Foundations of Ethics, Vol. III:

Nietzsche’s Challenge to the Idea of Moral Good

Daniel J. Castellano


Part VII

Full Table of Contents
Part VII
16. Modern Herd or Slave Morality
   16.1 Egalitarianism Exalts Mediocrity
   16.2 Genetic Basis of Herd Morality
   16.3 Love of Neighbor
   16.4 Pacifism as Fear of Neighbor
   16.5 Uncritical Acceptance of Herd Morality
   16.6 Socialist Herd Morality
17. The Superman

16. Modern Herd or Slave Morality

Although Nietzsche frequently identified Christianity as slave morality, he recognized that the latter could persist and even be amplified as traditional religion had less of a hold over the European mind. Indeed, he saves his sharpest attacks for those liberal idealists who have freed themselves from the old moralities only to keep what is most servile about them. The more “social” liberals, with their dogma of equality, exaltation of the collective, love of the weak and hatred of the strong, have arguably produced the purest form of Sklavenmoral yet devised by man. In Nietzsche’s day as in ours, liberalism exceeds Christianity as the “religion of pity,” to the point that Christians are derided as “bigots” for not being egalitarian enough, or “insensitive” for not having sufficient pity for the weak or defective, indeed for merely acknowledging that there is such a thing as being weak or defective.

The liberal accuses those who esteem themselves above others of being full of hatred, for he is incapable of abstracting from his own ressentiment. “One does not hate as long as one disesteems, but only when one esteems as equal or superior.” [BGE, 173] Aristocratic disdain, free of resentment, is incomprehensible to the egalitarian, who must always think his rivals are evil. In extreme forms of egalitarianism, rivalry itself is an evil to be minimized or abolished.


16.1 Egalitarianism Exalts Mediocrity

In modern industrial society, most people value comfort above virtue, leading them to devalue masculine qualities, which involve risk, danger, aggression, and injury. Subordinating themselves to received social principles, they are willed rather than willing. The lack of virility among men causes women to “masculinise themselves,” since men are ashamed to exalt themselves over anyone.[1] This handwringing reaches such hypocritical lengths that “even those who command feign the virtues of those who serve.” [TSZ, XLIX, 2] This is true not only of craven politicians seeking votes, but even of populist dictators, who must pretend to serve when they are actually commanding.

Shrinking from conflict and refusing to exalt himself, the modern democrat must confine himself to moderate, mediocre, “bedwarfing” virtue.

Modestly to embrace a small happiness—that do they call “submission”! and at the same time they peer modestly after a new small happiness.
In their hearts they want simply one thing most of all: that no one hurt them. Thus do they anticipate every one’s wishes and do well unto every one.
That, however, is COWARDICE, though it be called “virtue.” [TSZ, XLIX, 2]

The principle of reciprocity is really just cowardice motivated by fear of injury. Although modern democrats would never be submissive to any king or bishop, they constantly show submissiveness to the rest of the herd. The refrain that we should tolerate any behavior “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone” is but another manifestation of this cowardice.

Virtue for them is what maketh modest and tame: therewith they made the wolf a dog, and man himself man’s best domestic animal.
“We set our chair in the MIDST”—so saith their smirking unto me—“and as far from dying gladiators as from satisfied swine.” [TSZ, XLIV]

Zarathustra will hear nothing of the excuse that we seek a happy mean between risk and safety, danger and contentment. For him, virtue is power or life-force, so the man who dares less lives less, and is less virtuous, i.e., less of a man.

Too tender, too yielding: so is your soil! But for a tree to become GREAT, it seeketh to twine hard roots around hard rocks!
Also what ye omit weaveth at the web of all the human future; even your naught is a cobweb, and a spider that liveth on the blood of the future.
And when ye take, then is it like stealing, ye small virtuous ones; but even among knaves HONOUR saith that “one shall only steal when one cannot rob.”
“It giveth itself”—that is also a doctrine of submission. But I say unto you, ye comfortable ones, that IT TAKETH TO ITSELF, and will ever take more and more from you!
Ah, that ye would renounce all HALF-willing, and would decide for idleness as ye decide for action!
Ah, that ye understood my word. “Do ever what ye will—but first be such as CAN WILL.
Love ever your neighbor as yourselves—but first be such as LOVE THEMSELVES—
—Such as love with great love, such as love with great contempt.” [TSZ, XLIX]

“What ye omit,” refusing to rule or exalt yourself, is a snare that prevents us from willing, i.e., from living. You are stealing from posterity their ability to will or rule. Stealing, not robbing, for you are not taking it by force, but cheating them out of it, tricking them into thinking it is shameful to act thus.

“It giveth itself,”, i.e., democratic virtue is supposedly self-giving. In fact, that virtue takes unto itself, by demanding that we serve it. (A similar argument was made by Max Stirner.) It would be nobler if men actually took ownership of their idleness (refusal to will or rule), rather than attribute it to some abstract virtue. This is not to say that we should be sociopaths. Rather, aristocratic society presupposes a strong self-love and positive self-valuation. Such are capable of loving strongly, and also of loving with contempt (i.e., without dependence on the esteem of the beloved).


16.2 Genetic Basis of Herd Morality

Inasmuch as in all ages, as long as mankind has existed, there have also been human herds (family alliances, communities, tribes, peoples, states, churches), and always a great number who obey in proportion to the small number who command—in view, therefore, of the fact that obedience has been most practiced and fostered among mankind hitherto, one may reasonably suppose that, generally speaking, the need thereof is now innate in every one, as a kind of FORMAL CONSCIENCE which gives the command “Thou shalt unconditionally do something, unconditionally refrain from something,” in short, “Thou shalt.” This need tries to satisfy itself and to fill its form with a content, according to its strength, impatience, and eagerness, it at once seizes as an omnivorous appetite with little selection, and accepts whatever is shouted into its ear by all sorts of commanders—parents, teachers, laws, class prejudices, or public opinion. [BGE, 199]

Categorical moral obligation might be a manifestation of the instinct for obedience, developed from ages of living in herds. Nietzsche characterizes various social institutions as herd-like, though a herd is strictly speaking a mere aggregation without distinction. The conjecture that herd habit becomes innate is prefaced by the words, “one may reasonably suppose,” which is unusually uncritical for Nietzsche. We must remember that Lamarckian inheritance was universally accepted in his time, even by Darwin in his later years. The conjecture will hold even in a neo-Darwinist paradigm, since the social structures of primates antedate man.

