indeed, my indulgent friends, I will tell you—here, in this late preface, which might easily have [pg 002] become an obituary or a funeral oration—what I sought in the depths below: for I have come back, and—I have escaped. Think not that I will urge you to run the same perilous risk! or that I will urge you on even to the same solitude! For whoever proceeds on his own path meets nobody: this is the feature of one's “own path.” No one comes to help him in his task: he must face everything quite alone—danger, bad luck, wickedness, foul weather. He goes his own way; and, as is only right, meets with bitterness and occasional irritation because he pursues this “own way” of his: for instance, the knowledge that not even his friends can guess who he is and whither he is going, and that they ask themselves now and then: “Well? Is he really moving at all? Has he still ... a path before him?”—At that time I had undertaken something which could not have been done by everybody: I went down into the deepest depths; I tunnelled to the very bottom; I started to investigate and unearth an old faith which for thousands of years we philosophers used to build on as the safest of all foundations—which we built on again and again although every previous structure fell in: I began to undermine our faith in morals. But ye do not understand me?—
So far it is on Good and Evil that we have meditated least profoundly: this was always too dangerous a subject. Conscience, a good reputation, hell, and at times even the police, have not [pg 003] allowed and do not allow of impartiality; in the presence of morality, as before all authority, we must not even think, much less speak: here we must obey! Ever since the beginning of the world, no authority has permitted itself to be made the subject of criticism; and to criticise morals—to look upon morality as a problem, as problematic—what! was that not—is that not—immoral?—But morality has at its disposal not only every means of intimidation wherewith to keep itself free from critical hands and instruments of torture: its security lies rather in a certain art of enchantment, in which it is a past master—it knows how to “enrapture.” It can often paralyse the critical will with a single look, or even seduce it to itself: yea, there are even cases where morality can turn the critical will against itself; so that then, like the scorpion, it thrusts the sting into its own body. Morality has for ages been an expert in all kinds of devilry in the art of convincing: even at the present day there is no orator who would not turn to it for assistance (only hearken to our anarchists, for instance: how morally they speak when they would fain convince! In the end they even call themselves “the good and the just”). Morality has shown herself to be the greatest mistress of seduction ever since men began to discourse and persuade on earth—and, what concerns us philosophers even more, she is the veritable Circe of philosophers. For, to what is it due that, from Plato onwards, all the philosophic architects in Europe have built in vain? that everything which they themselves honestly believed to be aere perennius [pg 004] threatens to subside or is already laid in ruins? Oh, how wrong is the answer which, even in our own day, rolls glibly off the tongue when this question is asked: “Because they have all neglected the prerequisite, the examination of the foundation, a critique of all reason”—that fatal answer made by Kant, who has certainly not thereby attracted us modern philosophers to firmer and less treacherous ground! (and, one may ask apropos of this, was it not rather strange to demand that an instrument should criticise its own value and effectiveness? that the intellect itself should “recognise” its own worth, power, and limits? was it not even just a little ridiculous?) The right answer would rather have been, that all philosophers, including Kant himself were building under the seductive influence of morality—that they aimed at certainty and “truth” only in appearance; but that in reality their attention was directed towards “majestic moral edifices,” to use once more Kant's innocent mode of expression, who deems it his “less brilliant, but not undeserving” task and work “to level the ground and prepare a solid foundation for the erection of those majestic moral edifices” (Critique of Pure Reason, ii. 257). Alas! He did not succeed in his aim, quite the contrary—as we must acknowledge to-day. With this exalted aim, Kant was merely a true son of his century, which more than any other may justly be called the century of exaltation: and this he fortunately continued to be in respect to the more valuable side of this century (with that solid piece of sensuality, for example, which he introduced into his theory of [pg 005] knowledge). He, too, had been bitten by the moral tarantula, Rousseau; he, too, felt weighing on his soul that moral fanaticism of which another disciple of Rousseau's, Robespierre, felt and proclaimed himself to be the executor: de fonder sur la terre l'empire de la sagesse, de la justice, et de la vertu. (Speech of June 4th, 1794.) On the other hand, with such a French fanaticism in his heart, no one could have cultivated it in a less French, more deep, more thorough and more German manner—if the word German is still permissible in this sense—than Kant did: in order to make room for his “moral kingdom,” he found himself compelled to add to it an indemonstrable world, a logical “beyond”—that was why he required his critique of pure reason! In other words, he would not have wanted it, if he had not deemed one thing to be more important than all the others: to render his moral kingdom unassailable by—or, better still, invisible to, reason,—for he felt too strongly the vulnerability of a moral order of things in the face of reason. For, when confronted with nature and history, when confronted with the ingrained immorality of nature and history, Kant was, like all good Germans from the earliest times, a pessimist: he believed in morality, not because it is demonstrated through nature and history, but despite its being steadily contradicted by them. To understand this “despite,” we should perhaps recall a somewhat similar trait in Luther, that other great pessimist, who once urged it upon his friends with true Lutheran audacity: “If we could conceive by reason alone how that God who shows so much [pg 006] wrath and malignity could be merciful and just, what use should we have for faith?” For, from the earliest times, nothing has ever made a deeper impression upon the German soul, nothing has ever “tempted” it more, than that deduction, the most dangerous of all, which for every true Latin is a sin against the intellect: credo quia absurdum est.—With it German logic enters for the first time into the history of Christian dogma; but even to-day, a thousand years later, we Germans of the present, late Germans in every way, catch the scent of truth, a possibility of truth, at the back of the famous fundamental principle of dialectics with which Hegel secured the victory of the German spirit over Europe—“contradiction moves the world; all things contradict themselves.” We are pessimists—even in logic.
