Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Ubermensch and the Last Man

The two paramount principles of Nietzschean philosophy are the concepts of the Last Man and the Ubermensch. These two concepts are the human-form archetypes of two fundamentally opposing concepts of the meaning of life, the former being that life's purpose is to indulge in pleasures, with no regard to quality, while at the same time eliminating pain. This path leads to degeneracy, and the Last Man is an individual or a collective that partakes in this path of decay and feels perfectly comfortable in doing so, to the point where any opposition to this feeling on the part of another individual makes that individual fit for "the madhouse" (TSZ prelude section 5) .

The Ubermensch sees value in life in the exact opposite, meaning he acts with disregard to "happiness," in the sense of the Last Man's artificial construct of the term, and leads a life of creation and ascension. This type does not seek out any sort of 'perfection' nor a specific 'virtue,' but does act in direct contrast to the degenerating actions of the Last Men by not partaking in a degenerate lifestyle and thereby seeking out 'quality' pleasures.

Although the Ubermensch and Last Man have opposite views on the meaning of life, they are not, thereby, opposite men. The opposite of the Ubermensch or 'Overman' would have to be rendered in the word Untermensch or 'Underman', a term which never is written in Nietzsche's philosophy, but can be rendered with different terms he uses, such as Chandala. This Untermensch is a type who is physiologically unable to take on "Overmanly" characteristics. Because of his physical disadvantage to the type "man," he must do what he can to drag down man, whether is a conscious actor in this process or not.

The Untermensch may make use of a Slave Morality in order to infect humanity and thereby discourage the formulation of an Ubermensch, which, to them, is a devil. This Slave Morality posits that overmanly characteristics are "Evil," while the characteristics of the Untermensch are all "Good." This Slave Morality was created to counter the Overmanly "Master Morality," or the belief that the "Good" are comprised of the beautiful, intelligent, and physically able, while the "Bad" are comprised of the ugly, stupid, and physically handicapped. A "Master Moralist" believes the maintenance of the "Good" is of the utmost importance, even if it comes at the expense of the "Bad."

The Last Man, thereby, is the type "man" who has been infected by the slave morality of the Untermensch. Christianity has been the most successful morality for creating the type Last Man to date, but in recent times has lost influenced and has been replaced by even more subversive ideologies in some places. The highest formulation of the archetype Ubermensch is the man who pulls mankind out of its collective Last-Man-like tendencies and inspires a Renaissance of Overmanly individuals, thereby creating a new mankind.

4 comments:

Sauwelios said...

It seems to me that there are two distinct notions of the Last Man in Nietzsche's writings. The one is the Last Man in the context of Thus Spake Zarathustra; the other is the Last Man outside of that context in Nietzsche's writings. A similar thing applies to the State: Zarathustra is a radical Libertarian, one who does not just want as little state as is "necessary" (for the sake of security), but no state at all! (and hence no security, either); Nietzsche himself, on the other hand, is definitely a Statist: but one who advocates an aristocratic state, a division of society into castes and classes.

Methinks the Last Man in the context of TSZ is the priest, who would abolish the warrior/the creator; whereas the Last Man outside of that context is the herd animal, who would abolish even the priest (because even the priest is a kind of nobility, be it a reversed nobility).

Sauwelios said...

As for Zarathustra as a "radical Libertarian": this he is in relation to the modern state (see his speech "Of the New Idol"). But later, for instance in "Of Old and New Tables", it becomes clear that he, like Nietzsche himself, envisions a Classical state. The point is that the absence of a state leads to a kind of anarchy, a "war of all against all" (see The Greek State), which is not a war of all individuals against all others, but of all families against all others (for families will stick together even in the absence of the state, due to the demands of genetic survival and expansion). The consequence of this war of all families against all families is a natural order. Note that such families are widely extended families -- clans. Such a clan may be a "pack of blond beasts" such as Nietzsche mentions in the Genealogy, treatise 2 section 17, if I'm not mistaken. And the pater familias may be a "conqueror with the iron hand" such as Nietzsche mentions in The Greek State. This at least is my vision at this moment.

Sauwelios said...

Excuse me for having a little monologue, or internal dialogue, here. But even in the context of TSZ, Nietzsche is ambiguous in regard to the Last Man. In section 5 of Zarathustra's Prologue, the Last Man is the herd animal who would abolish even the priest (the shepherd):

"Who still wanteth to rule? Who still wanteth to obey? Both are too burdensome.
No shepherd [Hirt], and one herd!"

