This is a follow up article to
“These alone are my readers, my rightful readers, my predestined readers: what do the rest matter? – The rest are merely mankind” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist
To better understand Nietzsche and his thought process, we must realize he viewed himself as an educator foremost and a philosopher second. He believed it was his life’s sole purpose to educate the great individual, whom he called the “higher man.”
In this article, I’d like to expound more upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s view of the herd, herd morality, and its effects on individuals and the higher man. While perhaps providing somewhat of a framework to some of Nietzsche’s main philosophical ideas concerning this topic.
Before we go on, I must explain I am no philosophy major. I’m just a regular guy giving my best understanding of Nietzsche’s thought processes on this topic. I should also point out that perhaps more than any other philosopher, Nietzsche’s ideas are wildly open to multiple interpretations and discussion among scholars as he himself is somewhat vague in his thoughts and ideas concerning many topics.
Nietzsche argued in his essay On the Genealogy of Morality that there were two fundamental types of morality. A “master morality” and a “slave morality.” While Master morality puts its value in pride and power and the strength of the strong-willed, the slave morality takes value in kindness, empathy, sympathy, and the values of the weak and timid.
If we assume Nietzsche is correct, that would allow those individuals that are governed by a “master morality” to then judge actions as good or bad individually for themselves, which would then give rise to classical virtues of the nobler man versus the vices of the common man. Unlike master morality, a slave morality can only judge by a scale of good or evil intentions. For example, take Christianity, Catholicism, or any basic religion with its virtue and vice.
For Nietzsche, a morality is inseparable from the culture that values it. This means that each culture’s language, practices, laws, and institutions are built upon the struggle between these two moral structures.
To delve a little further and help us better understand, master morality would be based upon man’s nobler virtues. Meaning it must rely on qualities that are often valued by the high-minded, virtues such as courageousness, honesty, trustworthiness, honor, duty, respect, strength of character, and a sense of one’s self-worth. This type of man experiences life as himself, and he determines his own values. He does not need outside approval as he judges for himself what is both harmful or helpful to him.
Conversely, a slave morality responds to the master morality. Men with a slave morality, which is based in sentiment, and re-sentiment devalue that which the master values and the slave does not have. As master morality originates in the strong, slave morality will always originate in the weak. Because slave morality is a reaction to oppression, it vilifies its oppressors. Therefore a slave morality requires the exact inverse of thought of a master morality.
“Morality is just a fiction used by the herd of inferior human beings to hold back the few superior men.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Have you ever stopped wondered why most people don’t ask why things are considered either morally good or evil but rather accept that they are? It seems that, by and large, people just readily accept the value judgments set forth by the whole of their society or peer groups. Allow me to explain further.
According to Nietzsche, the dominant morality in the west is an “anti-natural morality.” Nietzsche believed this anti-natural morality has turned us against the natural instincts of life. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, this type of morality was the most dangerous of all. He thought that this type of morality forced men into becoming nothing more than a ridiculous herd animal. That he describes as “something eager to please, sickly and mediocre” in the book Beyond Good and Evil.
So if you’re like myself, you must be wondering, “If this type of morality is so awful, how could it possibly spread throughout the whole of western civilization?”
In order to better understand this, we must first realize there are two basic kinds of personalities or individuals: there are higher functioning men and those who inherently belong to the herd.
When it comes to “higher functioning men,” there are two main types:
The creative geniuses and those who are just simply higher functioning. Although they do not reach the heights of genius, higher functioning people share similar character traits and thought processes with the creative genius, which keep them separated from the herd.
The unifying thread among creative geniuses and higher functioning men is the ability to see or set a goal for themselves and their lives and then work to achieve those aspirations they’ve set forth. Typically these goals and aspirations will live on long after the death of these high functioning individuals.
Nietzsche touches on this subject in Human, All Too Human, where he wrote:
“The modern individual focuses too narrowly on his own short lifespan… and wants to pluck the fruit himself from the tree he plants, and so no longer likes to plant those trees that demand a century of constant tending and are intended to provide shade for long successions of generations.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
As with most high functioning men and creative types, they do their best work mostly in solitude. Nietzsche touches on the subject of solitude and greatness in many of his writings. Critics often fault Nietzsche because he does not provide an explicit account of what he considers “greatness” to be or entail. However, it’s likely due to the fact that he did not have a precise theory of greatness himself. Perhaps that’s why Nietzsche describes its conditions as “subtle, manifold and difficult to comprehend.” Either way, to me, he best describes these ideas in this quote from Beyond Good and Evil:
“The concept of greatness entails being noble, wanting to be by oneself, being able to be different, standing alone and having to live independently.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
When a man learns to stand alone, he is then able to live above the herd, shaping his own morality, and is no longer affected by the shackles of praise or criticism heaped upon him by the herd itself. With this, he is able to look upon the tasks of his life with a reverence towards himself and his aspirations, unencumbered by the weight of the suffering it may cause because it affirms his life and its meaning. The higher functioning man is one who says “yes” to the future, no matter the burdens it may bring.
In direct contrast to these higher functioning men, there exists the lower man or herd.
The herd is composed of two basic types known as “the last man” and “the slave.”
The last man is your basic mediocre man—one who lives chiefly for comfort and contentment to the point of being lazy and contemptible. The last man is completely devoid of any creative urge and is blind to any and all higher values that render even the basics of creativity.
In contrast, the slave is a weak and sickly human being. One that suffers in spite of himself and is filled with what Nietzsche would have called “resentment and a festering hatred of a life generated by feelings of impotence in the face of any external reality he feels to be overpowering or threatening.”
