Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (selections)

This is an excerpt from Beyond Good and Evil, a book written by Nietzsche in 1886, consisting of about three hundred aphorisms on various subjects. The central theme of this book is the problem of morality—how we should act. The startling conclusion Nietzsche draws in the book is that we ought to jettison the altruistic morality that society and religion has imposed on us, the morality in which we demonstrate care and concern for the welfare and well-being of others, and instead institute a new morality centered around the self, a new self unfettered by social norms and the “slave morality” of what Nietzsche calls the “herd.” The final culmination of this new morality which lies “beyond good and evil” can be found in the final chapter titled “What Is Noble?”

According to Nietzsche, to be noble means to see oneself as the center and origin of all value. In fact, the terms “good” and “bad” originally designated simply what the aristocracy did and did not value. For Nietzsche, “life is precisely the will to power,” and historically members of the aristocracy exercised their will to power by exploiting common people and using them as they saw fit. Nietzsche calls the morality of the ruling aristocracy a “master morality. ” He contrasts this kind of morality with “slave morality,” which arose when common people tried to make their inferior and despicable lives more bearable by exalting as virtues such qualities as kindness, sympathy, selflessness, patience, and humility (the cornerstones of Christian morality). Slave morality gave rise to the pair of terms “good” and “evil,” which Nietzsche contrasts with the “good” and “bad” of master morality. In slave morality, “good” refers to the slaves’ (false) values, and “evil” to the (legitimate and noble) values of the rulers. Since rulers are not in the inferior position of slaves, they need not subscribe to slave values and are “beyond good and evil.” (The implication, for Nietzsche, is that we ourselves ought to rise to this level of nobility and shun the inferior morality embraced by the herd).

Nietzsche bemoans the fact that modern civilization, with its democratic and egalitarian tendencies, is replacing life-affirming master morality with life-denying slave morality. Thus Nietzsche revolts against the democratic, collectivistic morality that has dominated our own time and yearns for a return to a hierarchical structure that recognized the difference between excellence and mediocrity. Yet there are still elements of master morality in some souls, and it is to these souls that Nietzsche’s praise of “what is noble” is addressed.

It is of interest to note that Nietzsche was good friends (at some point) with the composer Richard Wagner, and praised his music for elevating many to the heights that Nietzsche thought him capable of. For instance, when one listens to “Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner, one calls to mind Nietzsche’s philosophy of the “superman.” However, Nietzsche eventually came to despise Wagner for his incorporation of religious elements in his music. It is also interesting to note that Adolf Hitler was supposedly influenced by a reading of Nietzsche, and was inspired in some fashion by his philosophy to write his seminal and controversial book Mein Kampf, which described the trampling of the Jewish people by the master Aryan race.

Shahram Amir Sadeghi