But in section 9, he says:

"Not to the people is Zarathustra to speak, but to companions! Zarathustra shall not be the herd's herdsman [Hirt] and hound!
To allure many from the herd -- for that purpose have I come. The people and the herd must be angry with me: a robber shall Zarathustra be called by the herdsmen.
Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the good and just. Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the believers in the orthodox belief."

Granted, Nietzsche does not call the herdsman (the priest) the "Last Man" here. But in Ecce Homo, he says:

"Fortunately, the world has not been designed with a view to such instincts that only good-natured herd animals could find their narrow happiness in it; to demand that all should become "good human beings," herd animals, blue-eyed, benevolent, "beautiful souls" -- or as Mr. Herbert Spencer would have it, altruistic, would deprive existence of its great character and would castrate men and reduce them to the level of desiccated Chinese stagnation. -- And this has been attempted! ... Precisely this has been called morality... In this sense, Zarathustra calls the good, now "the last men," now "the beginning of the end"; above all, he considers them the most harmful type of man because they prevail at the expense of truth and at the expense of the future."
['Why I Am a Destiny', section 4.]

The Nietzsche Channel participates in the confusion by referring the reader to section 5 of the Prologue for the term "last man". All other references in this section of Ecce Homo, however, are to the speech Of Old and New Tables (from Part III of TSZ). The only mention of the last men in that speech is in section 27, which follows section 26 in which he polemises against the "good (and just)". Section 27 in its entirety reads:

"O my brethren, have ye also understood this word [i.e., section 26]? And what I once said of the "last man"? --
With whom lieth the greatest danger to the whole human future? Is it not with the good and just?
Break up, break up [zerbrecht, "shatter"], I pray you, the good and just! -- O my brethren, have ye understood also this word?"

Is it the last man himself who ought to be "broken up"? I think not. I think the last man is the perfect foundation of the culture pyramid Nietzsche envisages (with the Overman on top). What Nietzsche rallies against are the "herdsmen" (see the mention of the Pharisees in section 26), people like Herbert Spencer, who advocate that all men should become last men, envisaging only a basis (compare the adjective "base"!) instead of a whole pyramid.

So the confusing arises mainly from one remark of Nietzsche's, which I've already quoted:

"In this sense, Zarathustra calls the good, now "the last men," now "the beginning of the end"".

As far as I know, Zarathustra never calls the good the "last men"; the good are not the last men, nor are the last men the beginning of the end, but the good are the beginning of the end, because they "demand that all should become "good human beings," herd animals, blue-eyed, benevolent, "beautiful souls" -- or as Mr. Herbert Spencer would have it, altruistic", which "would deprive existence of its great character and would castrate men and reduce them to the level of desiccated Chinese stagnation."

Of course Nietzsche here does call the last men "good human beings"; but these are not the good and just. For the good and just are not really good, in the moral sense: they are the moralists -- but moralists are not themselves moral (unless they are weary):

"I even intend to prove that to desire the one -- the domination of virtue -- one absolutely must not desire the other; one automatically renounces becoming virtuous oneself. [...] one can achieve the domination of virtue only by the same means as those by which one can achieve domination of any kind, in any case not by means of virtue... [...] a moralist [...] must as such be an immoralist in practice. That he must not appear to be so is another matter. Or rather, it is not another matter: such a fundamental self-denial (in moral terms, dissimulation) is part of the canon of the moralist: without it he will never attain to his kind of perfection. Freedom from morality, also from truth, for the sake of that goal that outweighs every sacrifice: for the sake of the domination of virtue -- that is the canon."
[The Will to Power, section 304.]

I seriously recommend reading this whole section, as well as sections 305 and 306, 308, and perhaps this entire chapter ('How Virtue Is Made to Dominate'). But see also section 980.

It is such moralists (as Herbert Spencer) that the last men themselves would seek to abolish: as men who are still immoral, who are still "higher". Indeed, their self-abolishment follows from their own morality! Cf. WtP 184, as well as The Antichrist, sections 24-27. But note that in the Kaufmann translation of WtP 184, the German word Christ (without an article!) is translated as "The Christian", whereas I should translate it as "Christ" (especially in the light of AC 24-27).

Sauwelios said...

For a post concerning the good and just, in which WtP 184 can also be found (in part), look here.