In the presence of this constant resentment and with his feelings of overwhelming envy, the slave then begins to take vengeance on all of those who do not suffer as he does. Namely, the higher functioning men. These slaves then begin to band together to obtain a “communal feeling of power,” which is the only type of power available to the slave. Then under the pretext of equality, the slave attempts to bring down to a more mediocre level all those functioning on a higher plane than himself through the construction of a slave, or herd, morality.
Nietzsche describes this in his work Ecce Homo:
“The morality that would un-self man is the morality of decline par excellence—the fact, “I am declining,” transposed into the imperative, “all of you ought to decline”—and not only into the imperative… This only morality that has been taught so far that of un-selfing reveals a will to the end; fundamentally, it negates life.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
To put it simply, a herd morality upends the natural values of life. To the herd, an individual who is strong and independent and who would attain feelings of power through their own creative strength is looked upon by the herd as a thing of “evil.” On the other hand, all those who belong to the herd, both the mediocre last men and the contemptuously weak slave, are deemed to be “good.”
Nietzsche also sums this up nicely in Ecce Homo with this quote:
“This is what is most terrible of all—the concept of the good man signifies that one sides with all that is a weak, sick, failure, suffering of itself…the principle of selection is crossed—an ideal is fabricated from the contradiction against the proud and well-turned-out human being who says Yes, who is sure of the future, who guarantees the future—and he is now called evil.— And all this was believed, as morality!” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche describes herd morality as the “danger of dangers” because of the way it’s able to seduce those who are anxious and fearful when faced with the uncertainty and isolation that comes with striving for greatness. So, this herd morality then becomes a Siren’s call, which offers the potential higher man a way to escape from his troublesome and heavy fate down into the comfort and mediocrity of the masses.
When this herd morality becomes overly effective at bringing down all those that are higher functioning and begins to stifle the extraordinary, nihilism will then begin to creep into the world.
“Without higher values embodied by higher functioning men, all creativity, works of art, and the capacity to strive for new and different ideas will then become lost. Instead, the values of comfort and contentment that are beloved by the herd will then become worshiped and celebrated as superior values allowing the herd to swallow up all of mankind and “existence will be deprived of its great character” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
Nietzsche expounds upon his fears of such a world in this passage from On the Genealogy of Morality:
“We can see nothing today that wants to grow greater, we suspect that things will continue to go down, down, to become thinner, more good-natured, more prudent, more comfortable, more mediocre, more indifferent… Here precisely is what has become a fatality…together with the fear of man we have also lost our love of him, our reverence for him, our hopes for him, even the will to him. The sight of man now makes us weary—what is nihilism today if it is not that?—We are weary of man.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche spent tons of time in his writings undergoing a “revaluation of values” in hopes of lessening the effect of herd morality on the development of higher men. Nietzsche did this in an attempt to prevent future generations from falling victim to the dulling effects of herd morality.
Nietzsche found that such revaluation of values is dependent upon the realization that herd morality is not just an objective universal morality that is binding to everything, but it is also a type of human morality that “beside which, before which, and after which many other types, above all higher moralities, are, or ought to be possible.” To quote Nietzsche in Beyond Good-Evil
If Herd morality “says stubbornly…’ I am morality itself, and nothing besides is morality.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Higher functioning individuals must then realize that “The ideas of the herd should rule in the herd, but not reach out beyond it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power.
Then he the higher functioning man must pay no mind to herd morality’s claims of universality or its morals, but he instead must discover his own higher values that would leverage him and help accomplish his life’s goals.
Upon discovering his own higher values, the higher man must then realize that he, as a highly differentiated beast with his own unique vision of his life, is good, but alone. Therefore he must not preach or impose his higher morality on others as Nietzsche advised in Thus spoke Zarathustra.
“My brother, if you have a virtue and she is your virtue, then you have her in common with nobody.” Even naming one’s virtue would make her too common; if one must speak of her, it should be: “This is my good; this I love; it pleases me wholly; thus alone do I will the good. I do not will it the law of a God; I do not will it as human statute and need”. – Friedrich Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
In ours, and Nietzsche’s time, or much like any time throughout history, I suppose, there exist individuals whose only desire is to persecute and drag down those who would rise above the mediocre herd.
They mask their envy and hatred for those with a higher aim with calls for equality. Making it seem as though the ideas of the higher man are elitist and distasteful to the great majority of people. But for Nietzsche, these ideas were not meant for the masses.
“Our highest insights must – and should – sound like follies and sometimes like crimes when they are heard without permission by those who are not predisposed and predestined for them.” —Beyond Good and Evil.
Nietzsche’s biggest concern was ensuring the world would remain a fertile place for the growth of true human excellence among men.
Perhaps this is why he viewed his writing for the higher functioning man and the higher functioning man alone.
In my mind, Nietzsche wanted us to overcome the temptations of herd morality, to become higher-functioning men and proceed on our own life-path. I believe he hoped that by doing so, we would provide inspiration for future generations of potential higher functioning men.
The Future Unwound
But being Nietzsche, he was not always optimistic that the future would be kind to the existence of higher humans. Nietzsche knew the herd morality was a massively powerful beast with the blazing force of the majority behind it, and for the last two millennia, it has raged on waging.
“A common war on all that is rare, strange, and privileged, the higher man, the higher soul, the higher duty, the higher responsibility, and the abundance of creative power and masterfulness.”- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Knowing that herd morality supports and gives credence to socialist ideologies, openly advocates for that which Nietzsche called “socialist dolts and flatheads” in Beyond Good and Evil, it would also bring about the “degeneration and diminution of man into the perfect herd animal,” not to mention the numerous social justice movements which would love nothing more than to swallow up the whole of the western world with a new wave of herd morality.
Given that herd morality is still alive, and well in the modern-day, it begs the question, “is true greatness still possible?”
If you ask me, I’d say it’s all up to you to decide….
Written by: J. M. Shoemaker
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