Supposing that there is somehow an innate need to obey, need it follow that we will obey without discrimination? This may be true of some, even many. Yet at least a few must possess the strength not to obey, or there could never be any master class.

If one imagine this instinct increasing to its greatest extent, commanders and independent individuals will finally be lacking altogether, or they will suffer inwardly from a bad conscience, and will have to impose a deception on themselves in the first place in order to be able to command just as if they also were only obeying. This condition of things actually exists in Europe at present—I call it the moral hypocrisy of the commanding class. They know no other way of protecting themselves from their bad conscience than by playing the role of executors of older and higher orders (of predecessors, of the constitution, of justice, of the law, or of God himself), or they even justify themselves by maxims from the current opinions of the herd, as “first servants of their people,” or “instruments of the public weal.” [BGE, 199]

Modern knowledge of genetics makes clear that no human trait is strictly confined to a class or race, but all are prevalent to varying degrees in all populations. Even if we reject the faulty geneticism, it can hardly be denied that the quote above describes the actual state of affairs in modern Europe. If not by natural selection, then certainly by social or political selection we tolerate only those leaders who subscribe to herd morality.

On the other hand, the gregarious European man nowadays assumes an air as if he were the only kind of man that is allowable, he glorifies his qualities, such as public spirit, kindness, deference, industry, temperance, modesty, indulgence, sympathy, by virtue of which he is gentle, endurable, and useful to the herd, as the peculiarly human virtues. In cases, however, where it is believed that the leader and bell-wether cannot be dispensed with, attempt after attempt is made nowadays to replace commanders by the summing together of clever gregarious men. All representative constitutions, for example, are of this origin. In spite of all, what a blessing, what a deliverance from a weight becoming unendurable, is the appearance of an absolute ruler for these gregarious Europeans—of this fact the effect of the appearance of Napoleon was the last great proof. The history of the influence of Napoleon is almost the history of the higher happiness to which the entire century has attained in its worthiest individuals and periods. [BGE, 199]

Nietzsche holds Napoleon in singular esteem, for by his self-exaltation, Europe was lifted to a nobility and virility that benefited even his enemies. It was only by the influence of Napoleon that Europe was saved for a time from mere commerce, and could aspire to something loftier, not a mere leveling to mediocre equality. The personage of Napoleon resonates with all subsequent aristocratic aspirations, and at the same time brings horror to the mediocre swamp-dwellers. Bourgeois Christians thought Napoleon to be the Antichrist, and the nation of shopkeepers demonized him until they found a new devil in Hitler. They were correct by their standards, of course, for Napoleon is the repudiation of slave morality, the incarnation of what it calls evil. Napoleon delighted in his superiority, and considered only the weak man to be bad. His life-affirming embrace of all forms of strength, his freedom from moral prohibitions, and his joyous amor fati exemplify the faith that Nietzsche called Dionysus. [Twilight of the Idols, Skirmishes of an Untimely Man, 49] Napoleon is the only person that Nietzsche calls “superman” without qualification: “Napoleon, diese Synthesis von Unmensch und Übermensch.” [GM, 1, 16]

A restless conqueror can emerge even in an age of dissolution, where the mixing of races, according to Nietzsche, causes an internal conflict of instincts and value standards. On average, such a hybrid man is weak, seeking only the “happiness of repose, of undisturbedness” so that the war within him should end. This sleep is sought by Epicurean and Christian alike. Yet the same internal conflict may act in some as “an incentive and stimulus to life,” when combined with “a proper mastery and subtlety for carrying on the conflict with themselves (that is to say, the faculty of self-control and self-deception).” These include Alcibiades, Caesar, and Frederick the Second, and perhaps Leonardo de Vinci, among artists. [BGE, 200]

Regardless of how much credence we give to Nietzsche’s racial geneticism, it is clear at least that the cultural mixing of races creates a pluralism of values that cannot always be neatly reconciled. While multiculturalism today is usually advanced a secular programme, this is done by liberals who espouse peace and tranquility as an ideal, much like the “smooth motions” of the Epicureans. In their utopia, we should all get along pleasantly and with a minimum of conflict. Even the noble cry of freedom is reduced to the bourgeois desire to be allowed to get along peacefully and without trouble. This waking sleep is what they posit as the ideal form of life. We already see this sleep realized almost literally with the narcotizing effects of television, the Internet, pornography, alcohol and cannabis. These are not limited to the lower classes, but even the educated prefer this stupor. Do not offend, do not injure, do not harm, do not fight, do not coerce, do not overpower. An ideology so conflict-averse not only has no need for strong men, but they are anathema to it.


16.3 Love of Neighbor

Even those capable of excellence will suppress their aspirations insofar as they immerse themselves in the herd and adopt its values. The herd says isolation is wrong, precisely in order to prevent anyone from rising above it. Isolation is necessary at some point if you are to truly strike out on your own. [TSZ, XVII]

There is far too much witchery and sugar in the sentiments ‘for others’ and ‘NOT for myself,’ for one not needing to be doubly distrustful here, and for one asking promptly: ‘Are they not perhaps—DECEPTIONS?’ [BGE, 33]

Ye crowd around your neighbour, and have fine words for it. But I say unto you: your neighbour-love is your bad love of yourselves.
Ye flee unto your neighbour from yourselves, and would fain make a virtue thereof: but I fathom your “unselfishness.”
The THOU is older than the I; the THOU hath been consecrated, but not yet the I: so man presseth nigh unto his neighbour.
Do I advise you to neighbour-love? Rather do I advise you to neighbour-flight and to furthest love!
Higher than love to your neighbour is love to the furthest and future ones; higher still than love to men, is love to things and phantoms. [TSZ, XVI]

The generic love of neighbor, i.e., of society or humanity, is but a bad love of self. Instead of loving individuals, be it the self or a favored friend, the love of neighbor causes us to value the herd. This sort of love reflects the fact that man was a herd animal before he learned to become an individual. Once we have become individuals, we should flee from love of neighbor and instead love that which is beyond “humanity.” The aspiring, self-surpassing man loves those who do not yet exist, as he works toward producing them.

