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Frederich Nietzsche is one of the most strikingly influential philosophers of the modern era and his works have permeated through the intellectual discourse of the 20th century and beyond. This essay will seek to explain Nietzsche’s conception of genealogy, and its impact on perceived morality and examine the degree to which his scathing criticism of Christianity is justified.

The core tenet of Nietzsche’s conception of genealogical analysis, particularly in “On The Genealogy of Morals” is to demonstrate that any given system of values -in this case, the state of modern morality was the result of recurring and contingent shifts in socio-historical developments and not that of an immutable and unchanging essence. Genealogy, in other words, was for Nietzsche the questioning of the emergence of moral values through his historical philosophy. Instead of the unquestioned acceptance of morality as a binary spectrum of “good” and “evil” and an eternal absolute, Nietzsche, through Genealogy of Morals, hoped to present and scrutinize an even-handed account of the development of morality as a somewhat unintended process of evolution subject to the sways of historical and social powers.

Neitzsche’s introduction of the Master-Slave moral dichotomy serves as a prime example of the workings of his method of Genealogy. In Nietzsche’s terms, holders of Master morality are the strong-willed and nobility. According to Nietzsche, they possess courage, truthfulness, and open-mindedness, and derive their values with a “spontaneous idea” of the good, from which he, the Master, derives the bad: the Master needs not approval nor valuation from others to formulate his values, and is concerned with the consequences of actions not a reflection of arbitrary definitions of “good” or “bad”. Slave Morality, on the other hand, is of the weak and subservient – “Slaves” The ideal of the good is derived from what is “helpful”, and bad is “what is harmful”. Their values are based on the uncritical acceptance of habit, of circumstantial definitions of the moral spectrum. The slave is often reactive, receiving traits that do not have a share in creating.

In Nietzsche’s narrative of Genealogy, the priestly aristocratic caste of pre-modern history took power through a “slave revolt in morality”. Weak and impotent by nature, the ascetic priests’ ideals of purity- abstinence from lust, violence, greed, and gluttony – Invert the “good” qualities of the ruling Master morality into what is known as “evil”. Nietzsche argues that the holders of Master morality’s projection of power, superiority, and abundance were inverted by the aristocratic priest through a process of ressentiment. The internalization of perceived inferiority, weakness, and long-brewing impotence molds the priestly caste into a resentful force against Master morality and their vengefulness into the “Creative, value birthing” force that is ressentiment – a mental objective mastery of the weak and slavish’s source of suffering. In contrast to the “plastic powers” of the masters – the slaves’ ressentiment ferments hatred and bitterness to overthrow dominant “Master” values. For instance, prowess was transfigured into arrogance, and its lack thereof into humility, abundance, and amplitude into greed and gluttony, and its absence into meagerness. In short, all traits of master morality were redefined into a category of “Evilness” and its opposite into “good” and ”virtue” as morality is inverted and moral superiority is constructed.

Another instance of Nietzsche’s use of genealogy is his analysis of the origin of bad conscience. Similar to his analysis of the slave revolt in morality, Nietzsche argues that the breakdown of primitive, hunter-gatherer society and the formation of permanent settlements disfigured the primal instincts of brutality and relentlessness – violence lost its purpose and man has to rely on “consciousness” to survive. Thus, the internalization of man occurs – cruelty against others is turned inwards as man struggles against himself and wages war against his instincts. Such is how self-reflexivity and ultimately conscience, in Nietzsche’s eyes, were created. Nietzsche extends this argument to the creation of guilt – which, according to Genealogy, originated from credit-debt relationships of pre-modern society, where the failure to uphold promises was remedied by debt. Such a mechanism of punishment and extraction eventually evolved into the modern conception of guilt as the instincts of cruelty are reflected and turned inwards.

