Foundations of Ethics, Vol. III:

Nietzsche’s Challenge to the Idea of Moral Good

Daniel J. Castellano


Part V

Full Table of Contents
Part V
13. Master and Slave Morality
   13.1 Social Function of Morality
   13.2 Master Morality
   13.3 Slave Morality
   13.4 Ressentiment
   13.5 Evil Derived from Fear of Strength
   13.6 Justice versus Ressentiment

13. Master Morality versus Slave Morality

13.1 Social Function of Morality

Thus far we have spoken only of the sensibility or aesthetic judgments of aristocrats, not of morals. The notion of morality or custom implies a norm to be imposed on groups of people. Morality therefore originates in societies, not in individuals. Although Nietzsche is an immoralist and individualist, he does not regard morality as an utter mistake, but as a necessary stage in the creative development of mankind.

Morality is not merely a set of aesthetic judgments, but a goal-driven set of precepts, expressing values to which we aspire. Societies differ on what they consider to be worthy goals, but in general, people praise whatever they think difficult, and that which is both indispensable and difficult is called good. [TSZ, XV] In its most generic form, morality expresses our vital energy, directing us to that which strengthens us by at once endangering and securing our survival.

Since morals are defined for a society rather than individuals, their purpose is to exalt a tribe or nation. This means rising above other peoples, for man has long ago surpassed other animals. Even today, despite our ideology of equality, democratic nations fancy themselves morally superior to all other societies. This contradiction is best understood when we appreciate that the function of morality is to inspire a people to excel over others. In this light, xenophobia, nationalism and racism are not aberrations, but inevitable consequences of a vigorous national morality. These might conceivably by surpassed by a cosmopolitan, universal morality. Even here we find a desire to be exalted over others, as expressed, for example by the philosophes’ disdain for their medieval predecessors. We cannot consider ourselves excellent unless we have surpassed someone else.

The desire for exaltation can be manifested in a variety of ways. Greatness for the Greeks meant: “Always shalt thou be the foremost and prominent above others: no one shall thy jealous soul love, except a friend.” For the Persians it was: “To speak truth, and be skilful with bow and arrow.” Other people may exalt themselves by implementing submissive principles to perfection. For example: “To honour father and mother, and from the root of the soul to do their will.” Or again: “To have fidelity, and for the sake of fidelity to risk honour and blood, even in evil and dangerous courses.” [TSZ, XV] While these latter principles may enslave or even sacrifice the individual, they strengthen the nation as a whole against its neighbors.

Values did man only assign to things in order to maintain himself—he created only the significance of things, a human significance! Therefore, calleth he himself “man,” that is, the valuator.

Through valuation only is there value; and without valuation the nut of existence would be hollow. [TSZ, XV]

Insofar as modern atheists disparage value as “merely” subjective and therefore less real, they condemn themselves to nihilism and an empty existence. In fact, few of them really believe what they say, for they fight forcefully for their values. Nietzsche openly accepts value as a genuine creation of man, a reality no less solid than any other, since everything is a manifestation of Will to Power. Valuation is not something man does out of idle imagination, but in order to enhance his ability to survive and grow in strength.

Creating ones were first of all peoples, and only in late times individuals; verily, the individual himself is still the latest creation.

Peoples once hung over them tables of the good. Love which would rule and love which would obey, created for themselves such tables. [Loc. cit.]

Morality is a product of creative love, but only the love of a slave or a tyrant. By encouraging introspective examination of one’s intentions, morality gave rise to the individual. The individual, insofar as he is capable of love that does not bind, may move beyond morality. Society will impede this by forming his conscience to condemn egoism.

Older is the pleasure in the herd than the pleasure in the ego: and as long as the good conscience is for the herd, the bad conscience only saith: ego.

Verily, the crafty ego, the loveless one, that seeketh its advantage in the advantage of many—it is not the origin of the herd, but its ruin. [Loc. cit.]

The ego is “loveless” only in the sense of lacking so-called love of neighbor, making the good of another one’s own standard. The egoist sets his own standard by his own interests, and he loves others to the extent that he esteems them by his valuation, helping them because he delights in doing so, not because he is morally bound to do so. Those most perfect in morality may eventually transcend morality, for they love not out of duty, but of spontaneous charity.

Nonetheless, the ego is a menace to the herd, since he would take advantage of its benefits, without repaying it with obedience. The survival of the herd depends on almost everyone obeying the same norms, or else there would be a crisis of the commons. Egoism must either be confined to a small, privileged minority, or else the herd must be destroyed.

The modern liberal state pretends to have discovered a common set of precepts to bind people of all classes and races, yet human history, including that of the liberal state, proves that there have been thousands of different goals proposed for humanity. Though even the most atheistic liberal naively speaks of “good” and “bad” as if his definitions of these terms were objective truths, in fact there is no agreement on these valuations, and the liberal’s supposedly cosmopolitan morality is no less provincial than any other valuation system in history. The liberal, no less than anyone else, uses the inventions of “good” and “bad” to praise what he likes and find fault with what he dislikes.

The construction of moral rules or “tables of the good” transforms “good” and “bad” from purely aesthetic valuations into pseudo-objective realities, divorced from the act of willing or desiring. Modern intellectuals still cling to this conceit, pretending that their morality can be grounded in objective science, so that all who disagree with their valuations are judged lacking in reason. This is to stand in awe of one’s invention as a god, much as the savage before his idol. A valuation is worth following only insofar as it grounded in a person’s judgment. Rocks and atoms have no need or capacity for valuation. Yet the liberal moralist condemns the rule of private judgment as egoism or privilege, so that he falsely regards subjective willing as the enemy of the good rather than its creator.