Would that ye could not endure it with any kind of near ones, or their neighbours; then would ye have to create your friend and his overflowing heart out of yourselves.
Ye call in a witness when ye want to speak well of yourselves; and when ye have misled him to think well of you, ye also think well of yourselves. [TSZ, XVI]

“Love of neighbor” makes us base our value on others, but creative love begins with love of self, deriving value from within. Those who pursue the love of neighbor seek the self in another rather than in the self. Since they locate the self in others, they find solitude unbearable. “The one goeth to his neighbour because he seeketh himself, and the other because he would fain lose himself. Your bad love to yourselves maketh solitude a prison to you.” [Loc. cit.]

This “antisocial” prescription does not mean we should all be hermits. We need solitude and introspection in order to find our own self-valuation, and then we turn this outward by imparting our overflowing self-love to the friends we choose. Whereas the neighbor is loved out of some supposed duty to humanity, the friend is loved for his creating and bestowing virtue, which will bring forth the Superman.[2] This is not love of humanity, but love of him who is to come.

Not the neighbour do I teach you, but the friend. Let the friend be the festival of the earth to you, and a foretaste of the Superman.
I teach you the friend and his overflowing heart. But one must know how to be a sponge, if one would be loved by overflowing hearts. [Loc. cit.]

Humanistic love of neighbor alienates the self, and inverts the values of health and sickness. This can be seen among modern psychologists, who uncritically project liberal values into their science, defining “empathy” to be a measure of health and its absence an indication of psychosis. In practice, this “empathy” means pity, i.e., that it should hurt us to see others suffer. No liberal will praise the savage empathy that relishes the suffering of his enemies. A German term for pity, Mitleiden, literally means “suffering with,” and refers primarily to a psychosomatic disorder. This sickness is the humanist standard of health, and its absence is called sickness. At any rate, it is impossible to have any real empathy for humanity as a whole. “‘Sympathy [Mitleiden] for all’—would be harshness and tyranny for THEE, my good neighbor.” [BGE, 82] If we could really feel the suffering of all other people, life would be an unbearable torture. This impossible scenario only exaggerates the ridiculousness of empathy as a moral imperative. The sufferer who demands that I am obligated to suffer with him is a monstrous tyrant. Those who impose empathy as a categorical imperative serve the would-be tyranny of the herd.

Nietzsche rejects Schopenhauer’s exaltation of unselfish instincts: pity, self-denial, self-sacrifice. He sees these as a turning against Life, “the exhaustion that gazes backwards.” Pity leads to a sort of Buddhism, even nihilism. Before the modern era, philosophers as diverse as Plato, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld and Kant agreed on the worthlessness of pity. [GM, Preface, 5]

“Love of neighbor” is not to be confused with the purely utilitarian ethic that protects against what is dangerous to the maintenance of a community. It is possible to have the latter without the former.

As long as the utility which determines moral estimates is only gregarious utility, as long as the preservation of the community is only kept in view, and the immoral is sought precisely and exclusively in what seems dangerous to the maintenance of the community, there can be no “morality of love to one’s neighbour.” Granted even that there is already a little constant exercise of consideration, sympathy, fairness, gentleness, and mutual assistance, granted that even in this condition of society all those instincts are already active which are latterly distinguished by honourable names as “virtues,” and eventually almost coincide with the conception “morality”: in that period they do not as yet belong to the domain of moral valuations—they are still ULTRA-MORAL. A sympathetic action, for instance, is neither called good nor bad, moral nor immoral, in the best period of the Romans; and should it be praised, a sort of resentful disdain is compatible with this praise, even at the best, directly the sympathetic action is compared with one which contributes to the welfare of the whole, to the RES PUBLICA. [BGE, 201]

Concern for the good of the community from which we benefit (by security and prosperity) need not imply a sympathetic love of every other person in society. Thus the Romans could esteem acts that benefit the republic, yet at the same time attribute no moral value to sympathy for the poor or the weak.


16.4 Pacifism as Fear of Neighbor

After all, “love to our neighbour” is always a secondary matter, partly conventional and arbitrarily manifested in relation to our FEAR OF OUR NEIGHBOUR. After the fabric of society seems on the whole established and secured against external dangers, it is this fear of our neighbour which again creates new perspectives of moral valuation. Certain strong and dangerous instincts, such as the love of enterprise, foolhardiness, revengefulness, astuteness, rapacity, and love of power, which up till then had not only to be honoured from the point of view of general utility… but had to be fostered and cultivated (because they were perpetually required in the common danger against the common enemies), are now felt in their dangerousness to be doubly strong—when the outlets for them are lacking—and are gradually branded as immoral and given over to calumny. [BGE, 201]

The instincts that benefited the community while threatened are disparaged in peacetime, since they have no outlet in foreign enemies, and would be turned inward on society. We have seen this process lately repeated after the Second World War, and again after the Cold War.

