Friday, December 13, 2013

Transcendent will

“All noble morality grows out of a triumphant affirmation of oneself.” –Friedrich Nietzsche, Toward a Genealogy of Morals

There’s no greater ego boost than reading Nietzsche. The seductiveness of his doctrine of the will lies in self-empowerment through self-overcoming. The contempt he stirs for the world, even for one’s own flesh, is immeasurably motivating.

I would know. In the deepest throes of Nietzschean isolation in 2005 and 2006, I wrote three novels, exercised 4 to 6 hours a week, and got on track to receive my bachelor’s degree 1 year early. I also became borderline sociopathic. Mid-decade films Troy and Batman Begins cemented the ascetic, misanthropic anti-hero as my ideal.

Love for justice or “the good” didn’t motivate Brad Pitt’s Achilles or Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. Achilles in Troy waived all associations to country, God(s), and family. He didn’t even care what the war was about, or profiting from it. He rejected the spoils of war, the gold in Apollo’s temple and the virgin priestess. Posthumous glory in war was his lone object. Wayne in Batman Begins deliberately purged himself of the privileges of his upbringing for 7 years by adopting the life of a criminal. He then used crime fighting as a vehicle to exorcise his demons over his parents’ death and to transcend his human limitations, in effect becoming one of Nietzsche’s übermenschen. Ergo: “As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.”

Supposing you live in a comic book world (or in Nietzsche’s head), this is true. But for us real people, the hold “flesh and blood” has on us is irrevocable, which is why we need God’s forgiveness, which He provides via His Son’s sacrifice.

“What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness.” The Antichrist

Nietzsche was hostile to the Christian doctrine of salvation through faith, of submitting to God, of acquiescing the flawed heart and human will to God. He viewed it as a weapon of the weak against the strong. “It has made an ideal of whatever contradicts the instinct of the strong life to preserve itself,” he wrote. Essential to his hostility is his view that the “supreme values of the spirit” (i.e., the will to power) do not lead to temptation, sin, corruption of the soul. But the briefest survey of human nature confirms that they do.

His disdain for fleshly temptations seems to run counter to his rejection of Christian self-denial—unless one takes into account the paradigm Nietzsche supplements, that of domination versus submission. He scorned men who submit to their temptations, while lauding men who master themselves. The latter are dominant, exercising wills superior to their desires. On his view, what we would call sin is not bad, per se; the only bad is man’s submissive relationship to it. “He shall be the greatest who can be the loneliest, the most hidden, the most deviating, the human beyond good and evil, the master of his virtues, he that is overrich in will,” he wrote in Beyond Good and Evil. As the title suggests, Nietzsche did not see life as a struggle between good and evil. His struggle was between domination and submission.

This struggle plays out among people as well as within them. The victors over their own human nature—an aristocratic, self-possessed elite—are leading candidates to inflict their will on the masses. Nietzsche described them as “skilled in living on mountains—seeing the wretched ephemeral babble of politics and national self-seeking [as] beneath oneself...become indifferent...[keeping] reverence for oneself, love of oneself, unconditional freedom before oneself.” External conditions set by society, by time, by the elements are no burden on these “mighty men.” They are like gods. Foreshadowing the genocidal tyrants of the 20th century, Nietzsche fantasized millions would die for the glory and edification of the übermenschen.

Put in such stark, offensive terms, such egomaniacal ravings are easy to dismiss. The cartoonish self-aggrandizement and certainly the gleeful predictions of the enslavement of man to the will of a few make it hard to take anything he has to say seriously. However, like Hitler, Nietzsche’s extremism masks his appeal. He illustrates deep truths about man’s inclination towards his will.

To be continued...

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