Nietzsche: Master & Slave Morality
Friedrich Nietzsche believed that Christianity, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, democracy and the equal coexistence in power and strength of humans was leading to society’s decay and the rampant acceptance of slave morality. Nietzsche was an advocate of master morality, in which case a strong, ruling class would dominate in a society over the masses in order for humankind to flourish. There have been claims made that the idea of master morality was what inspired Hitler and his Nazi regime, but arguments can be made, using themes from Beyond Good and Evil, that Nietzsche in no way was alluding to such a rule as Hitler’s. To be able to discuss this topic further, one must have a grasp on what Nietzsche is talking about when he refers to slave or master morality. Master morality is so named because it was created by the ruling class, and it essentially considers strength, power, and bravery to be “good”. The “good” was created out of an affirmation and pride of their own power and honor. Additional attributes of those bearing the stamp of master morality are having a hard heart, being egotistical, intolerant and of distinguished origin. Those deemed as “bad” by the “great men” are those who belong to the lower class, who are characteristically common and mediocre in the eyes of the ruling class. Slave morality represents the masses and herds, in other words, the tainted and mediocre class of Nietzsche’s society. This system considered kindness, pity, compassion, and peace as the “good”. Instead of being a product of affirmation, however, the distinction between good and evil is made out of a sense of revenge against the strength of the upper class. Naturally, those deemed as “evil” are those people who belong to the upper class, who are considered characteristically cruel, strange, and dangerous. Nietzsche asserted that humanity must rise “beyond good and evil” and regain respect for nobility and power if they were to excel. Nietzsche wanted a social system with a “leader type”, a genuinely superior ruling class, with slaves as its base at the opposite social extreme. Throughout Nietzsche’s work Beyond Good and Evil, the reader discovers how the different themes apply to his concept of either master or slave morality, and can begin to realize how his ideas contrasted with how Hitler perceived them.
One of the main themes discussed is the idea of religion, specifically Christianity. Nietzsche was an atheist, believing that Christianity blocked the free and spontaneous exercise of human instinct and will in the Western world. He believed that it was a religion of the mediocre created by Jesus who became a slave of his followers, for he was both a god and a man. For once, God, the divine master, was no longer immortal and distinguished, stooping to the level of his flock and dealing with the sentiments (he talks about Jesus’ love) and concerns of the ordinary and common masses. The gentle morality of this faith and the subsequent equality between master (God) and slave (follower) were what made Nietzsche become atheistic towards Christianity. Instead, Nietzsche insisted that the decay of religion (the “death of God”) required that humanity take responsibility for setting its own moral standards.
Another theme addressed was that of the modern age. Nietzsche opposed the modern age because he saw it as sad, fostering a weak and mediocre society (slave morality) in which the ideas of the old and the distinguished were unrecognized. He believed that the modern, industrial, bourgeois society made humans decadent and feeble (slave morality) because it made them victims of the development of the rational faculties at the expense of human will and instinct. Nietzsche saw the destiny of progress as mediocre as well, claiming that it didn’t know what it was or what it wanted. Nietzsche also opposed the common view of the time, namely Social Darwinism, which claimed that through evolution, the biologically superior would survive and the weak would die out, creating a stronger species and society. In Nietzsche’s view, the strong should not have to overcome the weak. Instead, the slaves and masters are each born into their place in society. Life should not be about survival, but rather “will to power”. Men must dominate and make changes, not try to preserve, not even themselves. This reflects the sad period of stagnation that Nietzsche lived in.
Friedrich also included a tirade against women. To Nietzsche, women were naturally second class to men, and they had an instinct for a secondary role. They were equated with Christianity and its slave morality, in other words, the masses. Women (slaves) looked up to their husbands and fathers (masters) for guidance and approval and believed that their love could save anything. Nietzsche believed that treating women as equals would contribute to the downfall of society.
The idea of race or racism was a big part of Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche saw the European man progressing in the way of the herd-like, average, ordinary and the common. He believed that true qualities were passed on from parents and ancestors, placing humans in either the master or slave morality category and that hiding behind education or cultivation could only serve as a temporary tool of deception. Eventually, man would regain his natural place. Nietzsche was not anti-Semitic towards the Jews, instead, he degraded Judaism because it was naturally just as mediocre as the Christian faith. He also hated anti-Semitism, which he equated with slave morality, using jealousy, envy and revenge as tools of the masses.
The last theme I will address is intellectual compromise. Nietzsche hated intellectual compromise. A true leader and intellectual such as he would not degrade himself by associating or discussing with those of inferior views or rank. He felt that pseudo-intellectuals were once again creating a mediocre society by compromising with the weak, the dumb, and the masses. Nietzsche considered these men to be child-brained, irresponsible, sensual, enthusiastic, and essentially bearing all the qualities of slave morality.
Beyond Good and Evil is an extremely powerful text which, due to its many hidden messages, would have affected, reinforced and contributed to Hitler’s fascist ideology, despite a lack of intention to do so on Nietzsche’s part. The themes on religion, the modern age, women, race, and intellectual compromise all draw stunning parallels to Hitler’s Nazi regime. The dissimilarities are also abundant, however, and tend to constitute important elements of Nietzsche’s philosophy that Hitler either misunderstood or forgot to mention intentionally. In my opinion, Nietzsche was not describing or predicting Hitler’s coming because Hitler would have been equated with the slave morality type in Nietzsche’s eyes. However, Nietzsche’s society of slaves and elite masters certainly appealed to Hitler. A leader who creates his own morals, dominates the weak without compromise and is responsible to no one but himself was, in Hitler’s eyes, a self portrayal. Hitler clearly considered himself the “overman” of Nietzsche’s prophecy. Nietzsche was not, however, alluding to Hitler. Master morality says that the powerful are born powerful and distinguished. This is not true in Hitler’s case, having emerged from a modest upbringing. Master morality also dictates that slave morality must exist so that the weak can be dominated by the strong. It does not, however, say that the weak (Jews, Slavs) should be exterminated by the strong (Hitler). Also, master morality condemns Hitler’s pseudo-intellectuality and anti-Semitic belief system. Finally, master morality does not allude to the single rule of one man over society, but rather the rule of an elite group, which deliberates and dominates on a high level as a collective body. Hitler ruled autocratically, disregarding all opposition. What Nietzsche was predicting with his philosophy of master morality is an ideal that has yet to be attained. No ideology or political leader in the 20th century, nor any other individual, has managed to attain the pure image of which he spoke. Should destiny follow its course, the mediocre society will forevermore prevail, preventing any emergence of a ruling class.
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