The contrary instincts and inclinations now attain to moral honour, the gregarious instinct gradually draws its conclusions. How much or how little dangerousness to the community or to equality is contained in an opinion, a condition, an emotion, a disposition, or an endowment—that is now the moral perspective, here again fear is the mother of morals.
The lofty independent spirituality, the will to stand alone, and even the cogent reason, are felt to be dangers, everything that elevates the individual above the herd, and is a source of fear to the neighbour, is henceforth called EVIL, the tolerant, unassuming, self-adapting, self-equalizing disposition, the MEDIOCRITY of desires, attains to moral distinction and honour. Finally, under very peaceful circumstances, there is always less opportunity and necessity for training the feelings to severity and rigour, and now every form of severity, even in justice, begins to disturb the conscience, a lofty and rigorous nobleness and self-responsibility almost offends, and awakens distrust, “the lamb,” and still more “the sheep,” wins respect. [Loc. cit.]

All our modern proclamations about individuality are circumscribed by an expectation of conformity to herd values, of a refusal to impose oneself over another or to exert any coercion. In a word, we must abdicate our lordship and become herd animals. Thus all the “individualistic” liberals spout the same platitudinous values of pacifism, egalitarianism, and tolerance. A feminine repugnance toward any violence prevails, even against criminals. This sensibility is a result of the ascent of gregarious values in peacetime. We become sheep instead of predators.

There is a point of diseased mellowness and effeminacy in the history of society, at which society itself takes the part of him who injures it, the part of the CRIMINAL, and does so, in fact, seriously and honestly. To punish, appears to it to be somehow unfair—it is certain that the idea of “punishment” and “the obligation to punish” are then painful and alarming to people. “Is it not sufficient if the criminal be rendered HARMLESS? Why should we still punish? Punishment itself is terrible!”—with these questions gregarious morality, the morality of fear, draws its ultimate conclusion. [Loc. cit.]

In this incisive criticism of “enlightened” liberal penology, we find that the reluctance to punish is motivated by a fear of violence or conflict. Its only fear of criminals is in their ability to do harm. Once they are rendered toothless or harmless, there seems no need to go further. The sheep will not make themselves predators, but are content to defang the wolves. Thus society loses its will to assert force even over its direct enemies. The conquering spirit is extinguished. There is no desire to avenge oneself on one’s enemies, or even to punish for the sake of justice. Only a bloodless desire for tranquility remains. The justice system is transformed into a system of pacification.

If one could at all do away with danger, the cause of fear, one would have done away with this morality at the same time, it would no longer be necessary, it WOULD NOT CONSIDER ITSELF any longer necessary!—Whoever examines the conscience of the present-day European, will always elicit the same imperative from its thousand moral folds and hidden recesses, the imperative of the timidity of the herd “we wish that some time or other there may be NOTHING MORE TO FEAR!” Some time or other—the will and the way THERETO is nowadays called “progress” all over Europe. [Loc. cit.]

What passes for enlightened “progress” is merely the removal of occasions for fear, an aim worthy of the timid. All liberalism tends to abolish danger as the sole evil to be avoided. It is systematic effeminacy, and the recent push to promote the influence of women and the gender-confused is hardly revolutionary, if we consider that the men of the West have held effeminate ideals for over a century.


16.5 Uncritical Acceptance of Herd Morality

We know well enough how offensive it sounds when any one plainly, and without metaphor, counts man among the animals, but it will be accounted to us almost a CRIME, that it is precisely in respect to men of “modern ideas” that we have constantly applied the terms “herd,” “herd-instincts,” and such like expressions. What avail is it? We cannot do otherwise, for it is precisely here that our new insight is. We have found that in all the principal moral judgments, Europe has become unanimous, including likewise the countries where European influence prevails, in Europe people evidently KNOW what Socrates thought he did not know, and what the famous serpent of old once promised to teach—they “know” today what is good and evil. It must then sound hard and be distasteful to the ear, when we always insist that that which here thinks it knows, that which here glorifies itself with praise and blame, and calls itself good, is the instinct of the herding human animal, the instinct which has come and is ever coming more and more to the front, to preponderance and supremacy over other instincts, according to the increasing physiological approximation and resemblance of which it is the symptom. MORALITY IN EUROPE AT PRESENT IS HERDING-ANIMAL MORALITY, and therefore, as we understand the matter, only one kind of human morality, beside which, before which, and after which many other moralities, and above all HIGHER moralities, are or should be possible. [BGE, 202]

Progressives like to flatter themselves that herd morality applies only to the older systems of belief, and that they are above the crowd. Yet Nietzsche insists that herd morality is most perfectly exemplified by the most modern, progressive ideas, which are so uncritically accepted that they have the character of aesthetic judgments. The progressive’s implicit certainty that he knows what is good and evil is in comic contrast with his supposed transcendence of morality. He takes it for granted that violence, coercion, and intolerance are evil, that it is wrong to exalt one people over another. In short, herd morality is adopted at a pre-critical level.

Against such a “possibility,” against such a ”should be,” however, this morality defends itself with all its strength, it says obstinately and inexorably, “I am morality itself and nothing else is morality!” Indeed, with the help of a religion which has humoured and flattered the sublimest desires of the herding-animal, things have reached such a point that we always find a more visible expression of this morality even in political and social arrangements: the DEMOCRATIC movement is the inheritance of the Christian movement. [BGE, 202]

Arguing with a so-called progressive about ethics is pointless, since he has naively assumed that liberal morality is morality, prior to conscious thought. As an example of this insularity, a liberal will criticize non-liberal ethics by saying it is racist or sexist or bigoted, yet this is no proof of evil unless one first assumes that liberal egalitarianism is correct. The assumptions of herd morality are built into his criteria for ethical evaluation, so he can never exit his glass box, no matter how many other value systems he studies. Thus a liberal in a Christian country is no different from one in a Muslim country or anywhere else. Indeed, we can spare ourselves the tedium of listening to the opinions of these clones by simply watching the television journalists whose opinions they regurgitate.


16.6 Socialist Herd Morality

The more extreme socialists and anarchists, for all their supposed radicalism, only advocate a purer form of herd morality.

