In his Zarathustra, in the chapter called “The Preachers of Death” (Pt. I, chap. 9), Nietzsche points to the different ways in which life is tempted to accept its own negation: “They meet an invalid, or an old man, or a corpse— and immediately they say: ‘Life is refuted!’ But they only are refuted, and their eye, which seeth only one aspect of existence.” Life has many aspects, it is ambiguous. Nietzsche has described its ambiguity most typically in the last fragment of the collection of fragments which is called the Will to Power. Courage is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of this ambiguity, while the negation of life because of its negativity is an expression of cowardice. On this basis Nietzsche develops a prophecy and philosophy of courage in opposition to the mediocrity and decadence of life in the period whose coming he saw.
Like the earlier philosophers Nietzsche in Zarathustra considered the “warrior” (whom he distinguishes from the mere soldier) an outstanding example of courage. ” ‘What is good?’ ye ask. To be brave is good” (I, 10), not to be interested in long life, not to want to be spared, and all this just because of the love for life. The death of the warrior and of the mature man shall not be a reproach to the earth (I, 21). Self-affirmation is the affirmation of life and of the death which belongs to life. Virtue for Nietzsche as for Spinoza is self-affirmation. In the chapter on “The Virtuous” Nietzsche writes: “It is your dearest Self, your virtue. The ring’s thirst is in you: to reach itself again struggleth every ring, and turneth itself” (II, 27).
This analogy describes better than any definition the meaning of self-affirmation in the philosophy of life: The Self has itself, but at the same time it tries to reach itself. Here Spinoza’s conatus becomes dynamic, as, generally speaking, one could say that Nietzsche is a revival of Spinoza in dynamic terms: “Life” in Nietzsche replaces “substance” in Spinoza. And this is true not only of Nietzsche but of most of the philosophers of life. The truth of virtue is that the Self is in it “and not an outward thing.” “That your very Self be in your action, as the mother is in the child: let that be your formula of virtue!” (II, 27.) Insofar as courage is the affirmation of one’s self it is virtue altogether. The self whose self-affirmation is virtue and courage is the self which surpasses itself: “And this secret spake Life herself unto me. ‘Behold,’ said she, ‘I am that which must ever surpass itself ” (II, 34).
By italicizing the last words Nietzsche indicates that he wants to give a definition of the essential nature of life. “. . . There doth Life sacrifice itself—for power!” he continues, and shows in these words that for him self-affirmation includes self-negation, not for the sake of negation but for the sake of the greatest possible affirmation, for what he calls “power.” Life creates and life loves what it has created— but soon it must turn against it: “so willeth my [Life’s] will.” Therefore it is wrong to speak of “will to existence” or even of “will to life”; one must speak of “will to power,” i.e. to more life. Life, willing to surpass itself, is the good life, and the good life is the courageous life. It is the life of the “powerful soul” and the “triumphant body” whose self-enjoyment is virtue. Such a soul banishes “everything cowardly; it says: bad—that is cowardly” (III, 54). But in order to reach such a nobility it is necessary to obey and to command and to obey while commanding. This obedience which is included in commanding is the opposite of sub-missiveness. The latter is the cowardice which does not dare to risk itself. The submissive self is the opposite of the self-affirming self, even if it is submissive to a God. It wants to escape the pain of hurting and being hurt. The obedient self, on the contrary, is the self which commands itself and “risketh itself thereby” (II, 34). In commanding itself it becomes its own judge and its own vietim. It commands itself according to the law of life, the law of self-transcendence. The will which commands itself is the creative will. It makes a whole out of fragments and riddles of life. It does not look back, it stands beyond a bad conscience, it rejects the “spirit of revenge” which is the innermost nature of self-accusation and of the consciousness of guilt, it transcends reconciliation, for it is the will to power (II, 42). In doing all this the courageous self is united with life itself and its secret (II, 34).