state was the highest and 
most comprehensive of all ; there was nothing worthy 
or real in a man except his functions in society. 

Nevertheless this denial of egotism is apparent 
only. It is a play within the play. On the smaller 
stage the individual save for his lapses and stammer 
ings is nothing but the instrument and vehicle of 
divine decrees; in fact he is a puppet, and the only 
reality of him is the space he fills in the total spectacle, 
But that little stage is framed in by another, often 
overlooked, but ever present ; and on this larger and 
nearer stage the ego struts alone. It is I that pull 
the strings, enjoy the drama, supply its plot and 
moral, and possess the freedom and actuality which 



86 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

my puppets lack. On the little stage the soul of a 
man is only one of God s ideas, and his whole worth 
lies in helping out the pantomime; on the big stage, 
God is simply my idea of God and the purpose of 
the play is to express my mind. The spectacle in 
which every individual dances automatically to the 
divine tune is only my dream. 

t The philosophy of Hegel is accordingly subjective 
and all its realism is but a pose and a tone wilfully 
assumed. That this is the truth of the matter might 
be inferred, apart from many continual hints and 
implications, from the fact that the system is tran 
scendental and founded on Kant. Objectivity can, 
therefore, be only a show, a matter of make-believe, 
something imputed to things and persons by the 
mind, whose poetic energies it manifests. Everything 
must be set down as a creation of , mind, simply 
because it is an object of thought or knowledge. 
. This underlying subjectivism also explains the 
singular satisfaction of Hegel, whose glance was 
comprehensive enough, with so strangely limited a 
world as he describes to us. He described what he 
knew best or had heard of most, and felt he had 
described the universe. This illusion was inevitable, 
because his principle was that the universe was 
created by description and resided in it. The mission 
of Hegel, as he himself conceived it, was not to dis- 



THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 



cover the real world or any part of it: in theory he 
retracted all belief in a real world and set in its place 
his conception or knowledge of it therefore quite 
adequate to its object. If China was the oldest 
country he had heard of, the world began with 
China, and if Prussia was the youngest and he (as 
he had to be) its latest philosopher, the world ended 
with Prussia and with himself. This seems a monstrous 5 
egotism, but it is not arbitrary; in one sense it was 1 
the least pretentious of attitudes, since it was limited 
to the description of a current view, not of a separate 
or prior object. The value of a philosophy could lie 
only in the fullness and fidelity with which it might 
focus the conceptions of the age in which it arose. 
Hegel hoped to do this for his own times ; he did not 
covet truth to anything further. 

The same attitude explains the servility of his 
moral philosophy, which is simply an apology for 
the established order of things and for the prejudices 
of his time and country. His deepest conviction was 
that no system of ethics could be more, and if it 
tried to be more would be less, because it would be 
merely personal. When, for instance, he condemned 
harshly the Roman patria potestas it was because it 
offended the individualism of the Protestant and 
modern conscience; and if in the next breath he 
condemned even more harshly the sentimentalists 



88 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

who made tender feeling and good intentions the 
test of virtue, it was because these individual con 
sciences absolved themselves from conformity to the 
established church and state. To inquire whether in 
itself or in respect to human economy generally, the 
morality of Buddha, or Socrates, or Rousseau was 
the best would have seemed to him absurd: the 
question could only be what approaches or contri 
butions each of these made to the morality approved 
by the Lutheran community and by the Prussian 
ministry of education and public worship. The truth, 
then as now, was whatever every good German 
believed. This pious wish of HegePs to interpret 
the orthodoxy of his generation was successful, and 
the modest hopes of his philosophy were fulfilled. 
Never perhaps was a system so true to its date and 
so false to its subject. 

The egotism of Hegel appears also in his treatment 
of mathematical and physical questions. The infinite 
he called the false infinite, so as to avoid the dilemmas 
which it placed him in, such as why the evolution of 
the Idea began six thousand years ago, or less ; what 
more could happen now that in his self-consciousness 
that evolution was complete; why it should have 
gone on in this planet only, or if it had gone on else 
where also, why the Idea evolving there might not 
have been a different Idea. But all such questions 



THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 89 

are excluded when one understands that this philo 
sophy is only a point of view : the world it describes 
is a vista not separable from the egotistical per 
spectives that frame it in. The extent of the world 
need not be discussed, because that extent is an 
appearance only; in reality the world has no extent, 
because it is only my present idea. 

The infinite thus lost its application; but the word 
was too idealistic to be discarded. Accordingly the 
title of true infinite was bestowed on the eventual 
illusion of completeness, on an alleged system of 
relations out of relation to anything beyond. That 
nothing existent, unless it was the bad infinite, could 
be absolute in this manner did not ruffle Hegel, for 
the existent did not really concern him but only 
" knowledge," that is, a circle of present and object 
less ideas. Knowledge, however limited in fact, always 
has the completeness in question for the egotist, whose 
objects are not credited with existing beyond him 
self. Egotism could hardly receive a more radical 
expression than this: to declare the ego infinite 
because it can never find anything that is beyond its 
range. 

The favourite tenet of Hegel that everything 
involves its opposite is also a piece of egotism; for 
it is equivalent to making things conform to words, 
not words to things; and the ego, particularly in 



90 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

philosophers, is a nebula of words. In defining things, 
if you insist on defining them, you are constrained to 
define them by their relation to other things, or even 
exclusion of them. If, therefore, things are formed by 
your definitions of them, these relations and exclu 
sions will be the essence of things. The notion of 
such intrinsic relativity in things is a sophism even in 
logic, since elementary terms can never be defined 
yet may be perfectly well understood and arrested 
in intuition; but what here concerns us is rather the 
egotistical motive behind that sophism : namely, that 
the most verbal and subjective accidents to which 
the names of things are subject in human discourse 
should be deputed to be the groundwork of the things 
and their inmost being. 

Egotistical, too, was Hegel s tireless hatred of 
what he called the abstract understanding. In his 
criticisms of this faculty and the opinions it forms 
there is much keenness and some justice. People 
often reason in the abstract, floating on words as on 
bladders: in their knowingness they miss the com 
plexity and volume of real things. But the errors or 
abuses into which verbal intelligence may fall would 
never produce that implacable zeal with which Hegel 
persecutes it. What obsesses him is the fear that, in 
spite of its frivolity, the understanding may some 
day understand: that it may correct its inadequacies, 



THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 91 

trace the real movement of things, and seeing their 
mechanism lose that effet (Tcnsemble, that dramatic 
illusion, which he calls reason. 

Imagine a landscape-painter condemned to have 
a naturalist always at his elbow: soon it would not 
be merely the errors of the naturalist that would 
irritate him, but the naturalist himself. The artist 
intent on panoramic effects does not wish to be 
forced to look through a microscope; in changing 
his focus he loses his subjective object: not reality 
but appearance is the reality for him. Hegel, since 
it was his mission to substitute so-called knowledge 
for being, had to go further; he had to convince 
himself, not only that the structure of nature dis 
covered by the understanding was irrelevant to his 
own conceptual mythology, but that such a structure 
did not exist. He was not willing to confess (as the 
landscape-painter might) that he was an egotist; 
that it was the subjective that interested him, and 
that in so great a world the subjective too has its 
place. No! he must pretend that his egotism was 
not egotism, but identity with the absolute, and that 
those who dared to maintain that the world wagged 
in its own way, apart from the viewing mind, were 
devils, because they suggested that the viewing mind 
was not God. 

It is this latent but colossal egotism that makes 



92 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

plausible the strange use which Hegel sometimes 
makes of the word substance. His substance is but 
his grammar of discourse; for he was not looking 
for substance, in which he could not consistently 
believe, but only for the ultimate synthetic impres 
sion which he might gather from appearances. For 
the theatre-goer, the function of scenery and actors 
is that they should please and impress him: but 
what, in the end, impresses and pleases him? The 
cumulative burden and force of the play; the en 
hanced life which it has stimulated in himself. This, 
for that ruthless egotist, the aesthete, is the substance 
of all things theatrical. Of course, in fact, nothing 
could be falser, for the author and actors are real 
people, with lives far outrunning their function in 
the theatre and truly grounding it. Even the stage 
machinery has its natural history, and the artisans 
who made it have theirs, both full of mute inglorious 
tragedies. These real substances behind his enter 
tainment the spectator, in his aesthetic egotism, 
laughs at as irrelevant; for him, as for Hamlet, the 
play s the thing. What is most his own, his imagina 
tive reaction on the spectacle, the terms in which he 
finds it easiest and most exciting to describe it, he 
calls the substance of it: a term which betrays the 
profound impudence of the deliberate egotist; the 
deepest reality he will recognise is merely specious, 



THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 93 

existing only for the mind that imagines it. What 
is supposed to rescue the system of Hegel from sub 
jectivism is the most subjective of things a dialectic 
which obeys the impulses of a theoretical parti pris, 
and glorifies a fixed idea. 

When we have understood all this, those traits of 
Hegel s which at first sight seem least egotistical 
his historical insight and his enthusiasm for organised 
society take on a new colour. That historical in 
sight is not really sympathetic; it is imperious, 
external, contemptuous, feigned. If you are a modern 
reading the Greeks, especially if you read them in 
the romantic spirit of Goethe s classicism, and know 
of them just what Hegel knew, you will think his 
description wonderfully penetrating, masterly, and 
complete : but would ^Eschylus or Plato have thought 
it so? They would have laughed, or rather they 
would not have understood that such a description 
referred to them at all. It is the legend of the Greeks, 
not the life of the Greeks, that is analysed by him. 
So his account of mediaeval religion represents the 
Protestant legend, not the Catholic experience. What . 
we know little or nothing about seems to us in Hegel 
admirably characterised: what we know intimately 
seems to us painted with the eye of a pedantic, 
remote, and insolent foreigner. It is but an idea of 
his own that he is foisting upon us, calling it our soul. 



94 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

He is creating a world in his head which might be 
admirable, if God had made it. 

Every one is subject to such illusions of perspective 
and to the pathos of distance, now favourable, now un 
favourable to what he studies ; but Hegel, thinking 
he had the key to the divine design, fancied himself 
deeply sympathetic because he saw in everything some 
fragment of himself. But no part of the world was 
that; every part had its own inalienable superiority, 
which to transcend was to lose for ever. To the 
omniscient egotist every heart is closed. The past 
will never give away its secret except to some self- 
forgetful and humble lover who by nature has a 
kindred destiny. The egotist who thinks to grasp it, 
so as to serve it up at his philosophic banquet, or 
exhibit it in his museum of antiquities, grasps only 
himself; and in that sense, to his confusion, his 
egotism turns out true. 

The egotism that appears in this lordly way of 
treating the past is egotism of the imagination, the 
same that was expressed in the romantic love of 
nature, which was really a very subtle, very studious, 
very obstinate love of self, intent on finding some 
reference and deference to oneself in everything. But 
there is also an egotism of passion, which in Hegel 
appears in his worship of the state. " The passions " 
is the old and fit name for what the Germans call 



THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 95 

ideals. The passions are not selfish in the sense in 
which the German moralists denounce selfishness ; 
they are not contrived by him who harbours them 
for his ulterior profit. They are ideal, dangerous, 
often fatal. Even carnal passions are not selfish, if 
by the self we understand the whole man : they are 
an obsession to which he sacrifices himself. But the 
transcendental philosophy with its migratory ego can 
turn any single passion, or any complex of passions^ 
into a reputed centre of will, into a moral personage. 
As the passion usurps more and more of the man s 
nature it becomes a fierce egotist in his place; it 
becomes fanaticism or even madness. 

This substitution of a passion for a man, when 
nobody thought the ego migratory, seemed a disease. 
What folly, we said to the human soul, to sacrifice 
your natural life to this partial, transitory, visionary 
passion! But the German idealist recognises no 
natural life, no natural individual. His ego can 
migrate into any political body or any synthetic 
idea. Therefore, his passions, far from seeming follies 
to him, seem divine inspirations, calls to sacrifice, 
fidelities to the ideal. 

I am far from wishing to say that a German idealist 
is commonly just to all the passions and raises them 
in turn to be his highest and absolute will. His 
passions are generally few and mental. Accidents of 



96 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

training or limitations of temperament keep him 
respectable; but he is never safe. Dazzle him with 
a sophism, such, for instance, as that " the more evil 
the more good," or hypnotise him with a super 
stition, such as that " organisation is an end in 
itself," and nothing more is needed to turn him into 
a romantic criminal. 

