Classic Essays

Wotan Has Put a Hard Heart in My Breast

an extract from Friedrich Nietzsche
introduced and translated by H.L. Mencken

THE CIVILIZATION which existed in Europe before the dawn of Christianity was a culture based upon master-morality, and so we find that the theologians and moralists of those days esteemed a certain action as right only when it plainly subserved the best interests of strong, resourceful men. The ideal man of that time was not a meek and lowly sufferer, bearing his cross uncomplainingly, but an alert, proud and combative being who knew his rights and dared maintain them. In consequence we find that in many ancient languages, the words “good” and “aristocratic” were synonymous. Whatever served to make a man a nobleman — cunning, wealth, physical strength, eagerness to resent and punish injuries — was considered virtuous, praiseworthy and moral, and on the other hand, whatever tended to make a man sink to the level of the great masses — humility, lack of ambition, modest desires, lavish liberality and a spirit of ready forgiveness — was regarded as immoral and wrong.

“Among these master races,” says Nietzsche, “the antithesis ‘good and bad’ signified practically the same as ‘noble and contemptible’! The despised ones were the cowards, the timid, the insignificant, the self-abasing — the dog-species of men who allowed themselves to be misused — the flatterers and, above all, the liars. It is a fundamental belief of all true aristocrats that the common people are deceitful. ‘We true ones,’ the ancient Greek nobles called themselves.

“It is obvious that the designations of moral worth were at first applied to individual men, and not to actions or ideas in the abstract. The master type of man regards himself as a sufficient judge of worth. He does not seek approval: his own feelings determine his conduct. ‘What is injurious to me,’ he reasons, ‘is injurious in itself.’ This type of man honors whatever qualities he recognizes in himself: his morality is self-glorification. He has a feeling of plentitude and power and the happiness of high tension. He helps the unfortunate, perhaps, but it is not out of sympathy. The impulse, when it comes at all, rises out of his superabundance of power — his thirst to function. He honors his own power, and he knows how to keep it in hand. He joyfully exercises strictness and severity over himself and he reverences all that is strict and severe. ‘Wotan has put a hard heart in my breast,’ says an old Scandinavian saga. There could be no better expression of the spirit of a proud Viking.

“The morality of the master class is irritating to the taste of the present day because of its fundamental principle that a man has obligations only to his equals; that he may act to all of lower rank and to all that are foreign as he pleases…. The man of the master class has a capacity for prolonged gratitude and prolonged revenge, but it is only among his equals. He has, too, great resourcefulness in retaliation; great capacity for friendship, and a strong need for enemies, that there may be an outlet for his envy, quarrelsomeness and arrogance, and that by spending these passions in this manner, he may be gentle towards his friends.”

* * *

Source: Friedrich Nietzsche by H.L. Mencken (1913); via Volkish

Previous post

Happen and Fizzle Away

Next post

British Police: A Mixed Bag

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phil Keup
Phil Keup
11 October, 2020 9:38 pm

This is a fine example of Nietzsche’s prayers to our ancestors he expresses in his writing. People mistake him for an unbeliever in the divine because we have been brainwashed in thinking the only option is to believe in that Jewish book. The All Father has only one commandment for his children and even that is a strong suggestion. “Seek Wisdom”.

Arvin N. Prebost
Arvin N. Prebost
12 October, 2020 10:48 am

This sounds good in theory, but I don’t know how it would play out in reality.

The nobles of the middle-ages used to have war-games in which they would destroy the farms and houses of the peasants.

“The morality of the master class is irritating to the taste of the present day because of its fundamental principle that a man has obligations only to his equals; that he may act to all of lower rank and to all that are foreign as he pleases….”—that is troubling to me. 

Kevin Alfred Strom
Kevin Alfred Strom
Reply to  Arvin N. Prebost
16 October, 2020 10:33 am

I think Nietzsche, like quite a few other geniuses, sometimes veers off the track or misses important details while in the midst of his passion for his discoveries. Selfish, self-indulgent “nobles” unworthy of the name, don’t deserve to be anyone’s masters.

But a truly noble soul could rightly disregard the stupid and momentary desires of penny-counting businessmen or slug-brained Walmart shoppers or the mob generally in order to do what is needed to ensure that our race continues to exist and evolve for the next 10,000 years.

dan quixote
dan quixote
Reply to  Arvin N. Prebost
17 October, 2020 5:03 am

”—that is troubling to me.” And to Nietzsche as well. This was the man who said of Buddhism that it was “the only truly positive religion that has ever existed.” There is no one else I know of so grossly misunderstood, or so wildly misrepresented. Granted he is not easy for most to understand, and he played a part in that, unwilling to sugar coat anything– one major part of the reason he is very easy to take out of context. Most won’t understand him though, willfully (if unconsciously)– and not only by his critics… “This mouth is not for these ears.” No amount of explanation would have helped those who had not ears to hear (that seems particularly true of academia). People often only hear what they want to… Read more »

Arvin N. Prebost
Arvin N. Prebost
Reply to  dan quixote
17 October, 2020 9:35 am

Yes, I have seen the phrase, “beyond good and evil” once in the Dhammapada, which is a book that is more coherent about the things it says, rather than just saying them, like Jesus is represented as doing on the “Sermon on the Mount.”

Thanks for your discerning reply. I am copying it and saving it.

dan quixote
dan quixote
Reply to  Arvin N. Prebost
23 October, 2020 11:21 pm

It’s a subject that has long weighed on my mind. As they say, “confession is good for the soul,” and I am glad someone found value in it. Part of the issue is that few would, because too few actually value Truth. I have been writing and codifying my philosophy, and this is quite apropos, and has gotten me refocused and fired up (for now..). The two philosophers most important to me are the Buddha and Nietzsche, and for twenty years I have described my philosophy in general (but still meaningful) terms as Nietzschean Buddhism. It has evolved over the years but can still be largely encompassed by those two. There is a surprising amount of similarity between them than those with only superficial knowledge might suppose. For example, if one… Read more »

17 October, 2020 3:35 pm