This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The ideal of happiness

The great philosophical traditions know nothing of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ in the modern sense. They spoke rather of ‘the good life’ which is to say, the pursuit of virtue and truth. These two ends are as different as night and day.

In fact, we might go further and say that they might even have warned us away from the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a dangerous thing. Nietzsche was correct when he asked, “what does happiness matter to us?”[1] And observed that “the superior man is distinguished from the inferior by his intrepidity, by his defiance of unhappiness.”[2] He concluded that “it is a sign of regression when pleasure begins to be considered as the highest principle.”[3] And who can argue that the contemporary notion of happiness does not boil down to an obsession with pleasure in its various forms?

Yes, it can be argued that the ancients did speak of happiness, but their meaning does not factor into the modern one. In the modern sense, happiness is not being what one ought to be, surpassing oneself, transcending oneself, but rather it is a possession of one’s desires, an affirmation that one is already good and the removal of any reminders of our imperfection. Modern happiness is the possession of what one wants to have, and the permission to do whatever one wills. It is a base happiness, shared even by lower forms of life, for a wild animal gnawing at its kill is happy in the way people today mean it.

This vulgar happiness is possible even under perverse and evil conditions. It comes to be a thing granted by authority or product purchased in a store, a creation of the market, a materialistic and individualistic pursuit. It is a feeling. Now there is nothing wrong with pleasant feelings, but as a social goal, we could say that, if we are going to pursue a feeling, it should be mutual affection. This, on a wide scale, would be a much more worthy pursuit than individual happiness.

[1] Will to Power, 781.

[2] Will to Power, 222.

[3] Will to Power, 792.

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