Nietzsche often spoke of nobility, of knightly values, or, more specifically, ‘knightly-aristocratic values’. He saw in it the origin of the concept ‘good’, which he equated with strength, beauty and happiness: ‘good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God’. These knightly-aristocratic values ‘presupposed a powerful physicality, a flourishing, abundant, even overflowing health, together with that which serves to preserve it: war, adventure, hunting, dancing, war games, and in general all that involves vigorous, free, joyful activity’.
According to Nietzsche, a ‘slave revolt in morality’ inverted these knightly values, claiming that the ‘wretched alone are the good’, that ‘the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious’, while ‘the powerful and noble, are on the contrary the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity; and you shall be in all eternity the unblessed, accursed, and damned!’. Thus, pity, patience, industriousness and humility are honored in opposition to the knightly-aristocratic values.
What Nietzsche misunderstood, however, was that knightly values were a synthesis of these two concepts of the ‘good’. As C. S. Lewis writes in his essay on chivalry, ‘if we want to understand chivalry as an ideal distinct from other ideals’, we must pay attention to the contradictory demand it makes on human nature:
The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth
What Nietzsche is describing, Lewis would call ‘heroism outside the chivalrous tradition’. Reducing the knightly ideal to its brutality ‘misses the real novelty and originality of the medieval demand upon human nature. Worse still, it represents as a…