That its TEMPO, however, is much too slow and sleepy for the more impatient ones, for those who are sick and distracted by the herding-instinct, is indicated by the increasingly furious howling, and always less disguised teeth-gnashing of the anarchist dogs, who are now roving through the highways of European culture. Apparently in opposition to the peacefully industrious democrats and Revolution-ideologues, and still more so to the awkward philosophasters and fraternity-visionaries who call themselves Socialists and want a “free society,” those are really at one with them all in their thorough and instinctive hostility to every form of society other than that of the AUTONOMOUS herd (to the extent even of repudiating the notions “master” and “servant”—ni dieu ni maitre, says a socialist formula); at one in their tenacious opposition to every special claim, every special right and privilege (this means ultimately opposition to EVERY right, for when all are equal, no one needs “rights” any longer); at one in their distrust of punitive justice (as though it were a violation of the weak, unfair to the NECESSARY consequences of all former society); but equally at one in their religion of sympathy, in their compassion for all that feels, lives, and suffers (down to the very animals, up even to “God”—the extravagance of “sympathy for God” belongs to a democratic age); altogether at one in the cry and impatience of their sympathy, in their deadly hatred of suffering generally, in their almost feminine incapacity for witnessing it or ALLOWING it; at one in their involuntary beglooming and heart-softening, under the spell of which Europe seems to be threatened with a new Buddhism; at one in their belief in the morality of MUTUAL sympathy, as though it were morality in itself, the climax, the ATTAINED climax of mankind, the sole hope of the future, the consolation of the present, the great discharge from all the obligations of the past; altogether at one in their belief in the community as the DELIVERER, in the herd, and therefore in “themselves.” [BGE, 202, emphasis added]

The idea that there ought to be no privilege, already latent in liberalism, is carried to its logical extreme by socialists and anarchists. By making everyone equal, no one has any prerogatives, hence there are no rights, properly speaking. Instead, there is only the right of the undifferentiated herd. Their sickly ethic of pity extends to wringing their hands over having to kill for food, so they renounce even the rights of men over animals.

The even stranger notion of “pity for God”(Mitleidens mit “Gott”) has a precursor in the suffering Christ, but in a liberal context it is but a generalization of the sympathy for the other that is extended to animals. In the idealist thinking of the late nineteenth century, sympathy was identified with love of others and with morality itself. Accordingly, even religious morality was cast in such terms, where God is known by feeling in one’s heart a love or what the Dutch Neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) dared to call “a holy sympathy for God.” Such a ridiculous presumption before the Divine Sovereign is intelligible only in a society that has adopted a democratic egalitarian ethic.

The softness of the modern European ethos, too timid to impart suffering even to criminals, is akin to Buddhism in its false identification of sympathy with morality. Modern men do not really believe in themselves, for their sense of self has been alienated to the herd. The individual-annihilating ethos of Buddhism likely facilitated the adoption of liberalism and its socialist extremes in the Far East.

Few spectacles are more pathetic than the socialist atheist who disparages Christianity while retaining a distorted form of its ethos, which makes no sense in a secular context. Nietzsche noted that the socialist ideal is “nothing but a clumsy misunderstanding of [the] Christian moral ideal.” [Will to Power, 340] Indeed, the dogma of human equality makes no sense in an empiricist world, where there is only measurable inequality. Much less does any moral imperative to equality have any place in an atheistic universe. Even more foolish is the idea that we owe animals any rights, or have some responsibility as stewards of the earth. These are clear borrowings from liberal Christian morality, which are no longer cosmologically grounded.

How ludicrous I find the socialists, with their nonsensical optimism concerning the ‘good man,’ who is waiting to appear from behind the scenes if only one would abolish the old ‘order’ and set all the ‘natural drives’ free. [Will to Power, 755]

Atheists of the Left hold a naive religious belief in the basic goodness of man, borrowed from Locke’s flawed Christian theology. They differ from most Christians only by situating original sin in our social institutions rather than our flesh. The idea that there is a good man hidden beneath the man we actually see is purely anti-empirical, and the repeated failures of socialist experiments are chalked up to man not living up to his supposed capability. In this, ironically, the atheists are far less realistic than the Christians.

Socialism and its variants appeal to intellectuals who like to think every problem can be solved with the right system. They abhor the waste and inefficiency of free competition, failing to recognize that such “waste,” decay, and destruction are necessary consequences of life and its growth.

It is a disgrace for all socialist systematizers that they suppose there could be circumstances—social combinations—in which vice, disease, prostitution, distress would no longer grow.—But that means condemning life.—A society is not free to remain young… Age is not abolished by means of institutions. Neither is disease. Nor vice. [Will to Power, 40]

Here Nietzsche condemns as anti-realistic not only the socialist’s prescriptions for abolishing danger from life, but even the very prospect of a final system or State that is forever young. Our current pretension to have solved the basic problems of man has lasted only seventy years (since 1945), and already it is showing signs of decohesion. If our youth are inspired by the promises of today’s socialists, it is only because they are too ignorant to recognize how many times they have been repeated.

Socialist altruism, like all forms of altruism, is really a disguised will to power. The individual is to be subdued for the sake of the socialist’s ideal, which is the collective as governed by the State. Those who subscribe to this program alienate their right to define values to the collective, and gladly become herd animals, even feeling a sense of “fulfillment” in their own annihilation so that the collective may endure forever. Such sacrifice for “the good of humanity” allows the atheist to find meaning after death, if only by setting up a surrogate immortality in the hive collective.

Ultimately, the liberal and the socialist promote only that which is fit for cowards and those who are sick of life. Aversion to conflict and danger, renunciation of the individual’s will to power, and the alienation of self to the false god of the collective, all exhibit the sickly timidity that atheists have renounced only in their words but not in their deeds. What good is it to free oneself from superstition only to become the slave of petty bureaucracy? In the case of the Communists it is most clear that an alternative religion has been established, yet this is also true of “humanism” and other idealist deities.


17. The Superman

The liberal ethos of sympathy is defended by saying that fellow-feeling is natural to man, yet this is a backward-looking appeal to our herd nature. On the contrary, “Man is something that has to be surpassed.” [TSZ, LVII] This is achieved by the creative will that does not allow itself to be bound by the values of the past.

