Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ubermensch: A Flawed Reality

Nietzsche’s idea of an ubermensch is, personally, a difficult concept to digest. Now of course I’m not the only one who takes issue with this, but I wanted to offer some input on why I feel the ultra subjective figure that is Nietzsche’s ubermensch is ultimately a failed reality. When I say ‘difficult to digest’ and ‘failed reality’, I don’t mean Nietzsche was completely wrong, but rather, I find it difficult to accept the potential for an ubermensch who is capable of asserting his/her own ideals without the consequence of harmful reality. Often when trying to find contemporary or past figures who seemingly embody the characteristics of an ubermensch figure, we consider names like Napoleon, Wagner (Nietzsche’s personal favorite) and, of course, Adolf Hitler. But what about these historical figure qualifies them as being ubermensch -like figures? For Nietzsche the rise to ubermensch status is a process where one discovers the impediment of conventionalism to his own ability to achieve personal greatness. Thus, the individual must take it upon himself to supersede such conventions, eventually leading to self-fulfillment as a value posting individual. As noted in class, this is ultimately where the individual reaches his potential, when he breaks away from convention and asserts his own personal dominance over prior values and morality. One of example of an ubermensch-like figure, whom Nietzsche himself admired, was Napoleon. If regarding Napoleon's circumstances, we find his rise to power as a product of the French revolution. Thanks to the lower class whose resentment for the aristocracy overflowed into nation-wide coup, Napoleon was given the opportunity to exercise his own ideals as the “emperor” of France. While the French admired Napoleon for his timely reunification of France, they didn’t recognize how Napoleon’s ideals were driven by power and conquest. Eventually Napoleon’s “greatness” led to France’s demise, however, as he pushed the nation to its military brink. The same was true for Hitler. Since Germany had been weakened so much from the aftermath of World War I, the German people were in dire need of a leader who would rescue them from an another economic-fallout. Although Hitler provided the German people with a renewed sense of trust, they also accepted his radical ideals that were German elitism and world dominance.

The point I wish to make is how troublesome the reality of an ubermencthe figure truly is. While I admire Nietzsche’s challenge to moral conventionalism, I find his solution ultimately flawed and too extreme. If people adopted the mindset of an ubermensch, then individuals who push their own values would ultimately limit others from asserting their own values too. Surely there’s a more moderate alternative; one that includes a subject approach to morality while discouraging the over-assertion one’s own system of values.


  1. You raise a compelling objection, but one, I think, that Nietzsche would call a result of slavish thinking. You mentioned Napoleon as an ubermensch-like individual; this, I think, is key. Napoleon is not an ubermensch, he is ubermensch-like, this is because our society is not prepared to raise up ubermensch, it is instead as Nietzsche calls it “pregnant with the future”. It may be the case that the reason you do not see ubermensch living sucessfuly in this reality is because they don’t belong in this reality; theirs is yet to come.

  2. I agree with Paul that Napolean was not an ubermensch, but can we even say that he is ubermensch-like? I feel that one is either an ubermensch or not, there is no middle ground. In addition, I don't think Hitler wold be an ubermensch because his need for a scapegoat (those of Jewish decent). As far as the future, we still haven't experienced yet, so why can't we ask the same question of Nietzsche: why is he pregnant with the idea of an ubermensch? The likely ubermensch would wipe Nietzsche's sorry self off the planet had he ever descended in his lifetime.

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