In Friedrich Nietzsche's time (1844-1900) Germanic philosophy was divided into two trends: optimistic concepts from the Enlightenment, expressed by idealism and positivism, which framed progress as lineal and guided by reason. On the other side there was Schopenhauer's pessimism, critical of the idealism of absolute reason and disdainful of history. Nietzsche did not fall into pessimism but did reject the optimism of the Enightenment's optimistic reasoning.
Nietzsche defined his age as nihilistic.The traditional Christian outlook was on the wane in Europe and darwinian evolution with the advance of scientific thinking had sown ideological confusion. With clairvoyant premonition he warned that, if nihilism were to continue, the next century would experience great wars. He was searching for a new consensus in values to guide European ethics.
Nietzsche's proposal for new values was anti-revolutionary and he directed it at countering the liberal effects of the French revolution. It was based on an aristocratic reaction and his intellectual snobbery. He called for a re-evaluation of all European values, drawing a sharp distinction between the morality of the masses and the master ethics of intellectuals. He looked forward to a future where the noble man would create his own values and assert his will, without regard for the crowd, which holds only the Christian value of subordination and submission.
For Nietzsche, Christianity represented decadence and weakness. It engendered the herd morality and eradicated the search for human excellence. It also substituted a positive naturalness with negative 'pie in the sky' beliefs. This debased Christianity can be understood through its roots in Judaism.
Nietzsche wrote Thus spoke Zarathustra between 1883 and 1885.
Part 1: Chapters 1-22
Zarathustra preaches sermons in the town of Motley Cow. They centre on the concept of the way to becoming overman.
On the Three Metamorphoses. There are three stages in becoming overman: the camel, the lion, the child. - Renunciation of comfort and practice of self-discipline to gain strength and knowledge. - Assertion of independence and refusal of all influences and commands. - The act of new creation.
On the Teachers of Virtue. The hero rejects the practice of restraint and virtue to achieve inner peace. He promotes a conscious effort against oneself to improve and be independent.
On the Afterworldly. Humans are flesh, not spirit. It is sick to proclaim that we are essentially spirits and then to invent God and the afterlife to compensate for the suffering in this life.
On those who despise the Body. Self is the body. It directs all passions and thoughts and is the basis for reason and spirit. Those who assert that self is spirit have a sick body.
On Enjoying and Suffering the Passions. Learning and growth come from experiences of suffering and deep feeling which make us unique. Inner conflict is rooted in having one intense passion.
On the Pale Criminal. A felon repents murdering because he only wanted to rob, not kill. His real crime was his weak motivation and his feelings of guilt, of which he is at least aware
On Reading and Writing. Famous writers compose at an exalted level and most readers cannot understand them. Zarathustra thinks they have a spirit of hilarity. He criticises universal literacy since it encourages writers to simplify their work for mass consumption.
On the Tree on the Mountainside. Encouragement offered to a young person who struggles for independence and is held in contempt by others.
On the Preachers of Death. Those who preach that suffering in this life is a preparation for eternal life are preaching death.
On War and Warriors. The pursuit of knowledge is similar to warfare. It is noble, relentless and disciplined. It has also helped humanity more than Christianity.
On the New Idol. The State is the new Idol of the masses. It encourages mass mediocrity and freedom must be sought outside the State.
On the Flies of the Marketplace. Those who please the herd gain fame but real change and influence is dictated by the creator and overman who isolate themselves from the crowd.
On Chastity. It has good and bad effects. Pursuing sex all day is not productive, but for especially lusty spirits to suppress their drive may be more corrupting.
On the Friend. Real friendship pushes friends towards overman, though this involves struggle and may create enmity. Zarathustra believes that women are capable of love, but not friendship.
On the Thousand and One Goals. Different cultures value good and evil with differing criteria. Good usually means struggling to overcome a difficulty. Nowadays, instead of cultures deciding good and evil individuals must reject that and endeavour to become overmen, that is, decide ethics for yourself.
On Love of your Neighbour. The author rejects this Christian doctrine as a distraction and recommends love for the outcome of overman.
On the Ways of the Creator. Overman is not for everybody, since positive freedom requires you to do something with it. The majority cannot endure the necessary solitude.
On Little Old and Young Women. Men want women for play; women want men for babies. Virtuous women love strong, noble men.
On the Adder's Bite. Do not heed 'turn the other cheek' which will only shame the other. Release your anger through revenge.
