Nietzsche, the European Narcotics, and Romanticism

(The following is a response to Nietzsche’s analysis of “Things the Germans Lack,” in Twilight of the Idols, which chapter I previously reproduced here in Limbo, in its entirety.)

Nietzsche’s “two great European narcotics”: Christianity and alcohol. German Christianity and German beer were, for Nietzsche, particularly noteworthy as the vanguard of European man’s decline. Christianity in the modern sense and alcohol in the “our beer” sense are, among other things, Nietzsche’s shorthand for — but also the moving and final causes of — nineteenth century romanticism, a fact he highlights in §2 of “Things the Germans Lack” by expressly citing the development of a new “third opiate,” German music. German romanticism, then — which is just European romanticism in its most corrosive and insidious form — is nothing but drunken patriotism in the key of tragic-epic parochialism, which is to say it is a mythology or mythologizing self-portrait for wet souls brimming with tears, and presumed to be full of deep meaning merely on account of being wet. This is the ascendency of pity, especially self-pity, and in particular self-pity as a symbol of worth — even of beauty. Yet this is a theory of the beautiful with no place for desire; it is a languid, limp, exhausted, “intellectual appreciation” of the beautiful, which is to say an inability to be moved by the beautiful, except in the sense of being moved to petty self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, self-satisfaction. Beauty as an intellectual self-projection rather than a higher aspiration is an empty concept, which is to say it is an abstraction to which nothing concrete corresponds.

How much peevish ponderousness, paralysis, dampness, dressing-gown languor, and beer is there not in German intelligence! How is it really possible that young men who consecrate their whole lives to the pursuit of intellectual ends, should not feel within them the first instinct of intellectuality, the self-preservative instinct of the intellect—and should drink beer? The alcoholism of learned youths does not incapacitate them for becoming scholars—a man quite devoid of intellect may be a great scholar,—but it is a problem in every other respect.

–Nietzsche (Ludovici trans.), “Things the Germans Lack” §2

The end results of the European narcotics and the de-energized world their intoxication engenders: scholarship as opposed to philosophy, popularity as opposed to profundity, nihilism as opposed to life, socialism as opposed to self-reliance. This romantic, self-pitying self-satisfaction is the soggy kingdom of “Our beer,” “Our salvation,” “Our music.”


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