To this day, there has not yet been found a universal goal accepted by all of humanity, despite all the pompous “objective ethics” proposed by self-absorbed intellectuals, who mistake their preferences for absolute truths. There can never be a single yoke for all humanity, except by annihilating individual men. The idealist’s dream of a universal set of valuations could be realized only if every person alienated his faculty of valuation to some objective system or set of rules, thereby ceasing to be man, the valuator. This is to reduce persons to objects, blindly following external rules, renouncing their own Will to Power.

Such a state of affairs would suit the temperaments of most of today’s scientific intellectuals. The modern scientist delights in the impersonal, objective procedures of his craft, and would love to project such mechanism on the rest of human activities. A philosophical dimwit, he thinks computers are superior to human beings because they follow rules perfectly, which is precisely the mark of slavish inferiority. He would improve society by making laws and regulations have no regard for persons, and by replacing, as much as possible, the judgment of private citizens or public officials with objective rules. These rules, of course, are to be informed by “Science,” with little regard for the difficulty that Science cannot tell us what we ought to prefer. Political philosophers since Aristotle have recognized that any universal law will “miss the mark” in some circumstances, necessitating discretionary judgment. To the extent that the modern state has become rationalized or scientific, it becomes a bloated bureaucracy of byzantine regulations that no individual can control, more machine than man. The state does not judge, but it processes people and cases, a slave of its own inflexible rules. The rules can be changed, of course, but only by a systematic process and not otherwise. The regimentalization of modern life is a stunning paradox of modern liberalism only if we ignore the logical consequences of conceiving morals as scientifically objective norms.

The fact that there has yet been found no common goal for all humanity suggests that there is no such thing as Humanity as a nature with a common telos. “But pray tell me, my brethren, if the goal of humanity be still lacking, is there not also still lacking—humanity itself?” [TSZ, XV] The notions of human rights and human progress make no sense if there is no common goal that can be identified for all humanity. Medieval Christians at least were consistent, since they grounded their ethics in the common destiny of man intended by God. The liberal, by contrast, can propose no goal other than that each should pursue his own happiness, and not obstruct others in their pursuit, but even help them, i.e., so-called neminem laede ethics. This works only if it can be assumed that most people have similar ideas about happiness. Otherwise, why would I help the pursuit of values that I do not share? As the liberal state tries to impose itself as a superstructure over ever more diverse beliefs, it finds there are no more shared notions of happiness beyond material needs. Thus the state finds itself to be primarily an economic manager, guaranteeing the availability of consumer goods. When it presumes to pronounce moral norms in other spheres, it courts controversy. The moral judgments of the liberal state are just a set of preferences, no less arbitrary than any other.

If Humanity as a moral entity is still a myth, it follows that any investigation into the real origins of the moral systems devised to date should not appeal to human nature or any anthropological universal. We instead should speak of moralities as arising from determinate historical circumstances, to achieve some desired goal of a group of persons, be they a class, caste, or nation.


13.2 Master Morality

In the above discussion, it was noted that the act of creating moral rules supposes the love of a slave or a tyrant, i.e., he who would obey or command. This suggests two broad types of morality, which Nietzsche famously called “master-morality” (Herren-Moral) and “slave-morality” (Sklaven-Moral). These two types can be seen in the various moralities of history, not always separate from each other, but sometimes combined in the same civilization, “even in the same man, within one soul.” [BGE, 260]

The distinctions of moral values have either originated in a ruling caste, pleasantly conscious of being different from the ruled—or among the ruled class, the slaves and dependents of all sorts. In the first case, when it is the rulers who determine the conception “good,” it is the exalted, proud disposition which is regarded as the distinguishing feature, and that which determines the order of rank. The noble type of man separates from himself the beings in whom the opposite of this exalted, proud disposition displays itself; he despises them.

Let it at once be noted that in this first kind of morality the antithesis “good” (gut) and “bad” (schlecht) means practically the same as “noble” and “despicable,”—the antithesis “good” and “EVIL” (böse) is of a different origin. The cowardly, the timid, the insignificant, and those thinking merely of narrow utility are despised; moreover, also, the distrustful, with their constrained glances, the self-abasing, the dog-like kind of men who let themselves be abused, the mendicant flatterers, and above all the liars:—it is a fundamental belief of all aristocrats that the common people are untruthful. “We truthful ones”—the nobility in ancient Greece called themselves. [BGE, 260]

In master morality, those of the ruling class construct a type out of their aristocratic tastes, full of boldness and self-confidence, finding goodness in themselves. The opposite of “good” for them is merely “bad” (schlecht), a judgement of low valuation, but not containing the nefarious sense of the term “evil” (böse). Bad men are held in contempt, not hated, any more than we would harbor malice toward dung.

It is obvious that everywhere the designations of moral value were at first applied to MEN; and were only derivatively and at a later period applied to ACTIONS; it is a gross mistake, therefore, when historians of morals start with questions like, “Why have sympathetic actions been praised?” [Loc. cit.]

