All Things Are Nothing To Me*

      What is not supposed to be my concern! ** First and foremost, the Good Cause, *** then God's cause, the cause of mankind, of truth, of freedom, of humanity, of justice; further, the cause of my people, my prince, my fatherland; finally, even the cause of Mind, and a thousand other causes. Only my cause is never to be my concern. "Shame on the egoist who thinks only of himself!"
     Let us look and see, then, how they manage their concerns -- they for whose cause we are to labor, devote ourselves, and grow enthusiastic.
      You have much profound information to give about God, and have for thousands of years "searched the depths of the Godhead," and looked into its heart, so that you can doubtless tell us how God himself attends to "God's cause," which we are called to serve. And you do not conceal the Lord's doings, either. Now, what is his cause? Has he, as is demanded of us, made an alien cause, the cause of truth or love, his own? You are shocked by this misunderstanding,

*"Ich hab' Mein' Sach' auf Nichts gestellt, first line of Goethe's poem, "Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas!" Literal translation: "I have set my affair on nothing."]
** [


and you instruct us that God's cause is indeed the cause of truth and love, but that this cause cannot be called alien to him, because God is himself truth and love; you are shocked by the assumption that God could be like us poor worms in furthering an alien cause as his own. "Should God take up the cause of truth if he were not himself truth?" He cares only for his cause, but, because he is all in all, therefore all is his cause! But we, we are not all in all, and our cause is altogether little and contemptible; therefore we must "serve a higher cause." -- Now it is clear, God cares only for what is his, busies himself only with himself, thinks only of himself, and has only himself before his eyes; woe to all that is not well-pleasing to him. He serves no higher person, and satisfies only himself. His cause is -- a purely egoistic cause.
      How is it with mankind, whose cause we are to make our own? Is its cause that of another, and does mankind serve a higher cause? No, mankind looks only at itself, mankind will promote the interests of mankind only, mankind is its own cause. That it may develop, it causes nations and individuals to wear themselves out in its service, and, when they have accomplished what mankind needs, it throws them on the dung-heap of history in gratitude. Is not mankind's cause -- a purely egoistic cause?
      I have no need to take up each thing that wants to throw its cause on us and show that it is occupied only with itself, not with us, only with its good, not with ours. Look at the rest for yourselves. Do truth, freedom, humanity, justice, desire anything else than


that you grow enthusiastic and serve them?
      They all have an admirable time of it when they receive zealous homage. Just observe the nation that is defended by devoted patriots. The patriots fall in bloody battle or in the fight with hunger and want; what does the nation care for that? By the manure of their corpses the nation comes to "its bloom"! The individuals have died "for the great cause of the nation," and the nation sends some words of thanks after them and -- has the profit of it. I call that a paying kind of egoism.
      But only look at that Sultan who cares so lovingly for his people. Is he not pure unselfishness itself, and does he not hourly sacrifice himself for his people? Oh, yes, for "his people." Just try it; show yourself not as his, but as your own; for breaking away from his egoism you will take a trip to jail. The Sultan has set his cause on nothing but himself; he is to himself all in all, he is to himself the only one, and tolerates nobody who would dare not to be one of "his people."
      And will you not learn by these brilliant examples that the egoist gets on best? I for my part take a lesson from them, and propose, instead of further unselfishly serving those great egoists, rather to be the egoist myself.
      God and mankind have concerned themselves for nothing, for nothing but themselves. Let me then likewise concern myself for myself, who am equally with God the nothing of all others, who am my all, who am the only one.*

*[Der Einzige]


      If God, if mankind, as you affirm, have substance enough in themselves to be all in all to themselves, then I feel that I shall still less lack that, and that I shall have no complaint to make of my "emptiness." I am not nothing in the sense of emptiness, but I am the creative nothing, the nothing out of which I myself as creator create everything.
      Away, then, with every concern that is not altogether my concern! You think at least the "good cause" must be my concern? What's good, what's bad? Why, I myself am my concern, and I am neither good nor bad. Neither has meaning for me.
     The divine is God's concern; the human, man's. My concern is neither the divine nor the human, not the true, good, just, free, etc., but solely what is mine, and it is not a general one, but is -- unique,* as I am unique.
      Nothing is more to me than myself!