But logical judgments are not the deepest and most fundamental to which the daring of our suspicion descends: the confidence in reason which is inseparable from the validity of these judgments, is, as confidence, a moral phenomenon ... perhaps German pessimism has yet to take its last step? Perhaps it has once more to draw up its “credo” opposite its “absurdum” in a terrible manner? And if this book is pessimistic even in regard to morals, even above the confidence in morals—should it not be a German book for that very reason? For, in fact, it represents a contradiction, and one which it does not fear: in it confidence in morals is retracted—but why? Out of morality! Or how [pg 007] shall we call that which takes place in it—in us? for our taste inclines to the employment of more modest phrases. But there is no doubt that to us likewise there speaketh a “thou shalt”; we likewise obey a strict law which is set above us—and this is the last cry of morals which is still audible to us, which we too must live: here, if anywhere, are we still men of conscience, because, to put the matter in plain words, we will not return to that which we look upon as decayed, outlived, and superseded, we will not return to something “unworthy of belief,” whether it be called God, virtue, truth, justice, love of one's neighbour, or what not; we will not permit ourselves to open up a lying path to old ideals; we are thoroughly and unalterably opposed to anything that would intercede and mingle with us; opposed to all forms of present-day faith and Christianity; opposed to the lukewarmness of all romanticism and fatherlandism; opposed also to the artistic sense of enjoyment and lack of principle which would fain make us worship where we no longer believe—for we are artists—opposed, in short, to all this European feminism (or idealism, if this term be thought preferable) which everlastingly “draws upward,” and which in consequence everlastingly “lowers” and “degrades.” Yet, being men of this conscience, we feel that we are related to that German uprightness and piety which dates back thousands of years, although we immoralists and atheists may be the late and uncertain offspring of these virtues—yea, we even consider ourselves, in a certain respect, as their heirs, the executors of their inmost will: a pessimistic will, as I have already [pg 008] pointed out, which is not afraid to deny itself, because it denies itself with joy! In us is consummated, if you desire a formula—the autosuppression of morals.
But, after all, why must we proclaim so loudly and with such intensity what we are, what we want, and what we do not want? Let us look at this more calmly and wisely; from a higher and more distant point of view. Let us proclaim it, as if among ourselves, in so low a tone that all the world fails to hear it and us! Above all, however, let us say it slowly.... This preface comes late, but not too late: what, after all, do five or six years matter? Such a book, and such a problem, are in no hurry; besides, we are friends of the lento, I and my book. I have not been a philologist in vain—perhaps I am one yet: a teacher of slow reading. I even come to write slowly. At present it is not only my habit, but even my taste—a perverted taste, maybe—to write nothing but what will drive to despair every one who is “in a hurry.” For philology is that venerable art which exacts from its followers one thing above all—to step to one side, to leave themselves spare moments, to grow silent, to become slow—the leisurely art of the goldsmith applied to language: an art which must carry out slow, fine work, and attains nothing if not lento. For this very reason philology is now more desirable than ever before; for this very reason it is the highest attraction and incitement in an age of “work”: that is to say, of haste, of unseemly and immoderate hurry-skurry, [pg 009] which is intent upon “getting things done” at once, even every book, whether old or new. Philology itself, perhaps, will not “get things done” so hurriedly: it teaches how to read well: i.e. slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, with delicate fingers and eyes ... my patient friends, this book appeals only to perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well!
Ruta, near Genoa,