The Will to Power
Category: Ideas
Genres: Philosophy
Level 11.53 10:17 h
The Will To Power is the title of a collection of works by Friedrich Nietzsche. It was published posthumously by his sister Elisabeth. The book contains notes, writings, and fragments of Nietzsche's work in what Elisabeth called his planned magnum opus. Nietzsche was a german philosopher and a major factor in intellectual thinking. Read this collection published and translated to English in 1910 of Nietzsche's writing and final thoughts that fill in the gaps and bring together the last of his work.

The Will to Power

An Attempted Transvaluation of All Values

Volume I

Books I and II

Friedrich Nietzsche

Translated by Anthony M. Ludovici

The Will to Power

Translator’s Preface

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: —

“Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength — life itself is Will to Power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results thereof.”

But in this volume, and the one that is to follow, we shall find Nietzsche more mature, more sober, and perhaps more profound than in the works above mentioned. All the loves and hates by which we know him, we shall come across again in this work; but here he seems to stand more above them than he had done heretofore; having once enunciated his ideals vehemently and emphatically, he now discusses them with a certain grim humour, with more thoroughness and detail, and he gives even his enemies a quiet and respectful hearing. His tolerant attitude to Christianity on pages 8-9, 107, 323, for instance, is a case in point, and his definite description of what we are to understand by his pity (p. 293) leaves us in no doubt as to the calm determination of this work. Book One will not seem so well arranged or so well worked out as Book Two; the former being more sketchy and more speculative than the latter. Be this as it may, it contains deeply interesting things, inasmuch as it attempts to trace the elements of Nihilism — as the outcome of Christian values — in all the institutions of the present day.

In the Second Book Herbert Spencer comes in for a number of telling blows, and not the least of these is to be found on page 237, where, although his name is not mentioned, it is obviously implied. Here Nietzsche definitely disclaims all ideas of an individualistic morality, and carefully states that his philosophy aims at a new order of rank.

It will seem to some that morality is dealt with somewhat cavalierly throughout the two books; but, in this respect, it should not be forgotten that Nietzsche not only made a firm stand in favour of exceptional men, but that he also believed that any morality is nothing more than a mere system of valuations which are determined by the conditions in which a given species lives. Hence his words on page 107: “Beyond Good and Evil, — certainly; but we insist upon the unconditional and strict preservation of herd-morality”; and on page 323: “Suppose the strong were masters in all respects, even in valuing: let us try and think what their attitude would be towards illness, suffering, and sacrifice! Self-contempt on the part of the weak would be the result: they would do their utmost to disappear and to extirpate their kind. And would this be desirable? — should we really like a world in which the subtlety, the consideration, the intellectuality, the plasticity — in fact, the whole influence of the weak — was lacking?”

It is obvious from this passage that Nietzsche only objected to the influence of herd-morality outside the herd — that is to say, among exceptional and higher men who may be wrecked by it. Whereas most other philosophers before him had been the “Altruist” of the lower strata of humanity, Nietzsche may aptly be called the Altruist of the exceptions, of the particular lucky cases among men. For such “varieties,” he thought, the morality of Christianity had done all it could do, and though he in no way wished to underrate the value it had sometimes been to them in the past, he saw that at present, in any case, it might prove a great danger. With Goethe, therefore, he believed that “Hypotheses are only the pieces of scaffolding which are erected round a building during the course of its construction, and which are taken away as soon as the edifice is completed. To the workman, they are indispensable; but he must be careful not to confound the scaffolding with the building.

It is deeply to be deplored that Nietzsche was never able to complete his life-work. The fragments of it collected in volumes i. and ii. of The Will to Power are sufficiently remarkable to convey some idea of what the whole work would have been if only its author had been able to arrange and complete it according to his original design.

It is to be hoped that we are too sensible nowadays to allow our sensibilities to be shocked by serious and well-meditated criticism, even of the most cherished among our institutions, and an honest and sincere reformer ought no longer to find us prejudiced — to the extent of deafness — against him, more particularly when he comes forward with a gospel — “The Will to Power” — which is, above all, a test of our power to will.




Concerning great things one should either be silent or one should speak loftily: — loftily — that is to say, cynically and innocently.


What I am now going to relate is the history of the next two centuries. I shall describe what will happen, what must necessarily happen: the triumph of Nihilism. This history can be written already; for necessity itself is at work in bringing it about. This future is already proclaimed by a hundred different omens; as a destiny it announces its advent everywhere, for this music of to-morrow all ears are already pricked. The whole of our culture in Europe has long been writhing in an agony of suspense which increases from decade to decade as if in expectation of a catastrophe: restless, violent, helter-skelter, like a torrent that will reach its bourne, and refuses to reflect — yea, that even dreads reflection.


On the other hand, the present writer has done little else, hitherto, than reflect and meditate, like an instinctive philosopher and anchorite, who found his advantage in isolation — in remaining outside, in patience, procrastination, and lagging behind; like a weighing and testing spirit who has already lost his way in every labyrinth of the future; like a prophetic bird-spirit that looks backwards when it would announce what is to come; like the first perfect European Nihilist, who, however, has already outlived Nihilism in his own soul — who has out-grown, overcome, and dismissed it.


For the reader must not misunderstand the meaning of the title which has been given to this Evangel of the Future. “The Will to Power: An Attempted Transvaluation of all Values” — with this formula a counter-movement finds expression, in regard to both a principle and a mission; a movement which in some remote future will supersede this perfect Nihilism; but which nevertheless regards it as a necessary step, both logically and psychologically, towards its own advent, and which positively cannot come, except on top of and out of it. For, why is the triumph of Nihilism inevitable now? Because the very values current amongst us to-day will arrive at their logical conclusion in Nihilism, — because Nihilism is the only possible outcome of our greatest values and ideals, — because we must first experience Nihilism before we can realise what the actual worth of these “values” was.... Sooner or later we shall be in need of new values.

First Book
European Nihilism

A Plan

1. Nihilism is at our door: whence comes this most gruesome of all guests to us? — To begin with, it is a mistake to point to “social evils,” “physiological degeneration,” or even to corruption as a cause of Nihilism. This is the most straightforward and most sympathetic age that ever was. Evil, whether spiritual, physical, or intellectual, is, in itself, quite unable to introduce Nihilism, i.e., the absolute repudiation of worth, purpose, desirability. These evils allow of yet other and quite different explanations. But there is one very definite explanation of the phenomena: Nihilism harbours in the heart of Christian morals.

2. The downfall of Christianity, — through its morality (which is insuperable), which finally turns against the Christian God Himself (the sense of truth, highly developed through Christianity, ultimately revolts against the falsehood and fictitiousness of all Christian interpretations of the world and its history. The recoil-stroke of “God is Truth” in the fanatical Belief, is: “All is false.” Buddhism of action....).

3. Doubt in morality is the decisive factor. The downfall of the moral interpretation of the universe, which loses its raison d'être once it has tried to take flight to a Beyond, meets its end in Nihilism. “Nothing has any purpose” (the inconsistency of one explanation of the world, to which men have devoted untold energy, — gives rise to the suspicion that all explanations may perhaps be false). The Buddhistic feature: a yearning for nonentity (Indian Buddhism has no fundamentally moral development at the back of it; that is why Nihilism in its case means only morality not overcome; existence is regarded as a punishment and conceived as an error; error is thus held to be punishment — a moral valuation). Philosophical attempts to overcome the “moral God” (Hegel, Pantheism). The vanquishing of popular ideals: the wizard, the saint, the bard. Antagonism of “true” and “beautiful” and “good.”

4. Against “purposelessness” on the one hand, against moral valuations on the other: how far has all science and philosophy been cultivated heretofore under the influence of moral judgments? And have we not got the additional factor — the enmity of science, into the bargain? Or the prejudice against science? Criticism of Spinoza. Christian valuations everywhere present as remnants in socialistic and positivistic systems. A criticism of Christian morality is altogether lacking.

5. The Nihilistic consequences of present natural science (along with its attempts to escape into a Beyond). Out of its practice there finally arises a certain self-annihilation, an antagonistic attitude towards itself — a sort of anti-scientificality. Since Copernicus man has been rolling away from the centre towards x.

6. The Nihilistic consequences of the political and politico-economical way of thinking, where all principles at length become tainted with the atmosphere of the platform: the breath of mediocrity, insignificance, dishonesty, etc. Nationalism. Anarchy, etc. Punishment. Everywhere the deliverer is missing, either as a class or as a single man — the justifier.

7. Nihilistic consequences of history and of the “practical historian,” i.e., the romanticist. The attitude of art is quite unoriginal in modern life. Its gloominess. Goethe’s so-called Olympian State.

8. Art and the preparation of Nihilism. Romanticism (the conclusion of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung.)


1. Nihilism as an Outcome of the Valuations and Interpretations of Existence Which Have Prevailed Heretofore


What does Nihilism mean? — That the highest values are losing their value. There is no bourne. There is no answer to the question: “to what purpose?”


Thorough Nihilism is the conviction that life is absurd, in the light of the highest values already discovered; it also includes the view that we have not the smallest right to assume the existence of transcendental objects or things in themselves, which would be either divine or morality incarnate.

This view is a result of fully developed “truthfulness”: therefore a consequence of the belief in morality.


What advantages did the Christian hypothesis of morality offer?

(1) It bestowed an intrinsic value upon men, which contrasted with their apparent insignificance and subordination to chance in the eternal flux of becoming and perishing.

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