This is not as clear as Nietzsche claims, even if we accept that moral values were originally constructed out of tastes. After all, these designations were applied to men at least in part because of their actions, since quality is proven in action; e.g., the Greek nobility were “truthful ones” because of their truth-telling. Still, the point is well taken that these valuations applied primarily to the subject rather than his deeds.

The noble type of man regards HIMSELF as a determiner of values; he does not require to be approved of; he passes the judgment: “What is injurious to me is injurious in itself;” he knows that it is he himself only who confers honour on things; he is a CREATOR OF VALUES. He honours whatever he recognizes in himself: such morality equals self-glorification. [Loc. cit.]

It is even less clear that the nobleman regards himself as the determiner of values. The ancient aristocrats thought themselves genuinely better, not just because they said so, but by some higher, even divine standard. In the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche takes pains to avoid this fact, awkwardly attempting to explain the word gut as referring to “godlike men,” rather than directly to the gods. [GM, 1st essay, 5]

The notion that aristocratic morality is self-glorification seems only partly true, insofar as aristocratic morality is really just praise of noble aesthetics. This is not the case, however, if the noble exhibits certain traits because he believes them to be good, rather than the other way around. Master morality would be self-glorification only if it were really reducible to aesthetics.

Nietzsche conceives master morality as a self-aware creation of values. There is no pretending that values have some objective existence from without, though the subjectivity of these values does not diminish their reality. It is highly doubtful that ancient aristocrats, historic or prehistoric, consciously saw themselves as creators of values, even if they did in fact create values. If calling something “good” or “bad” effectively meant “I like this” or “I do not like this,” it does not follow that these valuations were self-consciously subjective. Individualistic introspection is a relatively recent development, as Nietzsche has admitted elsewhere, and valuations were likely the result of tastes unconsciously adopted from instinct and membership in society. Here Nietzsche seems to have gone too far in ascribing the self-conscious value creation of the superman to ancient aristocrats.

He is on sounder ground when he characterizes the masters as having an unspoken feeling of self-sufficiency in their power.

In the foreground there is the feeling of plenitude, of power, which seeks to overflow, the happiness of high tension, the consciousness of a wealth which would fain give and bestow:—the noble man also helps the unfortunate, but not—or scarcely—out of pity, but rather from an impulse generated by the super-abundance of power. [BGE, 260]

This characteristic, known as magnanimity, is not really driven by a moral imperative, but by a sense of largesse. Like courage, it expresses the raw vitality and strength of its possessor. The rich help the poor because it is an exercise of wealth; the strong help the weak because it an exercise of strength. The great-spirited ones are such that their superabundance can help others besides themselves.

“The noble man honours in himself the powerful one, him also who has power over himself, who knows how to speak and how to keep silence, who takes pleasure in subjecting himself to severity and hardness, and has reverence for all that is severe and hard.” [Loc. cit.] It would seem that there is something of the ascetic in master morality, or something of master morality in the ascetic. Asceticism may be virtuous when it expresses self-mastery, but debilitating when it expresses self-hatred or self-denial.

“Wotan placed a hard heart in my breast,” says an old Scandinavian Saga: it is thus rightly expressed from the soul of a proud Viking. Such a type of man is even proud of not being made for sympathy; the hero of the Saga therefore adds warningly: “He who has not a hard heart when young, will never have one.” [Loc. cit.]

Hardness here entails a lack of sympathy or pity. This cannot be developed by habit, but must be an innate disposition. Accordingly, ascetic practices do not successfully remove soft or effeminate dispositions, but at most suppress them.

The profound reverence for age and for tradition—all law rests on this double reverence,—the belief and prejudice in favour of ancestors and unfavourable to newcomers, is typical in the morality of the powerful; and if, reversely, men of “modern ideas” believe almost instinctively in “progress” and the “future,” and are more and more lacking in respect for old age, the ignoble origin of these “ideas” has complacently betrayed itself thereby. [Loc. cit.]

Modern morality has a plebeian outlook, oriented toward the future and down to the earth, without looking to the past or up to heaven. In a plebeian society, there are no superiors, so one does not look up to one’s ancestors or their gods. Modern man has little interest in precisely those areas where he could most learn from the past: philosophy, religion, ethics, history. Instead, he values physical science, technology, economics, and a purely practical politics concerned with these contingencies. This irreverence toward age and tradition undermines any basis for law. Only lately has modern society stumbled into this realization, finding no use for even the most ancient legal norms. Most are still too dull to realize that this also undermines our belief in “rights,” so all that really rules is the whim of the vulgar majority. The institutional bulwarks against this tendency, namely our judiciary and executive government, remain in force precisely because they are not plebeian, but value long-standing precedent and reverence for authority. Even they are polluted by plebeian morality, and find themselves renouncing legal tradition in favor of the perceived will of the people.

A morality of the ruling class, however, is more especially foreign and irritating to present-day taste in the sternness of its principle that one has duties only to one’s equals; that one may act towards beings of a lower rank, towards all that is foreign, just as seems good to one, or “as the heart desires,” and in any case “beyond good and evil”: it is here that sympathy and similar sentiments can have a place. [Loc. cit.]

We see this resentment among today’s socialistic liberals, who loathe the notion that any aristocracy should owe nothing to the common folk, but help them only as they please out of their largesse. For the modern Left, contribution to the common good is an imperative, and for all their supposed atheism, they never tire of inventing new moral duties, as if to prove man is incapable of living without chains. The supposed liberty of irreligion will avail a man nothing if he still has the disposition of a slave, refusing to rise above the crowd and declare that he owes them nothing.

