Saturday, October 19, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Nietzsche and the Übermensch Fight the Nazis

Explain Nietzsche's theory of the master morality vs. the slave morality, and his concept of the Overman. What in your view are the positive aspects of that theory and what are the negative if any?

Nietzsche's higher good is everything which is powerful and life-asserting. On the other hand, slave morality is a concept developed by those who are oppressed. They both resent and envy the powerful, so they declare they that that which the powerful call good is actually evil. Since they feel they've been unjustly treated, Nietzsche says that they create an imaginary world in which they will be rewarded for their meekness and for having been oppressed. This would be the Christian heaven. They also imagine another imaginary world in which the powerful will be punished. This would be the Christian hell.

By imagining these worlds they comfort themselves. Their miserable lives are made tolerable by the belief that there will be an eternal reward once they die. It is worth noting that Karl Marx referred to religion as the opiate of the people. He did not mean opium as in drug abuse. Instead he meant that it is the soothing medication of the masses. Nietzsche would agree.

As for the master morality, Nietzsche says that a strong man knows that what is good for him is morally good. This is because, to the strong man, the measure of all things is himself. Don't forget that Nietzsche described a "strong man" as a strong willed man. Having the will to control yourself as well as the world around you is essential to this definition.

He believed that master morality is inherently strong because it grew out of the strong men who were the Masters. Slave morality is inherently weak because it grew out of the weak men who were dominated by the strong.

If this is reminding you of Herbert Spencer's Social Darwinism, don't be surprised. The two are very closely related.

You might be wondering how the supposed slave morality came to take over entire societies. Nietzsche's answer is that there are many of the weak willed slaves and only a few of the strong willed masters. By sheer force of numbers, the slaves convinced the Masters to accept their weak version of morality.

This is rather hard to believe. If the masters are so strong-willed, why would they let the masses who are weak willed overwhelm them simply because there are so many of them? That doesn't sound like something a very strong-willed person would allow to happen.

In any event, Nietzsche did not think that either master morality or slave morality where the very best moral positions. The Nazis seized upon his philosophy as an excuse for their horrible behavior. They said we are the masters and have strong wills therefore we can do anything we want. Nietzsche would not have agreed.

He believed that both slave and master morality had flaws. He hoped that by looking at them honestly and rationally, a newer, better morality could be developed.

This new morality would be developed by the übermensch. This German word literally means over man, but it has also been translated as superman. This is a bad translation and should be disregarded, although many people mistakenly think that Nietzsche believed in this more extreme concept.

Nietzsche did not believe in a super being. Instead, he believed that a new man would arise out of a blend of our old cultures and ethnicities. This new man would be a free spirit who would be able to think more clearly and more effectively than we do.

Once again the Nazis twisted what Nietzsche actually said. He never said the overman was a superman who could make up his own rules and do whatever he wanted to. On the contrary, he said this overman would create an entire new morality. This new morality would have its own rules and its own obligations. It was not a free license to do anything you wanted. It was a new set of rules which would be better than either master morality or slave morality, and which should be followed because it would be more moral than either of its predecessors. This is the opposite of license.

I repeat, Nietzsche's concept of a strong-willed man was not a man who could do anything he wanted to do. It was a man who possessed the strength of will to control both himself and the world around him.

What was positive about this theory?

Nietzsche himself was physically weak and died young. He did not think that physical strength was the most important factor in a person's life. What mattered was having willpower and the ability to control yourself and the world around you. His story is very inspiring. He did not allow his illness to keep him down but instead lived life as fully as he could for as long as he could. He intended for everyone to understand his philosophy in those terms.

Remember that he expected his overman to create a new and better morality. He clearly confirmed the importance of self-control in this process.

What was negative about this theory?

Nietzsche focused mainly on slave morality because he felt that was the one which is dominating the world. Since he interpreted slave morality as Christian morality many people were and still are offended by this position.

Furthermore, he is not clear as to what morality the overman will create. He cannot be clear, since he himself is not one of the overmen. This new human will come in the future. Therefore, we cannot decide whether we do or do not approve of his morality, since we do not know what it will be.

The worst thing about these concepts is how they were distorted by others for their own purposes. Many supposed followers of Nietzsche declared themselves to be overmen who posessed the strength of will to force their rule upon weaker human beings. In other words, they declared that Nietzsche's statement that what is good for the strong man is by nature good should be the rule. Since they say they are strong men, what is good for them is morally good.

In fact, this was how he described master morality. Somehow these "followers" forgot that he condemned master morality as well as slave morality.

Perhaps this misunderstanding and misuse was inevitable. After all, Nietzsche himself could not describe what the new morality would be. That leaves the door open for individuals who wish to abuse his philosophy and use it as an excuse for their own self-indulgence and excesses.

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