Part First




Man is to man the supreme being,, says Feuerbach.

Man has just been discovered, says Bruno Bauer.

Then let us take a more careful look at this supreme being
                                                            and this new discovery.




     From the moment when he catches sight of the light of the world a man seeks to find out himself and get hold of himself out of its confusion, in which he, with everything else, is tossed about in motley mixture.
     But everything that comes in contact with the child defends itself in turn against his attacks, and asserts its own persistence.
     Accordingly, because each thing cares for itself at the same time comes into constant collision with other things, the combat of self-assertion is unavoidable.
     Victory or defeat -- between the two alternatives the fate of the combat wavers. The victor becomes the lord, the vanquished one the subject: the former exercises supremacy and "rights of supremacy," the latter fulfills in awe and deference the "duties of a subject.
     But both remain enemies, and always lie in wait: they watch for each other's weaknesses -- children for those of their parents and parents for those of their children (e.g., their fear); either the stick conquers the man, or the man conquers the stick.
     In childhood liberation takes the direction of trying to get to the bottom of things, to get at what is "back


of" things; therefore we spy out the weak points of everybody, for which, it is well known, children have a sure instinct; therefore we like to smash things, like to rummage through hidden corners, pry after what is covered up or out of the way, and try what we can do with everything. When we once get at what is back of the things, we know we are safe; when, e.g., we have got at the fact that the rod is too weak against our obduracy, then we no longer fear it, "have out-grown it."
     Back of the rod, mightier than it, stands our -- obduracy, our obdurate courage. By degrees we get at what is back of everything that was mysterious and uncanny to us, the mysteriously-dreaded might of the rod, the father's stern look, etc., and back of all we find our ataraxia, i. e. imperturbability, intrepidity, our counter force, our odds of strength, our invincibility. Before that which formerly inspired in us fear and deference we no longer retreat shyly, but take courage. Back of everything we find our courage, our superiority; back of the sharp command of parents and authorities stands, after all, our courageous choice or our outwitting shrewdness. And the more we feel ourselves, the smaller appears that which before seemed invincible. And what is our trickery, shrewdness, courage, obduracy? What else but -- mind!*
     Through a considerable time we are spared a fight that is so exhausting later -- the fight against reason. The fairest part of childhood passes without the ne-

*[Geist. This word will be translated sometimes "mind" and sometimes "spirit" in the following pages.]

A HUMAN LIFE        11

cessity of coming to blows with reason. We care nothing at all about it, do not meddle with it, admit no reason. We are not to be persuaded to anything by conviction, and are deaf to good arguments, principles, etc.; on the other hand, coaxing, punishment, etc. are hard for us to resist.
     This stern life-and-death combat with reason enters later, and begins a new phase; in childhood we scamper about without racking our brains much.
     Mind is the name of the first self-discovery, the first self-discovery, the first undeification of the divine; i. e., of the uncanny, the spooks, the "powers above." Our fresh feeling of youth, this feeling of self, now defers to nothing; the world is discredited, for we are above it, we are mind.
     Now for the first time we see that hitherto we have not looked at the world intelligently at all, but only stared at it.
     We exercise the beginnings of our strength on natural powers. We defer to parents as a natural power; later we say: Father and mother are to be forsaken, all natural power to be counted as riven. They are vanquished. For the rational, i.e. the "intellectual" man, there is no family as a natural power; a renunciation of parents, brothers, etc., makes its appearance. If these are "born again" as intellectual, rational powers, they are no longer at all what they were before.
     And not only parents, but men in general, are conquered by the young man; they are no hindrance to him, and are no longer regarded; for now he says: One must obey God rather than men.
     From this high standpoint everything "earthly"


