Nietzsche, Superman, Individuality

Friedrich Nietzsche offers a way forward for the individual in the form of the Superman. After famously announcing the death of God in 1882 in his book The Gay Science, Nietzsche offers the development of his thinking in 1885 with Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Superman is any individual creating meaning for themselves in the otherwise meaningless world, who goes beyond the expectations of reality as defined by others. The challenge presented is living up to this meaning and these difficult expectations.

Nietzsche’s definition of the Superman however is open to two interpretations that are valuable. More commonly understood is the elitist view that the Superman is associated with single individuals who are superior to the masses, which is aligned with the Nazi’s, extreme (extremist) black metal, and forms of bigotry that followed while referring to Nietzsche. The second view explored by Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and others was that the Superman concept was an extension of Marxism as a means of enhancing life for everyone by enhancing individuals, though, without looking to gain personally
Check out Wiggershaus, R. (2001). The Frankfurt School’s “Nietzschean Moment”. Constellations, 8(1), 144-147.

These definitions are perhaps not entirely unrelated; although there is associations with superiority and differentiation, the notion of one persons success bringing up those around them is case specific to whether an individual, limited society, or the whole world is improved. In the creative fields such individual success can be interpreted in complicated but not contradicting ways. Contributions to society often lead to personal financial, and professional success for example.

This view can be backed up by the section titled “Of Love of One’s Neighbour” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which comes across primarily as an attack on collaboration in preference of individual strength. This contrast is between relying on your own thoughts, or needing reassurance from others. But there’s a section that differs in tone;

Higher than love of one’s neighbour stands love of the most distant man and of the man of the future; higher still than love of man I account love of causes and love of phantoms.

It is not that one man becomes above all others only to live above the others. The goal of Zarathustra’s quest is to bring up others to the level of Superman. He isn’t looking for the blind and faithful, but for people who are confident, can think for themselves. The strong are not followers of Zarathustra, or even his pupils, they are strong before he even arrives. This self reliance is the way forward for individuals, pursuing meaning and causes of their own.