Even the absolute requires an enemy to whet its 
edge upon, and the state, which according to Hegel 
is morally absolute, requires rival states in order 
that its separate individuality may not seem to 
vanish, and with it the occasion for blessed and 
wholesome wars. Hegel rejects the notion that 
nations have any duties to one another because, 
as he asserts, there is no moral authority or tribunal 
higher than the state, to which its government could 
be subject. This assertion is evidently false, since in 
the first place there is God or, if the phrase be pre 
ferred, there is the highest good of mankind, hedging 
in very narrowly the path that states should follow 
between opposite vices ; and in the second place there 
is the individual, whose natural allegiance to his 
family, friends, and religion, to truth and to art, is 
deeper and holier than his allegiance to the state, 
which for the soul of man is an historical and geo 
graphical accident. No doubt at the present stage of 
civilisation there is more to be gained than lost by 



THE EGOTISM OF IDEAS 97 

co-operating loyally with the governments under 
which we happen to live, not because any state is 
divine, but because as yet no less cumbrous machinery 
is available for carrying on the economy of life with 
some approach to decency and security. For Hegel, 
however, the life of the state was the moral substance, 
and the souls of men but the accidents; and as to 
the judgment of God he asserted that it was none 
other than the course of history. This is a charac 
teristic saying, in which he seems to proclaim the 
moral government of the world, when in truth he is 
sanctifying a brutal law of success and succession. 
The best government, of course, succumbs in time 
like the worst, and sooner; the dark ages followed 
upon the Roman Empire and lasted twice as long. 
But Hegel s God was simply the world, or a formula 
supposed to describe the world. He despised every 
ideal not destined to be realised on earth, he respected 
legality more than justice, and extant institutions 
more than moral ideals; and he wished to flatter a 
government in whose policy war and even crime were 
recognised weapons. 

This reign of official passion is not, let me repeat, 
egotism in the natural man who is subject to 
it; it is the sacrifice of the natural man and of 
all men to an abstract obsession, called an ideal. 
The vice of absoluteness and egotism is transferred 



98 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

to that visionary agent. The man may be docile and 
gentle enough, but the demon he listens to is ruth 
less and deaf. It forbids him to ask, " At what price 
do I pursue this ideal ? How much harm must I do 
to attain this good ? " No ; this imperative is cate 
gorical. The die is cast, the war against human 
nature and happiness is declared, and an idol that 
feeds on blood, the Absolute State, is set up in the 
heart and over the city. 



CHAPTER IX 

EGOTISM AND SELFISHNESS 

IN a review of egotism in German philosophy it 
would hardly be excusable to ignore the one notable 
writer who has openly adopted egotism in name as 
well as in fact. The work of Max Stirner on the 
single separate person and what he may call his own 
hardly belongs to German philosophy as I have been 
using the words: it lacks the transcendental point 
of departure, as well as all breadth of view, meta 
physical subtlety, 9r generous afflatus; it is a bold, 
frank, and rather tiresome protest against the folly 
of moral idealism, against the sacrifice of the indi 
vidual to any ghostly powers such as God, duty, the 
state, humanity, or society; all of which this re 
doubtable critic called " spooks " and regarded as 
fixed ideas and pathological obsessions. This crudity 
was relieved by a strong mother-wit and a dogged 
honesty; and it is not impossible that this poor 
schoolmaster, in his solitary meditations, may have 
embodied prophetically a rebellion against polite and 
religious follies which is brewing in the working 
classes classes which to-morrow perhaps will absorb 
all mankind and give for the first time a plebeian 
tone to philosophy. 

99 



ioo EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

Max Stirner called the migratory ego back to its 
nest. He exorcised that " spook " which had been 
ascending and descending the ladder of abstractions, 
lodged now in a single passion, now in a political 
body, now in a logical term, now in the outspread 
universe. The only true ego, he insisted, was the 
bodily person, the natural individual who is born 
and dies. No other organ or seat existed for the 
mind, or for any of its functions. Personal interests 
were the only honest interests a man could have, and 
if he was brow-beaten or indoctrinated into sacrificing 
them, that moral coercion was a scandal and a wrong. 
The indomitable individual should shake off those 
chains, which were only cobwebs, and come into his 
own. 

Egotism thus becomes individualism, and threatens 
to become selfishness. The logic of these positions 
does not seem to have been clear to Max Stirner. 
That the individual must possess all his wishes and 
aspirations, even the most self-denying and suicidal, 
is obvious; he is the seat of those very obsessions 
and superstitions which Max Stirner deplored. The 
same thing is true of knowledge: a man can know 
only what be knows and what his faculties make him 
capable of knowing. This fact is the excuse for tran 
scendentalism, and the element of truth in it. But 
the fact that volition and knowledge must have their 



EGOTISM AND SELFISHNESS 101 

seat in some person prejudges nothing about the 
scope of their objects. The fallacy of egotism begins 
with the inference that, therefore, a person can know 
only his ideas and can live only for his own benefit. 
On the contrary, what makes knowledge knowledge 
is that our sensibility may report something which 
is not merely our feeling; and our moral being arises 
when our interests likewise begin to range over the 
world. To deny that a man is capable of generosity 
because his generosity must be his own, is insufferable 
quibbling. Even our vanities and follies are dis 
interested in their way; their egotism is not a 
calculated selfishness. When a man orders his tomb 
according to his taste, it is not in the hope of enjoying 
his residence in it. 

Max Stirner, while deprecating all subordination 
of the individual to society, expected people, even 
after they were emancipated, to form voluntary 
unions for specific purposes, such as playing games. 
Did he think that such companionship and co-opera 
tion would go without gregarious feelings and ideal 
interests ? Would not a player wish his side to win ? 
Would he not impose a rather painful strain upon 
himself at times for the sake of that " spook," 
victory? All the sacrifices that society or religion 
imposes on a man, when they are legitimate, are 
based on the same principle. 



102 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

The protest of Max Stirner against sham ideals 
and aims forced upon us by social pressure should 
not then have extended to ideals congenial to the 
natural man and founded on his instincts. Since the 
seat of our enthusiasms must be personal, their appeal 
should be so too, if they are to inspire us efficaciously; 
but every art and science shows that they may be 
utterly impersonal in their object. It was not in 
proposing ideal aims that the German philosophers 
were wrong: that was the noble and heroic side of 
their doctrine, as well as a point in which their psy 
chology was correct. Their error lay in defining these 
aims arbitrarily and imposing them absolutely, trying 
to thrust into us ideals like endless strife and absolute 
will, which perhaps our souls abhor. But if our souls 
abhor those things, it is because they love something 
else; and this other thing they love for its own sake, 
so that the very refusal to sacrifice to those idols is 
a proof of faith in a true God. 

The conclusion of Max Stirner, that because those 
idols are false, and the worship of them is cruel and 
superstitious, therefore we must worship nothing 
and merely enjoy in a piggish way what we may call 
our own, is a conclusion that misreads human nature. 
It overlooks the fact that man lives by the imagina 
tion, that the imagination when not chaotic and 
futile is exercised in the arts of life, that the objects 



EGOTISM AND SELFISHNESS 103 

of these arts are impersonal, and that to achieve 
these objects brings us a natural happiness. 

The Germans are by nature a good stolid people, 
and it is curious that their moralists, of every school, 
are so fantastic and bad. The trouble lies perhaps in 
this, that they are all precipitate. They have not 
taken the trouble to decipher human nature, which 
is an endowment, something many-sided, unconscious, 
with a margin of variation, and have started instead 
with the will, which is only an attitude, something 
casual, conscious, and narrowly absolute. Nor have 
they learned to respect sufficiently the external con 
ditions under which human nature operates and to 
which it must conform God, the material world, 
the nature and will of other men. Their morality 
consequently terminates in ideals, casual, conscious, 
and absolute expressions of the passions, or else 
expires in a mysticism which renounces all moral 
judgment. A reasonable morality terminates instead 
in the arts, by which human ideals and passions are 
compounded with experience and adapted to the 
materials they must work in. The immaturity of the 
German moralists appears in their conception that 
the good is life, which is what an irrational animal 
might say: whereas for a rational being the good is 
only the good part of life, that healthy, stable, wise, 
kind, and beautiful sort of life which he calls happiness. 



CHAPTER X 

THE BREACH WITH CHRISTIANITY 

GERMAN philosophy has a religious spirit, but its 
alliance with Christianity has always been equivocal 
and external. Even in the speculations of Leibniz, 
concerned as he was about orthodoxy, there was a 
spirit of independence and absolutism which was 
rationalistic, not to say heathen. The principle of 
sufficient reason, for instance, demands that God and 
nature shall explain their existence and behaviour to 
us, as timid parents explain their behaviour to their 
censorious children. By rendering everything neces 
sary, even the acts of God, it takes the place of God 
and makes him superfluous. Such frigid optimism as 
this principle involves, besides being fatalistic, is 
deeply discouraging to that hope of deliverance which 
is the soul of Christianity: for if this is the best 
world possible, how poor must be that realm of 
possible worlds where everything is tainted, and 
there is no heaven! The theory, too, that each soul 
contains the seeds of its whole experience and suffices 
for its own infinite development, destroys the mean 
ing of creation, revelation, miracles, sin, grace, and 

104 



THE BREACH WITH CHRISTIANITY 105 

charity. Thus without intending it, even the ob 
sequious but incredibly intelligent Leibniz under 
mined all the doctrines of Christianity in the act of 
thinking them afresh, and insinuated into them a 
sort of magic heathen individualism. 

Kant, Fichte, and Hegel were less punctilious in 
their theology, but they still intended to be or to 
seem Christians. They felt that what made the 
sanctity of traditional religion and its moral force 
could be recovered in a purer form in their systems. 
This feeling of theirs was not unwarranted; at least, 
many religious minds, after the first shock of losing 
their realistic faith, have seen in transcendentalism 
a means, and perhaps the only safe means, of still 
maintaining a sort of Christianity which shall not 
claim any longer to be a miraculous or exceptional 
revelation, but only a fair enough poetic symbol for 
the principles found in all moral life. That he who 
loses his life shall save it, for instance, is a maxim 
much prized and much glossed by Hegelians. They 
lend it a meaning of their own, which might, indeed, 
be said to be the opposite of what the Gospel meant ; 
for there the believer is urged to discard the very 
world with which Hegel asks him to identify himself. 
The idea is that if you surrender your private interests 
to those of your profession, science, or country, you 
become thereby a good and important person, and 



106 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

unintentionally a happy one. You will then feel that 
the world shares your thoughts and renders them 
perpetual, while you, being absorbed in ideal pur 
suits, forget your private miseries and mortality. 

In this sort of moral psychology there is evidently 
some truth; but the " law of experience " which it 
points to is but a loose and ambiguous law, which 
disguises more facts than it expresses. Honest minds 
will rebel against the suggestion tnat when you out 
grow a desire you have fulfilled it; and they will 
detect the furtive irony in bidding you live hard in 
order not to feel the vanity of living. To drown 
sorrow in work, and to forget private failures in 
public interests, is certainly possible, but it is only 
drugging yourself with hurry and routine, which may 
not be more advantageous to others than it really is 
to yourself. Impersonal or " ideal " aims are not 
necessarily less delusive or " higher " than personal 
ones; in fact there is far more likelihood that they 
are conventional humbug. This pathological hygiene 
of idealism, which always stops at some uncriticised 
impulse, thinks it secures health when perhaps it has 
only increased the dose of illusion. 

Nevertheless transcendentalism has this important 
element in common with Christianity and with the 
other Hebraic religions, that it regards human 
interests as the core of the universe and God as the 



THE BREACH WITH CHRISTIANITY 107 

God of man, who disposes all things for man s benefit. 
In its eyes the sphere of providence and moral life is 
bounded by the history of a part of Europe and Asia 
for a few thousand years. So long as transcen 
dentalism is taken to imply some such philosophy of 
history it can compound its differences with liberal 
Christianity, since they are at one in the cardinal 
point of their faith, which is the apotheosis of the 
human spirit. 

Yet this human egotism, which comforts so many 
minds, offends others, in their way no less religious. 
Of course, those who believe in the infinity of the 
universe, be they mystics or naturalists, smile at 
such pettiness and fatuity. But even among tran- 
scendentalists, some are repelled; for the dominion 
which they attribute to their ego is a dominion over 
appearances only; they do not pretend that the 
grammar of the human intellect can lay down the 
law for the world at large. At the same time, in their 
own house they wish to keep their freedom. That 
prescribed evolution and that reversible optimism 
of the absolute transcendentalists are repulsive to 
them; they resent that such a precise and distasteful 
career should be imposed on their transcendental 
individuality, and should swallow it up. It is these 
rebels that have carried romanticism and German 
philosophy into its last phase. They have broken at 



io8 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

last with Christianity and at the same time with the 
theological and cosmic transcendentalism that was 
its treacherous ally, and hoped to be its heir. 