Ordinary morality, with its logic of penalty or punishment, binds the will to the unchangeable past upon which it seeks to avenge itself.

“Penalty,” so calleth itself revenge. With a lying word it feigneth a good conscience.
And because in the willer himself there is suffering, because he cannot will backwards—thus was Willing itself, and all life, claimed—to be penalty!
And then did cloud after cloud roll over the spirit, until at last madness preached: “Everything perisheth, therefore everything deserveth to perish!” [TSZ, XLII]

The creating will, instead of saying “Thus would I have it,” says, “But thus do I will it!” Instead of correcting or avenging the past, we create what we want for the future.

This forward-looking perspective may be seen as aspiring to surpass humanity, yet even aspiration itself is an attitude to be surpassed. “The more he seeketh to rise into the height and light,” Zarathustra tells a youth, “the more vigorously do his roots struggle downward into the dark and deep—into the evil.” [TSZ, VIII] The youth concurs, finding that he cannot rush this transformation, skipping steps. “My contempt and my longing increase together; the higher I clamber, the more do I despise him who clambereth.” Climbing or aspiring implies a lack of sufficiency in oneself, so it is ultimately to be despised.

A danger of this contempt toward hope or aspiration is a temptation to collapse into a short-sighted sensualism. This is not the freedom from morality that transcends morality, but rather is beneath it. “To be ashamed of one’s immorality is a step on the ladder at the end of which one is ashamed also of one’s morality.” [BGE, 95] He who would truly transcend morality must be ultra-moral, i.e., beyond morality, not a sensualist who is beneath it. The quick, easy path of an “immoralism” of merely following hedonistic whims will not strengthen the will, but rather confines it to the immediate present.

If surpassing moralistic humanity does not mean a mere negation of morality, how is it to be achieved? Nietzsche alludes to the Superman in various places, but it is Zarathustra who reveals him most explicitly. Indeed, the aforementioned youth recognizes that Zarathustra is the lightning he has awaited, who will reveal the Superman. It is by revelation, not some prescribed set of actions, that we may see the Superman.

In Thus Spake Zarathustra, LVI, we find the central exposition of Nietzsche’s doctrine: None have yet known what is good or bad, except the one who creates. It is he who creates man’s goal, gives the earth its meaning and future, and causes anything to be good or bad. [TSZ, LVI, 2] In this boasting about his superior wisdom, we might see the mark of a mountebank or charlatan. Nietzsche, recognizing this, practically apologizes for his need to couch his revelation in the language of poetry. “That I may speak in parables and halt and stammer like the poets, and verily I am ashamed that I have still to be a poet!” [Loc. cit.]

That which is to be overcome is “the spirit of gravity, and all it created: constraint, law, necessity and consequence and purpose and will and good and evil.” This is to be “danced over, danced beyond,” at first by “moles and clumsy dwarfs,” making way for the nimblest. [TSZ, LVI, 2] The transcendence of morality, law and all that would reduce life to prescribed rules is to be surpassed by a joyous spontaneity that recognizes no rule, only life itself in its creativity. This is not so easy as it may seem, and the first attempts will be quite awkward and belabored.

It is in this unseen future where all becoming is like the wanton dancing of gods that Nietzsche came upon the word Übermensch—Superman or Overman—for man is something to be surpassed, a bridge, not a goal. Instead of taking revenge on the past, we may redeem it by creating the future. “But so did I will it! So shall I will it…” [TSZ, LVI, 3] This amor fati has us embrace the past, present and future by imposing our creative will upon it, so we are not in antagonism with life.

The surpassing of man does not mean overleaping or skipping over man. One must fully master being human first. To surpass oneself, one must learn self-obedience, in order to become capable of command. [TSZ, LVI, 4] The old moral disciplines are not to be discarded, for they are useful in giving us self-mastery. Once we have accomplished this discipline, however, we may dispense with the notion that it is a question of good and evil.

We give back to life by enjoying it in innocence, without guilt. A noble soul does not wish for this enjoyment, but finds it spontaneously. [TSZ, LVI, 5] He listens to himself, unlike the morally “good” who follow external principles. [TSZ, LVI, 7]

When there are planks over a stream, no one believes the one who says, “All is in flux.” Simpletons say, “OVER the stream all is stable, all the values of things, the bridges and bearings, all ‘good’ and ‘evil’: these are all STABLE!” Everything stands still when the stream freezes, in the unproductive winter, but not when the thawing wind blows. “O my brethren, is not everything AT PRESENT IN FLUX? Have not all railings and gangways fallen into the water? Who would still HOLD ON to ‘good’ and ‘evil’?” [TSZ, LVI, 8] The planks are the artificial moral values established by men, imposing fixity over ever-changing life. Yet whenever we are actually doing anything culturally creative, we alter these value judgments. Anyone who looks back over the course of history, especially modern history, sees that values are in constant flux. It is senseless, then, to adhere to the current definitions of good and evil, for once it is acknowledged that they are not stable, there is no reason for them.

Good and evil is an old illusion. Once everyone believed the soothsayers: “Everything is fate: thou shalt, for thou must!” Then did one distrust them and believe: "Everything is freedom: thou canst, for thou willest!” [TSZ, LVI, 9] Nietzsche’s problem with morality is that it restricts freedom. He sees moral constraints as analogous to fatalism. The “thou must” of morality, in his view, is the same “thou must” of fatalism or necessitarianism. You are outsourcing decision-making to an extrinsic entity. Just as the fatalism of astrologers is illusory, so is the so-called knowledge of good and evil.