Against this, the moralist might argue that we owe our existence to the whole of society, which provides for our subsistence and protection. There is no denying that common society makes possible the subsistence of the aristocracy, but this does not suffice to establish a duty of reciprocity, any more than a predator owes some recompense to his prey. The aristocrat unashamedly makes use of his serfs without considering himself in their debt. He does not need to appeal to any abstract right, but creates his own right by asserting his will. If the serfs should someday compel the aristocrats to repay them with taxes, it is only because they are led by other strong men who overthrow the political and social order, likewise disregarding conventional good and evil to get what they want.

Note that Nietzsche’s master morality does allow for sympathy and similar social virtues, but these are never to be understood as duties or obligations, only as voluntary aesthetic choices. For the aristocrat, society consists only of other noble men, and only to them does he owe any deference.

Other characteristics of noble morality include:

The ability and obligation to exercise prolonged gratitude and prolonged revenge—both only within the circle of equals,—artfulness in retaliation, RAFFINEMENT of the idea in friendship, a certain necessity to have enemies (as outlets for the emotions of envy, quarrelsomeness, arrogance—in fact, in order to be a good FRIEND)… [Loc. cit.]

It may be wondered why it is distinctive of master morality to cultivate vengefulness and hostility. Vengeance, it must be remembered, is the prerogative only of those who make their own law. Those who are under a common law are denied private revenge, leaving retribution to an abstract justice implemented by officials subservient to impersonal statutes, or to the vengeance reserved to God as supreme Sovereign. It is characteristic of an aristocrat to defend his privileges by exercising them; if he failed to do so, he would have lost his will to exalt himself. Likewise, the other qualities listed are necessary to keep one’s claws sharp.


13.3 Slave Morality

Those who are outside the noble class can only view the powerful with distrust, just as herd animals are wary of predators.

The slave has an unfavourable eye for the virtues of the powerful; he has a skepticism and distrust, a REFINEMENT of distrust of everything “good” that is there honoured—he would fain persuade himself that the very happiness there is not genuine. [BGE, 260]

This envy or sour grapes really amounts to a pessimism toward the situation of man, even “a condemnation of man.” All the vital instincts are condemned: boldness, aggression, vengeance, exaltation, self-satisfaction, ruthlessness. The nobles are resented precisely because they are strong, dangerous, arrogant, i.e., virtuous in the sense of “manly” (from vir). It is no accident that virile attributes are systematically disparaged where slave morality is prevalent. The predator must be de-clawed if the herd animals are to have any chance against him.

In place of the virtues of master morality, the slaves and their sympathizers exalt “qualities which serve to alleviate the existence of sufferers… sympathy, the kind, helping hand, the warm heart, patience, diligence, humility, and friendliness…” These supposedly altruistic qualities are actually useful to those who have a burdensome existence. “Slave-morality is essentially the morality of utility.”

After the modern democratic revolutions, liberal concern for the lower classes soon became expressed as an overtly utilitarian morality, and it remains so today. The good of the greatest number is a compelling standard only if we consider everyone of equal value, as in a herd.

Here is the seat of the origin of the famous antithesis “good” and “evil”:—power and dangerousness are assumed to reside in the evil, a certain dreadfulness, subtlety, and strength, which do not admit of being despised. According to slave-morality, therefore, the “evil” man arouses fear…

Unlike the master, who merely despises or disdains what he regards as “bad,” the slave hates and fears what he calls “evil,” namely that which is strong enough and healthy enough to be a threat. Uninhibited vitality is a horror to him, and he would have the strong put in chains so the weak may be free of fear.

Slave morality would characterize arrogance, selfishness, hard-heartedness, hostility, violence, and vengeance as “evil,” while extolling contrary egalitarian, altruistic values. Yet the value-system of slave morality is no less self-serving than that of master morality, except the “self” here is the entire class of slaves.

While Nietzsche seems to suggest that slave morality is a later development, and perhaps less natural than master morality, as it involves a hatred of the strongest exemplars of men, we may ask if it instead should be considered natural. After all, is it not natural to regard dangers or threats as things to be feared or hated? If good and evil are utilitarian in origin, we can hardly deny that slave morality has accurately identified what is good (i.e., useful) to most people. Further, if the most primitive societies were also egalitarian, and society preceded the individual, perhaps it is more likely that so-called slave morality came first.

Postponing the question of origins, it is at least clear that slave morality condemns what arouses fear while master morality praises this. Under master morality, “good” implies strength, which entails at least the capability to arouse fear. For Nietzsche, there is no real distinction between capability and action, so strength in action necessarily arouses fear. As noted earlier, the nobleman needs to have enemies as outlets for quarrelsomeness, which cultivates friendship without pity.

…according to the servile mode of thought, the good man must in any case be the SAFE man: he is good-natured, easily deceived, perhaps a little stupid, un bonhomme. Everywhere that slave-morality gains the ascendancy, language shows a tendency to approximate the significations of the words “good” and “stupid.”

This last claim sounds strange in modern English, but in other languages (and older English), “simple” can mean both “good” and “stupid.” Other terms that equate stupidity with moral goodness are “innocent” and “naive.”