The transcendentalism of Schopenhauer, sweeping 
as it was in its way, retained the modest and agnostic 
character it had had in Kant: he proclaimed that 
the world was his idea, but meant only (what is un 
deniable) that his idea of the world was his idea. 
The egotistical doctrine that the whole universe is 
but the image of it created by the mind disappeared 
altogether in his system. The so-called Will which 
he still placed behind everything was no longer his 
own will evolving experience out of nothing; it was 
a fanciful name for whatever force or substance might 
lie behind experience, animating all its objects, 
determining their inherent life, and constituting them 
facts collateral with himself. If his metaphysics 
remained idealistic, it was on account of his romantic 
habit of assimilating the life of nature to that of 
man, as hasty introspection reveals it; so that the 
universe is described in moral and poetical terms 
rather than in the terms of science. 

The consequences of this change were important. 
The Will became infinite in what Hegel called the 
evil sense, that is, in the true one. It was no longer 
possible to speak of a plan of creation, nor of a 
dramatic progress in history, with its beginning in 



THE BREACH WITH CHRISTIANITY 109 

Eden and its end in Berlin. Life was seen to radiate, 
as it really does, from an elementary form into all 
sorts of disparate and incomparable growths, capable 
of endless diversity. No limit, no forced co-operation, 
no stereotyped method was imputed to life. The 
pocket universe of Hegel opened out to the stars, so 
hateful to that philosopher. Man lost his importance 
and at the same time the insufferable burden of his 
false pretensions. In Schopenhauer frankness returned, 
and with frankness clearness. Yet he could not quite 
reconcile man to his actual place in nature. A deep 
prejudice still intervened. 

Both Christianity and romanticism had accustomed 
people to disregard the intrinsic value of things. Things 
ought to be useful for salvation, or symbols of other 
greater but unknown things : it was not to be expected 
that they should be simply good in themselves. This 
life was to be justified, if justified at all, only as servile 
work or tedious business may be justified, not as 
health or artistic expression justify themselves. Unless 
some external and ulterior end could be achieved 
by living, it was thought that life would be vanity. 
Remove now the expectation of a millennium or of a 
paradise in the sky, and it may seem that all serious 
value has disappeared from our earthly existence. 
Yet this feeling is only a temporary after-image of a 
particular education. 



i io EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

The romantic poets, through pride, restlessness, 
and longing for vague impossible things, came to the 
same conclusion that the church had reached through 
censoriousness and hope. To be always dissatisfied 
seemed to that Faust-like age a mark of loftiness. 
To be dissatisfied is, indeed, a healthy and promising 
thing, when what troubles us can be set right; but 
the romantic mind despises such incidental improve 
ments which far from freeing the wild egotistical 
soul would rather fatten and harness it. It is beneath 
the romantic pessimist to remember that people, in 
all ages, sometimes achieve what they have set their 
hearts on, and that if human will and conduct were 
better disciplined, this contentment would be more 
frequent and more massive. On the contrary, he 
asserts that willing is always and everywhere abortive. 

How can he persuade himself of something so 
evidently false ? By that mystical misinterpretation of 
human nature which is perhaps the core of roman 
ticism. He imagines that what is desired is not 
this or that food, children, victory, knowledge, or 
some other specific goal of a human instinct but an 
abstract and perpetual happiness behind all these 
alternating interests. Of course an abstract and 
perpetual happiness is impossible, not merely because 
events are sure to disturb any equilibrium we may 
think we have established in our lives, but for the 



THE BREACH WITH CHRISTIANITY m 

far more fundamental reason that we have no abstract 
and perpetual instinct to satisfy. The desire for self- 
preservation or power or union with God is no more 
perpetual or comprehensive than any other: it is 
commonly when we are in straits that we become 
aware of such objects, and to achieve them, or imagine 
we achieve them, will give us only a momentary satis 
faction, like any other success. A highest good to be 
obtained apart from each and every specific interest 
is more than unattainable; it is unthinkable. The 
romanticist, chasing wilfully that ignis fatuus, 
naturally finds his life arduous and disappointing. 
But he might have learned from Plato or any sound 
moralist, if his genius could allow him to learn any 
thing, that the highest good of man is the sum and 
harmony of those specific goods upon which his 
nature is directed. But because the romantic will 
was unteachable, all will was declared to be foolish. 

Schopenhauer was led into his pessimism also by 
the spirit of opposition; his righteous wrath was 
aroused by the sardonic and inhuman optimism of 
Hegel, the arguments for which were so cogent, so 
Calvinistic, and so irrelevant that they would have 
lost none of their force if they had been proposed in 
hell. The best possible world and the worst possible 
world are, indeed, identical for that philosophy. 
Schopenhauer needed to change nothing in the 



ii2 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

description of life, as the other idealists conceived it, 
in order to prove that life was a tragedy; for they 
were as romantic as himself and as far from feeling 
the intrinsic value of happiness, and the possibility 
of real progress. Real progress has little to do with 
perpetual evolution. It occurs only in certain places 
and times, when nature or art comes to the assistance 
of some definite interest already embodied, as the 
interest in security and mutual confidence, know 
ledge, or the fine arts is already embodied in man 
kind. Schopenhauer was not insensible to these 
achievements; he felt by instinct the infinity and 
luxuriance of the moral world. It was in part this 
secret sympathy with nature that alienated him 
from Christianity and from transcendental meta 
physics. But because natural goods cannot be desired 
or possessed for ever, he thought their value was 
cancelled, even for those who desired and possessed 
them. The leaven of romanticism was still at work, 
forbidding him to recognise a natural order, with 
which a vital harmony might be established. The 
ground of life, the Will in all things, was something 
lurid and tempestuous, itself a psychological chaos. 
The alternative to theism in the mind of Schopenhauer 
was not naturalism but anarchy. 

This romantic travesty of life and this conception 
of metaphysical anarchy were inherited by Nietzsche 



THE BREACH WITH CHRISTIANITY 113 

and regarded by him as the last word of philosophy. 
But he made the breach with Christianity still wider. 
The grief of Schopenhauer in the presence of such a 
world, his desperate and exotic remedy the denial 
of the will and his love of contemplation were all 
evidences of a mind still half Christian : his pessimism 
itself was so much homage to the faith he had lost. 
Such backward glances were not for the impetuous 
Nietzsche, who felt he was a prophet of the future, 
and really was one. Romantic anarchy delighted him; 
and he crowned it with a rakish optimism, as with 
the red cap of Liberty. He was in hearty sympathy 
with absolute Will; he praised it even for being vain 
and maleficent, if it was only proud enough to praise 
itself. 



CHAPTER XI 

NIETZSCHE AND SCHOPENHAUER 

IT is hardly fair to a writer like Nietzsche, so poetical, 
fragmentary, and immature, to judge him as a philo 
sopher; yet he wished to be so judged, and planned 
a system which was to be an emendation of that of 
Schopenhauer. The will to live would become the 
will to dominate; pessimism founded on reflection 
would become optimism founded on courage; the 
suspense of the will in contemplation would yield to 
a more biological account of intelligence and taste; 
finally in the place of pity and asceticism (Schopen 
hauer s two principles of morals) Nietzsche would 
set up the duty of asserting the will at all costs and 
being cruelly but beautifully strong. 

These points of difference from Schopenhauer 
cover the whole philosophy of Nietzsche. I will 
consider them in order, leaving the last for the next 
chapter. 

The change from " the will to live " to " the will 
to be powerful " is only a change of metaphors : both 
are used merely to indicate the general movement of 
nature. The choice of a psychological symbol for 

this purpose is indifferent scientifically, since the 

114 



NIETZSCHE AND SCHOPENHAUER 115 

facts in any case remain the same and our know 
ledge of them is not enlarged; yet it is an interesting 
indication of the mind of the poet using it, because 
whatever a man knows and loves best, that he takes 
his metaphors from. Nietzsche had his reasons for 
liking to call the universal principle a lust for power. 
He believed he was the herald of two hundred years 
of war, he was in love with the vague image of a 
military aristocracy, and he was not without a certain 
biological acumen. 

An acorn in the ground does not strive to per 
severe in the state it happens to be in, but expands, 
absorbs surrounding elements, and transforms them 
into its own substance, which itself changes its form. 
Here then is a will to grow, not simply a will to live 
or to preserve oneself; in fact, as Nietzsche eloquently 
said, here is a will to perish. It is true that when 
the oak is full grown it seems to pass to the defensive 
and no longer manifests the will either to perish or 
to grow. Even while the will to grow is operating, 
its scope is not indefinite. It would be grotesque to 
imagine that the acorn, like the ego of German philo 
sophy, tended to annex the whole earth and the whole 
sky and to make a single oak of the universe. If we 
take a broad view, perhaps the ancient myth that 
nature tends to re-embody certain fixed types, though 
inaccurate, gives a better picture of the facts than 



ii6 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

the modern myth that she is striving to change in 
one predetermined direction. Nevertheless, the fact 
that Nietzsche s attention was fascinated by the will 
to grow and to dominate shows that he was in sym 
pathy with young things, that his heart was big with 
the future, and that his age believed in progress. 

The change from pessimism to optimism, verbally 
so complete, did not imply any divergence between 
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in their description of 
the facts; it was all a matter of a little more spirit 
in the younger thinker and a little more conscience 
in the elder. Romantic poets and their heroes are 
well known to oscillate between passionate despair 
and passionate enterprise. Schopenhauer affected 
passionate despair, Nietzsche recommended passionate 
enterprise, each being wedded exclusively to one of 
those moods which Faust or Byron could feel alter 
nately and reduce to act with all the dashing tumult 
of anarchy. The value which the world has in the 
eyes of its inhabitants is necessarily mixed, so that 
a sweeping optimism or pessimism can be only a 
theoretic pose, false to the natural sentiment even 
of those who assume it. Both are impressionistic 
judgments passed on the world at large, not perhaps 
without some impertinence. 

Yet it is these poses or attitudes, or, if you like, 
these impertinences, that give importance to tran- 



NIETZSCHE AND SCHOPENHAUER 117 

scendental philosophers ; it is their representative and 
contagious side; their views of things would concern 
us little, if it was the things themselves that we 
wished to understand, but our whole study is a study 
in romanticism. The temper of the age ignored that 
man is a teachable animal living in a natural world. 
All that was a vulgar convention; in % truth a dis 
embodied Will was directed on any and every ideal 
at random, and when any of these fantastic objects 
seemed to be attained nothing was really accom 
plished, nothing was accumulated or learned. The 
wish for some other will-o -the-wisp immediately 
succeeded, always equally passionate and equally 
foolish. 

It is amazing that such a picture of human ex 
perience should have met with anything but general 
derision; but when people read books they compare 
them with other books, and when they turn to things 
they forget books altogether. Hence the most palpable 
falsehoods are held by general consent at certain 
moments, because they follow logically from what 
the books of the previous generation had maintained. 
This absurdity of Schopenhauer s is a plausible varia 
tion of idealism; to see how absurd it is you must 
remember the facts of life, the existence of any degree 
of civilisation or progress. In these the travail of 
human nature appears; for human nature is not 



ii8 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

merely a name for a certain set of passions known to 
literature; in that sense Schopenhauer fully acknow 
ledged it, and even thought it immutable; it is rather 
the constitution of an animal capable of training and 
development. What is more patent than that a man 
may learn something by experience and may be 
trained? But if he can be trained he is capable of 
adaptation and, therefore, of happiness, and the 
preposterous assertion that all desires are equally 
arbitrary and equally fruitless is blown to the winds. 
The belief in a romantic chaos lends itself to 
pessimism, but it also lends itself to absolute self- 
assertion. Kant had boasted that he had removed 
knowledge in order to make room for faith; in other 
words, he had returned to chaos in order to find 
freedom. The great egotists, who detested the pres 
sure of a world they had not posited or created, 
followed gladly in that path; but Schopenhauer was 
not an egotist. Like Goethe he was probably more 
selfish personally than those other philosophers whom 
their very egotism had made zealous and single- 
minded; but in imagination and feeling he was, like 
Goethe, genial and humane: the freedom and ex 
uberance of nature impressed him more than his 
own. Had he been an egotist, as Fichte, Hegel, and 
Nietzsche were, he might have been an optimist like 
them. He was rather a happy man, hugely enjoying 



NIETZSCHE AND SCHOPENHAUER 119 

a great many things, among them food and music; 
and he taught that music was a direct transcript of 
the tormented will to live. How simple it would 
have been for him, if he had been an egotist, to 
enjoy the spectacle of that tormented will as much as 
the music which was its faithful image! But no; 
such aesthetic cruelty, which was Nietzsche s delight, 
would have revolted Schopenhauer. He thought 
tragedy beautiful because it detached us from a 
troubled world and did not think a troubled world 
good, as those unspeakable optimists did, because it 
made such a fine tragedy. It is pleasant to find 
that among all these philosophers one at least was 
a gentleman. 

If Will is the sole substance or force in the universe, 
it must be present in everything that exists, yet 
Schopenhauer affirmed that it was absent in aesthetic 
contemplation; and he looked to an ultimate denial 
of the Will, which if it was to be an act and not 
merely a void would evidently be impossible on his 
principles. The Will might well say to those who 
attempted to deny it : " They reckon ill who leave 
me out; when me they fly, I am the wings." In 
perceiving and correcting this contradiction, Nietzsche 
certainly improved the technique of the system. 

Yet that contradiction was not substantial; it was 
verbal merely, and due to the fond use of the term 



120 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

Will for what might more properly be called matter, 
energy, or movement. Will taken in the metaphorical 
sense can never be in abeyance, so long as anything 
is going on; but will taken in its proper sense is in 
abeyance often; and this is what Schopenhauer saw 
and meant to say. Actual and conscious will is a 
passing phenomenon; it is so little necessary to life 
that it always disappears when life is at its height. 
All pure pleasures, including those of seeing and 
thinking, are without it: they are ingenuous, and 
terminate in their present object. A philosopher 
should have learned from Aristotle, if not from his 
own experience, that at the acme of life we live in the 
eternal, and that then, as Schopenhauer said, we no 
longer pry but gaze, and are freed from willing. 

This is not to say that Nietzsche was not very 
happy and witty in his description of the passions 
that dominate artists and philosophers, and in urging 
that the life of the spirit was an impassioned thing. 
To prove it, he might have quoted Schopenhauer 
himself, in those moving passages where he describes 
the ecstasy of thought and the spell of beauty. It 
is not the dead or the bloodless that have such feel 
ings. Of course, if the operations of the brain, and 
the whole instinctive life of the soul, were interrupted 
neither these feelings nor any others would arise. 
This was at bottom Schopenhauer s conviction. His 



NIETZSCHE AND SCHOPENHAUER 121 

great intuition, the corner-stone of his philosophy, 
was precisely the priority of automatism and instinct 
over the intellect. His only error came from having 
given to these underlying processes the name of Will, 
when properly the will is one expression of them only, 
as the intellect is. 

Nietzsche, who adopted the same metaphor, was 
led by it into the very confusion which he criticised 
in Schopenhauer. Nietzsche had no great technical 
competence: he saw the inconsistency only when 
he disliked the result; when the result fell in with 
his first impressions he repeated the inconsistency. 
He often condemned other moralists for being enemies 
to life: he reproached the greater part of mankind 
for loving inglorious ease and resenting the sufferings 
inseparable from the will to be mighty and to perish. 
But this churlish attitude of the vulgar would be 
quite impossible if the heroic will to be powerful were 
the essence of everybody and even of material things. 
If I am nothing but the will to grow, how can I ever 
will to shrink ? 

But this inconsistency in Nietzsche, like that in 
Schopenhauer, was an honourable one that came of 
forgetting a false generalisation in the presence of a 
clear fact. That the will to be powerful is everywhere 
was a false generalisation; but it was a clear fact 
that some people are pious Christians or Epicurean 



122 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

philosophers, who do not care at all about con 
quering the world. They want to be let alone, 
and perhaps have a shrewd suspicion that no one 
lives under such dire compulsions as he who under 
takes to tyrannise over others. This slave-morality 
of theirs might be called Will, though it is rather 
instinct and habit; but it is certainly not a will to 
be powerful : it is the opposite of that passion. Thus 
Nietzsche, by an honest self-contradiction, pointed 
to people who denied the will to be powerful, in 
order to abuse them, just as Schopenhauer had 
pointed to people who denied or suspended the will 
to live, in order to praise them. 



CHAPTER XII 

THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE 

NIETZSCHE occasionally spoke disparagingly of 
morality, as if the word and the thing had got a 
little on his nerves; and some of his best-known 
phrases might give the impression that he wished to 
drop the distinction between good and evil and 
transcend ethics altogether. Such a thought would 
not have been absurd in itself or even unphilosophical. 
Many serious thinkers, Spinoza for instance, have 
believed that everything that happens is equally 
necessary and equally expressive of the will of God, 
be it favourable or unfavourable to our special 
interests and, therefore, called by us good or bad. 
A too reverent immersion in nature and history con 
vinces them that to think any part of reality better 
or worse than the rest is impertinent or even impious. 
It is true that in the end these philosophers usually 
stultify themselves and declare enthusiastically that 
whatever is is right. This rapturous feeling can over 
come anybody in certain moods, as it sometimes 
overcame Nietzsche; but in yielding to it, besides 
contradicting all other moral judgments, these mystics 
break their difficult resolution never to judge at all. 

123 



i2 4 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

Nietzsche, however, was entirely free from this 
divine impediment in morals. The courage to cling 
to what his soul loved and this courage is the essence 
of morality was conspicuous in him. He was a poet, 
a critic, a lover of form and of distinctions. Few 
persons have ever given such fierce importance to 
their personal taste. What he disliked to think of, 
say democracy, he condemned with the fulminations 
of a god; what he liked to think of, power, he seri 
ously commanded man and nature to pursue for their 
single object. 

What Nietzsche disparaged, then, under the name 
of morality was not all morality, for he had an enthu 
siastic master-morality of his own to impose. He 
was thinking only of the Christian virtues and 
especially of a certain Protestant and Kantian 
moralism with which perhaps he had been surfeited. 
This moralism conceived that duty was something 
absolute and not a method of securing whatever 
goods of all sorts are attainable by action. The latter 
is the common and the sound opinion, maintained, 
for instance, by Aristotle; but Nietzsche, who was 
not humble enough to learn very much by study, 
thought he was propounding a revolutionary doctrine 
when he put goods and evils beyond and above right 
and wrong: for this is all that his Jenseits von Gut 
und Bose amounts to. Whatever seemed to him 



THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE 125 

admirable, beautiful, eligible, whatever was good in 
the sense opposed not to bose but to scblecht, Nietzsche 
loved with jealous affection. Hence his ire against 
Christianity, which he thought renounced too much. 
Hence his hatred of moralism, which in raising duty 
to the irresponsible throne of the absolute had super- 
stitiously sacrificed half the goods of life. Nietzsche, 
then, far from transcending ethics, re-established it 
on its true foundations, which is not to say that the 
sketchy edifice which he planned to raise on these 
foundations was in a beautiful style of architecture 
or could stand at all. 

The first principle of his ethics was that the good 
is power. But this word power seems to have had a 
great range of meanings in his mind. Sometimes it 
suggests animal strength and size, as in the big blonde 
beast; sometimes vitality, sometimes fortitude, some 
times contempt for the will of others, sometimes (and 
this is perhaps the meaning, he chiefly intended) 
dominion over natural forces and over the people, 
that is to say, wealth and military power. It is 
characteristic of this whole school that it confuses 
the laws which are supposed to preside over the 
movement of things with the good results which they 
may involve; so Nietzsche confuses his biological 
insight, that all life is the assertion of some sort of 
power the power to breathe, for instance with the 



iz6 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

admiration he felt for a masterful egotism. But even 
if we identify life or any kind of existence with the 
exertion of strength, the kinds of strength exerted 
will be heterogeneous and not always compatible. 
The strength of Lucifer does not insure victory in 
war; it points rather to failure in a world peopled 
by millions of timid, pious, and democratic persons. 
Hence we find Nietzsche asking himself plaintively, 
" Why are the feeble victorious ? " The fact rankled 
in his bosom that in the ancient world martial aris 
tocracies had succumbed before Christianity, and in 
the modern world before democracy. By strength, 
then, he could not mean the power to survive, by 
being as flexible as circumstances may require. He 
did not refer to the strength of majorities, nor to the 
strength of vermin. At the same time he did not 
refer to moral strength, for of moral strength he had 
no idea. 

The arts give power, but only in channels pre 
scribed by their own principles, not by the will of 
untrained men. To be trained is to be tamed and 
harnessed, an accession of power detestable to 
Nietzsche. His Zarathustra had the power of dancing, 
also of charming serpents and eagles : no wonder that 
he missed the power, bestowed by goodness, of charm 
ing and guiding men; and a Terpsichorean autocrat 
would be hard to imagine. A man intent on algebra 



THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE 127 

or on painting is not striving to rule anybody; his 
dominion over painting or algebra is chiefly a matter 
of concentration and self-forgetfulness. So dominion 
over the passions changes them from attempts to 
appropriate anything into sentiments of the mind, 
colouring a world which is no longer coveted. To 
attain such autumnal wisdom is, if you like, itself 
a power of feeling and a kind of strength; but it is 
not helpful in conquering the earth. 

Nietzsche was personally more philosophical than 
his philosophy. His talk about power, harshness, and 
superb immorality was the hobby of a harmless 
young scholar and constitutional invalid. He did 
not crave in the least either wealth or empire. What 
he loved was solitude, nature, music, books. But his 
imagination, like his judgment, was captious; it 
could not dwell on reality, but reacted furiously 
against it. Accordingly, when he speaks of the will 
to be powerful, power is merely an eloquent word 
on his lips. It symbolises the escape from mediocrity. 
What power would be when attained and exercised 
remains entirely beyond his horizon. What meets us 
everywhere is the sense of impotence and a passionate 
rebellion against it. 

The phrases in which Nietzsche condensed and 
felt his thought were brilliant, but they were seldom 
just. We may perhaps see the principle of his ethics 



128 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

better if we forget for a moment the will to be power 
ful and consider this : that he knew no sort of good 
except the beautiful, and no sort of beauty except 
romantic stress. He was a belated prophet of roman 
ticism. He wrote its epitaph, in which he praised 
it more extravagantly than anybody, when it was 
alive, had had the courage to do. 

Consider, for example, what he said about truth. 
Since men were governed solely by the will to be 
powerful, the truth for its own sake must be moon 
shine to them. They would wish to cultivate such 
ideas, whether true or false, as might be useful to 
their ambition. Nietzsche (more candid in this than 
some other pragmatists) confessed that truth itself 
did not interest him; it was ugly; the bracing atmo 
sphere of falsehood, passion, and subjective perspec 
tives was the better thing. Sometimes, indeed, a 
more wistful mood overtook him, and he wondered 
whether the human mind would be able to endure 
the light of truth. That was the great question of 
the future. We may agree that a mind without 
poetry, fiction, and subjective colouring would not 
be human, nor a mind at all; and that neither truth 
nor the knowledge of truth would have any intrinsic 
value if nobody cared about it for its own sake. But 
some men do care ; and in ignoring this fact Nietzsche 
expresses the false and pitiful notion that we can be 



THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE 129 

interested in nothing except in ourselves and our 
own future. I am solitary, says the romantic egotist, 
and sufficient unto myself. The world is my idea, 
new every day : what can I have to do with truth ? 

This impulse to turn one s back on truth, whether 
in contempt or in despair, has a long history. Lessing 
had said that he preferred the pursuit of truth to the 
truth itself; but if we take this seriously (as possibly 
it was not meant) the pursuit of truth at once changes 
its character. It can no longer be the pursuit of 
truth, truth not being wanted, but only the pursuit 
of some fresh idea. Whether one of these ideas or 
another comes nearer to the truth would be unim 
portant and undiscoverable. Any idea will do, so 
long as it is pregnant with another that may presently 
take its place; and as presumably error will pre 
cipitate new ideas more readily than truth, we might 
almost find it implied in Lessing s maxim that, as 
Nietzsche maintained, what is really good is neither 
truth nor the pursuit of truth (for you might find 
it, and what would you do then?), but rather a 
perpetual flux of errors. 

This view is also implied in the very prevalent 
habit of regarding opinions as justified not by their 
object but by their date. The intellectual ignominy 
of believing what we believe simply because of the 
time and place of our birth, escapes many evolu- 



130 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

tionists. Far from trying to overcome this natural 
prejudice of position, they raise it into a point of 
pride. They declare all opinions ever held in the past 
to be superseded, and are apparently content that 
their own should be superseded to-morrow, but mean 
time they cover you with obloquy if you are so back 
ward or so forward as not to agree with them to-day. 
They accept as inevitable the total dominion of the 
point of view. Each new date, even in the life of an 
individual thinker, is expected by them to mark a 
new phase of doctrine. Indeed, truth is an object 
which transcendental philosophy cannot envisage: 
the absolute ego must be satisfied with consistency. 
How should the truth, actual, natural, or divine, be 
an expression of the living will that attempts, or in 
their case despairs, to discover it? Yet that every 
thing, even the truth, is an expression of the living 
will, is the corner-stone of this philosophy. 

