Excerpt from Friedrich Nietzsche’s
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
When Zarathustra arrived at the edge of the forest, he came upon a town. Many people had gathered there in the marketplace to see a tightrope walker who had promised a performance. The crowd, believing that Zarathustra was the ringmaster come to introduce the tightrope walker, gathered around to listen. And Zarathustra spoke to the people:
I teach you the Overman! 1 Mankind is something to be overcome. What have you done to overcome mankind?
All beings so far have created something beyond themselves. Do you want to be the ebb of that great tide, and revert back to the beast rather than overcome mankind? What is the ape to a man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just so shall a man be to the Overman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. You have evolved from worm to man, but much within you is still worm. Once you were apes, yet even now man is more of an ape than any of the apes. […]
Behold, I teach you the Overman! The Overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beg of you my brothers, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!
Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and those blasphemers died along with him. Now to blaspheme against the earth is the greatest sin, and to rank love for the Unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth!
Once the soul looked contemptuously upon the body, and then that contempt was the supreme thing: -- the soul wished the body lean, monstrous, and famished. Thus it thought to escape from the body and the earth. But that soul was itself lean, monstrous, and famished; and cruelty was the delight of this soul! So my brothers, tell me: What does your body say about your soul? Is not your soul poverty and filth and wretched contentment?
In truth, man is a polluted river. One must be a sea to receive a polluted river without becoming defiled. I teach you the Overman! He is that sea; in him your great contempt can go under.
What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of your greatest contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becomes loathsome to you, and so also your reason and virtue.
The hour when you say: What good is my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness should justify existence itself!
The hour when you say: What good is my reason? Does it long for knowledge as the lion for his prey? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment!
The word here translated as “Overman” is the German word “Übermensch,” which is also sometimes translated as “Superman.” Goethe, Nietzsche, and others used this term, and for Nietzsche it specifically refers to the superior man, who justifies the existence of the human race. He argued that this superior man is not a product of long evolution; rather, he emerges when any man with superior potential completely masters himself and strikes off conventional Christian “herd morality” to create his own values, which are completely rooted in life on this earth. The true Übermensch is not a nihilist—he overcomes nihilism. [adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica]
The hour when you say: What good is my virtue? It has not yet driven me mad! How weary I am of my good and my evil! It is all poverty and filth and wretched contentment!
The hour when you say: What good is my justice? I do not see that I am filled with fire and burning coals. But the just are filled with fire and burning coals!
The hour when you say: What good is my pity? Is not pity the cross on which he is nailed who loves man? But my pity is no crucifixion!
Have you ever spoken like this? Have you ever cried like this? Ah! If only I had heard you cry this way!
It is not your sin -- it is your moderation that cries to heaven; your very sparingness in sin cries to heaven!
Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness with which you should be cleansed?
Behold, I teach you the Overman! He is that lightning, he is that madness!
And while Zarathustra was speaking in this way, someone in the crowd interrupted: "We've heard enough about the tightrope walker; now it's time to see him!" And while the crowd laughed at Zarathustra, the tightrope walker, believing that he had been given his cue, began his performance. Zarathustra, however, looked at the people and wondered. Then he spoke thus:
Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Overman -- a rope over an abyss.
A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going. […]
Hegel and Nietzsche:
Both Hegel and Nietzsche put men into two basic categories, the inferior and the superior, followers and leaders. Hegel suggests that men such as Caesar and Napoleon can break the law since “the history of the world moves on a higher level than that of morality.” The advancement of society is more important than the breaking of a law. These individuals may “treat other great and even sacred interests inconsiderately—a conduct which subjects them to moral reprehension. But so mighty a figure may trample down many an innocent flower, crush to pieces many things in his path.” Superior men have the right to commit breaches of morality while inferior men are obliged to mind their business, which is to stay put.
Nietzsche claims that for the leaders, power is the ultimate goal. The “mediocrity” of the majority is the necessary condition for the existence of the “exceptions”; together with the “herd animal,” there develops also the “leader animal.” For him, it would not be real progress to make the majority of men reasonably happy. For him, the raising up of an Übermensch, even if it could only be achieved by the sacrifice of masses of normal men, would be great, real progress. Nietzsche’s Übermensch does not exist for the benefit of mankind, but for the sake of power and self-realization. He does not have to follow the rules, and will feel no remorse in breaking them.