A last fundamental difference: the desire for FREEDOM, the instinct for happiness and the refinements of the feeling of liberty belong as necessarily to slave-morals and morality, as artifice and enthusiasm in reverence and devotion are the regular symptoms of an aristocratic mode of thinking and estimating. — Hence we can understand without further detail why love AS A PASSION—it is our European specialty—must absolutely be of noble origin; as is well known, its invention is due to the Provencal poet-cavaliers, those brilliant, ingenious men of the “gai saber,” to whom Europe owes so much, and almost owes itself.

Love as a passion, meaning a love of devotion and reverence, must be aristocratic, for the slave is utilitarian, valuing his own freedom and happiness. The slave’s concern for others extends only as far as necessary to securing his own utilitarian good. As such, he can only love insofar as his love-object pleases him, and he will not love in a way that shows real reverence and devotion, since that would limit his freedom.

Paradoxically, the slave values freedom, resenting any bondage to a person, while the aristocrat is willing to show worshipful reverence to a love object. The aristocrat loves hierarchy, but the slave hates it. Freedom is desired only by those who do not find it already present in themselves. The slave needs the state or his fellow slaves to free him. The aristocrat is already secure in his own power, possessing freedom not as an extrinsic right, but as an attribute of his own power.

If slaves are at the bottom of society, how could their values ever become ascendant? Nietzsche believes that a “priestly” mode of valuation branched off from the “knightly-aristocratic” mode and became its antithesis. Here “priestly” need not be restricted to clergy, but may include lay religious and metaphysical thinkers. These men, being physically weak, are full of resentment toward the aristocrat and his cult of physical health, which maintains life, war, adventure, the chase, the dance, and the tourney, in short, “strong, free, and joyous action.” [GM, 1st, 7]

The priestly thinkers take cunning revenge against the mighty by a transvaluation of values. In place of master morality, which equates “good” with “aristocratic,” “beautiful,” “happy,” and “beloved by the gods,” the priestly class claims that the good are only the wretched, the lowly, the sick, etc. Here Nietzsche clearly has Christianity in mind, though he imputes these values to the Jews.

This is hardly a fair characterization of Judeo-Christian teachings. The wretched are not good because of their wretchedness, but for whatever positive virtue they show in their wretched condition. Regard for the poor does not entail hatred of the rich, but only recognition that there is more to goodness than physical strength and wealth. Rightly considered, Judeo-Christian morality is an amplification of aristocratic morality, not its negation.

Still, the perverse transvaluation described by Nietzsche accurately reflects the attitudes held by many bourgeois liberal Christians in his time, and in ours. This is a distortion of Christian values, originating in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which places virtue in the weak as such, and vilifies the rich and powerful as such. We see this not only in socialist rhetoric, but also in liberal hand-wringing over past acts of conquest. The indigenous peoples of America, Africa and Asia are seen as victims of European crimes, not because any of them had moral objections to war, slavery, and conquest, but solely for having been on the weaker, losing side.

Nonetheless, Nietzsche finds some semblance of slave morality even in pre-Christian Judaism. He apparently takes for granted that the Jews were slaves in Egypt; at any rate, believing themselves to have been slaves, they had the mentality of such. In this way, he can reconcile the contradiction that his “priests” are at once “slaves” and a branch of the aristocracy. As evidence that the sensibilities of slaves have been projected onto God, Nietzsche notes that the Hebrews’ deity is portrayed as both powerful and vengeful. This rings false to an aristocrat, for a supremely powerful person would have no reason to be vengeful. [GM, 1st, 7]

Nietzsche fails to note here that an aristocrat or a god may be vengeful in defense of his prerogatives, as Zeus was frequently depicted. This seems to be the case in many instances in the Old Testament. Far from exhibiting slave morality, the “vengeful” God of Israel shows an aristocrat’s jealous regard for His own privileges, forbidding any lowly one even to pretend to usurp what is reserved to Himself.

Still, it can hardly be denied that a vengeful spirit permeates much of the Tanakh and the Talmud. This vengeance is directed against perceived evildoers and enemies of the Jews. Nietzsche thinks it is directed principally against the strong, since the Jews were opposed by the great empires of antiquity. Accordingly, he sees Christianity not as a repudiation of Jewish revenge, but as its cunning fulfillment. It is through Christianity that the great pagan empires repudiated their own values and adopted the slave morality of the Jews. “Good” was no longer found in the aristocrats, but in priestly morality. This was the first “transvaluation of all values.” [GM, 1st, 8]

The results of the slave revolt in morality have outlasted the political supremacy of the Christian Church. Slave morality now spreads into the body politic independently of the Church, so the Church seems no longer needed. Secular liberalism is nothing more than the recognition that slave morality can be spread without the help of the Church. In fact, the post-revolutionary Church has been an adversary of the further spread of slave morality, opposing democracy, socialism, and other social leveling. This may be its new utility, for it is out of revulsion to the Church’s apparent boorishness that one becomes a liberal freethinker. The freethinker is repelled by the Church, but foolishly retains its slave morality, for “apart from the Church we like the poison.” [GM, 9] Indeed, he clings all the more closely to slave morality in his reaction against the Church, as liberalism becomes more socialistic and egalitarian.


