Hitherto, the subject reflected on least adequately has been good and evil: it was too dangerous a subject. Conscience, reputation, Hell, sometimes even the police have permitted and continue to permit no impartiality; in the presence of morality, as in the face of any authority, one is not allowed to think, far less to express an opinion: here one has to obey! As long as the world has existed no authority has yet been willing to let itself become the object of criticism; and to criticise morality itself, to regard morality as a problem, as problematic: what? has that not been is that not immoral? But morality does not merely have at its command every kind of means of frightening off critical hands and torture-instruments: its security reposes far more in a certain art of enchantment it has at its disposal it knows how to 'inspire'. With this art it succeeds, often with no more than a single glance, in paralysing the critical will and even in enticing it over to its own side; there are even cases in which morality has been able to turn the critical will against itself, so that, like the scorpion, it drives its sting into its own body. For morality has from of old been master of every diabolical nuance of the art of persuasion: there is no orator, even today, who does not have recourse to its assistance (listen, for example, even to our anarchists: how morally they speak when they want to persuade! In the end they even go so far as to call themselves 'the good and the just'.) For as long as there has been speech and persuasion on earth, morality has shown itself to be the greatest of all mistresses of seduction and, so far as we philosophers are concerned, the actual Circe of the philosophers2. Why is it that from Plato onwards every philosophical architect in Europe has built in vain? That everything they themselves in all sober seriousness regarded as aere perennius3 is threatening to collapse or already lies in ruins? Oh how false is the answer which even today is reserved in readiness for this question: 'because they had all neglected the presupposition for such an undertaking, the testing of the foundations, a critique of reason as a whole' that fateful answer of Kant's which has certainly not lured us modern philosophers on to any firmer or less treacherous ground! ( and, come to think of it, was it not somewhat peculiar to demand of an instrument that it should criticise its own usefulness and suitability? that the intellect itself should 'know' its own value, its own capacity, its own limitations? was it not even a little absurd? ). The correct answer would rather have been that all philosophers were building under the seduction of morality, even Kant that they were apparently aiming at certainty, at 'truth', but in reality at 'majestic moral structures': to employ once again the innocent language of Kant, who describes his own 'not so glittering yet not undeserving' task and labour as 'to level and make firm the ground for these majestic moral structures' (Critique of Pure Reason II, 4p.257). Alas, we have to admit today that he did not succeed in doing that, quite the contrary! Kant was, with such an enthusiastic intention, the true son of his century, which before any other can be called the century of enthusiasm: as he fortunately remained also in regard to its more valuable aspects (for example in the good portion of sensism he took over into his theory of knowledge). He too had been bitten by the moral tarantula Rousseau, he too harboured in the depths of his soul the idea of that moral fanaticism whose executor another disciple of Rousseau felt and confessed himself to be, namely Robespierre4, 'de fonder sur la terre l'empire de la sagesse, de la justice et de la vertu5' (speech of 7 June 1794). On the other hand, with such a French fanaticism in one's heart, one could not have gone to work in a less French fashion, more thoroughly, more in a German fashion if the word 'German' is still permitted today in this sense than Kant did: to create room for his 'moral realm' he saw himself obliged to posit an undemonstrable world, a logical 'Beyond' it was for precisely that that he had need of his critique of pure reason! In other words: he would not have had need of it if one thing had not been more vital to him than anything else: to render the 'moral realm' unassailable, even better incomprehensible to reason for he felt that a moral order of things was only too assailable by reason! In the face of nature and history, in the face of the thorough immorality of nature and history, Kant was, like every good German of the old stamp, a pessimist; he believed in morality, not because it is demonstrated in nature and history, but in spite of the fact that nature and history continually contradict it. To understand this 'in spite of', one might perhaps recall something similar in Luther6, that other great pessimist who, with all the audacity native to him, once admonished his friends: 'if we could grasp by reason who the God who shows so much wrath and malice can be just and merciful, what need would we have of faith?' For nothing has from the beginning made a more profound impression on the German soul, nothing has 'tempted' it more, than this most perilous of all conclusions, which to every true Roman is a sin against the spirit: credo quia absurdum est7: it was with this conclusion that German logic first entered the history of Christian dogma: but even today, a millennium later, we Germans of today, late Germans in every respect, still sense something of truth, of the possibility of truth behind the celebrated dialectical principle8; with which in his day Hegel assisted the German spirit to conquer Europe 'Contradiction moves the world, all things contradict themselves' : for we are, even in the realm of logic, pessimists.
2. Circe of the Philosophers: an allusion to Circe, daughter of Helios and Perse (Odyssey, x, 210 ff.). In Greek mythology, a seductress and deity who, in the Odyssey, magically transforms half of Odysseus' crew into beasts.
3. ''aere perennius": "more enduring than bronze," from Horace, Odes 3.30.1, on his poetic achievement. "Bronze" here refers to the bronze tablets on which Roman laws were inscribed for preservation. They were proverbially long-lasting (several still survive).
4. Robespierre, Maximilien F. M. I. de (1758-94): leading figure in the French Revolution and an ardent believer in Rousseau's doctrines. His genuine and incessant praise of "virtue," which won him the surname of "the Incorruptible," was instrumental in the execution of the Reign of Terror.
5. "de fonder sur la terre l'empire de la sagesse, de la justice et de la vertu": "to found the empire of wisdom, justice and virtue on earth."
6. Luther, Martin (1483-1546): German leader of the Reformation and founder of Protestantism. Preached the doctrine of salvation by faith rather than by works. Denied freedom of the will in De servo arbitrio (1525).
7. credo quia absurdum: "I believe because it is absurd."
8. dialectical principle: the central method in Hegel's work in which one starts from a given position (a thesis say, ancient Greek ethics); this thesis itself generates its own destruction by contradiction (the Socratic questioning of Greek ethics), until it is replaced by something else (a Reformation morality based on individual conscience). This new anti-thesis morality in this case is also unstable and so must yield to a third position that combines the positive points of the two predecessors (a rational community). The classic formulation is one of movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis (though Hegel does not use these terms), although in some cases the synthesis of one stage serves as the thesis of another. See M. N. Forster, "Hegel's Dialectical Method," in F. Beiser (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hegel (1993).