Last time we saw that nihilists accomplish nothing of significance. Pechorin has already admitted to giving up his most noble aspirations. How does he live with himself? How do they? With game, or more philosophically speaking, by cultivating a(n anachronistically) Nietzschean perspective on the human good.
I often ask myself why it is that I so persistently seek to win the love of a young girl whom I do not wish to seduce and whom I will never marry. Why this feminine coquetry? Vera loves me better than Princess Mary ever will. Were she an unconquerable beauty, the difficulty of the undertaking might serve as an inducement . . .
But far from it! Hence this is not the restless craving for love that torments us in the early years of our youth and casts us from one woman to another until we meet one who cannot endure us; this is the beginning of our constancy–the true unending passion that may mathematically be represented by a line extending from a point into space, the secret of whose endlessness consists merely in the impossibility of attaining the goal, that is, the end.
What is it that spurs me on? Envy of Grushnitsky? Poor man! He doesn’t deserve it. Or is it the result of that malicious but indomitable impulse to annihilate the blissful illusions of a fellow man in order to have the petty satisfaction of telling him when in desperation he asks what he should believe: “My friend, the same thing happened to me! Yet as you see, I dine, sup and sleep well, and, I hope, will be able to die without any fuss or tears!”
And yet to possess a young soul that has barely developed is a source of very deep delight. It is like a flower whose richest perfume goes out to meet the first ray of the sun. One must pluck it at that very moment and, after inhaling its perfume to one’s heart’s content, discard it along the wayside on the chance that someone will pick it up. I sense in myself that insatiable avidity that devours everything in its path. And I regard the sufferings and joys of others merely in relation to myself, as food to sustain my spiritual strength. Passion is no longer capable of robbing me of my sanity. My ambition has been crushed by circumstances, but it has manifested itself in a new form, for ambition is nothing but lust for power, and my greatest pleasure I derive from subordinating everything around me to my will. Is it not both the first token of power and its supreme triumph to inspire in others the emotions of love, devotion and fear? Is it not the sweetest fare for our vanity to be the cause of pain or joy for someone without the least claim thereto? And what is happiness? Pride gratified. Could I consider myself better and more powerful than anyone else in the world, I would be happy. Were everybody to love me, I’d find in myself unending wellsprings of love. Evil begets evil; one’s first suffering awakens a realization of the pleasure of tormenting another. The idea of evil cannot take root in the mind of man without his desiring to apply it in practice.
Pechorin’s closing thought deserves elaboration. It is not natural for man to be good. It is natural for man to seek power, to do that which succeeds, to serve his interests, and those of his family, and those of his friends. The greatest thing man ever did was building civilization, which yoked a man’s interests to the interests of something greater than himself, and which punished the bad and rewarded the good. An age that condemns judgment as judgmental, that declares morality strictly individual, that frees individual choice from social constraints, so that to be bad is the road to success – that age will get what it deserves.