Chapter 2 - The Economy of Decadence  pp. 22-66

The Economy of Decadence

By Daniel W. Conway

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All great problems demand great love, and of that only strong, round, secure spirits who have a firm grip on themselves are capable. It makes the most telling difference whether a thinker has a personal relationship to his problems and finds in them his destiny, his distress, and his greatest happiness, or an “impersonal” one, meaning that he can do no better than to touch them and grasp them with the antennae of cold, curious thought.

(GS 345)

Nothing has preoccupied me more profoundly than the problem of décadence – I had reasons.

(CW P)

The profundity that Nietzsche attaches to his preoccupation with “the problem of décadence” may strike even his most loyal readers as exaggerated. Not until 1888 does he import the French term décadence into his philosophical vocabulary, and only in the flickering twilight of his sanity, in such testimonial books as Ecce Homo and The Case of Wagner, does he explicitly pronounce his own decay.

Nietzsche's pronouncement of his own decadence is, moreover, as obscure as it is candid. Like most of the themes and topics that dominate his later writings, “decadence” receives neither a formal introduction nor a sustained analysis. He apparently believes that decadence afflicts ages, epochs, peoples, and individuals, but he nowhere ventures a detailed account of the phenomenon of decay.