Fatum and History (1862) – Friedrich Nietzsche

If we could contemplate the Christian doctrine and the history of the Church with a view free of prejudices, we would be forced to express some opinions opposed to the current general ideas. But, subjected from our first days to the yoke of customs and prejudices, restrained by the impressions of our childhood on the natural evolution of our spirit and determined in the formation of our temperament, we almost believe ourselves obliged to consider the choice of a freer point of view from which to make a non-partisan and timely judgment on religion and Christianity as criminal.

An attempt of this kind is not the work of a few weeks, but of a lifetime.

Well, how could the authority of two millennia, guaranteed by so many distinguished men of all time, be destroyed through the result of some youthful meditations? How could it be possible that phantasmagorias and immature ideas came to replace all the sufferings and blessings that the development of religion has caused to take root in the history of the world?

It is an absolute presumption to try to solve philosophical problems on which many different opinions have been disputed for millennia: to fight against opinions that, according to the conviction of the wisest men, elevate man towards true humanity. Joining science to philosophy, without even knowing the principle results of both; erecting, finally, a system of reality by resorting to science and history, while the unity of universal history and its main foundations have not yet been opened to the spirit, daring to enter the sea of doubts without compass or guide is crazy, and spells ruin for minds still immature; most of them will be overthrown by storms, and only a very few will discover new lands.

From the center of the immense ocean of ideas, how often does man feel the nostalgia for the mainland: how many times, in the face of so many sterile speculations, has the desire to return to history and natural sciences assailed me!

How often has our entire philosophy seemed to me no more than a great Babylonian tower: penetrating heaven is the purpose of all great endeavors; the kingdom of heaven on earth means practically the same thing.

An infinite confusion of ideas in and among the people is the disconsolate result; great transformations will still be needed for the masses to understand that Christianity rests on conjecture; the existence of God, immortality, the authority of the Bible, inspiration, and the like, will never cease to be problems. I have tried to deny everything: but it is very easy to destroy, yet how difficult it is to build! And even destroying yourself seems easier than it is; we are so determined by the impressions of our childhood, by the influence of our parents, by our upbringing, and we are determined to such a deep level of our inner being, that such deep-seated prejudices are not so easily removed by rational argument, or by mere will. The force of habit, the need for something higher, the rupture with everything established, the annihilation of all forms of society, the doubt about whether, for two millennia, humanity has not been captivated by a false image, the feeling of one’s own recklessness and one’s own audacity: all this maintains a still unresolved struggle until, in the end, a series of painful experiences, of sad events in our hearts, again lead us to our old faith of childhood. However, the impression produced by observing the incidence of these doubts on our spirit must be, for each person, an important milestone in her or his own cultural history. Nothing else can be thought except that something has to remain firm, a result of all that speculation that is not always knowledge, but can also be a belief, a faith; yes, something that even a moral sentiment can sometimes revive or suspend.

In the same way that custom is the result of an era, of a people, of a certain orientation of the spirit, so morality is also the result of a general evolution of humanity. It is the sum of all the truths of our world; it is possible that in the infinite world no longer means anything other than the result of a certain orientation of the spirit in ours; and it is even possible that, from the truths of the different worlds, a universal truth will evolve again!

We hardly know if humanity itself will be nothing more than a stage, a period in the totality, in becoming, if it will not be an arbitrary manifestation of God. Is man not the product of the evolution of stones through the mediation of plants? Has it not already reached the fullness of its evolution and does not the end of history also lie here? Does this eternal becoming have no end? What are the motors of this immense work of watchmaking? They are hidden, but they are the same as in that great clock that we call history. There sphere of time is the events. Hour after hour the hands advance in order to, at twelve o’clock, begin again; then a new period of the world bursts forth.

And couldn’t the motors that drive the needles be conceived as immanent humanity? (Then the two conceptions would be served) Or is it that the totality is dominated by higher aims and plans? Is man only a means, or is he an end?

The purpose, the end, exists only for us; just as only for us there is change and, likewise, for us, only epochs and periods. How could we notice superior plans? We only see how from the same source, from the human essence, motivated by external impressions, ideas are formed; how these are gaining in life and form and how they become the heritage of all: conscience, sense of duty; how the eternal productive instinct elaborates them as material for new ideas; how these conform life, govern history; how in reciprocal struggle some engulf the others, and how new conformations arise from such mixtures. A encountering and repelling of diverse currents, with high and low tides, but all tributaries of the eternal ocean.