“Thou shalt not rob! Thou shalt not slay!”—such precepts were once called holy; before them did one bow the knee and the head, and take off one’s shoes.
But I ask you: Where have there ever been better robbers and slayers in the world than such holy precepts?
Is there not even in all life—robbing and slaying? And for such precepts to be called holy, was not TRUTH itself thereby—slain? [TSZ, LVI, 10]

All life requires killing and seizing. We kill plants and animals for food and other uses. To make use of something, we must seize it from the environment, and exclude our neighbor’s use to some extent. Proudhon’s dictum that property is theft is here construed positively. To suppress killing and stealing is to suppress life. Thus these precepts are robbing us of life, and therefore killing us. It is not clear if Nietzsche actually recommends robbing and killing people, or just that we should not abstain from these on account of some extrinsic precept.

It is my sympathy with all the past that I see it is abandoned,—
—Abandoned to the favour, the spirit and the madness of every generation that cometh, and reinterpreteth all that hath been as its bridge!
A great potentate might arise, an artful prodigy, who with approval and disapproval could strain and constrain all the past, until it became for him a bridge, a harbinger, a herald, and a cock-crowing.
This however is the other danger, and mine other sympathy:—he who is of the populace, his thoughts go back to his grandfather,—with his grandfather, however, doth time cease.
Thus is all the past abandoned: for it might some day happen for the populace to become master, and drown all time in shallow waters. [TSZ, LVI, 11]

A new nobility, “the adversary of all populace and potentate rule,” is needed. Both the potentate and the populace might abandon the past, by reinterpreting it as a bridge to the present. Nietzsche needs the past in order to show that everything is in flux. The potentate, by contrast, will make the past look like just a prelude leading inexorably to his rule. Likewise, those who believe in popular government construct the modern myth of progress. Liberals learn nothing from the past, since they can find value only in what prefigures themselves. A commoner only remembers back to his grandfather, so he erroneously believes that his grandfather’s ways are ancient ways, and loses sight of the flux.

There are to be many kinds of noble ones, for real divinity means that they should be their own judges. There are to be Gods, and no God. If they all followed the same rule, they would not be gods at all. The new nobility shall be procreators, cultivators and sowers of the future. This nobility cannot be bought. Your honor is not in where you come from, but where you are going (self-surpassing). “Love your children’s land, undiscovered. By this your redeem the past.” [TSZ, LVI, 12]

All who lament that life is in vain are like children who shun fire because it burned them. They bring nothing to the table, not even hunger. “But to eat and drink well, my brethren, is verily no vain art!” [TSZ, LVI, 13] Zarathustra has no patience for those who bring no energy to life. Those who say the world is filthy are themselves swinish. They are self-loathing and execrable. [TSZ, LVI, 14] We may see this proven by the idealist who loses belief in his ideals, finding only bitterness. Without his ideal, he has nothing to love in himself.

Zarathustra rejects those who say not to raise a finger against the world, or against oppressors. [TSZ, LVI, 15] Again, this shows a lack of energy or life, a complacency in one’s ideals to the point of failing to advocate for oneself.

As those who say and feel in their hearts: “We already know what is good and just, we possess it also; woe to those who still seek thereafter!”
O my brethren, into the hearts of the good and just looked some one once on a time, who said: “They are the Pharisees.” But people did not understand him.
The good and just themselves were not free to understand him; their spirit was imprisoned in their good conscience. The stupidity of the good is unfathomably wise.
It is the truth, however, that the good MUST be Pharisees—they have no choice!
The good MUST crucify him who deviseth his own virtue! That IS the truth! [TSZ, LVI, 26]

In this unusually complimentary metaphorical reference to Christ, the main point is that those who think they already know what is eternally good necessarily stifle the moral creativity of everyone who follows. Thus anyone who believes in a fixed good is necessarily Pharisaic, and will crucify any new creator. (This may explain why Nietzsche, in some of his “madness letters” of January 1889, calls himself the Crucified, without thereby endorsing Christianity.)

Men of elevated tastes look for a place to be free from the crowd. [BGE, 26] “It is the business of the very few to be independent; it is a privilege of the strong.” [BGE, 29] Deepest insights will appear as follies to “those who are not disposed and predestined for them.” [BGE, 30] Nietzsche finds that he must adapt himself outwardly to normal men. [TSZ, XLIII] Ludovici comments: “The profound man, who is by nature differentiated from his fellows, feels this difference too keenly to call attention to it by any outward show… just as one instinctively avoids all lavish display of comfort or wealth in the presence of a poor friend.”

The surpassing of humanity is not something that arises out of an alien force, but is the realization of the “fundamental will of the spirit”:

That imperious something which is popularly called “the spirit” wishes to be master internally and externally, and to feel itself master; it has the will of a multiplicity for a simplicity, a binding, taming, imperious, and essentially ruling will. Its requirements and capacities here, are the same as those assigned by physiologists to everything that lives, grows, and multiplies. The power of the spirit to appropriate foreign elements reveals itself in a strong tendency to assimilate the new to the old, to simplify the manifold, to overlook or repudiate the absolutely contradictory; just as it arbitrarily re-underlines, makes prominent, and falsifies for itself certain traits and lines in the foreign elements, in every portion of the “outside world.” Its object thereby is the incorporation of new “experiences,” the assortment of new things in the old arrangements—in short, growth; or more properly, the FEELING of growth, the feeling of increased power—is its object. [BGE, 230]

This growth in the capacity for mastery is obtained by incorporating new experiences, not as something we merely add to ourselves, but as something that changes what we are.

Learning alters us, it does what all nourishment does that does not merely “conserve”—as the physiologist knows. But at the bottom of our souls, quite “down below,” there is certainly something unteachable, a granite of spiritual fate, of predetermined decision and answer to predetermined, chosen questions. In each cardinal problem there speaks an unchangeable “I am this;” a thinker cannot learn anew about man and woman, for instance, but can only learn fully—he can only follow to the end what is “fixed” about them in himself. Occasionally we find certain solutions of problems which make strong beliefs for us; perhaps they are henceforth called “convictions.” Later on—one sees in them only footsteps to self-knowledge, guide-posts to the problem which we ourselves ARE—or more correctly to the great stupidity which we embody, our spiritual fate, the UNTEACHABLE in us, quite “down below.” [BGE, 231]

Our ability to obtain self-knowledge is limited by our prior concepts about humanity. Even when we operate in the realm of such concepts, we may come upon problems and solutions that show the limitations of our concepts, pointing to the reality that they cannot express.

