In the volume before us we have the first two books of what was to be Nietzsche’s greatest theoretical and philosophical prose work. The reception given to Thus Spake Zarathustra had been so unsatisfactory, and misunderstandings relative to its teaching had become so general, that, within a year of the publication of the first part of that famous philosophical poem, Nietzsche was already beginning to see the necessity of bringing his doctrines before the public in a more definite and unmistakable form. During the years that followed — that is to say, between 1883 and 1886 — this plan was matured, and although we have no warrant, save his sister’s own word and the internal evidence at our disposal, for classing Beyond Good and Evil (published 1886) among the contributions to Nietzsche’s grand and final philosophical scheme, “The Will to Power,” it is now impossible to separate it entirely from his chief work as we would naturally separate The Birth of Tragedy, the Thoughts out of Season, the volumes entitled Human, all-too-Human, The Dawn of Day, and Joyful Wisdom.
Beyond Good and Evil, then, together with its sequel, The Genealogy of Morals, and the two little volumes, The Twilight of the Idols and the Antichrist (published in 1889 and 1894 respectively), must be regarded as forming part of the general plan of which The Will to Power was to be the opus magnum.
Unfortunately, The Will to Power was never completed by its author. The text from which this translation was made is a posthumous publication, and it suffers from all the disadvantages that a book must suffer from which has been arranged and ordered by foster hands. When those who were responsible for its publication undertook the task of preparing it for the press, it was very little more than a vast collection of notes and rough drafts, set down by Nietzsche from time to time, as the material for his chief work; and, as any liberty taken with the original manuscript, save that of putting it in order, would probably have resulted in adding or excluding what the author would on no account have added or excluded himself, it follows that in some few cases the paragraphs are no more than hasty memoranda of passing thoughts, which Nietzsche must have had the intention of elaborating at some future time. In these cases the translation follows the German as closely as possible, and the free use even of a conjunction has in certain cases been avoided, for fear lest the meaning might be in the slightest degree modified. It were well, therefore, if the reader could bear these facts in mind whenever he is struck by a certain clumsiness, either of expression or disposition, in the course of reading this translation.
It may be said that, from the day when Nietzsche first recognised the necessity of making a more unequivocal appeal to his public than the Zarathustra had been, that is to say, from the spring of 1883, his work in respect of The Will to Power suffered no interruption whatsoever, and that it was his chief preoccupation from that period until his breakdown in 1889.
That this span of six years was none too long for the task he had undertaken, will be gathered from the fact that, in the great work he had planned, he actually set out to show that the life-principle, “Will to Power,” was the prime motor of all living organisms.
To do this he appeals both to the animal world and to human society, with its subdivisions, religion, art, morality, politics, etc. etc., and in each of these he seeks to demonstrate the activity of the principle which he held to be the essential factor of all existence.
Frau Foerster-Nietzsche tells us that the notion that “The Will to Power” was the fundamental principle of all life, first occurred to her brother in the year 1870, at the seat of war, while he was serving as a volunteer in a German army ambulance. On one occasion, at the close of a very heavy day with the wounded, he happened to enter a small town which lay on one of the chief military roads. He was wandering through it in a leisurely fashion when, suddenly, as he turned the corner of a street that was protected on either side by lofty stone walls, he heard a roaring noise, as of thunder, which seemed to come from the immediate neighbourhood. He hurried forward a step or two, and what should he see, but a magnificent cavalry regiment — gloriously expressive of the courage and exuberant strength of a people — ride past him like a luminous stormcloud. The thundering din waxed louder and louder, and lo and behold! his own beloved regiment of field artillery dashed forward at full speed, out of the mist of motes, and sped westward amid an uproar of clattering chains and galloping steeds. A minute or two elapsed, and then a column of infantry appeared, advancing at the double — the men’s eyes were aflame, their feet struck the hard road like mighty hammer-strokes, and their accoutrements glistened through the haze. While this procession passed before him, on its way to war and perhaps to death, — so wonderful in its vital strength and formidable courage, and so perfectly symbolic of a race that will conquer and prevail, or perish in the attempt, — Nietzsche was struck with the thought that the highest will to live could not find its expression in a miserable “struggle for existence,” but in a will to war, a Will to Power, a will to overpower! This is said to be the history of his first conception of that principle which is at the root of all his philosophy, and twelve years later, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, we find him expounding it thus: —
“Wherever I found a living thing, there found I Will to Power; and even in the will of the servant found I the will to be master.
“Only where there is life, is there also will: not, however, Will to Life, but — so teach I thee — Will to Power!
“Much is reckoned higher than life itself by the living one; but out of the very reckoning speaketh — the Will to Power!”
And three years later still, in Beyond Good and Evil, we read the following passage: —