What Is Decadence, What Does It Mean?June 27, 2021
Decadence is a French word. It is of Latin origin and comes from “decadere”. Nietzsche used this word in his works without translating it into German. Because there is no exact equivalent in German.
This concept is also used in Nietzsche’s books translated into Turkish. Although translation can be made as I mentioned above, there is no word that actually corresponds to the meaning of this word in Turkish.
This concept emerges as a result of nihilism in Nietzsche’s philosophy; because the nihilistic lifestyle leads to alienation as a result. Every religion or intellectual movement that denies the real world and exalts the next world (heaven-hell) displays a nihilistic structure and as a result pushes people to an alienation both culturally, spiritually and biologically.
Nietzsche marks the beginning of his philosophy with his war against nihilism. He begins his work titled Will to Power as follows: “Nihilism is at the door. Where did this most uncanny of all guests come from?”
After this beginning, he defines nihilism, again in the same work, as follows: “Nihilism. It has two meanings. A] Nihilism as a sign of the increased power of the soul. Active nihilism. B] Nihilism as collapse, as a decrease in the power of the soul. Passive nihilism.”
If we interpret what he defined in this section, it would not be wrong to think that Nietzsche took a stand against passive nihilism and that active nihilism is a necessary process for the liberation of the soul.
Nietzsche dwells on certain types of people in his philosophical works. These are ‘herd’, ‘free man’ and ‘superman’. We have already mentioned the concept of superhuman from these human profiles. However, it would be appropriate to examine Nietzsche’s human profiles in detail in another topic later on. For now, I would like to mention briefly.
Herd people live a life style that shows a nihilistic structure. They have lost their hope to the other world, denied real life, and have a life under the guidance of clergy and state administrators. They are in the majority and act with herd psychology. They are hostile to the contrary, to the rebel. They do not accept any view other than their traditions and their own point of view on life and they want to punish them. They do not have their own thoughts and comments. They accept and implement whatever the shepherds in their heads say.
A free person is the type of person who has got rid of the traditions of the society in which he lives, who can think for himself, but has not yet found himself. Although he lives under the domination of the herd, he is separated from the herd due to his silent rebellion. But there are arduous ways to leave the herd. Because people can lose themselves on these roads and fall into traps. The first periods of people who leave the herd show a “passive nihilistic” structure. During this period, a person does not research, but only questions and thinks. He finds the distorted thoughts of his society wrong, but the great contradiction he falls into forces him to deny life. He is inactive because the tangle of contradictions has surrounded every part of his brain. But if he overcomes these difficult paths, he acquires an active nihilistic character. Now, in Nietzsche’s words, he sets out to search as vigorously as the lion’s desire for food. It tries to produce truth. Now he has killed his God and is in a desire to become God. Passionately and through various pains, he begins to seek the truth.
The Superman, on the other hand, is now a completely liberated, self-rolling wheel. He plays with life, as if to “turn the stars around himself,” in Nietzsche’s words. He appreciates it. He knows how to dance with life with a childlike innocence and has found his truth.
There are three concepts that Nietzsche mentions in the chapter “On three changes” of Zarathustra. These are the camel, the lion and the child. In this section, he tells how the camel turns into a lion and the lion turns into a child. The camel mentioned in the chapter symbolizes the human profile that has just separated from the herd and shows a passive nihilistic structure. The lion, on the other hand, reflects the profile of a person who has faced his God and killed him, who is looking for the truth with appetite. By child is meant the Over-Man.
To summarize, the basis of all these processes of change lies in corruption-decadence. This alienation caused by nihilism enables a person to be liberated by going through difficult paths. Those who were dissolved under the domination of the herd are now herdded and alienated.