This ineffability in terms of existing concepts explains why Nietzsche never really gives a clear definition of the Superman. This is something that has yet to be realized, yet to be understood. The singular example of Napoleon as a synthesis of Unmensch and Übermensch (Un-man and Superman) does not help us much, for who can define Napoleon? The Superman counts himself free from our values and concepts, and would not define himself by them.

—“PITY!” answered the soothsayer from an overflowing heart, and raised both his hands aloft—“O Zarathustra, I have come that I may seduce thee to thy last sin!”—

And hardly had those words been uttered when there sounded the cry once more, and longer and more alarming than before—also much nearer. “Hearest thou? Hearest thou, O Zarathustra?” called out the soothsayer, “the cry concerneth thee, it calleth thee: Come, come, come; it is time, it is the highest time!”—

Zarathustra was silent thereupon, confused and staggered; at last he asked, like one who hesitateth in himself: “And who is it that there calleth me?”

“But thou knowest it, certainly,” answered the soothsayer warmly, “why dost thou conceal thyself? It is THE HIGHER MAN that crieth for thee!”

“The higher man?” cried Zarathustra, horror-stricken: “what wanteth HE? What wanteth HE? The higher man! What wanteth he here?”—and his skin covered with perspiration.

The soothsayer, however, did not heed Zarathustra’s alarm, but listened and listened in the downward direction. When, however, it had been still there for a long while, he looked behind, and saw Zarathustra standing trembling.

“O Zarathustra,” he began, with sorrowful voice, “thou dost not stand there like one whose happiness maketh him giddy: thou wilt have to dance lest thou tumble down!

But although thou shouldst dance before me, and leap all thy side-leaps, no one may say unto me: ‘Behold, here danceth the last joyous man!’

In vain would any one come to this height who sought HIM here: caves would he find, indeed, and back-caves, hiding-places for hidden ones; but not lucky mines, nor treasure-chambers, nor new gold-veins of happiness.
But as regards the higher man: well! I shall seek him at once in those forests: FROM THENCE came his cry. Perhaps he is there hard beset by an evil beast.

He is in MY domain: therein shall he receive no scath! And verily, there are many evil beasts about me.” [TSZ, LXII]

Even Zarathustra the revelator fears the coming of the higher man. The Superman is terrifying. It is not a joyous revelation, but one that takes us into fearsome depths. Still, one most dance with Dionysian joy in order not to stumble here. The Superman has not yet arrived, nor is he even visible, being in the domain of the soothsayer. He is still held back by humanity, or by one of its many sentiments.

The great men like Napoleon, who reject the effete morality of decadent nobility, come closest to finding the higher man. Two kings walk into Zarathustra’s domain, to get away from the good manners of pseudo-nobility. “Good manners! Everything is false and foul with us. No one knoweth any longer how to reverence: it is THAT precisely that we run away from.” [TSZ, LXIII, 1] Zarathustra replies to them:

“Here, however, is MY domain and jurisdiction: what may ye be seeking in my domain? Perhaps, however, ye have FOUND on your way what I seek: namely, the higher man.”

When the kings heard this, they beat upon their breasts and said with one voice: “We are recognised!

With the sword of thine utterance severest thou the thickest darkness of our hearts. Thou hast discovered our distress; for lo! we are on our way to find the higher man—

—The man that is higher than we, although we are kings. To him do we convey this ass. For the highest man shall also be the highest lord on earth.

There is no sorer misfortune in all human destiny, than when the mighty of the earth are not also the first men. Then everything becometh false and distorted and monstrous.

And when they are even the last men, and more beast than man, then riseth and riseth the populace in honour, and at last saith even the populace-virtue: ‘Lo, I alone am virtue!’” [TSZ, LXIII, 1]

The decadence of the nobility makes possible the rise of popular rule, distorting and falsifying the world. Is the Superman just a return to ancient aristocratic master morality? Often, they are not clearly distinguished by Nietzsche, yet in other places he accepts slave or herd morality as a stage in our development that makes possible the Superman. The Superman is ultra-moral, recognizing neither master morality nor slave morality, but, fully conscious of his self-creation of values, does not enshrine them into moral principles. He is free to change his values as the moment demands, being himself the source of all valuation.

The Superman is truly a master, so he gives values also to the rest of the world, and those who serve him in terror gain purpose and direction. The revelation of the Superman has nothing to do with the democratic libertinism of everyone pursuing their individual pleasure. It is nonsense to think of a world where all are Supermen, since the very notion of the Superman entails mastery over others.

The Superman is ultra-moral, not a simple libertine. He has self-mastery, but does not conceive of his discipline in terms of good and evil or extrinsic moral obligation. A mere lack of belief in ideals does not suffice to make a Superman; there must also be an actually dominant Will to Power, culminating in an overflowing creativity that imparts value to the world. Nothing could be further removed from democratic secular humanism, and it is a mistake to reduce Nietzsche’s insights to mere atheism or humanistic self-actualization.


Continue to Part VIII


[1] Indeed, women’s suffrage was made possible only because a supermajority of men was willing to grant political equality to a group of people that was utterly powerless and incapable of wresting it for themselves. Such a failure in the will to rule greatly exceeds even that of the French aristocrats who renounced their privileges in August 1789, since the latter were surely influenced by the threat of revolutionary violence. Kropotkin, moreover, shows that the renunciation was far from complete. [P. Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793 (1909), Ch. 17]

[2] For further discussion of Nietzsche’s peculiar notion of friendship, see: Ryan Kinsella, “Nietzsche’s Conception of Friendship.” M.Phil. dissertation. University of Notre Dame, Australia, 2007.

© 2016, 2017 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved.