My “philosophy 101” textbook states that Nietzsche’s conception of the supreme human is a passionate person who has his/her passions under control. This may be so, but this seems to me like pretty low standards for the most supreme people of the human race. Obviously this statement is a generalization as well, but I would imagine that his vision of the Ubermensch would have a lot to do with power. This leads to my question of what kind of power? Power over what/whom? Power over our passions has already been stated, but there has to be more than that, doesn’t there? My interpretation is that the Ubermensch would not be Christians, for example, but a Christian can be passionate and have their passions under control, so there is a contradiction.
Answer by Martin Jenkins
Christopher, Karl Jaspers noted that Nietzsche’s writings are full of contradictions. I think it is because he writes in a style that is a ‘flow of consciousness’, feeling now this, now that – echoing the flow of life itself.
Yes the Ubermensch is to do with power. Yet Power not in an instrumental sense of power to use, abuse, employ. Power is Macht in German. The root Mak is found in the English word ‘make’, as in to make something. So ‘Power’ could be interpreted a creative, affirmative ontology and not a reductive one of instrumental domination.
Power is immanent, it is present in all manifestations of life, human and non-human; it is present in all the drives which constitute life from the weakest and lowest, to the strongest and highest. [Beyond Good and Evil #36] The more Power Macht a drive has, the stronger it is. The greater the amount of intensive drives that constitute a human being, the greater the degree of Will to Power possessing a person.
Nietzsche proposes that the majority of human beings suffer from sickness. Their drives are in chaos, anarchy and this leaves then exhausted, depressed and so weary of life itself. [See also The Problem of Socrates in Twilight of the Idols]. Expedients are found which address this sickness. Nietzsche identifies one such expedient as Christianity. It gave the sick the beliefs by which they could order their drives, expressing some but repressing others. Subsuming themselves within the doctrines of what became Christianity, people engaged in Willing – the orientation, galvanising of drives in one direction which would otherwise be in chaos [BGE #188]. Willing appears to be the key for as Nietzsche writes in On the Genealogy of Morality at the end of the final Treatise: For man would even will nothingness than not will at all.
As described in BGE #200, there have generally been two solutions to give order to the chaos of drives in those that require it. The first is that of weakness. Escape from and an ending to the war that one is the panacea found in rest, lack of disturbance, a flight from the world of drives into another – a ‘Sabbath of Sabbaths’ as St Augustine termed this, which was his and Christianity’s solution.
The other is not to negate and suppress the raging drives, it is to value them as a stimulus to life; to control, outwit and incorporate them. Then ‘what emerges are those amazing, incomprehensible and unthinkable ones, those human riddles destined for victory and seduction.’ Alcibiades, Caesar, the Hohenstaufen Frederick II and Leonardo da Vinci are cited by Nietzsche as examples of this approach.
Nietzsche Contra Christianity
As you note Christopher, Christian’s can be passionate yet master such passions. So this is nothing exceptional. However, Nietzsche believed that this type of mastery was a symptom of decadence precluding more powerful types who would equally master their drives but – drives of a greater and higher magnitude and complexity.
Christianity was a response from the Priests – themselves sick – to the general sickness of humanity. Decadence as Christianity’s type of morphology – a shaping of the drives – cultivated a human being lesser than s/he otherwise could be. Ascending drives were condemned as ‘Evil’. Being for oneself, being the power that one is, is condemned as immoral. Meekness, humility, putting others always before oneself and the annihilation of human difference under equality before God, stunts humanity. A general levelling occurs which is contrary to life. For life is Will to Power and Will to Power manifests itself in varying degees in different people. To suppress this is to decapitate life itself.
So whereas mastery might be practiced, it is practiced at different levels. The Ubermensch/New Philosoper Creators are possessed by stronger, higher drives. By their very intensity, they will rise above and beyond restrictive the restrictive egalitarianism of Christianity and its secular descendents of Modern Ideas, which will conflict with their endeavours. For Nietzsche believed that a healthy society was an Aristocratic one.
So the contradiction you cite would hold only amongst equals. Nietzsche’s opposes equality between those who are unequal.