As I discussed in my last post, Nietzsche believed that nihilism was going to sweep across Europe following the ‘death’ of Christianity and objective morality. In order to prevent Europe from sinking into nihilism, Nietzsche believed that man must re-invent himself. Man must become an Ubermensch (German for Superman or Over-man).
An Ubermensch is a man who is able to overcome the herd perspective and is capable of creating a new perspective without dogmatically forcing his perspective on others. By herd perspective, Nietzsche is referring to dogmatic beliefs that are widely held and accepted by society. Many of these beliefs go unquestioned, and thus we live in a sort of ‘herd’ similar to sheep (the term sheeple is probably the best representation of this). By overcoming the herd perspective, a man can free himself and achieve new heights.
The Ubermensch is supposed to act as the answer to the problem of nihilism. Since God is dead, that means there is no objective truth or morality. Thus, an Ubermensch acts as his own ‘God’, abandoning the herd instinct and determining his own morality. He is neither slave nor master, as he does not impose his will on others. He is a master of self-discipline. He must be willing to embrace suffering and learn from it. In a way, the Ubermensch is the next step in human evolution. It’s a new intuition, perspective, and greatness for mankind.
As Nietzsche wrote ‘Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”
The Ubermensch does not focus on life after death or on other worlds. Rather, an Ubermensch focuses only on his current life. He loves life, and thus embraces it. Nietzsche believed that religion, specifically Christianity, was bad because it taught people to focus more on the idea of an afterlife than on their current existence. Thus, an Ubermensch is the opposite. He does not focus on the afterlife, he only focuses on his life now, on his current existence.
Despite the struggles and suffering that will inevitably come as a result of such an existence, the Ubermensch does not look for ways to ease his suffering. Instead, he embraces the suffering and uses it to his advantage. As Nietzsche said, ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ An Ubermensch must use the pain and suffering they feel to better themselves. They cannot turn away or try to subdue the pain. Rather, they should use the pain they feel as motivation to take control of their lives.
We always try to give a meaning to our suffering. For example, a Christian will suffer and believe that once they die, the will go to Heaven – a place of eternal peace. Similarity, a Buddhist or Hindu suffers because they believe that eventually they will break samsara (the cycle of rebirth) and this ascent to Nirvana or Moksha (also a place of eternal bliss or peace). Basically, when we suffer we try to tell ourselves that it is for a reason. But with nihilism, it would mean that our suffering is meaningless. We suffer for no reason, and there will be no positive outcome from our suffering. We suffer and that’s that. There is no meaning, no end goal.
The idea of an Ubermensch was supposed to give meaning to suffering. In other words, mankind will suffer because by suffering they can become the Ubermensch. Thus, suffering no longer seems meaningless.
There is no objective way of achieving the Ubermensch. It is an individual process, and thus can differ from person to person. A person becomes an Ubermensch by themselves – they create their own path towards the overman. Personally, I like to image that there are two cliffs.
On one side is man, and on the other side is the Ubermensch. Below is a dark, seemingly endless abyss. The goal for the man is to reach the other side. How he does this up to him. Maybe he builds a bridge, or perhaps he attempts to jump. Perhaps he goes down to the bottom of the abyss and climbs back to the top on the other side. There are numerous ways to reach the other side – none of them are really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It all depends on the individual. In order to become an Ubermensch, the individual must do it themselves.
Again, there is no ‘one’ way to become an Ubermensch, however Nietzsche did give some advice on how to achieve it. This included abstaining from alcohol and religion and accepting that our desires dictate our lives – and therefore we should use envy as a guide to try and get what we want. By abstaining from things that numb our pain (such as alcohol or religion), we can see the world as it truly is and thus overcome it.
The Ubermensch is supposed to act as the cure for mankind’s current illness. Perhaps the greatest test for the Ubermensch is the Eternal Recurrence, which I will explain in part 3