13.4 Ressentiment

The slave revolt in morals begins in a principle of ressentiment, a basically reactive hatred, yet at some point this becomes creative and gives birth to values. Nonetheless, this transvaluation of values remains reactive. The new values express the frustration of weak creatures, acting out in imaginary revenge. [GM, 1st, 10]

Aristocratic morality simply says “Yea” to its own demands, since its created values come from subjectivity. Slave morality instead says “No” to what is outside itself, or different from itself, and this “No” is its creative deed. Aristocratic morality finds positive value from within, while nay-saying slave morality defines itself in reaction to what is without. This presupposes that there is an external, objective world. “It requires objective stimuli to be capable of action at all—its action is fundamentally a reaction.” [GM, 10]

This is a fair assessment of the two kinds of morality. Any morality that merely affirms one’s own tastes need not have any recourse to an external, objective reality. It is only when we adopt the kind of morality where certain kinds of desiring or willing are considered “wrong” or “evil” that we must invoke some objective reality. Yet in the absence of God or some Platonic realm of ideals, there can be no objective reality to such ethics. This nay-saying really amounts to a hatred of tastes that one does not approve, yet instead of grounding this in subjective preference, we pretend that there is some objective moral order in which the disfavored tastes are wrong or evil. Only then can we claim to be acting in response to something external to ourselves (i.e., the way things really are) when we act according to some ethic.

This analysis would make the “moral atheist” a bigger fool than the theists he ridicules. If there is no objective moral order, he should admit that his morality is just so much taste or preference. His insistence that fundamentalism, dictatorship, inequality, and bigotry are “evil” have no more weight than any other religious preference. Many atheists today may pay lip service to immoralism or moral subjectivity, but very few are capable of truly shaking themselves free of the belief that certain kinds of behavior are really “wrong.” This is especially the case as most atheists tend to the political left, making them susceptible to the slave morality of egalitarianism and pity.

Religious or metaphysical men (and those atheists who uncritically retain their morality) construct an abstract happiness of virtue or self-restraint, which supposedly results from following extrinsic rules. This is in marked contrast with the aristocrat, whose notion of happiness comes spontaneously. For him, happiness comes from acting vigorously, and he views the weak as “wretched” or “unhappy” precisely because they cannot act as he does. The slave-moralist instead feels vengeful hatred toward the strong, and since he cannot make himself strong, he will condemn the energetic life and proclaim that happiness consists of a deadening quietude or peace.

We find this passive form of happiness not only among religious ascetics, but also among the modern bourgeoisie, who want nothing more than a safe, quiet life, with secure employment and property. Dictators and warriors are hated precisely because they threaten this safe, bovine life of passive consumerism. Biologically, such risk aversion is usually more characteristic of women, yet slave morality makes women even out of men. The idea that peace of mind is happiness is utterly unworthy of energetic men, and is suited only for those who despair of accomplishing anything great.

The man of ressentiment cannot be candid with himself like an aristocrat, who expresses his desires without shame. Instead, “his soul squints” [GM, 1st, 10], as he must blind himself to some desires, treating them as though they were alien to himself. What remains is his “good self,” which is invented in contrast with the more fundamental concept of the evil enemy, i.e., he is good precisely because he does not do the “evil” deeds of the strong.

Wherever we find slave morality, we see this contrast with a supposed evil. The lovers of freedom hate tyranny, which is any effort of the strong to impose himself over others. The lovers of tolerance hate “bigotry,” which is any claim to have superior tastes. The altruistic hate selfishness, and the socialists hate the wealthy, and so on. All the supposedly positive virtues of modern slave morality are a resentful reaction against some supposed evil.

Once this is understood, the vitriolic rhetoric of the “peaceful” Left against its bogeymen makes perfect sense. We should not take their cult of “love” at face value, for this love presupposes a deeper resentment. Do not expect a liberal to speak calmly and placidly about “right-wingers,” “dictators,” or “fundamentalists.” Self-assurance before one’s enemies can only be found in an aristocrat, who may even revere and honor them. Since the liberal values his slave morality above all else, he can only see evil in his ideological enemies. His moralistic notion of “loving one’s enemies” is an abstraction far removed from real love, separating the person supposedly loved from his hated deeds, as if a person were not defined by his deeds. So far is he from sincerely loving or forgiving his enemies, that he still shows resentment toward the supposed crimes of pre-revolutionary monarchs, lords and bishops, which consist solely of being “authoritarian,” “violent” or “intolerant,” i.e., exercising strength. Liberalism shows its slavish character by its total inability to see good in what is different from itself.


13.5 Evil Derived from Fear of Strength

The master and slave modes of valuation are most distinguished by their negative values of “bad” and “evil,” respectively. For the aristocrat, “bad” is simply an aesthetic judgment of the inferiority of things contrasted with himself. As such, the negative value “bad” is derivative of the primary, positive “good” that the aristocrat sees in himself. The slave moralist, on the other hand, begins with the concept of evil created out of the external, the other, and then derives “good” as a contrast.

It seems unfair of Nietzsche to characterize all conventional moralities as starting with evil as their primary concept, even granting that most moral prescriptions tend to be prohibitions. Nietzsche makes this judgment because, as we will see in his discussion of asceticism, he sees no positive value in what the moralist calls good, but only a life-denying nihilism. The only possible remaining “goodness” for such morality is in its abstinence from “evil.” Indeed, modern liberal morality in the last century seems to have taken a turn toward merely “doing no harm.” A liberal considers himself a good person because he does not coerce or do violence to his neighbor. This is in sharp contrast with ancient virtue ethics, where goodness was expressed in one’s exceptional ability or strength. If equality is our supreme value, then goodness cannot be found in excellence, but rather in refraining from excelling or dominating. The one who is “evil” by slave morality is precisely the one who is “good” by aristocratic morality.