Consider further the spirit in which Nietzsche 
condemned Christianity and the Christian virtues. 
Many people have denounced Christianity on the 
ground that it was false or tyrannical, while perhaps 
admitting that it was comforting or had a good 
moral influence. Nietzsche denounced it and in 
unmeasured terms on the ground that (while, of 
course, as true as any other vital lie) it was mean, 
depressing, slavish, and plebeian. How beastly was 



THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE 131 

the precept of love! Actually to love all these gro 
tesque bipeds was degrading. A lover of the beauti 
ful must wish almost all his neighbours out of the 
way. Compassion, too, was a lamentable way of 
assimilating oneself to evil. That contagious misery 
spoiled one s joy, freedom, and courage. Disease 
should not be nursed but cauterised; the world must 
be made clean. 

Now there is a sort of love of mankind, a jealous 
love of what man might be, in this much decried 
maxim of unmercifulness. Nietzsche rebelled at the 
thought of endless wretchedness, pervasive medio 
crity, crying children, domestic drudges, and pom 
pous fools for ever. Die Erde war zu lange schon 
ein Irrenhaus ! His heart was tender enough, but 
his imagination was impatient. When he praised 
cruelty, it was on the ground that art was cruel, 
that it made beauty out of suffering. Suffering, 
therefore, was good, and so was crime, which made 
life keener. Only crime, he said, raises a man high 
enough for the lightning to strike him. In the hope 
of sparing some obscure person a few groans or tears, 
would you deprive the romantic hero of so sublime 
a death ? 

Christians, too, might say they had their heroes, 
their saints; but what sort of eminence was that? 
It was produced by stifling half the passions. A 



132 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

sister of charity could not be an Arminius; devotion 
to such remedial offices spoilt the glory of life. Holi 
ness was immoral; it was a half-suicide. All ex 
perience, the ideal of Faust, was what a spirited 
man must desire. All experience would involve, I 
suppose, passing through all the sensations of a 
murderer, a maniac, and a toad; even through those 
of a saint or a sister of charity. But the romantic 
mind despises results; it is satisfied with poses. 

Consider, too, the romantic demand for a violent 
chiaroscuro, a demand which blossoms into a whole 
system of ethics. Good and evil, we are told, en 
hance one another, like light and shade in a picture; 
without evil there can be no good, so to diminish the 
one is to undermine the other, and the greatest and 
most heroic man is he who not only does most good 
but also most harm. In his love of mischief, in his 
tenderness for the adventurer who boldly inflicts 
injury and suffering on others and on himself, in 
order to cut a more thrilling and stupendous figure 
in his own eyes, Nietzsche gave this pernicious 
doctrine its frankest expression; but unfortunately 
it was not wholly his own. In its essence it belongs 
to Hegel, and under various sophistical disguises it 
has been adopted by all his academic followers in 
England and America. The arguments used to defend 
it are old sophisms borrowed from the Stoics, who 



THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE 133 

had turned the physical doctrine of Heraclitus, that 
everything is a mixture of contraries, into an argu 
ment for resignation to inevitable evils and detach 
ment from tainted goods. The Stoics, who were 
neither romantic nor worldly, used these sophisms 
in an attempt to extirpate the passions, not to justify 
them. They were sufficiently refuted by the excellent 
Plutarch where he observes that according to this 
logic it was requisite and necessary that Thersites 
should be bald in order that Achilles might have 
leonine hair. The absurdity is, indeed, ludicrous, if 
we are thinking of real things and of the goods and 
evils of experience; but egotists never think of that; 
what they always think of is the picture of those 
realities in their imagination. For the observer, 
effects of contrast do alter the values of the elements 
considered; and, indeed, the elements themselves, 
if one is very unsympathetic, may not have at all 
in contemplation the quality they have in experience : 
whence aesthetic cruelty. The respect which Hegel 
and Nietzsche have for those sophisms becomes 
intelligible when we remember what imperturbable 
egotists they were. 

This egotism in morals is partly mystical. There 
is a luxurious joy in healing the smart of evil in 
one s mind, without needing to remove or diminish 
the evil in the world. The smart may be healed by 



134 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

nursing the conviction that evil after all is good, no 
matter how much of it there is or how much of it 
we do. In part, however, this egotism is romantic; 
it does not ask to be persuaded that evil, in the end, 
is good. It feels that evil is good in the present; it 
is so intense a thing, to feel and so exciting a thing 
to do. Here we have what Nietzsche wished to bring 
about, a reversal of all values. To do evil is the true 
virtue, and to be good is the most hopeless vice. 
Milk is for babes ; your strong man should be soaked 
in blood and in alcohol. We should live perilously; 
and as material life is the power to digest poisons, 
so true excellence is the power to commit all manner 
of crimes, and to survive. 

That there is no God is proved by Nietzsche prag 
matically, on the ground that belief in the existence 
of God would have made him uncomfortable. Not 
at all for the reason that might first occur to us: 
to imagine himself a lost soul has always been a 
point of pride with the romantic genius. The reason 
was that if there had been any gods he would have 
found it intolerable not to be a god himself. Poor 
Nietzsche! The laurels of the Almighty would not 
let him sleep. 

It is hard to know if we should be more deceived 
in taking these sallies seriously or in not taking 
them so. On the one hand it all seems the swagger 



THE ETHICS OF NIETZSCHE 135 

of an immature, half-playful mind, like a child that 
tells you he will cut your head off. The dreamy 
impulse, in its inception, is sincere enough, but there 
is no vestige of any understanding of what it pro 
poses, of its conditions, or of its results. On the other 
hand these explosions are symptomatic; there stirs 
behind them unmistakably an elemental force. That 
an attitude is foolish, incoherent, disastrous, proves 
nothing against the depth of the instinct that inspires 
it. Who could be more intensely unintelligent than 
Luther or Rousseau ? Yet the world followed them, 
not to turn back. The molecular forces of society, 
so to speak, had already undermined the systems 
which these men denounced. If the systems have 
survived it is only because the reformers, in their 
intellectual helplessness, could supply nothing to 
take their place. So Nietzsche, in his genial im 
becility, betrays the shifting of great subterranean 
forces. What he said may be nothing, but the fact 
that he said it is all-important. Out of such wild 
intuitions, because the heart of the child was in them, 
the man of the future may have to build his philosophy. 
We should forgive Nietzsche his boyish blasphemies. 
He hated with clearness, if he did not know what to 
love. 



CHAPTER XIII 

THE SUPERMAN 

IN his views on matters of fact Nietzsche, as becomes 
the naive egotist, was quite irresponsible. If he said 
the course of history repeated itself in cycles, it was 
because the idea pleased him; it seemed a symbol 
of self-approval on the world s part. If he hailed the 
advent of a race of men superior to ourselves and of 
stronger fibre, it was because human life as it is, and 
especially his own life, repelled him. He was sensitive 
and, therefore, censorious. He gazed about him, he 
gazed at himself, he remembered the disappointing 
frailties and pomposity of the great man, Wagner, 
whom he had once idolised. His optimism for the 
moment yielded to his sincerity. He would sooner 
abolish than condone such a world, and he fled to 
some solitary hillside by the sea, saying to himself 
that man was a creature to be superseded. 

Dissatisfaction with the actual is what usually 
leads people to frame ideals at all, or at least to hold 
them fast; but such a negative motive leaves the 
ideal vague and without consistency. If we could 
suddenly have our will, we should very likely find 
the result trivial or horrible. So the superman of 

136 



THE SUPERMAN 137 

Nietzsche might prove, if by magic he could be 
realised. To frame solid ideals, which would, in fact, 
be better than actual things, is not granted to the 
merely irritable poet ; it is granted only to the master- 
workman, to the modeller of some given substance 
to some given use things which define his aspira 
tion, and separate what is relevant and glorious in 
his dreams from that large part of them which is 
merely ignorant and peevish. It was not for Nietzsche 
to be an artist in morals and to institute anything 
coherent, even in idea. 

The superman of Nietzsche is rendered the more 
chimerical by the fact that he must contradict not 
only the common man of the present but also the 
superior men, the half-superhuman men, of the past. 
To transcend humanity is no new ambition; that 
has always been the effort of Indian and Christian 
religious discipline and of Stoic philosophy. But this 
spiritual superiority, like that of artists and poets, 
has come of abstraction ; a superiority to life, in that 
these minds were engrossed in the picture or lesson 
of life rather than in living; and if they powerfully 
affected the world, as they sometimes did, it was by 
bringing down into it something supermundane, the 
arresting touch of an ulterior wisdom. Nietzsche, on 
the contrary, even more than most modern philo 
sophers, loved mere life with the pathetic intensity of 



138 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

the wounded beast; his superman must not rise 
above our common condition by his purely spiritual 
resources, or by laying up his treasure in any sort of 
heaven. He must be not a superior man but a kind 
of physiological superman, a griffin in soul, if not in 
body, who instead of labouring hands and religious 
faith should have eagle s wings and the claws of a 
lion. His powers should be superior to ours by 
resembling those of fiercer and wilder animals. The 
things that make a man tame Nietzsche was a 
retired professor living in a boarding-house must be 
changed into their opposites. But man has been 
tamed by agriculture, material arts, children, ex 
perience; therefore these things are to be far from 
the superman. If he must resemble somebody, it 
will be rather the condottieri of the renaissance or the 
princes and courtiers of the seventeenth century; 
Caesar Borgia is the supreme instance. He must have 
a splendid presence and address, gallantry, contempt 
for convention, loyalty to no country, no woman, 
and no idea, but always a buoyant and lordly asser 
tion of instinct and of self. In the helter-skelter 
of his irritable genius, Nietzsche jumbled together 
the ferocity of solitary beasts, the indifference and 
hauteur of patricians, and the antics of revellers, and 
out of that mixture he hoped to evoke the rulers of 
the coming age. 



THE SUPERMAN 139 

How could so fantastic an ideal impose on a keen 
satirist like Nietzsche and a sincere lover of excel 
lence ? Because true human excellence seemed to 
him hostile to life, and he felt this was his strong 
and sane side, his lien on the future that life must 
be accepted as it is or may become, and false beliefs, 
hollow demands, and hypocritical, forced virtues must 
be abandoned. This new wisdom was that which 
Goethe, too, had felt and practised ; and of all masters 
of life Goethe was the one whom Nietzsche could best 
understand. But a master of life, without being in 
the least hostile to life, since he fulfils it, nevertheless 
uses life for ends which transcend it. Even Goethe, 
omnivorous and bland as he was, transcended life in 
depicting and judging and blessing it. The saints 
and the true philosophers have naturally emphasised 
more this renunciation of egotism: they have seen 
all things in the light of eternity that is, as they 
are in truth and have consequently felt a reason 
able contempt for mere living and mere dying; 
and in that precisely lies moral greatness. Here 
Nietzsche could not follow; rationality chilled him; 
he craved vehemence. 

How life can be fulfilled and made beautiful by 
reason was never better shown than by the Greeks, 
both by precept and example. Nietzsche in his youth 
was a professor of Greek literature: one would have 



140 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

expected his superman to be a sort of Greek hero. 
Something of the Dorian harshness in beauty, some 
thing of the Pindaric high-born and silent victor may 
have been fused into Nietzsche s ideal; certainly 
Bacchic freedom and ardour were to enter in. But 
on the whole it is remarkable how little he learned 
from the Greeks, no modesty or reverence, no joy 
in order and in loveliness, no sense for friendship, 
none for the sanctity of places and institutions. 
He repeated the paradoxes of some of their sophists, 
without remembering how their wise men had refuted 
them. For example, he gave a new name and a 
new prominence to the distinction between what he 
called the Dionysiac and the Apollonian elements 
in Greek genius. He saw how false was that white 
washed notion of the Greek mind which young 
ladies derived from sketching a plaster cast of the 
Apollo Belvidere. 1 He saw that a demonic force, 
as the generation of Goethe called it, underlay 
everything; what he did not see was that this demonic 
force was under control, which is the secret of the 

1 1 was about to say : How false was the notion of Winkelmann 
about the grandeur and repose of the Greek spirit. But Winkelmann, 
if his sense for the chained monsters in the Greek soul was inadequate, 
was at least in real sympathy with what had inspired Greek sculpture, 
love and knowledge of the human body in the life, made gentle by 
discipline and kept strong by training. For that reason Winkelmann 
seems hardly a German: his learning was deficient and his heart was 
humble. He did not patronise the ancients, he believed in them. 



THE SUPERMAN 141 

whole matter. The point had been thoroughly 
elucidated by Plato, in the contrast he drew between 
inspiration and art. But Plato was rather ironical 
about inspiration, and had a high opinion of art; 
and Nietzsche, with his contrary instinct, rushes 
away without understanding the mind of the master 
or the truth of the situation. He thinks he alone has 
discovered the divinity of Dionysus and of the Muses, 
which Plato took as a matter of course but would not 
venerate superstitiously. Inspiration, like will, is a 
force without which reason can do nothing. Inspira 
tion must be presupposed; but in itself it can do 
nothing good unless it is in harmony with reason, or is 
brought into harmony with it. This two-edged wisdom 
that makes impulse the stuff of life and reason its 
criterion, is, of course, lost on Nietzsche, and with it 
the whole marvel of Greek genius. There is nothing 
exceptional in being alive and impulsive; any savage 
can run wild and be frenzied and enact histrionic 
passions : the virtue of the Greeks lay in the exquisite 
firmness with which they banked their fires without 
extinguishing them, so that their life remained 
human (indeed, remained infra-human, like that of 
Nietzsche s superman) and yet became beautiful: 
they were severe and fond of maxims, on a basis 
of universal tolerance; they governed themselves 
rationally, with a careful freedom, while well aware 



142 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

that nature and their own bosoms were full of gods, 
all of whom must be reverenced. 

After all, this defect in appreciation is inseparable 
from the transcendental pose. The ancients, like 
everything else, never seem to the egotist a reality 
co-ordinate with himself, from which he might still 
have something to learn. They are only so much 
" content " for his self-consciousness, so much matter 
for his thought to transcend. They can contain 
nothing for him but the part of his outgrown self 
which he deigns to identify with them. His mind 
must always envelop them and be the larger thing. 
No wonder that in this school learning is wasted for 
the purposes of moral education. Whoever has seen 
the learned egotist flies at his approach. History in 
his hands is a demonstration of his philosophy. 
Science is a quarry of proofs for his hobbies. If we 
do not agree with him we are not merely mistaken 
(every philosopher tells us that), but we are false to 
ourselves and ignorant of our ideal significance. His 
ego gives us our place in the world. He informs us 
of what we mean, whatever we may say; and he 
raises our opinions, as he might his food, to a higher 
unity in his own person. He is priest in every temple. 
He approaches a picture-gallery or a foreign religion 
in a dictatorial spirit, with his a priori categories 
ready on his lips; pedantry and vanity speak in his 



THE SUPERMAN 143 

every gesture, and the lesson of nothing can reach 
his heart. 

No, neither the philosophy inherited by Nietzsche 
nor his wayward imagination was fit to suggest to 
him a nobler race of men. On the contrary, they 
shut him off from comprehension of the best men 
that have existed. Like the Utopias or ideals of 
many other satirists and minor philosophers, the 
superman is not a possibility, it is only a protest. 
Our society is outworn, but hard to renew; the 
emancipated individual needs to master himself. 
In what spirit or to what end he will do so, we do 
not know, and Nietzsche cannot tell us. He is the 
jester, to whom all incoherences are forgiven, be 
cause all indiscretions are allowed. His mind is 
undisciplined, and his tongue outrageous, but he is 
at bottom the friend of our conscience, and full of 
shrewd wit and tender wisps of intuition. Behind his 
" gay wisdom " and trivial rhymes lies a great 
anguish. His intellect is lost in a chaos. His heart 
denies itself the relief of tears and can vent itself 
only in forced laughter and mock hopes that gladden 
nobody, least of all himself. 



CHAPTER XIV 

HEATHENISM 

SCHOPENHAUER somewhere observes that the word 
heathen, no longer in reputable use elsewhere, had 
found a last asylum in Oxford, the paradise of dead 
philosophies. Even Oxford, I believe, has now 
abandoned it; yet it is a good word. It conveys, as 
no other word can, the sense of vast multitudes 
tossing in darkness, harassed by demons of their own 
choice. No doubt it implies also a certain sanctimony 
in the superior person who uses it, as if he at least 
were not chattering in the general Babel. What 
justified Jews, Christians, and Moslems (as Mohammed 
in particular insisted) in feeling this superiority was 
the possession of a Book, a chart of life, as it were, 
in which the most important features of history and 
morals were mapped out for the guidance of teachable 
men. The heathen, on the contrary, were abandoned 
to their own devices, and even prided themselves 
on following only their spontaneous will, their habit, 
presumption, or caprice. 

Most unprejudiced people would now agree that 
the value of those sacred histories and rules of life 

did not depend on their alleged miraculous origin, 

144 



HEATHENISM 145 



but rather on that solidity and perspicacity in their 
authors which enabled them to perceive the laws of 
sweet and profitable conduct in this world. It was 
not religion merely that was concerned, at least not 
that outlying, private, and almost negligible sphere 
to which we often apply this name; it was the whole 
fund of experience mankind had gathered by living; 
it was wisdom. Now, to record these lessons of 
experience, the Greeks and Romans also had their 
Books; their history, poetry, science, and civil law. 
So that while the theologically heathen may be those 
who have no Bible, the morally and essentially 
heathen are those who possess no authoritative 
wisdom, or reject the authority of what wisdom they 
have; the untaught or unteachable who disdain not 
only revelation but what revelation stood for among 
early peoples, namely, funded experience. 

In this sense the Greeks were the least heathen 
of men. They were singularly docile to political 
experiment, to law, to methodical art, to the proved 
limitations and resources of mortal life. This life 
they found closely hedged about by sky, earth, and 
sea, by war, madness, and conscience with their in 
dwelling deities, by oracles and local genii with their 
accustomed cults, by a pervasive fate, and the 
jealousy of invisible gods. Yet they saw that these 

divine forces were constant, and that they exercised 

K 



146 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

their pressure and bounty with so much method 
that a prudent art and religion could be built up in 
their midst. All this was simply a poetic prologue 
to science and the arts; it largely passed into them, 
and would have passed into them altogether if the 
naturalistic genius of Greece had not been crossed 
in Socrates by a premature discouragement, and 
diverted into other channels. 

Early Hebraism itself had hardly been so wise. 
It had regarded its tribal and moral interests as 
absolute, and the Creator as the champion and om 
nipotent agent of Israel. But this arrogance and 
inexperience were heathen. Soon the ascendency 
of Israel over nature and history was proclaimed 
to be conditional on their fidelity to the Law; and 
as the spirit of the nation under chastisement became 
more and more penitential, it was absorbed increas 
ingly in the praise of wisdom. Salvation was to 
come only by repentance, by being born again with 
a will wholly transformed and broken; so that the 
later Jewish religion went almost as far as Platonism 
or Christianity in the direction opposite to heathenism. 

This movement in the direction of an orthodox 
wisdom was regarded as a progress in those latter 
days of antiquity when it occurred, and it continued 
to be so regarded in Christendom until the rise of 
romanticism. The most radical reformers simply 



HEATHENISM 147 



urged that the current orthodoxy, religious or 
scientific, was itself imperfectly orthodox, being 
corrupt, overloaded, too vague, or too narrow. As 
every actual orthodoxy is avowedly incomplete and 
partly ambiguous, a sympathetic reform of it is 
always in order. Yet very often the reformers are 
deceived. What really offends them may not be 
what is false in the received orthodoxy, but what 
though true is uncongenial to them. In that case 
heathenism, under the guise of a search for a purer 
wisdom, is working in their souls against wisdom of 
any sort. Such is the suspicion that Catholics would 
throw on Protestantism, naturalists on idealism, and 
conservatives generally on all revolutions. 

But if ever heathenism needed to pose as con 
structive reform, it is now quite willing and able 
to throw off the mask. Desire for any orthodox 
wisdom at all may be repudiated; it may be set 
down to low vitality and failure of nerve. In various 
directions at once we see to-day an intense hatred 
and disbelief gathering head against the very notion 
of a cosmos to be discovered, or a stable human 
nature to be respected. Nature, we are told, is an 
artificial symbol employed by life; truth is a tempo 
rary convention; art is an expression of personality; 
war is better than peace, effort than achievement, 
and feeling than intelligence; change is deeper than 



148 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

form; will is above morality. Expressions of this 
kind are sometimes wanton and only half thought 
out; but they go very deep in the subjective direction. 
Behind them all is a sincere revulsion against the 
difficult and confused undertakings of reason ; against 
science, institutions, and moral compulsions. They 
mark an honest retreat into immediate experience 
and animal faith. Man used to be called a rational 
animal, but his rationality is something eventual and 
ideal, whereas his animality is actual and profound. 
Heathenism, if we consider life at large, is the primal 
and universal religion. 

It has never been my good fortune to see wild 
beasts in the jungle, but I have sometimes watched 
a wild bull in the ring, and I can imagine no more 
striking, simple, and heroic example of animal faith; 
especially when the bull is what is technically called 
noble, that is, when he follows the lure again and 
again with eternal singleness of thought, eternal 
courage, and no suspicion of a hidden agency that 
is mocking him. What the red rag is to this brave 
creature, their passions, inclinations, and chance 
notions are to the heathen. What they will they 
will; and they would deem it weakness and dis 
loyalty to ask whether it is worth willing or whether 
it is attainable. The bull, magnificently sniffing the 
air, surveys the arena with the cool contempt and 



HEATHENISM 149 



disbelief of the idealist, as if he said : " You seem, 
you are a seeming; I do not quarrel with you, I do 
not fear you. I am real, you are nothing." Then 
suddenly, when his eye is caught by some bright 
cloak displayed before him, his whole soul changes. 
His will awakes and he seems to say : " You are my 
destiny; I want you, I hate you, you shall be mine, 
you shall not stand in my path. I will gore you. I 
will disprove you. I will pass beyond you. I shall 
be, you shall not have been." Later, when sorely 
wounded and near his end, he grows blind to all 
these excitements. He smells the moist earth, and 
turns to the dungeon where an hour ago he was at 
peace. He remembers the herd, the pasture beyond, 
and he dreams : " I shall not die, for I love life. I 
shall be young again, young always, for I love youth. 
All this outcry is nought to me, this strange suffering 
is nought. I will go to the fields again, to graze, to 
roam, to love." 

So exactly, with not one least concession to the 
unsuspected reality, the heathen soul stands bravely 
before a painted world, covets some bauble, and 
defies death. Heathenism is the religion of will, the 
faith which life has in itself because it is life, and in 
its aims because it is pursuing them. 

In their tentative, many-sided, indomitable way, 
the Germans have been groping for four hundred 



150 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

years towards a restoration of their primitive heathen 
ism. Germany under the long tutelage of Rome had 
been like a spirited and poetic child brought up by 
very old and very worldly foster-parents. For many 
years the elfin creature may drink in their gossip 
and their maxims with simple wonder; but at last 
he will begin to be restive under them, ask himself 
ominous questions, protest, suffer, and finally break 
into open rebellion. Naturally he will not find at 
first theories and precepts of his own to take the 
place of his whole education; he will do what he 
can with his traditions, revising, interpreting, and 
patching them with new ideas; and only if he has 
great earnestness and speculative power will he ever 
reach an unalloyed expression of his oppressed soul. 
Now in Germany speculative power and earnest 
ness existed in a high degree, not, of course, in most 
people, but in the best and most representative; and 
it was this elite that made the Reformation, and 
carried it on into historical criticism and transcen 
dental philosophy, until in the nineteenth century, 
in Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche, the last 
remnants of Christian education were discarded and 
the spontaneous heathen morality of the race re 
asserted itself in its purity. That this assertion was 
not consistent, that it was thrown into the language 
and images of some alien system, is not to be 



HEATHENISM 151 



wondered at; but the Christianity of Parsifal, like 
the Buddhism of the denial of the will, is a pure 
piece of romanticism, an exotic setting for those 
vacillations and sinkings which absolute Will may 
very well be subject to in its absolute chaos. 

The rebellion of the heathen soul is unmistakable 
in the Reformation, but it is not recognised in this 
simple form, because those who feel that it was 
justified do not dream that it was heathen, and those 
who see that it was heathen will not admit that it 
was justified. Externally, of course, it was an effort 
to recover the original essence of Christianity; but 
why should a free and absolute being care for that 
original essence when he has discovered it, unless 
his own mind demanded that very thing? And if 
his mind demanded it, what need has he to read 
that demand into an ancient revelation which, as a 
matter of fact, turned on quite other matters ? It 
was simply the inertia of established prejudice that 
made people use tradition to correct tradition; until 
the whole substance of tradition, worn away by that 
internal friction, should be dissolved, and impulse 
and native genius should assert themselves un 
impeded. 

Judaism and Christianity, like Greek philosophy, 
were singly inspired by the pursuit of happiness, in 
whatever form it might be really attainable: now 



152 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

on earth if possible, or in the millennium, or in some 
abstracted and inward life, like that of the Stoics, 
or in the last resort, in a different life altogether 
beyond the grave. But heathenism ignores happiness, 
despises it, or thinks it impossible. The regimen and 
philosophy of Germany are inspired by this contempt 
for happiness, for one s own happiness as well as for 
other people s. Happiness seems to the German 
moralists something unheroic, an abdication before 
external things, a victory of the senses over the will. 
They think the pursuit of happiness low, materialistic, 
and selfish. They wish everybody to sacrifice or 
rather to forget happiness, and to do " deeds." 

It is in the nature of things that those who are 
incapable of happiness should have no idea of it. 
Happiness is not for wild animals, who can only 
oscillate between apathy and passion. To be happy, 
even to conceive happiness, you must be reasonable 
or (if Nietzsche prefers the word) you must be tamed. 
You must have taken the measure of your powers, 
tasted the fruits of your passions and learned your 
place in the world and what things in it can really 
serve you. To be happy you must be wise. This 
happiness is sometimes found instinctively, and then 
the rudest fanatic can hardly fail to see how lovely 
it is ; but sometimes it comes of having learned some 
thing by experience (which empirical people never 



HEATHENISM 153 



do) and involves some chastening and renunciation; 
but it is not less sweet for having this touch of holiness 
about it, and the spirit of it is healthy and beneficent. 
The nature of happiness, therefore, dawns upon philo 
sophers when their wisdom begins to report the lessons 
of experience: an a priori philosophy can have no 
inkling of it. 

Happiness is the union of vitality with art, and 
in so far as vitality is a spiritual thing and not mere 
restlessness and vehemence, art increases vitality. 
It obviates friction, waste, and despair. Without 
art, vitality is painful and big with monsters. It is 
hurried easily into folly and crime; it ignores the 
external forces and interests which it touches. Ger 
man philosophy does this theoretically, by dethron 
ing the natural world and calling it an idea created 
by the ego for its own purposes; and it does this 
practically also by obeying the categorical imperative 
no longer the fabled imperatives of Sinai or of 
Konigsberg, but the inward and vital imperative 
which the bull obeys, when trusting absolutely in 
his own strength, rage, and courage, he follows a 
little red rag and his destiny this way and that way. 



CHAPTER XV 

GERMAN GENIUS 

IT is customary to judge religions and philosophies 
by their truth, which is seldom their strong point; 
yet the application of that unsympathetic criterion 
is not unjust, since they aspire to be true, maintain 
that they are so, and forbid any opposed view, no 
matter how obvious and inevitable, to be called true 
in their stead. But when religions and philosophies 
are dead, or when we are so removed from them by 
time or training that the question of their truth is 
not a living question for us, they do not on that 
account lose all their interest; then, in fact, for the 
first time they manifest their virtues to the un 
believer. He sees that they are expressions of human 
genius; that however false to their subject-matter 
they may be, like the conventions of art they are 
true to the eye and to the spirit that fashioned them. 
And as nothing in the world, not even the truth, is 
so interesting as human genius, these incredible or 
obsolete religions and philosophies become delightful 
to us. The sting is gone out of their errors, which no 
longer threaten to delude us, and they have acquired 
a beauty invisible to the eye of their authors, because 



GERMAN GENIUS 155 

of the very refraction which the truth suffered in 
that vital medium. 

German philosophy is a work of genius. To be 
heathen is easy; to have an absolute will and a 
belief in chaos or rather a blind battle with chance 
is probably the lot of most animals; but to be 
condemned to be learned, industrious, moral, and 
Christian, and yet, through that veil of unavoidable 
phenomena and conventions, to pierce to absolute 
will and freedom, and to set them forth persuasively 
as the true reality, in spite of all the ordered appear 
ances which do not cease to confront and to occupy 
us that is a work of genius. It is a wonderful 
achievement, to have recovered atavistically the 
depths of the primitive soul, in the midst of its later 
sophistication. In this philosophy the ancestral ego, 
the soul perplexed and incredulous at being born 
into this world, returns to haunt us in broad day 
light and to persuade us with its ghostly eloquence 
that not that ego but this world is the ghost. 

The egotism which in German philosophy is justi 
fied by a theory in German genius is a form of ex 
perience. It turns everything it touches into a part 
of its own life, personal, spontaneous, sincere, original. 
It is young and self-sufficient ; yet as a continual 
change of view is incompatible with art and learn 
ing, we see in Germany, even more than elsewhere, 



156 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

a division of labour between genius and tradition; 
nowhere are the types of the young rebel and the 
tireless pedant so common and so extreme. 

The notion that something that moves and lives, 
as genius does, can at the same time be absolute has 
some interesting implications. Such a genius and all 
its works must be unstable. As it has no external 
sources and no external objects, as its own past can 
exercise no control over it (for that would be the 
most lifeless of tyrannies), it is a sort of shooting 
star, with no guarantees for the future. This, for the 
complete egotist, has no terrors. A tragic end and 
a multitude of enemies may seem good to the absolute 
hero and necessary to his perfect heroism. In the 
same way, to be without a subject-matter or an 
audience may seem good to the absolute poet, who 
sings to himself as he goes, exclusively for the benefit 
of that glorious and fleeting moment. Genius could 
not be purer than that: although perhaps it might 
be hard to prove that it was genius. 

A kindred implication, which perhaps might be 
less welcome to the egotist himself, is that an absolute 
genius is formless, and that the absolute freedom 
with which it thinks it takes on now this form and 
now that, is not really freedom at all, but subjection 
to unknown and perhaps ironical forces. Absolute 
Will, of which a perfectly free genius is an expression, 



GERMAN GENIUS 157 

cannot say specifically what it craves, for essentially 
it should crave everything indiscriminately. In 
practice, however, it must seem to aim at this or 
that precise result. These specific aims are suggested 
to it by circumstances, foisted upon it in its replete 
innocence; for it is all expectation, all vague hearti 
ness and zeal for it knows not what. The logic it 
proclaims at any time and calls eternal is but the 
fashionable rhetoric of that hour. Absolute Will 
is a great dupe on whom fortune forces card after 
card. Like Faust it is helpless before the most vulgar 
temptations. Why should it not fulfil itself now by 
the pursuit of magic, now by the seduction of a 
young girl, now by an archaeological pose, now by a 
piratical or an engineering enterprise? True, there 
are limits to its gullibility; there are suggestions 
from which it recoils. The German ego, after swallow 
ing Christianity whole, will in Luther stick at In 
dulgences. Faust sometimes turns on Mephistopheles, 
as the worm will turn: he says that he covets all 
experience, but in that he does himself a great 
injustice; there are experiences he scorns. After all 
this ego is not really absolute; it is specifically and 
pathetically human and directed upon a few natural 
ends. That is what saves it; for a mind can have no 
distinction and a soul no honour if its only maxim 
is to live on. It may take up with enthusiasm what- 



158 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

ever it takes up, but it will take up anything; and 
it may do mightily whatever it does, but it will not 
do it long. 

Consider, in this respect, the pathetic history of 
the German people. It conquered the Roman empire 
and it became Roman, or wished to become so. It 
had had a mythology and a morality of its own (very 
like in principle to those it has since rediscovered), 
yet it accepted Christianity with the docility of a 
child. It began to feel, after some centuries, how 
alien to its genius this religion was, but it could find 
relief only in a fresh draught from the same foreign 
sources, or others more remote. To cease to be 
Roman it tried to become Hebraic and Greek. In 
studying these models, however, it came upon a new 
scent. What passed for revelation or for classical 
perfection was of human national growth, stratified 
like the rocks, and not divine or authoritative at all. 
If you only made hypotheses enough, you could 
prove how it all arose according to necessary laws, 
logical, psychological, historical, economical, and 
aesthetical. Above all, you could prove how nobody 
had understood anything properly before, and how 
the key to it all was in your single hand. 

Yet the triumphs of theory alone soon seemed 
unsatisfying. Wine, science, and song once seemed 
to make Germany happy, but if a prince imposed 



GERMAN GENIUS 159 

military discipline, might not that be an even better 
thing ? For a time wist fulness, longing, and the 
feeling of Titanic loneliness and of a world to be 
evoked and snuffed out like a dream, seemed to fill 
the cup of intense living, and the greatest and happiest 
of Germans could cry 

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt 
weiss, was ich leide, 
allein und abgetrennt 
von alter Freude. 

But presently true intensity of life appeared to lie 
rather in being a victorious general, or an ironmaster, 
or a commercial traveller, or a reveller in the Friedrich- 
strasse, or a spy and conspirator anywhere in the world. 
All these turbid and nondescript ambitions are in 
a sense artificial; the Germans accept them now as 
a thousand years ago they accepted Christianity, 
because such things are suddenly thrust upon them. 
By nature they are simple, honest, kindly, easily 
pleased. There is no latent irony or disbelief in their 
souls. The pleasures of sense, plain and copious, 
they enjoy hugely, long labour does not exasperate 
thenij science fills them with satisfaction, music 
entrances them. There ought to be no happier or 
more innocent nation in this world. Unfortunately 
their very goodness and simplicity render them help 
less ; they are what they are dragooned to be. There 
is no social or intellectual disease to which, in spots, 



i6o EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

they do not succumb, as to an epidemic : their philo 
sophy itself is an example of this. They have the 
defects of the newly prosperous; they are far too 
proud of their possessions, esteeming them for being 
theirs, without knowing whether they are good of 
their kind. Culture is a thing seldom mentioned by 
those who have it. The real strength of the Germans 
lies not in those external achievements of which at this 
moment they make so much for they may outgrow 
this new materialism of theirs it lies rather in what 
they have always prized, their Gemiith and their music. 
Perhaps these two things have a common root. 
Emotion is inarticulate, yet there is a mighty move 
ment in it, and a great complexity of transitions and 
shades. This intrinsic movement of the feelings is 
ordinarily little noticed because people are too wide 
awake, or too imaginative. Everything is a fact or a 
picture to them, and their emotions seem to them 
little but obvious qualities of things. They roundly 
call things beautiful, painful, holy, or ridiculous; 
they do not speak of their Gemiitb, although, of 
course, it is by virtue of their emotions that, they 
pass such judgments. But when the occasions of our 
emotions, the objects that call them forth, are not so 
instantly focussed, when we know better what we 
feel than why we feel it, then we seem to have a 
richer and more massive sensibility. Our feelings 



GERMAN GENIUS 161 

absorb our attention because they remain a thing 
apart : they seem to us wonderfully deep because we 
do not ground them in things external. 

Now music is a means of giving form to our inner 
feelings without attaching them to events or objects 
in the world. Music is articulate, but articulate in 
a language which avoids, or at least veils the articu 
lation of the world we live in; it is, therefore, the 
chosen art of a mind to whom the world is still 
foreign. If this seems in one way an incapacity, it is 
also a privilege. Not to be at home in the world, 
to prize it chiefly for echoes which it may have in 
the soul, to have a soul that can give forth echoes, 
or that can generate internal dramas of sound out 
of its own resources may this not be a more enviable 
endowment than that of a mind all surface, a sensitive 
plate only able to photograph this not too beautiful 
earth? In any case, for better or for worse, inward 
sensibility, unabsorbed in worldly affairs, exists in 
some people; a life, as it were, still in the womb and 
not yet in contact with the air. But let these inspired 
musicians, masters in their own infinite realms, 
beware of the touch of matter. Let them not com 
pose a system of the universe out of their Gemiith, 
as they might a symphony. Let them not raise their 
baton in the face of the stars or of the nations, and 
think to lead them like an orchestra. 

L 



CHAPTER XVI 

EGOTISM IN PRACTICE 

THEORIES in their own ethereal essence can have no 
influence on events. But the men who conceive and 
adopt a theory form, in doing so, certain habits of 
discrimination and of reaction to things. In fact,, 
they have conceived and adopted their theory 
because their habits of apprehension and action 
suggested it to them, or could be brought to suggest 
it : the explicit theory is a symbol and omen of their 
practical attitude, of their way, as the phrase has it, 
of grasping the situation. 

All philosophies have the common property of 
being speculative, and, therefore, their immediate 
influence on those who hold them is in many ways 
alike, however opposed the theories may be to one 
another: they all make people theoretical. In this 
sense any philosophy, if warmly embraced, has a 
moralising force, because, even if it belittles morality, 
it absorbs the mind in intellectual contemplation,, 
accustoms it to wide and reasoned comparisons, and 
makes the sorry escapades of human nature from 
convention seem even more ignominious than its 
ruling prejudices. 

The particular theory of egotism arises from an 

162 



EGOTISM IN PRACTICE 163 

exorbitant interest in ourselves, in the medium of 
thought and action rather than in its objects. It is 
not necessarily incorrect, because the self is actual 
and indispensable; but the insistence on it is a little 
abnormal, because the self, like consciousness, ought 
to be diaphanous. Egotism in philosophy is, there 
fore, a pretty sure symptom of excessive pedantry 
and inordinate self-assertion. 