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Applying the master-slave dichotomy to the foundation of Judeo-Christianity, Nietzsche claims that Judaism and its struggle against the prowess of Roman rule is a case of ressentiment in motion – the inversion of Master values stem from ressentiment against Roman superiority from the “Priestly nation of ressentiment par excellence” – Judea. The voluntarism of the Judeo-Christians – their ability to choose not to act in the ways of the masters that is Rome, gave way to a self-perceived moral superiority for choosing not to accept the traits and values of their enemy and birthed a new evaluative framework that is Christian morality. “Those who suffer are good and are blessed with god”: the features of the lowly and the weak become the virtue of “good” in this revolt of morality against the noble traits of the Roman masters – transformed into “evil” and “vice”. The effects of Nietzschean Genealogy on the meaning of morality and in particular, that of Christian morality is thus made clear. Nietzsche’s Genealogy provides its readers with a sweepingly subversive account of the birth of Judeo-Christian morality and redefines its origin from a universal, moral spirit that is god, to a system that has had variable traits and values imposed upon it by the ebb and flow of socio-historical forces. His meta-ethical analysis of morals strips Christianity and its values of sacredness and permanence, challenging the philosophical common sense that morality is a universally applicable force.

Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity in Genealogy, while unprecedented, presented a plethora of cogent arguments against the value of Judeo-Christian morality to life. First, Nietzsche, in his Genealogical analysis, reveals Judeo-Christianity as an essentially anti-life ideology that is nihilistic and life-denying in nature. To elaborate, Nietzsche pinpoints the notion of fear and vengefulness of God and seeks to explain its origin as a moral sentiment of debt to ancestors in pre-modern society – that over, the sense of debt derived from ancestral piety morphs into pious fear and “casts God as the ultimate ancestor who cannot be repaid.” The bad conscience of the debtor, argues Nietzsche, “eats into” him with the impossibility of “paying the debt”: that the causa prima of man itself in the Christian narrative is burdened already with the original sin. Christianity’s diabolization of nature and existence leaves human life as inherently worthless as it leads man towards a nihilistic antithesis to life, redemption after death. Nietzsche paints Christianity as an even more harmful force than the “Oriental” religions such as Buddhism – Christianity sees earthly life as a “sinful condition” that, without the salvation of eternal heaven, will be subject to the eternal torture of hell. Nietzsche sees such concepts of Christian salvation and the final judgment merely as the manifestation of priestly ressentiment – against life.

Second, Nietzsche also engaged in the debasing of Christian morality by demonstrating its ultimate lack of foundation. The analysis of morals in Genealogy has presented the argument that morality’s commonsensical place in society’s minds as an eternal, universal essence applied to all can no longer stand. Rid of its veneer of unquestionability, Christian morality as Nietzsche envisions is merely a result of historical developments in inter-societal conflicts. Not only is Christianity without a universal morality, but its “corrosiveness” – the devaluation of life-affirming values of strength and nobleness, and its revaluation of slave morality pose harm to life and society. Worse yet, the deep entrenchment of Christian morality in European society signifies that, once its “collapse” occurs, society’s lack of foundational values may plunge it into an age of nihilism as Nietzsche had feared.

However, despite the exhaustive and somewhat revolutionary approach that Nietzsche took to re-evaluate and challenge common perceptions of morality and its values, Genealogy still succumbs to academic critique, particularly in its treatment of historicality. While Nietzsche’s genealogical method spells a thorough and detailed process through which Christian morality was derived, its mode of argumentation leaves ambiguity as to whether there is any engagement of historical “truth”. Its broad and sweeping accounts of Judaic and pre-Christian history can seem, from a purely historical standpoint, unsubstantial and possibly unconvincing. Further, Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity seemingly focuses most heavily on the negativity of its teleology – that man is born with the life-negating burden of the original sin and that suffering in life is prescribed with the end of attaining eternal salvation after death. However, one may argue that the humanistic elements within the doctrines of Chrstianity – humane compassion and kindness, as an example, can be somewhat life-affirming even in the Nietzschean sense – however fundamentally ungrounded they are in a universal morality and regardless of Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity’s condemnation of earthly existence.

In conclusion, Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morals offers a blazing and valourous analysis of modern morality that exposes its readers to a vastly comprehensive, meta-ethical perspective on the origins and values of the Judeo-Christian ideology. Genealogy’s premise and its critique of morals, while inviting constant controversy and critique in its outlast against Christianity, redefined the modern philosophical discourse of religion and morality for ensuing generations and groundbreakingly pushed commonsensical morality into the spotlight of scrutiny.

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