recedes into contemptible remoteness; for the standpoint is -- the heavenly.
     The attitude is now altogether reversed; the youth takes up an intellectual position, while the boy, who did not yet feel himself as mind, grew up on mindless learning. The former does not try to get hold of things (e.g. to get into his head the data of history), but of the thoughts that lie hidden in things, and so, e.g., of the spirit of history. On the other hand, the boy understands connections no doubt, but not ideas, the spirit; therefore he strings together whatever can be learned, without proceeding a priori and theoretically, i.e. without looking for ideas.
     As in childhood one had to overcome the resistance of the laws of the world, so now in everything that he proposes he is met by an objection of the mind, of reason, of his own conscience. "That is unreasonable, unchristian, unpatriotic," etc., cries conscience to us, and -- frightens us away from it. Not the might of the avenging Eumenides, not Poseidon's wrath, not God, far as he sees the hidden, not the father's rod of punishment, do we fear, but -- conscience.
We "run after our thoughts" now, and follow their commands just as before we followed parental, human ones. Our course of action is determined by our thoughts (ideas, conceptions, faith) as it is in childhood by the commands of our parents.
     For all that, we were already thinking when we were children, only our thoughts were not fleshless, abstract, absolute, i. e., NOTHING BUT THOUGHTS, a heaven in themselves, a pure world of thought, logical thoughts.

A HUMAN LIFE        13

     On the contrary, they had been only thoughts that we had about a thing; we thought of the thing so or so. Thus we may have thought "God made the world that we see there," but we did not think of ("search") the "depths of the Godhead itself"; we may have thought "that is the truth about the matter," but we do not think of Truth itself, nor unite into one sentence "God is truth." The "depths of the Godhead, who is truth," we did not touch. Over such purely logical, i.e. theological questions, "What is truth?" Pilate does not stop, though he does not therefore hesitate to ascertain in an individual case "what truth there is in the thing," i.e. whether the thing is true.
     Any thought bound to a thing is not yet nothing but a thought, absolute thought.
     To bring to light the pure thought, or to be of its party, is the delight of youth; and all the shapes of light in the world of thought, like truth, freedom, humanity, Man, etc., illumine and inspire the youthful soul.
     But, when the spirit is recognized as the essential thing, it still makes a difference whether the spirit is poor or rich, and therefore one seeks to become rich in spirit; the spirit wants to spread out so as to found its empire -- an empire that is not of this world, the world just conquered. Thus, then, it longs to become all in all to itself; i.e., although I am spirit, I am not yet perfected spirit, and must first seek the complete spirit.
     But with that I, who had just now found myself as spirit, lose myself again at once, bowing before the


complete spirit as one not my own but supernal, and feeling my emptiness.
     Spirit is the essential point for everything, to be sure; but then is every spirit the "right" spirit? The right and true spirit is the ideal of spirit, the "Holy Spirit." It is not my or your spirit, but just -- an ideal, supernal one, it is "God." "God is spirit." And this supernal "Father in heaven gives it to those that pray to him."*
     The man is distinguished from the youth by the fact that he takes the world as it is, instead of everywhere fancying it amiss and wanting to improve it, i.e. model it after his ideal; in him the view that one must deal with the world according to his interest, not according to his ideals, becomes confirmed.
     So long as one knows himself only as spirit, and feels that all the value of his existence consists in being spirit (it becomes easy for the youth to give his life, the "bodily life," for a nothing, for the silliest point of honor), so long it is only thoughts that one has, ideas that he hopes to be able to realize some day when he has found a sphere of action; thus one has meanwhile only ideals, unexecuted ideas or thoughts.
     Not till one has fallen in love with his corporeal self, and takes a pleasure in himself as a living flesh-and-blood person -- but it is in mature years, in the man, that we find it so -- not till then has one a personal or egoistic interest, i.e. an interest not only of our spirit, e. g., but of total satisfaction, satisfaction of the whole chap, a selfish interest. Just

*Luke 11, 13.

A HUMAN LIFE        15

compare a man with a youth, and see if he will not appear to you harder, less magnanimous, more selfish. Is he therefore worse? No, you say; he has only become more definite, or, as you also call it, more "practical." But the main point is this, that he makes himself more the center than does the youth, who is infatuated about other things, e.g. God, fatherland, etc.
     Therefore the man shows a second self-discovery. The youth found himself as spirit and lost himself again in the general spirit, the complete, holy spirit, Man, mankind -- in short, all ideals; the man finds himself as embodied spirit.
     Boys had only unintellectual interests (i.e. interests devoid of thoughts and ideas), youths only intellectual ones; the man has bodily, personal, egoistic interests.
     If the child has not an object that it can occupy itself with, it feels ennui; for it does not yet know how to occupy itself with itself. The youth, on the contrary, throws the object aside, because for him thoughts arose out of the object; he occupies himself with his thoughts, his dreams, occupies himself intellectually, or "his mind is occupied."
     The young man includes everything not intellectual under the contemptuous name of "externalities." If he nevertheless sticks to the most trivial externalities (e.g. the customs of students' clubs and other formalities), it is because, and when, he discovers mind in them, i.e. when they are symbols to him.
     As I find myself back of things, and that as mind, so I must later find myself also back of thoughts -- to wit, as their creator and owner. In the time of spirits


thoughts grew till they overtopped my head, whose offspring they yet were; they hovered about me and convulsed me like fever-phantasies -- an awful power. The thoughts had become corporeal on their own account, were ghosts, e. g. God, Emperor, Pope, Fatherland, etc. If I destroy their corporeity, then I take them back into mine, and say: "I alone am corporeal." And now I take the world as what it is to me, as mine, as my property; I refer all to myself.
     If as spirit I had thrust away the world in the deepest contempt, so as owner I thrust spirits or ideas away into their "vanity." They have no longer any power over me, as no "earthly might" has power over the spirit.
     The child was realistic, taken up with the things of this world, till little by little he succeeded in getting at what was back of these very things; the youth was idealistic, inspired by thoughts, till he worked his way up to where he became the man, the egoistic man, who deals with things and thoughts according to his heart's pleasure, and sets his personal interest above everything. Finally, the old man? When I become one, there will still be time enough to speak of that.



     How each of us developed himself, what he strove for, attained, or missed, what objects he formerly pursued and what plans and wishes his heart is now set on, what transformation his views have experienced, what perturbations his principles -- in short, how he has today become what yesterday or years ago he was not -- this he brings out again from his memory with more or less ease, and he feels with especial vividness what changes have taken place in himself when he has before his eyes the unrolling of another's life.
     Let us therefore look into the activities our forefathers busied themselves with.


     Custom having once given the name of "the ancients" to our pre-Christian ancestors, we will not throw it up against them that, in comparison with us experienced people, they ought properly to be called children, but will rather continue to honor them as our good old fathers. But how have they come to be antiquated, and who could displace them through his pretended newness?
     We know, of course, the revolutionary innovator and


disrespectful heir, who even took away the sanctity of the fathers' sabbath to hallow his Sunday, and interrupted the course of time to begin at himself with a new chronology; we know him, and know that it is -- the Christian. But does he remain forever young, and is he today still the new man, or will he too be superseded, as he has superseded the "ancients"?
     The fathers must doubtless have themselves begotten the young one who entombed them. Let us then peep at this act of generation.
     "To the ancients the world was a truth," says Feuerbach, but he forgets to make the important addition, "a truth whose untruth they tried to get back of, and at last really did." What is meant by those words of Feuerbach will be easily recognized if they are put alongside the Christian thesis of the "vanity and transitoriness of the world." For, as the Christian can never convince himself of the vanity of the divine word, but believes in its eternal and unshakable truth, which, the more its depths are searched, must all the more brilliantly come to light and triumph, so the ancients on their side lived in the feeling that the world and mundane relations (e.g. the natural ties of blood) were the truth before which their powerless "I" must bow. The very thing on which the ancients set the highest value is spurned by Christians as the valueless, and what they recognized as truth these brand as idle lies; the high significance of the fatherland disappears, and the Christian must regard himself as "a stranger on earth";* the sanc-

*Heb. 11. 13.


tity of funeral rites, from which sprang a work of art like the Antigone of Sophocles, is designated as a paltry thing ("Let the dead bury their dead"); the infrangible truth of family ties is represented as an untruth which one cannot promptly enough get clear of;* and so in everything.
     If we now see that to the two sides opposite things appear as truth, to one the natural, to the other the intellectual, to one earthly things and relations, to the other heavenly (the heavenly fatherland, "Jerusalem that is above," etc.), it still remains to be considered how the new time and that undeniable reversal could come out of antiquity. But the ancients themselves worked toward making their truth a lie.
     Let us plunge at once into the midst of the most brilliant years of the ancients, into the Periclean century. Then the Sophistic culture was spreading, and Greece made a pastime of what had hitherto been to her a monstrously serious matter.
     The fathers had been enslaved by the undisturbed power of existing things too long for the posterity not to have to learn by bitter experience to feel themselves. Therefore the Sophists, with courageous sauciness, pronounce the reassuring words, "Don't be bluffed!" and diffuse the rationalistic doctrine, "Use your understanding, your wit, your mind, against everything; it is by having a good and well-drilled understanding that one gets through the world best, provides for himself the best lot, the most pleasant life." Thus they recognize in mind man's true weapon

*Mark 10. 29.


against the world. This is why they lay such stress on dialectic skill, command of language, the art of disputation, etc. They announce that mind is to be used against everything; but they are still far removed from the holiness of the Spirit, for to them it is a means, a weapon, as trickery and defiance serve children for the same purpose; their mind is the unbribable understanding.
     Today we should call that a one-sided culture of the understanding, and add the warning, "Cultivate not only your understanding, but also, and especially, your heart." Socrates did the same. For, if the heart did not become free from its natural impulses, but remained filled with the most fortuitous contents and, as an uncriticized avidity, altogether in the power of things, i.e. nothing but a vessel of the most various appetites -- then it was unavoidable that the free understanding must serve the "bad heart" and was ready to justify everything that the wicked heart desired.
     Therefore Socrates says that it is not enough for one to use his understanding in all things, but it is a question of what cause one exerts it for. We should now say, one must serve the "good cause." But serving the good cause is -- being moral. Hence Socrates is the founder of ethics.
     Certainly the principle of the Sophistic doctrine must lead to the possibility that the blindest and most dependent slave of his desires might yet be an excellent sophist, and, with keen understanding, trim and expound everything in favor of his coarse heart. What could there be for which a "good reason"


might not be found, or which might not be defended through thick and thin?
     Therefore Socrates says: "You must be 'pure-hearted' if your shrewdness is to be valued." At this point begins the second period of Greek liberation of the mind, the period of purity of heart. For the first was brought to a close by the Sophists in their proclaiming the omnipotence of the understanding. But the heart remained worldly-minded, remained a servant of the world, always affected by worldly wishes. This coarse heart was to be cultivated from now on -- the era of culture of the heart. But how is the heart to be cultivated? What the understanding; this one side of the mind, has reached -- to wit, the capability of playing freely with and over every concern -- awaits the heart also; everything worldly must come to grief before it, so that at last family, commonwealth, fatherland, etc., are given up for the sake of the heart, i. e., of blessedness, the heart's blessedness.
     Daily experience confirms the truth that the understanding may have renounced a thing many years before the heart has ceased to beat for it. So the Sophistic understanding too had so far become master over the dominant, ancient powers that they now needed only to be driven out of the heart, in which they dwelt unmolested, to have at last no part at all left in man. This war is opened by Socrates, and not till the dying day of the old world does it end in peace.
     The examination of the heart takes its start with Socrates, and all the contents of the heart are sifted. In their last and extremest struggles the ancients


threw all contents out of the heart and let it no longer beat for anything; this was the deed of the Skeptics. The same purgation of the heart was now achieved in the Skeptical age, as the understanding had succeeded in establishing in the Sophistic age.
     The Sophistic culture has brought it to pass that one's understanding no longer stands still before anything, and the Skeptical, that his heart is no longer moved by anything.
     So long as man is entangled in the movements of the world and embarrassed by relations to the world -- and he is so till the end of antiquity, because his heart still has to struggle for independence from the worldly -- so long he is not yet spirit; for spirit is without body, and has no relations to the world and corporeality; for it the world does not exist, nor natural bonds, but only the spiritual, and spiritual bonds. Therefore man must first become so completely unconcerned and reckless, so altogether without relations, as the Skeptical culture presents him -- so altogether indifferent to the world that even its falling in ruins would not move him -- before he could feel himself as worldless; i. e., as spirit. And this is the result of the gigantic work of the ancients: that man knows himself as a being without relations and without a world, as spirit.
     Only now, after all worldly care has left him, is he all in all to himself, is he only for himself, i.e. he is he spirit for the spirit, or, in plainer language, he cares only for the spiritual.
     In the Christian wisdom of serpents and innocence of doves the two sides -- understanding and heart -- of


