Pure signal.

The Master Race and the Overman

What was most shocking in Nietzsche was his analysis of the faiths of the Bible, and his observation that the whole moral structure of these faiths comes from a general kind of resentment (which he was careful not to confuse with simple resentment by using the French word resentiment). In what is surely one of the great ironies of intellectual history, Nietzsche himself is still considered radical and offensive, but his subtle and brilliant technique of analysis has been unleashed by cruder minds to analyze every form of morality. It is a cliche, at this point, to criticize someone taking a moral stance on something as covering a weakness. Which has brought about a reassertion of the traditional Bible-based value system against this incomplete overuse of a concept which is almost never correctly understood.

Nietzsche was never a nihilist — he was a naturalist. He believed that there were different kinds of morality which had evolved, in what we would now call a socio-biological way. He did not have the luxury of those concepts, because he was busy inventing them. He thought that a moral stance was a completely natural thing for a human being to have — and he perceived a variety of different moral styles. He never believed himself to have discovered all of them, and he called in his writing for a formal historical/scientific study to be made. This call has been admirably met in the 20th century with elaborate studies of mythology and cognitive science — and the final chapter on this study is far from being written even now. Nietzsche was never so arrogant as the priests who today call him arrogant — he thought only that he had discovered a broad trend in moral thought.

The negative critique of Biblical thought as being based in resentiment is something which will strike the modern reader as restrained and understated, if it is not inadvertently confused with the broader statements rife within the culture today that all intellectual activity whatsoever is simply a compensatory dodge. That all philosophy is a retreat from life. That all subtlety is a form of weakness. In fact these hallmarks of decadence and nihilism are a pathetic and crude laziness which he passionately spoke and warned against. To understand Nietzsche you have to understand the part of his thinking which has not penetrated into the cultures understanding of itself, precisely because our culture is decadent and smug in it’s resentiment.

The counterpart to the ethics of resentiment are the ethics of strength. The ethics that come from a person who perceives themselves as being strong. I want to put the emphasis on the idea of perception, because it is implicit in Nietzsche’s thought, so much so that he does not often make it explicit, which is how all of the nonsense about the master race got started. A person is not born into nobility — your genes do not make you noble — perceiving the unique strength which you posses and offer the world, and making it the center of your character is what makes you noble. This is the art of “giving oneself style” — and it is both easy to understand, and to misunderstand. Every person has had the experience of having something asked of them which they had a lot of and knew they could share. It is fun. It is fun when a child asks your help with homework. You know you are smart enough, and you spontaneously share — there is an automatic generosity of spirit that comes with knowing that you are strong enough, smart enough, rich enough. This automatic generosity is the ethic of the strong — it is the spontaneous outflowing of strength that wants to display itself. That is exactly what the will to power is.

A person who habitually thinks of himself as being good enough, strong enough and smart enough has an easy nature, they are generous, courageous and forgiving. They are prone to forgive rather than punish. A person who habitually thinks of themselves as being at risk, either of being surrounded by enemies (such as the modern conservative philosophy) or of being a victim (such as the modern liberal philosophy) is more likely to exhibit the philosophy of resentiment. I am making a crude oversimplification — don’t take this as the end point, but the starting point, and from that starting point, re-read the Genealogy of Morals, preferably in Walter Kaufman’s translation which clears up traditional mistranslations (such as the idea of the blond beast being a Scandinavian). Nobility is not something that is possessed by races for Nietzsche, although he did believe that some cultures (most certainly not the German culture) were more prone to it as a result of their myths. Nobility is something that any individual, male or female, can achieve by understanding where there real strengths are, and crafting their image of themselves around the gratification and expression of those strengths.

The overman is nothing more nor less than the person who accepts this responsibility within the confines of civilization. To choose simply to dominate everyone around you is crude. The overman is possessed of subtlety — he recognizes that the painful turning inward which has been forced by ages past has prepared him for a new kind of expression. He recognizes his conscience, his confines and his capacity and he pushes out and expresses his strengths in a new way within the world of heightened powers of civilization. Nature brings forth ever more refined forms. The overman is the bridge to these new forms, which cannot even be imagined — much like the futurist concept of the singularity.


February 28, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Very well put! I agree on all points. And the comparison of the concepts of the overman and the singularity I think is brilliant and well worth a thorough exposition!

    One thing I’d like to add: I believe the overflowing self-confidence is expressed when the overman dedicating his life to the highest challenge life can pose, i.e. “the guessing of God’s mind”. When he becomes a philosopher (in the normative sense Nietzsche sometimes makes use of).

    (Will to power does only makes sense to me if Nietzsche agrees that “knowledge is power”, even the most potent kind of power. — I guess the reason he didn’t explicate this (at least to my knowledge) is that, well, he just didn’t like to be banal…)

    Comment by Gorm | February 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. That was a sloppily worded comment. Please excuse my beastly scandinavian race.

    Comment by Gorm | February 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. Whoa. Synchronicity. Jung would be pleased.

    I had no idea you had posted this.

    Check my most recent Lj entry. Nietszche is in the ether? I haven’t even read your post yet. I’m too busy being amazed at the coincidance, as Bob used to say and still does when remembered saying it. Oh, Bob, Fred, Carl, and James. Y’all got me wiggin’ at the god-given.

    Random occurrence, or a gift from Eris? Fate or Free Will? Coincidence or ConsPiracy? “Same thing. Come here or put here. Same thing. Still here”, as Grant Morrison said at the end of the Invisibles. He’s another one of those bookworms in my mind.

    Comment by Chuk Baldock | February 29, 2008 | Reply

  4. Han: It is difficult to associate these horrors with the proud civilizations that created them: Sparta, Rome, The Knights of Europe, the Samurai… They worshipped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive.

    Enter The Dragon (1973)

    Comment by Chuk Baldock | February 29, 2008 | Reply

  5. “Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive.”

    What a lovely expression, Chuck! I have been studying butterflies lately because of Nabokov and your phrase is especially haunting for me. I think it coordinates nicely with David Bohm’s anti-reductionism as well.

    Thanks for the observations Gorm, and I can forgive your beastly ancestors if you can forgive mine! (Irish and Flemish mostly — I suppose I have a lot to apologize for! 🙂 ) I agree with you that the relationship between the singularity and the overman deserves to be elucidated. It was an offhand comment, which on re-reading has more to it. If you want to attack that from any angle please post a link in the comments. I was nervous writing this because so many dumb things have been said about N. — I’m glad to have found some resonance!

    Comment by bootslack | February 29, 2008 | Reply

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