On Child and Marriage. The positive motivation for marriage is to beget the overman. Marrying to relieve loneliness is a distraction.
On Free Death. Dying at the right time, like Socrates, is an art and an inspiration. Jesus died young and a longer life might have made him more cheerful.
On the Gift-Giving Virtue. This is his last address in Motley Cow. He gifts his wisdom from an awareness of being full of overman. He encourages listeners to find their own paths, not simply follow his.
Part II: Chapters 1–22
The Child with the Mirror. Once again on his mountain Zarathustra has a dream. It is of a child who shows him a devil's face in a mirror. He descends from the mountain to correct people's errors of his teaching.
Upon the Blessed Isles. The hero views the creative will as freedom. Creativity is inhibited by believing in God since an all Creative God would leave humanity with nothing to create.
On Pitying. Showing mercy towards others exposes their powerlessness and they will resent us. Joy is better than pity since it is not hurtful.
On Priests. For priests life is suffering and they impose this on others. They have surrendered in life and think that God and pity are their escape.
On the Virtuous. Traditional morality teaches that virtue is self-rewarding. Zarathustra defines virtue as throwing yourself completely into your work out of joy for life.
On the Rabble. The hero is nauseated at the common people who spoil all they have contact with. He wants to rise above the herd to find purity, friendship and peace.
On the Tarantulas. Zarathustra rejects democracy, equality, and justice calling their proponents "tarantulas". He says that those who preach equality want revenge on others not their equals. To thrive life needs conflict and self-conquest. If everyone were equal we could not aspire to the overman.
On the Famous Wise Men. Truth and popular ideas are incompatible. Pleasing the people will lead philosophers to rationalise public biases. True philosophers will only find suffering but it fortifies the spirit.
The Night Song. The protagonist feels full of life, spirit and wisdom which he must offer to others. His solitude is not needing people or things.
The Dancing Song. Both wisdom and life are women, ever-changing, seductive and like one another. In the evening Zarathustra feels sad about life.
The Tomb Song. He recalls his youth and its ideals. What has not changed is his will which encourages him onwards.
On Self-Overcoming. All life obeys so if you can't obey yourself another will command you. Powerful people obey themselves and command others, the weak. Life's characteristic is change, not God, nor morality nor truth. Nothing is forever or absolute.
On Those Who Are Sublime. Those who pursue truth also need to practise laughter and kindness. The king needs to be capable of cruelty, solemnity and lightness.
On the Land of Education. Modernity takes past learning and presenta it as it's own. It prides itself as sceptical, with no faith or superstitions. But it is empty and uncreative.
On Immaculate Perception. Contemplatives only view the world, not change it since they feel guilty about interfering. They repress creation. Beauty is not contemplated but moved by creating.
On Scholars. Academics are uncreative and store knowledge as a pastime.
On Poets. Poets are admirable in their creativity but philosophically superficial in their assumptions.
On Great Events. New values go unnoticed, whereas the State and Churches are noisy but bring no change.
The Soothsayer. This clairvoyant sees a new empty future lacking in creativity and even death. Zarathustra has a nightmare where he sees coffins burst open and outcomes laughter. A disciple interprets the dream as the hero waking us up from emptiness through his laughter and liveliness.
On Redemption. The protagonist laments never having met a full human being, only cripples who are only good at one thing. He needs to believe in a future of whole human beings. But the past cannot be changed and causes the will to suffer. Redemption is possible by seeing the past as a product of our will.
On Human Prudence. There are three sorts of prudence. Better to be deceived occasionally than to be always on guard. He admires vanity in people because they are entertainingly unaware of modesty. He belittles small 'evils' since great ones require great resolve.
The Stillest Hour. Zarathustra leaves company to seek solitude and the completion of his philosophy.
Part III: Chapters 1–16
The Wanderer. All discovery, even on travels, is self-discovery.
On the Vision and the Riddle. Courage helps us to laugh at life. This applies to the past and the future where events are probably repetitions.
On Involuntary Bliss. Feeling incapable of facing up to the concept of eternal repetition, Zarathustra waits for the pain but stays happy.
Before Sunrise. The heavens are above reason and purpose. The universe is guided by contingency and casuality.
On Virtue That Makes Small. The protagonist has no respect for those who cannot impose their own will, the 'small' people.
Upon the Mount of Olives. The main character feels pleasure in winter problems. If others saw his happiness they would be resentful; they see him suffer and so are not jealous.
On Apostates. Many of his followers have turned to God since it is easier than struggling alone. Zarathustra tells them that old gods die laughing at the God who proclaims "There is one God. Thou shalt have no other God before me!"
The Return Home. He goes back to his mountain home and enjoys the loneliness. He notes that humans speak of nothing and that the 'good' are the most spiteful.
On the Three Evils. The main character applauds the 3 evils that Christianity censures: sex, lust for power, egoism. He says that sex is evil if you hate your body; lust for power is actually 'will to power', the driving force of all positive change and is evil only to the submissive. Selfishness means accepting yourself and only cowards see it as repulsive.
On the Spirit of Gravity. Zarathustra encourages us to love ourselves since we create our own good and evil. There are many ways to live, so choose.
On Old and New Tablets. There are 30 parts in this chapter. The main theme is: break the moral codes (Christian ethics) since they are not eternal or universal. He encourages readers to be like Jesus, who broke the codes of the Pharisees, and to laugh and dance, the mainstay of creators.
The Convalescent. On thinking of eternal recurrence Zarathustra becomes nauseous and faints. On convalescing he describes humans as cruel because they like to see pain in others calling it pity. His nausea comes back on thinking of human smallmindedness and its eternal return. His destiny is to teach about eternal recurrence.
On the Great Longing. He speaks of how he has enriched his soul and wonders if he as giver or his soul as receiver should be more grateful.
The Other Dancing Song. Zarathustra dances with Life, a woman. He whispers about eternal recurrence. A bell tolls and he claims: "all joy wants eternity."
The Seven Seals (or, The Yes and Amen Song). Zarathustra inderlines eternal recurrence and sings joyously: "For I love you, O eternity!"
Part IV: Chapters 1–20
The Honey Sacrifice. The protagonist climbs to the highest Mountain and waits for followers.
The Cry of Distress. The clairvoyant returns and tells the protagonist he must face up to his sin of pity. He hears a cry for help which he thinks has come from the overman and he looks for him.
Conversation with the Kings. Two kings leading a donkey meet Zarathustra. They have fled their kingdoms nauseated by people's mediocrity. The protagonist says that he is looking for overman and invites the kings to his cave.
The Leech. A man lies in a ditch seeking leeches. He symbolises the conscientious spirit who wants to free himself from all his prejudices. Zarathustra directs him to his cave.
The Magician. A magician tests Zarathustra by pretending to be an aesthetic hispirit. The protagonist confesses to be wanting to be great but realising he isn't. He invites him to his cave.
Retired. Zarathustra meets the last pope who is grieving God's death from pitying mankind too much. The protagonist criticises God for making humans poorly then punishing them for not obeying Him. The pope, impressed, is invited to the cave.
The Ugliest Man. He meets this lonely man who killed God for feeling pity. Zarathustra pities him but then feels ashamed. He invites the man to his cave.
The Voluntary Beggar. He encountered a rich man who voluntarily became a beggar. He is sitting among cows because both rich snd poor have nauseated him. He is invited to the cave.
The Shadow. He was followed by his shadow which fearlessly searched for truth and knowledge. Now his shadow has lost its goal. He directs it to his cave.
At Noon. After napping at midday he awakens and is entranced by the perfection of the world.
The Welcome. Back at his cave Zarathustra realises that the cry for help actually came from his guests. He tells them that they are too weak to be overmen since they still look to others for approval and retain past prejudices. They are bridges to the overman.
The Last Supper. The clairvoyant suggests they have dinner together.
On the Higher Man. Zarathustra explains to his invitees that God is dead and humans must strive to be overmen which needs valor, evil, suffering and loneliness. They should be sceptical and laugh and dance.
The Song of Melancholy. The magician's song shows him to be only a poet, not a truth seeker.
On Science. The conscientious man asserts that science was born from the fear of animal instincts. Zarathustra disagrees stating that the birth of science sprang from refining courage, not fear.
Among Daughters of the Wilderness. His shadow sings of the delights of the Orient.
The Awakening. Zarathustra looks into his cave and sees all his guests worshipping the kings' donkey.
The Ass Festival. He censures his guests for praying to the donkey, but sees it as a sign that they are recuperating.
The Drunken Song. The guests all say they are satisfied with their lives. Zarathustra sings a summarising song. The world is full of joys and suffering which are both eternal.
The Sign. A lion outside the cave symbolises the coming of overman. Zarathustra thinks that he has conquered his ultimate sin: pity for the higher man.
Zartosht (Persian) or Zoroaster (Greek) or Zarathustra (Western) was a Persian prophet who lived and preached in the 5th. century B.C. He thought of the universe as a struggle between good and evil forces. Nietzsche uses him as his main character because he will also be the first to overcome the good/evil stalemate. Zarathustra teaches about overman who has achieved this by accepting eternal recurrence.
Zarathustra was a moralist who turned ethics into the driving force of life. For Nietzsche this was an error and it is corrected by his protagonist in the book. Zarathustra is:
"... the self-overcoming of the moralist, into his opposite—into me—that is what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth."
Zarathustra conceived the Cosmos as a struggle between good and evil, and human spirituality personalised this ethic. Nietzsche thought it was appropriate to use Zarathustra as a character to end the simplified conception of a binary world divided into good and evil.
For Nietsche the goal of human beings is to breed the overman, someone who is a law unto himself. He is free from prejudices, is creative and has a strong Will to power.
Overman will conquer nihilism by designing his own values, concentrating not on the afterlife, but on this one:
“The overman shall be the meaning of the earth”.
He will defeat mediocrity and live a dangerous and lonely life. His power is focused on liberating himself, it is a self-overcoming and will lead to happiness.
Nietzsche warned that the death of God was a sign of the dangerous decline in Christian values which would end up in a society without values: nihilism. He observed that the concept of God no longer offered meaning to life and a replacement belief was required. Without this new purpose in life he predicted mediocrity and a slide onto a fantasy world. This would end up in nationalist conflicts causing terrible wars.
According to the author Christianity's focus was on the afterlife, which devalued this life. Christianity also believed, uncritically, in a single Truth. This led to a self-destructive “Will to nothingness” when Christian values declined, leaving the gap of nihilism.
Nietzsche observed a crisis in values, which made necessary a moral evolution in humanity. The basis of the crisis, in his analysis, was the Western tradition's longing to free the soul from the body, and also organising living in this world based on belief in the afterlife. On the contrary, Zarathustra insists that humans should “remain faithful to the earth” which means that, to evolve, humankind must overcome the traditional dualisms of mind/body, spirit/nature.
To replace Christian values the author proposes a complete re-evaluation of Western ethics led by the overman and based on the eternal recurrence and the Will to power. His goal is to prevent nihilism by ceasing to focus on heaven and turn attention to this world.
This is the doctrine of repetition of life's events, every struggle, every victory and every experience. for all time to come. This stands in contrast to the traditional Western aristotelian and judeo-Christian teleology that this life is moving towards an end in the afterlife.
Nietzsche's cyclical concept of the meaning of life may be interpreted as the belief that the universe is in constant flux, that there is no fixed moment of being. The overman will view his past as something willed by himself and enjoy the idea that it will re-occur forever. However, the weak, those who cling to a hope of power and glory in another life, will be overwhelmed by eternal recurrence, but the strong will view it as a motivation to reach out for perfection. They will:
“… crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal.”
Will to Power
For Nietzsche the force which drives life is the 'Will to power'. He is referring to the urge to free oneself from restrictions, command others and exercise power to realise yourself. These are the characteristics of the overman. Christianity rejects instincts, instead of sublimating them and so is contrary to the will to power.
Nietzsche thought of himself as anti-Darwin but he may be mistaken. Spencer interpreted Darwin in his phrase "the survival of the fittest" and believed that self-preservation was what all living things aspire to. However, Darwin did not refer primarily to self-preservation but to behaviours that enhanced natural selection. Nietzsche’s survival is not a struggle for existence, but primarily a struggle for the increase of power.:
“To will to preserve oneself is the expression of distress, of a limitation of the genuinely basic drive of life which aims at the expansion of power and in this willing frequently risks and even sacrifices self-preservation …"
In his youth Nietsche had been a follower of Schopenhauer who wrote about the concept of the “Will to live”. Schopenhauer believed that the Will causes all suffering since life is a constant struggle for unrequited satisfaction. He advises negating Will and leading an asetic life. However Nietzsche later turned away from Schopenhauer to accept suffering as a help to personal growth. We must overcome obstacles and pain to add certainty to our power. He summarised this as :
"Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." [Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.]"
Apollonian forces structure your perception of the world. They are order. Dionysius forces are chaotic and unaware of self. Nietzsche found the balance between these life forces in Greek tragedy and hoped to offer this equilibrium to the modern world. His rejection of Christianity as a solution has its roots in this religion's view of mankind as stuck between the animal and the spiritual worlds, not completely rational nor totally instinctual, but overaware of our own existence. For Nietzsche neither force is either good or bad. He believed that to live a worthwhile life we must comprehend and cherish both of them.
“In order to grasp these two tendencies, let us first conceive of them as the separate art-worlds of dreams and drunkenness. These physiological phenomena present a contrast analogous to that existing between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.”
The Will to power is a union of both forces: Apollo, the conscious, Dionysius, the subconscious. They are both united in the hegelian dialectic of dionysianism, the synthesis of both.
- Slave morality: Nietzsche portrays the Judeo-Christian tradition as engendering a slave morality among its followers. They are the weak who gather together around this ethical code in order to survive and take revenge on the strong. He sees this widespread moral code as threatening to human development because it condemns assertiveness, personal independence and taking risks.
Nazi propaganda linked Nietzsche's condemnation of Judeo-Christian 'slave morality' and turned it into anti-semitism. In fact Nietzsche criticised the virulent antisemitism in his sister and her husband expressing it in a letter to her:
“Your association with an anti-Semitic chief expresses a foreignness to my whole way of life which fills me ever again with ire or melancholy.”
- Anti-egalitarianism: Nietzsche was anti-egalitarian in the sense that he considers humans similar but not the same. Nowadays, he asserts, people with modest capacities are presumed to be in the right. If someone demands more then they are condemned as wrong. This results in mediocrity as the norm and those who offer unconventional views as bad. For Nietzsche fear of differences underlie this dogmatic mediocrity.
The Nazis interpreted his anti-egalitarianism as the doctrine of a higher race, later baptised in their racial theories of aryanisn and the master race.
- The Overman: According to the author the overman will allow his deepest interest to become tyrant. He will not confide in reason (Apollonian force) to create the future since it is for weaklings, but in instinct, Will and passion (Dionysian forces), for the powerful.
"The great man is great owing to the free play and scope of his desires and to the yet greater power that knows how to press these magnificent monsters into service.”
Nietzsche predicts that the overman will encounter conflicts and he will battle enthusiastically. He only has contempt for those who wish for a gentle life. The overman will be a master of struggle.
The Nazis interpreted the overman as the brave German soldier whom they called “The Ubermensch”.
- Will to power: The Will is the creative force which drives life onward. For Nietzsche the characteristic of the overman was his struggle to free himself from constraints and attain self-fulfilment through his Will to power. It involves self-determination, adapting circumstances to your Will and finally being selfish.
The Nazis chose to overlook the Nietzschean differentiation between Kraft, (the exercise of force) and Macht (the power of mastering self). Macht, in Nietzsche, consciously guides Kraft towards creativity.
The Nazi interpretation of the Will to power arose through the influence of Nietzsche's sister who rook charge of his estate when he was interned as mad. She created the book The Will to Power from his notes and selectively edited them to fit in with her political ideology. The Nazi party interpreted the phrase to mean gaining power for Germany to make it the most powerful nation on earth.
- The Antichrist: Nietzsche was brought up in a pious Christian home and at one point thought of becoming a church minister. He studied theology and classical philology in the University of Bonn. His goal was to be a Lutheran minister, as his father had been, however, his specialisation in philology led him to interpret the bible from a secular viewpoint and finally lose his faith. He came to believe that Christian morality had had a decadent effect on Western thought and a new ethical base must be sought.
He studied Judeo-Christian history in The Antichrist denouncing its self-serving leaders, whom he accused both of seeking power and taking vengeance on the higher classes in society. He thought that Christian values did not benefit either the individual or humanity. He concluded that humans needed to revolutionise their whole moral system.
The Nazis interpreted Nietzsche's book in a superficial sense and stopped the study of the Bible in Germany. The universities began to teach Nietzsche's anti-Christian views as propaganda.
"There are no facts, only interpretations." This quote is found in Nietzsche's Notebooks, (Summer 1886 – Autumn 1887)
It contradicts the premise held by positivist philosophers that objective facts exist. For positivism the phenomena we observe through our senses can be turned into physical laws and exist as facts. It is the interpretation of phenomena as physical instead of non-physical that Nietzsche objects to. Facts, for him, are the results of the fit between interpretation and sensorial information. They are only true in this meaning. He asserts that we interpret the world as we do a book narrative, for which there is no 'correct' interpretation.
Nietzsche encourages humans to create a personal interpretation of the world which works for them as part of their development into overmen through Will to power.