On Nietzsche's 'Daybreak - Book One: §9'

“Morality [Sittlichkeit] is nothing other (therefore no more!) than obedience to customs [Sitten], of whatever kind they may be; customs, however, are the traditional way of behaving and evaluating….The free human being is immoral [unsittlich] because in all things he is determined to depend upon himself and not upon a tradition: in all the original conditions of mankind, ‘evil’ signifies the same as ‘individual’, ‘free’, ‘capricious’, ‘unusual’, ‘unforseen’, ‘incalculable’…Originally all education and care of health, marriage, cure of sickness, agriculture, war, speech and silence, traffic with one another and with the gods belonged within the domain of morality [Sittlichkeit]: they demanded one observe prescriptions without thinking of oneself as an individual. Originally, therefore, everything was custom [Sitte], and whoever wanted to elevate himself above it had to become lawgiver and medicine man and a kind of demi-god: that is to say, he had to make customs – a dreadful, mortally dangerous thing!”[1]

A short note here. What we see in the nineth aphorism of Nietzsche’s ‘Daybreak: Thoughts on The Prejudices of Morality’ is a clear illustration of the political absolutist’s claim to the humanly indisputable morality of the Sovereign. Here, Nietzsche unpacks that what is widely considered ‘moral’ is that which obeys custom, and as such, that which is original, that which departs from custom by its individuality, is deemed ‘immoral’ or ‘evil’. Thus, a liberal age in which individual freedom is a primary thematic norm appears as clear immorality. Perhaps this goes hand in hand with the claims of millenarian religious fundamentalists and extremists [ISIS, Al Qaeda, The Westboro Baptist Church, The 969 Movement, the belligerents of the ‘saffron terror’, etc.]  that the modern world is an immoral world? – even if this is not in Nietzsche’s affirmative manner, but a reactionary one.

Interestingly, what is displayed here is Nietzsche’s implicit celebration of the human propensity to pluralism and originality. In discerning what is ‘moral’ with what is ‘custom’ or ‘tradition’, Nietzsche quietly espouses that morality leads to a certain anti-pluralism; a wholly moral society being one in which its members never veered from the customs of tradition, and so remained not perennially identical, but of the same sort – a society of the de-individuated. In many ways, one can see the foundation for Foucault’s ethics of subjectivation, of ensuring the individuation of consciousness through the hermeneutics of the subject – reinforcing the pluralism that we observe in the uniqueness of every new human that enters the world, and as such, through Nietzsche’s frame, is a bastion of affirmative ‘immoral’ ethics.

In the final part of the quoted aphorism above, Nietzsche engages with a little political theology. The one who wishes to remain ‘moral’ and yet assert their individuality in equal measure must become a custom-creator – a ‘demi-god’. Hobbes’s absolutist sovereign, in this sense is perhaps the prime illustration of such a figure.[2] The Hobbesian sovereign is itself a human-constructed demi-god that commands obedience in order to keep civil strife and war at bay, as is the first law of nature – a katechon that holds back the apocalypse and as such the kingdom of god on earth.[3] As a number of thinkers have interpreted Hobbes’s moral philosophy, the Sovereign is the material decision-maker within a territory, they are the one who is politically, legally, normatively, epistemologically, and morally obeyed. Thus, to be a truly ‘moral individual’, a somewhat contradictory or oxymoronic phrase in Nietzsche’s frame perhaps, one must become the sovereign lawgiver – the demi-god that commands the obedience of new customs – the one who can almost create ex-nihilo and enforce such a creation upon a people.

Overall, we see that shifts away from custom are deemed immoral, and that an upholding of the traditional is always a representation of ‘the good’. After so many changes, so many shifts in custom; whilst living in a world where technology shifts custom quicker than we can mediate and understand – how are we to know what ‘tradition’ is and what is not? Maybe then we no longer live in an immoral age, but one where frameworks of morality no longer apply – where all our traditions are themselves aberrations. How are we to navigate such seas when the very physics of our navigational capabilities, of all we know of sailing itself, are no longer applicable on the waters we voyage? Nietzsche may indeed by part of the answer – or is this merely just another appeal to tradition?

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche (1981) ‘Daybreak: Book 1 - §9’, in R.J. Hollingdale (Trans. and Ed.), A Nietzsche Reader, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, pp. 87-88.

[2] Thomas Hobbes (1968) Leviathan, London: Penguin Books.

[3] This is a continual theme embedded within the likes of: Carl Schmitt (2003) The Nomos of The Earth: in the International Law of The Jus Publicum Europaeum, New York: Telos Press Publishing; Paolo Virno (2008) Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation, Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).