the ancient liberation of mind are so completed that they appear young and new again, and neither the one nor the other lets itself be bluffed any longer by the worldly and natural.
     Thus the ancients mounted to spirit, and strove to become spiritual. But a man who wishes to be active as spirit is drawn to quite other tasks than he was able to set himself formerly: to tasks which really give something to do to the spirit and not to mere sense or acuteness,* which exerts itself only to become master of things. The spirit busies itself solely about the spiritual, and seeks out the "traces of mind" in everything; to the believing spirit "everything comes from God," and interests him only to the extent that it reveals this origin; to the philosophic spirit everything appears with the stamp of reason, and interests him only so far as he is able to discover in it reason, i. e., spiritual content.
     Not the spirit, then, which has to do with absolutely nothing unspiritual, with no thing, but only with the essence which exists behind and above things, with thoughts -- not that did the ancients exert, for they did not yet have it; no, they had only reached the point of struggling and longing for it, and therefore sharpened it against their too-powerful foe, the world of sense (but what would not have been sensuous for them, since Jehovah or the gods of the heathen were yet far removed from the conception "God is spirit," since the "heavenly fatherland" had not yet stepped into the place of the sensuous, etc.?) -- they sharpened

*Italicized in the original for the sake of its etymology, Scharfsinn -- "sharp-sense". Compare next paragraph.


against the world of sense their sense, their acuteness. To this day the Jews, those precocious children of antiquity, have got no farther; and with all the subtlety and strength of their prudence and understanding, which easily becomes master of things and forces them to obey it, they cannot discover spirit, which takes no account whatever of things.
     The Christian has spiritual interests, because he allows himself to be a spiritual man; the Jew does not even understand these interests in their purity, because he does not allow himself to assign no value to things. He does not arrive at pure spirituality, a spirituality e. g. is religiously expressed, e. g., in the faith of Christians, which alone (i.e. without works) justifies. Their unspirituality sets Jews forever apart from Christians; for the spiritual man is incomprehensible to the unspiritual, as the unspiritual is contemptible to the spiritual. But the Jews have only "the spirit of this world."
     The ancient acuteness and profundity lies as far from the spirit and the spirituality of the Christian world as earth from heaven.
     He who feels himself as free spirit is not oppressed and made anxious by the things of this world, because he does not care for them; if one is still to feel their burden, he must be narrow enough to attach weight to them -- as is evidently the case,
e. g., when one is still concerned for his "dear life." He to whom everything centers in knowing and conducting himself as a free spirit gives little heed to how scantily he is supplied meanwhile, and does not reflect at all on how he must make his arrangements to have a thoroughly


inconveniences of the life that depends on things, because he lives only spiritually and on spiritual food, while aside from this he only gulps things down like a beast, hardly knowing it, and dies bodily, to be sure, when his fodder gives out, but knows himself immortal as spirit, and closes his eyes with an adoration or a thought. His life is occupation with the spiritual, is -- thinking; the rest does not bother him; let him busy himself with the spiritual in any way that he can and chooses -- in devotion, in contemplation, or in philosophic cognition -- his doing is always thinking; and therefore Descartes, to whom this had at last become quite clear, could lay down the proposition: "I think, that is -- I am." This means, my thinking is my being or my life; only when I live spiritually do I live; only as spirit am I really, or -- I am spirit through and through and nothing but spirit. Unlucky Peter Schlemihl, who has lost his shadow, is the portrait of this man become a spirit; for the spirit's body is shadowless. -- Over against this, how different among the ancients! Stoutly and manfully as they might bear themselves against the might of things, they must yet acknowledge the might itself, and got no farther than to protect their life against it as well as possible. Only at a late hour did they recognize that their "true life" was not that which they led in the fight against the things of the world, but the "spiritual life," "turned away" from these things; and, when they saw this, they became Christians, i.e. the moderns, and innovators upon the ancients. But the life turned away from things, the spiritual life, no

Previous Section | Contents/Index | Next Section