From this psychological inversion, Nietzsche infers his “blonde beast” hypothesis, in which slave morality originated among those who perceived the aristocratic “good” ones only as enemies. Thus they must have been attacked or even conquered by these superior men.

Aristocratic men, though restrained among themselves by mutual respect, act as beasts of prey toward those outside their circle. There they enjoy freedom from all social control, and can commit murder, rape and torture with gusto, in the same moral innocence as an animal predator. “At the core of all aristocratic races is the beast of prey, the magnificent blond beast, rampant for spoil and victory.” [GM, 1st, 11] Nietzsche’s examples of such conquerors include the Roman, Arab, German and Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, and the Vikings. Not all of these are blond, but he does seem to believe that blondness is a sign of a superior type. For this reason, he even makes philological arguments suggesting that the original conquering Romans were lighter haired. Regardless of hair color, he does believe there are definitely superior racial types, which emerge as a result of prolonged danger.

Aristocratic predators are marked by their audacity, which becomes an object of resentment among the conquered. Such audacity is the core of what will be called evil. Even to this day, our archetype of the villain conjures images of marauding conquerors. Europe’s fear of the Germans, Nietzsche claims, expresses a lingering horror toward the blonde Teuton beast, though that race has hardly any physical or psychological relationship to modern Germans. (Note that Nietzsche is not a modern German racialist, since he praises only the long-dead pagan Teutons, and considers modern Germans to have no real heritage from them.)

A contrast in perspectives can be seen in Homer and Hesiod. Homer portrays an aristocratic world that is at once magnificent and violent. Hesiod tried to separate these elements by a distinction in ages. The gold and silver ages express aristocratic attitudes, while the bronze age shows the perspective of the oppressed, where kings and warriors are seen as cold and terrible, bloodying everything.

“Granted that the essence of all civilization is to train out of man the beast of prey, it follows that the real tools of civilization are instincts of reaction and ressentiment by which aristocratic races and their ideal were degraded.” [GM, 1st, 11] It may seem that Nietzsche is conceding some constructive value to slave morality, but on the contrary he concludes that the use of these reactionary tools disgrace humanity, and are an argument against civilization. While it is justified to be afraid of the blond beast and to be on guard against him, it is not justified “to become altogether immune from fear, at cost of becoming obsessed with the dwarfed, stunted, envenomed.”

In other words, Nietzsche’s problem with the slave moralist is that he makes his own weakness and mediocrity into an ideal not to be surpassed. It would be reasonable for him to fear the strong and to defend himself from them, but it is unjustified to characterize the strong as “evil” and make himself the “good,” for that practically amounts to saying that strength is bad and weakness is good. This starts mankind down the road of saying “no” to life. The strong are expected to restrain themselves, not out of respect for the power of others, but because there is now something shameful in exerting strength over others.

If this state of affairs persists, the mediocre or tame man may come to be regarded as the model of Man, so that Man is no longer something fearful or worthy of reverence. Only a man who gives cause for fear can justify the existence of man in general. Without such an example, there is only mediocrity and malaise, a lack of will to be man, i.e., someone who consciously imposes himself. This is essentially to grow tired of being man, which is nihilism. [GM, 1st, 12]

The democratic West has clearly grown tired of being man, to the point of being ashamed even to be above women. Sexual egalitarianism is intelligible only on the assumption that there is no virtue in physical strength. Only then can we pretend that the vast difference in energy and strength between the sexes is of no importance. We expect the strong to restrain themselves, and instead value cleverness or cunning, compassion or pity. A feminized society is also a risk-averse society, a society that seeks safety, comfort, and mediocrity. Who could be terrified of democratic Germany?

Nietzsche attacks the core assumption that predators are evil and should be restrained. The slave moralist, understanding no one other than himself, projects his hatred onto the birds of prey, supposing that they hate him. On the contrary, they rather like their prey as tasty. [GM, 1st, 13] Further, it is absurd to require strength not to express itself, as there is no physical distinction between force and its exertion. To require of strength that it should not overpower, overthrow or become master is to ask it to express itself as weakness.

Today, the hatred of strength takes extreme forms in veganism and environmentalism, which deny that humans have the right to make use of the natural world and its creatures as they please. If this ethic were applied consistently, it would be unconscionable for us to breathe or digest, since this requires consumption and domination. At the heart of this attitude is an effeminate resentment toward strength or the Will to Power, which is really a hatred of life itself.

While it is true that strength or force is essentially coercive, it need not follow that it may be used indiscriminately. We may direct force to a variety of applications. Ethics may consist not so much in whether to use force, but how to choose which application of it is most worthy in a given circumstance.

