A while back we received a question via email from Joe R.:
“In times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself.”
Can you explain the context of this reference and where it comes from, please?
A quick web search reveals that this is an often quoted aphorism, especially in the context of martial arts, where it’s meant to be inspirational for one’s training. This struck me as probably not what Nietzsche had in mind, and I sent this to our favorite Nietzsche scholar Jessica Berry, who answered:
The quote below is, in fact, the whole of Beyond Good & Evil §76:
In peaceful conditions, the warlike man will attack himself.
[Unter friedlichen Umständen fällt der kriegerische Mensch über sich selber her.]
That, of course, makes its “context” a difficult issue, since Part IV of BGE is just the “Epigrams and Interludes” chapter, made up largely of several dozen one-liners, not obviously related or continuous in theme.
It’s important to note, though, from the standpoint of the question you seem to have received about it, that this quote isn’t an evaluation — it’s just a psychological observation. I see no praise or blame of anyone here. Rather, just the observation that human beings are feisty little critters, consistent with Nietzsche’s claim in the Genealogy that human beings naturally delight in cruelty (which is also meant to be a value-neutral statement). This quote does suggest that not all of us might be “warlike,” but it seems to me to give us no way of assessing whether being “warlike” would be a good thing or a bad thing.
Thus, I take this claim to be just the (fairly uncontroversial one) that, if everything were perfect, we’d cause trouble just to (i) avoid boredom, or (ii) maximize our opportunities for expressing and feeling power, or (iii) some such. Schopenhauer makes a similar point in “On the Suffering of the World.” But Nietzsche here also implies that if there were no other way for one to vent one’s cruelty, no one else upon whom to vent it, one would attack oneself (in the manner of religious ascetics). So this observation also belongs importantly to his explanation of how ascetic moralities get started.
Thanks to Jessica and Joe!