In the lofty theory of egotism life is represented 
as a sort of game of patience, in which the rules, the 
cards, the table, and the empty time on our hands, 
all are mere images created by the fancy, as in a 
dream. The sense of being occupied, though one 
really has nothing to do, will then be the secret of 
the whole affair, and the sole good to be attained 
by living. Of course this fantastic theory is put 
forward only on great occasions, when an extreme 
profundity is in place; but like other esoteric doc 
trines it expresses very well the spirit in which those 
people live habitually who would appeal to it in the 
last resort. Obviously such an egotist should in 
consistency be a man of principle. He would feel it 
to be derogatory to his dignity, and contrary to his 
settled purpose, to cheat at the game he has instituted. 
That luck should sometimes go against him is pre 
ordained by himself; otherwise the game would 
have no zest, and to be interested, to be pressed, 



164 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

even to be annoyed seems the highest good to him 
in his great tedium. He will, therefore, be assiduous, 
patient, and law-abMing; and the idea of ever 
abandoning his chosen game for anything less forced 
and less arbitrary will seem to him disloyalty to 
himself, and a great wickedness. 

Indeed, nothing beside his own purpose will have 
any value in his eyes, or even any existence. He will 
therefore inevitably act without consideration for 
others, without courtesy, without understanding. 
When he chooses to observe anything external and 
he is studious his very attentions will be an insult; 
for he will assume that his idea of that external thing 
is the reality of it, and that other people can have 
only such rights and only such a character as he is 
willing to assign to them. It follows from his egotistical 
principles that in judging others he should be officious 
and rude, learned and mistaken. 

What the egotist calls his will and his ideals are, 
taken together, simply his passions ; but the passions 
of the egotist are turned into a system and go un- 
rebuked. A man who lowers his precepts to the level 
of his will may the more easily raise his practice to 
the level of his precepts. He endows his life with a 
certain coherence, momentum, and integrity, just 
because he has suppressed all vain aspiration and all 
useless shame. He does not call himself a sinner; 



EGOTISM IN PRACTICE 165 

he would be at a loss for a reason to think himself 
one; for really his standard of virtue expresses 
nothing but his prevalent will. Is it not intelligible 
that such a morality should be more efficacious, 
more unifying, heavier, and more convinced than 
one which begins by condemning our natural passions 
and the habitual course of human life ? 

In fact, egotism in practice is a solemn and arduous 
business; there is nothing malicious about it and 
nothing gay. There is rather a stolid surprise that 
such honest sentiments and so much enterprise 
should not meet everywhere with applause. If other 
people are put thereby at a disadvantage, why should 
they not learn their lesson and adopt in their turn 
the methods of the superman ? If they are touched 
by the vanity and the charm of existence and neglect 
the intense pursuit of their absolute will, why do 
they complain if they are jostled and beaten ? Only 
he deserves life and freedom, said Goethe, who is 
forced daily to win them afresh. 

If the egotist suffers passion to speak in his philo 
sophy, it is perhaps because he has so little passion. 
Men of frank passions quickly see the folly of them; 
but the passions of the egotist are muffled, dull, like 
the miserly passions of old men; they are diffused 
into sensuality and sentiment, or hardened into 
maxims. Egotistical lovers can hold hands for hours 



166 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

and chastely kiss each other for years; such tokens 
of affection help to keep them in love and at the 
same time are a sop to more troublesome impulses. 
Sentimentality and gush mark the absence of passion : 
the blood has been diluted to lymph. Hence the 
egotist can the more easily mistake his passions for 
duties, and his cupidities for ideals. His devotion to 
these ideals is pure and enthusiastic; but in serving 
them he fattens steadily, as punctual at his work as 
at his meals, as dutifully moved by the approved 
music as by the official patriotism, vicious when it 
seems manly to be vicious, brutal when it seems 
politic to be brutal; he feels he is impeccable, and 
he must die in his sins. Nothing can ruffle the autono 
mous conscience of this kind of idealist, whose nature 
may be gross, but whose life is busy and conventional, 
and who loudly congratulates himself daily on all he 
knows and does. 

Turn the circumstances about as you like, the 
egotist finds only one ultimate reason for everything. 
It is not a reason; it is absolute will. Suppose we 
asked the ego, in the Fichtean system, why it posited 
a material world to be its implacable enemy and 
rebellious toy, and why without necessity it raised 
this infinity of trouble for itself and for the unhappy 
world which it created by its fiat. It could only 
reply: " Because such is the categorical imperative 



EGOTISM IN PRACTICE 167 

within me; because so I will, so I must, and so my 
absolute duty and its logic require. If the conse 
quences are tragic and in the end I know they must 
be tragic that only proves the sublime unselfishness 
of my egotism, the purity of my sacred folly, the 
ideality of my groundless will. All reasons, all justi 
fications which might appeal to me must be posterior 
to my will; my will itself can have no justification 
and no reason." 

Let us admire the sincerity of this searching con 
fession. Virtue itself, if it relied on self-consciousness 
for its philosophy, could not justify itself on other 
grounds. If the difference between virtue and vice is 
hereby obliterated, that only proves that the differ 
ence is not founded on self-consciousness but on the 
circumstances and powers under which we live. What 
self-consciousness can disclose is not the basis of 
anything. All will -is the expression of some animal 
body, frail and mortal, but teachable and rich in 
resource. The environment in which this will finds 
itself controls and rewards its various movements, 
and establishes within it the difference between virtue 
and vice, wisdom and folly. 

The whole transcendental philosophy, if made 
ultimate, is false, and nothing but a private per 
spective. The will is absolute neither in the indi* 
vidual nor in humanity. Nature is not a product of 



168 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 

the mind, but on the contrary there is an external 
world, ages prior to any idea of it, which the mind 
recognises and feeds upon. There is a steady human 
nature within us, which our moods and passions may 
wrong but cannot annul. There is no categorical 
imperative but only the operation of instincts and 
interests more or less subject to discipline and mutual 
adjustment. Our whole life is a compromise, an 
incipient loose harmony between the passions of the 
soul and the forces of nature, forces which likewise 
generate and protect the souls of other creatures, 
endowing them with powers of expression and self- 
assertion comparable with our own, and with aims 
no less sweet and worthy in their own eyes; so that 
the quick and honest mind cannot but practise 
courtesy in the universe, exercising its will without 
vehemence or forced assurance, judging with serenity, 
and in everything discarding the word absolute as 
the most false and the most odious of words. As 
Montaigne observes, "He who sets before him, as 
in a picture, this vast image of our mother Nature 
in her entire majesty; who reads in her aspect 
such universal and continual variety; who discerns 
himself therein, and not himself only but a whole 
kingdom, to be but a most delicate dot he alone 
esteems things according to the just measure of their 
greatness." 



INDEX 



ALEXANDER THE GREAT, a model 

for German idealists, 80, 81 
Aristotle, 120, 124 

Belief in God, disproved prag 
matically, 134 
Bull-psychology, 148, 153 
Burckhardt, 47 
Byron, 48, 49 

Caesar Borgia, a superman, 138 

Calvinism, in Kant, 57; in Fichte, 
25, 77; in Hegel, in 

Categorical imperative, its origin, 
56; its prerogatives, 62; 
its dangers, 63 

Chancellor, the German, his 
chivalrous after - thought 
about Belgium, 50 

Christianity, foreign to Germany, 
1 1 ; undermined by German 
philosophy, 104, 105; patron 
ised by Goethe, 46; aban 
doned by romantic indi 
vidualists, 107; denounced 
by Nietzsche, 130-132; has 
one element in common with 
egotism, 106 

Classicism, romantic in Goethe, 
46; missed by Nietzsche, 
139-142; when truly vital, 
48 

Conquest, a sublime duty, 80, 81 

Contraries, alleged to be in 
separable, 89, 90 

Criticism, historical, has a tran 
scendental basis, 29 

Critique of Pure Reason, its 
agnosticism, 14; its so 
phistical foundation, 20 



Durer, 27 

Egotism, defined, 6; distin 
guished from selfishness, 95- 
97, 100-102, 118; based on 
error, 167; implicit in the 
Kantian imperative and pos 
tulates, 62-64; implies integ 
rity, force, self-complacency, 
163-166; is odious in pedants, 
142 

Emerson, 24, 49; quoted, 119 
England, judged by Fichte, 76 
Evil, justified, 123, 132-134 

Faith, German conception of it, 
13, 27; corroborated only 
by itself, 31, 68 

Faust, typical egotist, 13, 14; 
prefigures the evolution of 
Germany, 50, 51, 157; im 
proves on Saint John, 52 

Fichte, 65-83 

Gemuth, why self-conscious, 160 
German ethics, its faults, 103 
German language, its merits, 75 
German nation, its purity, 75 ; 
its mission, 78, 79; in what 
sense the chosen people, 73, 
74; necessary to the con 
tinued existence of God, 68; 
and of history, 79; its for 
tunes, 158-160 

German philosophy, not all philo 
sophy in Germany, u; 
primitive, 27; subjective, 
12; in what senses idealistic, 
1 5 ; in what sense not so, 1 6 ; 
ambiguous, 17, 18; a revela- 



170 EGOTISM IN GERMAN PHILOSOPHY 



tion, 22; must continually 

be proved afresh, 26; is a 

work of genius, 155 
Gobineau, 77 

Goethe, 43-53; quoted, 159, 165 
Good and evil above right and 

wrong, 124 
Gospel, amended by Faust, 52; 

glossed by Hegelians, 105 

Happiness, not for the egotist, 

14, 15; he despises it, 152; 
not abstract nor absolute, 
no, in; attainable, 1 1 8 ; 
its nature, 152, 153 

Heathenism, use of the word, 
1 44 ; contrast with paganism , 
145, 146; its modern form, 

147. 148 
Hegel, 84-98 
Human nature, 117, 118 

Idealism, meanings of the word, 

15, 16; fosters practical 
materialism, 5, 69-72, 78, 81, 
82; should be imposed on 
the young, 80; its mystical 
issue, 38-40 

Ideals, when captious, when solid, 

137 

Infinity, evaded by Hegel, 88, 89; 
recognised again by Scho 
penhauer, 1 08, 109 

Kant, 54-64; 25, 34, 35, 42 
Knowledge, assumed to be im 
possible, 15; abuse of the 
term, 39, 60 

Leibniz, anticipates transcen 
dentalism, 33; his insidious 
theology, 104 

Lessing, on truth, 129 

Locke, sets the ball rolling, 32 

Luther, 135, 157 



Max Stirner, 99-103; quoted, 73 
Montaigne, quoted, 168 
Music, 1 6, 161 
Musset, 49 

Mysticism, in knowledge, 38-40; 
in morals, 123 

Nietzsche, 114-143 

Optimism, egotistical, 25, in, 
114, 116, 118, 119 

Passion, not naturally egotistical, 

10 1 ; may become so, 95, 98; 

dull in egotists, 165, 166 
Paulsen, 42 
Perception, terminates in things 

not in ideas, 19 
Pessimism, inherits disregard of 

intrinsic values, 109; reacts 

against optimism, 25, in; 

is arbitrary, 116 

Pier Gynt, typical egotist, 13, 14 
Plato, his idealism contrasted 

with the German, 16; his 

oppressive politics, 8 1 ; on 

inspiration, 141 
Postulates of practical reason, 

equivocal, 58-64 
Power, divers meanings of the 

word, 125-127 
Preservation, no law of nature, 

US 
Progress, when illusory, 1 7 ; when 

real, 112 
Protestantism, 21-31, 151 

Religion in German philosophy, 

7, 13. 75. 76, 82,83 
Rome and German genius, 150 

Schopenhauer, 108-122 
Selfishness, distinguished from 
egotism, 95, 97, 100-102, 118 



INDEX 



171 



Society, its alleged consciousness, 
17, 18; a " spook," 99 

Socrates, 146 

Spinoza, religious feeling trans 
ferred to nature, 24; his 
mysticism in ethics, 123 

Spirit, its meanings, 37; its 
mystic unity, 38 

State, the absolute, an idol, 96- 
98 

Substance, egotistical use of the 
term, 17, 92 

Superman, 136-143 

Tender minds, how attracted to 

German philosophy, 24 
Transcendentalism, 32-42 
Truth, a figment of the will, 28; 
made in Germany, 88; less 



valuable than illusion, 14, 
128-130; not the strong 
point of philosophies, 154 

Understanding, hostility of Hegel 
to the, 90, 91 

Wagner, 136, 150 

War, a boon, 96; how it should 
be started, 79; is to rage for 
two hundred years, 115 

Wilhelm Meister, 44 

Will, used metaphorically, 36, 
114; should be disinterested, 
67; may be fulfilled in de 
feat, 66, 67; is unstable 
and indeterminate, 156-158; 
may be denied, 119, 120 

Winkelmann, 140, note 



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