Tuesday, 1 September 2015


His Origin.

At the present moment it would require some almost unimaginably detached person — perhaps "a philosophic Chinaman "—to write a history of the Superman idea. No German can treat it fairly just now, says Mr. Sidney Low, though a German has lately tried it. Mr. Low is hardly more inclined to believe his own countrymen capable of the task, for they seem to think that the preachers of the doctrine are all Germans. Nothing can be more ridiculous, he avers, in the London 'Standard,' than to say, as some hasty people do in England, that "there would not have been war but for Nietzsche and his 'blonde beasts' and 'slave morality.' " He scoffs at the idea that Germany has been perverted by the teachings of two or three philosophers and literary men; in particular by Treitschke and Nietzsche, "of whom till last year many Germans probably knew no more than the majority of Englishmen." If you wish to find the sources of all these ideas so current in Germany and outside about Germany, England has only to look to her own classic writers, or those of the 19th century just mounted comfortably upon the classic shelves. As to Germany, she has only accepted the honours thrust upon her. Mr. Low sees her case quite differently:
 "The great social groups and forces which have supported the war policy, the military chiefs, the Prussian Junkers, the merchants and financiers who want to exploit other countries, the masses who have been scared by the bogey of Panslavism and the 'freedom of the seas,' do not read the philosophers and historians. But these latter have influenced the professors, the students, and the intellectuals generally; and through them they have supplied what is deemed a philosophic and historical warrant for the passions and ambitions that are really derived from quite other motives."
 The Superman Doctrine Not German at all.
 The doctrine of the Superman and the Superrace is, Mr. Low asserts, "like most other things in Germany, not of German invention." He finds, instead, that "it was developed in France, Italy, and England, in one form or another, before it was adopted as a distinctively Teutonic faith." In fact:
 "In its origin it was partly ethnological, partly biological, and partly political. In the last sense it was associated with that revolt against democracy, characteristic of so many leading minds in Britain and else- where during the 19th century. Carlyle, Ruskin, Tennyson, Newman, Samuel Butler, Renan, Ibsen, Emerson, Matthew Arnold, were all supporters, consciously or unconsciously, of the aristocratic ideal. They heard the tramp of 'the wild mob's million feet,' and did not like the sound; fearing that art, culture, religion, the refinements of life, might be crushed beneath that indiscriminating march. The ignorance, the loose thinking, the vulgarity and crudeness of the masses impressed and frightened even those of them who were in theory Liberals and Democrats. Ruskin was a Socialist, a lover of the people, an opponent of convention, plutocracy, and privilege. Yet his whole temper of mind is aristocratic. His ideal is that of Plato, an oligarchy of 'guardians,' a kind of spiritual Samurai who would rule and direct the poor and uninstructed for their own good and the greater glory of God. Arnold was a bitter critic of our 'barbarian' British governing classes, but he, too, wanted government by a genuine aristocracy of intellect and culture. So did Emerson. These literary gentlemen, in those sheltered Victorian days, naturally wanted their heroes to be rather like themselves, extremely polished persons, who thought a good library the nearest approach to a terrestrial paradise, and regarded war and violence as ill-bred anachronisms.'
 Carlyle and His Fools.
 Two British writers there were who put the idea in a different form, and, we are assured, were mainly responsible for its diffusion in Germany. Carlyle was one:
 "The rugged Scots peasant, with his dyspepsia and his perpetual ill-temper, his standing grievance against the general scheme of things, laid about him with more resounding weapons. Sick of the mediocrity and insincerity which democracy, as he thought, encouraged, he fell back on the personality of the man of genius, the hero divinely inspired to set a disjointed world right. Every nation and society being composed of persons who were 'mostly fools,' the only salvation was that they should be controlled, guided, taught, if need be, thwacked, dragooned, and drummed into sense and good behaviour by the Great Man to whom, as by divine illumination, the 'eternal verities' were revealed. If the 'fools,' the lesser multitude, would not recognise their prophet and saviour, then it was eminently desirable to adopt means of coercion. Carlyle, like many other invalids, and many others whose occupations are sedentary and inactive, had a pathetic admiration for sheer physical force. His 'hero' tended sometimes to be rather like the hero of the young lady's school, the hero of the middle-aged lady's novel, a tremendously 'virile' individual, all muscle and ferocious manliness and fierce, unbridled strength. Consequently he rehabilitated the soldier, that creature so closely in touch with the eternal verities that he does not merely talk and argue and write (like Carlyle himself and all the black-coated acquaintances he despised), but can on occasion actually pull out a long knife and stick you dead with it. And if he did by the means of long knives, whips, whiffs of grapeshot, bullets, Drogheda massacres, and so forth, impress his conviction upon the slavish or the unveracious, he was only by these regrettable means pursuing his divine mission. Carlyle's favourite hero was a Hohenzollern king; his favourite heroic people were the Germans, and more particularly the Prussians. He had a great influence in Germany, and did much to foster the worship of the Superman, the physically strong Superman, in the more cultured circles of that country."
 Darwin's Influence in Germany.
 If England is to abjure the teachings that have brought the present calamitous war upon her, what will be her emotions towards the memory of the other Englishman who, in Mr. Low's view, shares with Carlyle an even greater responsibility of influence — Charles Darwin:
 'The theory of the survival of the fittest bit deep into the Teutonic mind. It was the side of Darwinism on which the heaviest stress was laid, so much so that Haeckel and other Germans attributed to it an importance which Darwin never claimed for it himself, and which the neo-Darwinians completely repudiate. But the German materialist school fastened with delight on the conception of all life as a perpetual and unending struggle, in which only the strong can survive and the weak must inevitably perish. Nature, 'red in tooth and claw,' has laid its savage fiat of rapine and destruction upon man as upon all other created beings. The idea is worked to death by Nietzsche, and is, in fact, at the basis of all his teachings. 'Be strong,' is the grim watchword of all creation. Increase and multiply; seize by force or fraud if need be the means of sustenance and power; crush the weak under your feet, lest you be yourself trampled down; for weakness is not only wickedness; it is ruin, futility, extinction. There is no room and no need for all who survive, at least no room for them to survive and develop their higher intellectual and corporeal activities. Therefore let the impotent Many be robbed, and enslaved so that the Few and Fit may go on increasing their capacities and their superiority. Men may rise on stepping-stones of other people's dead selves and bruised lives to higher things. Thus shall the 'Will to Power be fulfilled, and the Superman be born.'
"The Chosen People of the North."
 Finally, there is the influence of the imperial ethnologists:
"The 19th century scholars, conspicuously represented in England by such historians as Freeman and Stubbs, gave great play to the theory of the superiority of the 'Germanic' races. The Franco-Italian Count Gobineau carried it further, and so did the Frenchman Vacher de Lapouge. These writers developed the thesis that European culture depended mainly or entirely on the chosen 'Aryan' stock, which was only found in its purity among the northern Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples. Their speculations were gathered up and exaggerated in the extravagant fantasies of Richard Houston Chamberlain, whose farrago of learned nonsense caught hold of Germany like a nightmare. Sixty thousand copies of this massive gospel of ethnic arrogance were sold in Germany in a few months. The book is one long and involved paean of Germanic triumph. "There is nothing in European culture worth having that is not 'Germanic' from King David to Peter the Great, from Homer to Dante, from the marbles of the Acropolis to the sonatas of Beethoven, from Alexander the Great to Napoleon Bonaparte. Celts, Iberians, the 'Alpine' race, Jews, Slavs, are only worthy to live as the dependents and subjects of the chosen people of the North. This is the gospel of the Superrace, whereof the German Kaiser with his legions and his guns and his gas-projectors is the apostle to the Gentiles."
 The idea will doubtless find many to attempt its philosophic solution, after the war. Just now, as Mr. Low remarks, we must not look to one of the combatant nations for any 'fair' solution.

The Catholic Press 13 January 1916

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