Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, the madman provoked much laughter. Has God got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? Emigrated? Thus did they shout and jeer.
Friedrich Nietzsche The Gay Science
Who are the characters in this morality play, created for us by one renowned for his rejection of State and Nation and God Himself? There is of course God, who seems to characteristically stand idly by. He has not had a speaking part of late. There is the madman, who’s frenetic supplication heralds the great loneliness that awaits the crowd. Then there is the crowd itself, populated with last men (der letzte Mensch), the sallow nihilists. Cynics who’s abusive condescension stands to insulate them from the threat posed by the God-seeking madman in their midst. Oh how they reject the earnest consternation of the lantern bearer, they condemn his attempts to enlighten them. They have long found comfort in their despair. For them nothing changes, nothing matters and above all nothing reigns. Were it that they had the strength to give the world new meaning, instead they conceal their vindictive motives in the guise of political aims. In the end they threaten every earnest endeavor, as sincerity is seen by them as the ultimate sign of weakness and naiveté. Beware of them, those who carry lanterns in the bright morning hours, their darkness is threatened by your light.
It would be easy to argue that what the European Nietzsche thought he saw in humanity’s immediate future was in fact, still a long way off. He though, was keenly aware of the depth of this well, and the time it would take for the descent to occur. What the exceptional among us know today the entire world may indeed never know. Humanity is not a homogenous mass, and the good of one is the ill of another. These axioms are not intended to defend, though defend they may. The death of God for some has initiated a terrible, debilitating disease. The vitality that would mark the predecessors of the Übermensch, is not seen in these bitter individuals. Ah to call them individuals even seems too generous. They are just sullen members of some Godless fold. Deep, gaping, weeping wounds betray the provenance of their festering resentment. That these last men could see that for them the death of God was not a victory, but a terrible defeat. They mourn the death, all is false, and they have not the power to give meaning again where none is given by God.
The madman may not immediately appear to be the most heroic creature. It is however sincerity that delivers his super human potential. When one is sincere, when one has hope, when one has the courage to risk conviction, when one lights lanterns in the sun and seeks, then one reaches a kind of individuation that precedes progress. There is many an instance that calls for the sacred No, the somber rejection, the tearful goodbye. Those moments too should conceal a joyful wisdom, an ecstatic embrace, a jubilant welcome. At the very core of our being this paradoxical energy resides. What is so often forgotten by the nihilist is that essence follows from existence. That it is incumbent upon us to give the meaningless world value, to hold it in high regard, to respect the ideas of our contemporaries and our predecessors. We should act to take on the responsibilities that accompany the exceptional existence, more readily than we claim exceptional rights. The right to defy is the product of a willingness to yield, and the capacity to create is a prerequisite of the will to destroy.