Everything moves in gigantic circles, which revolve around each other as they become; man is one of the innermost circles. If you want to measure the oscillations of those who are on the periphery, you have to abstract from yourself and from the circles that are closest to you the other, broader and more encompassing spheres. Those spheres which closest to one are the history of peoples, of society and of humanity. The search for the common center of all oscillations, for the infinitely small circle, is the task of natural science. Only now that we know that man seeks this center in and for himself do we know what exclusive importance history and natural science must have for us.

As soon as man is dragged into the circles of universal history, that struggle of the individual will with the general will arises; here that infinitely important problem is outlined, the question of the justification of the individual with respect to the people, that of the people with respect to humanity, of humanity with respect to the world; here, too, the fundamental relationship between fatum and history is drawn.

It is impossible for men to access the highest conception of universal history; the greatest of historians, as well as the greatest of philosophers, will be nothing more than a prophet, since both make abstractions from the innermost circle to the other outer circles.

As for the fatum, its position is not assured. Let us still take a look at human life to recognize its individual justification and thus also its justification in the totality.

What determines luck in our life? Do we owe it to the events from whose vortex we find ourselves excluded? Or is it not our temperament that marks the dominant color of events? Does our temperament not appear to us and confront everything in the mirror of our own personality? And don’t events at the same time give the proper tone to our destiny, while the strength and weakness with which our destiny appears to us depends exclusively on our temperament? Ask the best physicians, says Emerson, what things temperament determines, and what things it does not determine at all.

Our temperament is nothing more than our mood, on which the impressions of our circumstances and experiences are carved. What is it that drags so strongly the soul of so many individuals towards the vulgar, preventing them from ascending to a greater flight of ideas? A fatalistic structure of the skull and spine, the social class and the nature of their parents, the daily life of their relationships, the vulgarity of their environment and even the monotone of their original place. We have been influenced without having enough strength in us to counteract it, without even being able to recognize that we are influenced. It is certainly a painful experience to have to relinquish one’s autonomy due to the unconscious acceptance of external impressions, repress capacities of the soul by the power of habit and, against all will, bury it with the seeds of loss.

To a greater extent we find all this again in the history of the peoples. Many of them, even being affected by the same events, have been influenced in very different ways.

For this reason, it is a very obtuse way of acting to try to impose some special form of state or society on humanity as a whole, subjecting it to such or such stereotypes. All social and communitarian ideas suffer from this error. It is true than man can never be the same, can never be as he was; but if it were possible to revolutionize, by the work of a very strong will, the entire past of the world, we would immediately join the ranks of the free gods, and universal history would no longer be for us anything but a self-intoxication in the arms of the dream; the curtain falls, and the man finds himself again, like a child who plays with worlds, like a child who wakes up in the morning light and, smiling, erases the terrible dreams from his head.

The free will manifests itself as that which has no ties, as the arbitrary; it is the infinitely free, the erratic, the spirit. The fatum, on the other hand, is a necessity, unless we do not believe that the history of humanity is an oneiric wandering, the unspeakable pains of human beings, mere hallucinations, and ourselves, mere toys of our own fantasies. Fatum is the infinite force of resistance against free will; free will without fatum is as unthinkable as the spirit without the real, as the good without the bad, since only contradictions give rise to character traits.

The fatum continually preaches the principle: “Only events determine events.” If this were the only true principle, man would be nothing more than a mere toy of unknown hidden forces, he would not be responsible for his mistakes, he would therefore be free from all kinds of moral distinctions —he would be a necessary link as a member of a chain. How happy he would be if he didn’t insist on examining his situation, if he didn’t struggle convulsively in the chain that imprisons him, if he didn’t look with mad pleasure at the world and its mechanics!

Perhaps free will, similar to how the spirit is only the most infinitely small substance and the good, only the most subtle evolution of the bad, is nothing other than the maximum power of the fatum. Universal history would then be the history of matter, if we take this word in an infinitely broad sense. Indeed, there must still be other higher principles before which all the differences come together in a great unity, before which everything is evolution, a staggered series, everything a tributary of a magnificent ocean, where the ensemble of currents that have made the world evolve meet again, to merge into the all-one.

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