Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches), subtitled A Book for Free Spirits (Ein Buch für freie Geister).

First published in 1878.   A second part, Assorted Opinions and Maxims (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche), was published in 1879, and a third part, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten), followed in 1880.

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Previous Section   164. THE DANGER AND THE GAIN IN THE CULT OF GENIUS   Next Section

THE DANGER AND THE GAIN IN THE CULT OF GENIUS.  The belief in great, superior, fertile minds is not necessarily, but still very frequently, connected with that wholly or partly religious superstition that those spirits are of superhuman origin and possess certain marvellous faculties, by means of which they obtained their knowledge in ways quite different from the rest of mankind.  They are credited with having an immediate insight into the nature of the world, through a peep hole in the mantle of the phenomenon as it were, and it is believed that, without the trouble and severity of science, by virtue of this marvellous prophetic sight, they could impart something final and decisive about mankind and the world.  So long as there are still believers in miracles in the world of knowledge it may perhaps be admitted that the believers themselves derive a benefit from that, inasmuch as by their absolute subjection to great minds they obtain the best discipline and schooling for their own minds during the period of development On the other hand, it may at least be questioned whether the superstition of genius, of its privileges and special faculties, is useful for a genius himself when it implants itself in him.  In any case it is a dangerous sign when man shudders at his own self, be it that famous Caesarian shudder or the shudder of genius which applies to this case, when the incense of sacrifice, which by rights is offered to a God alone, penetrates into the brain of the genius, so that he begins to waver and to look upon himself as something superhuman.  The slow consequences are: the feeling of irresponsibility, the exceptional rights, the belief that mere intercourse with him confers a favour, and frantic rage at any attempt to compare him with others or even to place him below them and to bring into prominence whatever is unsuccessful in his work.  Through the fact that he ceases to criticise himself one pinion after another falls out of his plumage, that superstition undermines the foundation of his strength and even makes him a hypocrite after his power has failed him.  For great minds it is, therefore, perhaps better when they come to an understanding about their strength and its source, when they comprehend what purely human qualities are mingled in them, what a combination they are of fortunate conditions: thus once it was continual energy, a decided application to individual aims, great personal courage, and then the good fortune of an education, which at an early period provided the best teachers, examples, and methods.  Assuredly, if its aim is to make the greatest possible effect, abstruseness has always done much for itself and that gift of partial insanity; for at all times that power has been admired and envied by means of which men were deprived of will and imbued with the fancy that they were preceded by supernatural leaders.  Truly, men are exalted and inspired by the belief that someone among them is endowed with supernatural powers, and in this respect insanity, as Plato says, has brought the greatest blessings to mankind In a few rare cases this form of insanity may also have been the means by which an all round exuberant nature was kept within bounds; in individual life the imaginings of frenzy frequently exert the virtue of remedies which are poisons in themselves; but in every "genius" that believes in his own divinity the poison shows itself at last in the same proportion as the "genius" grows old; we need but recollect the example of Napoleon, for it was most assuredly through his faith in himself and his star, and through his scorn of mankind, that he grew to that mighty unity which distinguished him from all modern men, until at last, however, this faith developed into an almost insane fatalism, robbed him of his quickness of comprehension and penetration, and was the cause of his downfall.  

Friedrich Nietzsche, "Ecce Homo" Ebook

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