Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ubermensch (directly translated as ‘Overman’) is a theory that rejects the sedentary, cushioned modern man, and encourages us to overcome our current state of being to something immeasurably higher. First publicly appearing in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche, speaking through the titular character, introduces to us the Ubermensch – the future of humanity. The Ubermensch is not within us, waiting for us to ‘find’ our inner superman; rather, it is something that must be attained (Safranski 2003, p.259). In this essay I will attempt (to the best of my abilities as a cushioned modern man) to uncover how to become Nietzsche’s Ubermensch; what this superman is; and the consequences of becoming.
From the ashes of inherent and transcendent morality, Nietzsche birthed the Ubermensch. His critique and rejection of the categorical imperative asserted his position on the life-affirming, “yes”-saying superman who the modern man should be striving to become. We are, at the moment, between ape and the Ubermensch – it is up to us whether we enforce our will to power and transcend from our current state of being.
So how do we do this? First, we must try and understand Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. The eternal recurrence theory was not unfamiliar to Nietzsche during his life, beginning from his early roots reading Schopenhauer to rediscovering it in his later writings (Safranski 2003, p.225). To Nietzsche, “the world of forces” could not possibly run by a linear existence, since it would have already reached the end; therefore, “the world of forces” is eternal, running not in a linear direction but circular, constantly ending then starting and so on and forth until existence is a seamless repetition throughout eternity (Safranski 2003, p.228). This terrifying revelation presents to us a dilemma of epic proportions: if everything we do and say and think in our lives is already predetermined and doomed to be repeated on an endless loop, then what is the point? How are we to live a life with no meaning (like those hopeless, manic-depressive nihilists)? From this dilemma, Nietzsche gives us the anti-nihilistic nihilism; the new, optimistic nihilism; the philosophy of the future. The eternal recurrence theory is not supposed to be presented as a truth (the possible despair and destruction stemming from this theory was something that Nietzsche found amusing) but as a “pragmatic, autosuggestive aid in structuring our lives” (Safranski 2003, pp.230-231).
Religion, mainly Christianity, has us living our afterlives; however, with the prospect of an eternally recurring life, shouldn’t we be concentrating on this life now? (Safranski 2003, p.231). Instead of focusing on the afterlife, we should be focusing on the nowlife – embrace the life that was given to us! Amor fati! Rejoice and revel in this life; embrace your fate; relish the darkness and the brightness of the life we have now! Only the weak willed are struck down by Christian morality and guilt; the denial of self and will; the constant “no”-saying. Nietzsche demands that we must have courage and strength; that we should not deny truth and reality; and that “knowledge, saying ‘yes’ to reality, is…a necessity for the strong…” (Nietzsche 2009, pp.46-47). Once we learn to do this, will we be that much closer to the Ubermensch.
Nietzsche distinguishes those of us who are perhaps blinded or herded by this slave-like morality. We are essentially slaves to our guilt and masochistic psyches (guilt is really just like self-flagellation) which, argues Nietzsche, is something that must be overcome and rejected. We are led by the delusions (or perhaps manipulations) of ‘priests’ who encourages herd-like mentality and conformity; who stresses the importance of selflessness and denying ourselves of certain desires and pleasures; who teaches us what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil; and who offers us ‘soothing balms’ to helps us ‘tolerate’ life – these priests, these enforcers of slave morality, must be unheeded (Bornedal 2010, pp. 414-417). We must enforce the life affirming, absolute amor fati, and the joyful embrace of both the suffering and pleasurable aspects of our lives – to the point, as Bornedal so puts it, “where [we] could want…eternal recurrence” (2010, p.418). The Ubermensch is not slave to superimposed values and morals – he scoffs at the categorical imperative – but the master of his own values and morals. He is both the “destroyer and creator of values…who needs no illusory fictions about an afterlife…but instead imbues this world with the affirmative values of his own making” (Daniels 2013, p.194).
Once we have thrown off the superimposed slave morality and adopted the life affirming ‘yes’-saying and noble morality, can we start to harness the will to power and the will to the Ubermensch. The will to power is essentially the shared characteristic of all living beings –in this case, the will to become, rather than existing as static beings; surviving and not living (Heidegger 1979, pp.18-19). To clarify, Heidegger emphasises the distinction of the semantics of the word. He posits that the word ‘will’ does not convey the concept of ‘want’ or ‘wish’, but rather “the submission of ourselves to our own command, and the resoluteness of such self-command…” (1979, p.40). When we say the phrase ‘will to power’, we assume that Nietzsche suggests a will with a goal or an end. However, as Heidegger points out, the ‘will’ itself is “as mastery out beyond itself…will is a willing beyond itself…it is the strength that is able to bring itself power” (1979, p.42). Will itself is power.
To Nietzsche life is a vibrating, humming, tautened elastic band of will to power. It is a matter of whether or not we release the elastic band and harness the will to power to really live our lives and, ultimately, overcome ourselves. To reiterate, we are sedentary and cushioned, too comfortable in our current state of being (and too weak willed) to change, to evolve. Nietzsche wants us to overcome this; to overcome ourselves. We must harness the will to power – the will to the Ubermensch – to overcome, change, and become what is destined for us.
In summary, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, the Dionysian ideal, is something that we must strive for (even if it is unattainable); since the simple of act of striving is in the spirit of the Ubermensch. With the eternal recurrence theory, instead of being horrified by the prospect of an eternity of the same life, we must learn to live life to the full; embracing everything, even the suffering and the pain. Nietzsche demands that we do not be satisfied with purely surviving – our main goal in life simply being happy, and cushioned and fattened by modernity – but we should (and must) want more from life and ourselves. We must throw off the trepidation and guilt of slave morality and we must become masters of our own values and morals. To yell and scream “yes!” to everything in life; to love the life given to us (amor fati!); and to actually want to live the same life over and over again for eternity – this truly is the most precious gift we could possibly ever hope to attain. However, we must first gaze upon ourselves, the modern man, and realise that to hope to simply be happy in life is not enough. We must want more; aim higher; and struggle to overcome ourselves. The future is in this overcoming.
©Yuki Iwama, 2015
Bornedal, P 2010, The Surface and the Abyss: Nietzsche as philosopher of mind and knowledge, De Gruyter, Berlin & NY.
Daniels, PR 2013, Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy, Acumen, Durham.
Heidegger, M 1979, Nietzsche Volume I: the will to power as art, Harper & Row, NY.
Nietzsche, F 2009, Ecce Homo: a new translation by Duncan Large, Oxford University Press, NY.
Safranski, R 2003, Nietzsche: a philosophical biography, Granta Books, London.
White, A 1990, Within Nietzsche’s Labyrinth, Routledge, New York & London.