In Twilight of the Idols Nietzsche writes, “My objection against the whole of sociology in England and France remains that it knows from experience only the forms of decay, and with perfect innocence accepts its instincts of decay as the norm of sociological value-judgments. The decline of life, the decrease in the power to organize, that is to tear open clefts, subordinate and super-ordinate — all this has been formulated as the ideal in contemporary sociology.” (p 541).
The culture of Europe at the time of Nietzsches writing was experiencing a general decline in vitality which was exemplified in Christianity (Platonism) and anarchy or nihilism. Nietzsche saw himself as a kind of philosophical doctor, capable of diagnosing the sickness of man. These two types of decline made it especially apparent what was wrong with mankind, and in this decadence Nietzsche detected symptoms of nihilism, one of his biggest worries for the culture as a whole. To Nietzsche, Christianity is objectionable because it is a symptom of mankinds world weariness. In rejecting the realm of the here and now in favor of a transcendent, heavenly afterlife, the Christian reveals his weakness. This weakness was first observed in Plato, whose logic is eventually carried out into the development of Christianity.
Plato created the idea that this world is meaningless, and that people do not get rewarded for their actions until after death, and that worldly reality is not worth anything. Nietzsche has a problem with a philosophy which is so life denying, which seeks to strip us of our most basic instincts, of the core of our humanity. The Christian, Nietzsche claims, is similar to the nihilist.
He denies the natural rank order of the world in favor of an unrealistic vision of the equality of all souls. This rejection of super- and subordination is a symptom of resentment against reality. It is the dissatisfied cry of the weak who, instead of acting in accord with their own temperaments, revolt against nature and commit a kind of arrogance against the world. These advocates of communal life thought that humans would enjoy expanded freedom and happiness with the abolition of property, leadership, unequal social status and privilege. But, Nietzsche points out, the complaints and desires of the Christian nihilist are the complaints and desires of those who want revenge on a world that has denied them what they are too weak to seize. “.
..there is a fine dose of revenge in every complaint.” (p. 534).
The nihilist tries to find someone at fault for the suffering that he undergoes, and in this fault-finding is exhibited the weakness of one who cannot simply move forward with his own life. The only difference between the Christian and the nihilist is that the Christian finds fault in himself while the nihilist finds fault in others. A world full of Christians is a world in decline. Desiring release from suffering in the here and now, Christians imagine the existence of illusory, utopian worlds beyond this one: the Christian Heaven, or a Platonic realm of forms.
In these other-worldly utopias, because everyone is equal, everything is perfect. Since all suffering is the result of the powerful imposing their will upon the weaker, in these other worlds, all suffering ceases. Pain and want are eliminated, life is happy, fulfilling and easy. This is all the result of the fact that the common structure of these utopias is in perfect unison with the capacities of the weak. But, in actual fact, this is a denial of the real structure of the world and a desecration of the earth itself. The desire for these utopias is decadent in that they represent a deterioration of the capacity for real world life and living. The Christian is a nihilist in that they reject the only kind of life possible in the here and now, and in this rejection they undercut the possibility of the only type of meaning that ever was or ever will be available to man.
They hate the world in which they are what they are, so they desire a world ruled by the mediocre. Throughout Twilight of the Idols, it is apparent that Nietzsche felt that when the weakest portions of society band together, perverting and distorting the natural order, the situation becomes nihilism. Christianity is a symptom of this tendency, but in the example of Socrates we have the typical model of the slave revolt against master morality and the most significant aspect of modern nihilism. The most important thing to know about Socrates, according to Nietzsche, is that he was ugly.
This physiological fact accounts for his entire orientation towards life in the Greek Polis. He sought to take revenge upon the beautiful culture of the Greeks, and in a “masterful” departure from nature, he developed the art of logical arguments. It was in the practice of logic and argumentation that Socrates saw his opportunity to overpower the authority of those around him and to thus secure a position of moral superiority to them.
Anyone can learn logic, and since logic is directly opposed to unsubstantiated appeals to authority, Socrates and his followers were advocates of a kind of a type of nihilism which invited the lowest common denominator to overthrow and subvert the commands of those in power. It was the perfect weapon for the weak who had no other means of enforcing their own preferences. Therefore, Socrates was both a symptom and an instigator of modern nihilism. This Socratic imperative reaches all the way into the present, and with it Socrates wreaks his revenge.