Nietzsche will not have this, however, for he denies free will, and claims that the weak have invented the idea that the strong has the option of being weak. In this way they make him responsible for being a bird of prey, while praising themselves for not being so, as if this was from their free choice rather than their inability. The weak have no choice but to be patient, to leave vengeance to God, etc. Such pseudo-virtue is reducible to the low order prudence that says, “it is good to do nothing for which we are not strong enough.” [GM, 1st, 13]

Returning to our previous example, the environmentalist demands of humans that they choose not to dominate in a certain way, though no other creature in existence exercises such self-restraint. To demand this of humanity alone is to assume that man has a capacity for free choice shared by no other creature. It is comically absurd for a modern atheist to adopt environmentalist slave-morality, which presupposes a spiritual nature to man. The human-hating aspects of environmentalism (“Man is the only animal destructive enough to…”) actually depend on the supposition of a superior, spiritual nature in man with a rational freedom or causa sui that makes him morally culpable. Even atheists will suspend their scientific outlook for the sake of condemning man.


13.6 Justice versus Ressentiment

Nietzsche does not follow socialists and anarchists in mistaking justice to be a kind of revenge. The latter is purely a reaction to injury, while justice is an active emotion arising from ambition. As evidence of this, “the last sphere conquered by the spirit of justice is the sphere of the feeling of reaction!” A just man must make himself immune to provocation or insult, avoiding an emotional response that would make him unjust. “The active man, the attacking, aggressive man is always a hundred degrees nearer to justice than the man who merely reacts…” [GM, 1st, 11] Bad conscience is invented by the man of ressentiment, who is likely to make biased, false valuations, but one on the attack has no need to make insincere valuations.

Those who resent the law are weak, while those who administer it tend to be strong and aggressive, since law requires war against reactive feelings. Those who are overly given to pity would make poor enforcers or ministers of the law. Those who would impose the law must be capable of a certain coldness or hardness to do their job at all.

Justice is actually opposed to ressentiment, for the former is administered by a stronger power, the state, which exerts itself to put an end to reactive, private vengeance. It enforces settlements and imposes its standardized equivalents for injuries. This standardization is perfected in law, which makes crimes primarily attacks on the state and its laws rather than against aggrieved parties. By making crime impersonal, distracting attention from the victim, it minimizes ressentiment. It is thus furthest removed from revenge, which broods over injuries received.

In modern democracies, we sometimes see famous cases take on the dimensions of vengeance, when journalists and prosecutors make emotional appeals about the suffering of the victims. This is possible only when appealing to a lay audience or a citizen jury; it would leave a competent judge or official unmoved. Democracy, if taken too far, would let ressentiment take over the state, destroying its capacity for just action. Often, what is called “social justice” is nothing more than an unjust, softhearted pity.

Our impersonal sense of right and wrong, according to Nietzsche, comes only after the development of law. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with “injury, oppression, annihilation” as such, for in fact life necessarily functions by these means. “Conditions of legality are only exceptional conditions, a partial restriction of the life-will, for the purpose of creating larger units of strength (hence still subordinate to a more general life-will).” [GM, 1st, 11]

Nietzsche’s denial of intrinsic right and wrong is grounded in his assumption that the only objective reality is sensible physical reality. Even so, it need not follow that the notions of right and wrong arise with law. There might be societies without laws that still have such a sense. Still, any sense of right and wrong would be scarcely distinguishable from personal taste unless it were somehow imposed by society as such. This need not be in the form of formal law, but a sense of social opprobrium that imposes itself on the individual conscience. Anyway, Nietzsche’s point still holds insofar as social morality imposes the good of a larger unit over that of a smaller unit, much as the organs of the body might serve the good of the whole.

Classical defenses of morality seem to agree that the mores of each nation will strengthen that nation tangibly. Yet at an early period, we find in Confucius and other thinkers the idea of virtue as good in itself, even if it does not result in tangible wealth or power. Still, even they find that virtue makes men stronger, individually or collectively, as they master their passions and are not slaves of external circumstances.

Justice may restrict private fighting for the sake of strengthening the collective, and still be in accord with how life operates. If it were to go so far as to oppose fighting as such, “treating every will as equal to every other will,” it would be “hostile to life.” [GM, 11] Despite the supposed pacifism of Christianity, this development never occurred during the age of Christendom. This was left to liberalism, which may be seen as Christian morality exaggerated to the point of decadence.

Only to a liberal would it occur that all conquest as such is evil, so he turns back and repudiates the achievements of his ancestors, taking pity on those they defeated. The idea that fighting is intrinsically wrong leads to the aforementioned feminization of culture, and the reduction of all conflict to litigation and bureaucracy. This hand-wringing can lead to the enfeeblement of the state, as it denies its own right to execute even the most dangerous criminals. If this self-doubt were taken to its logical conclusion, we should be ashamed even to imprison or arrest them forcibly.

Likewise, the only law remaining for sexual relations is that there shall be no coercion, a decree opposed to the universal testimony of the animal kingdom. If it were to be applied consistently, all could be found guilty of proceeding without requisite “consent.” The liberal cannot have a consistent belief in non-coercion, for the state would be ruined if it denied itself the right of confiscation or appropriation.

In short, ressentiment rises against justice in our time, in proportion to the cultural prevalence of slave morality. When the administration of justice ceased to be recognized as an aristocratic prerogative, its decadence was practically inevitable. Liberal democracies postponed this development by making the judiciary less beholden to the mass electorate, yet even this safeguard is of no avail if the jurists themselves have internalized Sklavenmoral.

Still, it would seem that even an aristocratic judge applies moral notions of good and evil, guilt and shame, if not to himself, then to those whom he judges. A close examination of the anthropological origin of these concepts may aid our understanding of them, as a precondition of transcending both master and slave morality.

Continue to Part VI

© 2015, 2017 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved.