On the Genealogy of Morals

by Friedrich Nietzsche

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What is Friedrich Nietzsche's critique of Christian morality in On the Genealogy of Morals?

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Nietzsche characterized Christianity as, in its essence, a "slave" morality. It was born, as one scholar has written, in the "bottled up resentment that the oppressed feels towards their oppressor." For Nietzsche, Christianity imparts in people a spirit of asceticism, in which people practice self-denial and spurn creativity out of a belief that these things are sinful—and in Christianity it is sin, after all, that justifies God's judgment on people. Therefore, it causes the oppressed to blame themselves for their own oppression and demands that they solemnly accept their situation. The effect of this, Nietzsche argues, is mediocrity and a general fear on the part of people to live their lives to the fullest. This is especially true in art and literature, which are Nietzsche's primary concerns. Christian morality was thus born in resentment and hatred born out of slavery, turned inward by the enslaved themselves, leading to a new and even more insidious form of oppression. To remove oneself from this oppression, Nietzsche claimed, was to be a "free spirit" that said "yes to life."

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On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche portrays morality not as a series of abstract and transcendent principles, but rather a series of ideological positions that evolved in response to particular historical circumstances and contexts and often functions as ideologies that reinscribed power struggles into a linguistic realm but were used to formulate tools of repression and constraint of the Dionysiac and creative impulses. He sees moral discourse as an oppressive tool of the elites which functions as a sort of soft power, causing people to repress themselves. Thus mechanisms like guild and conscience act as a sort of internalized police force complicit with elite rule.

Christian is a system of belief that causes the believer to become submussive, obedient, and rule bound and worked, according to Nietzsche as a sort of control mechanism in the Roman Empire. It subornitates the strong in particular because it channels their strength towards ascetism rather than rebellion.


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