Nietzsche and violence?

I am working away at a book on Nietzsche, and was about to write a brief synopsis of his revaluation of all values project. He thinks there are genuine values, I think, but they are rooted in health, or the perspective of life, and not in any transcendent moral truths. Basically, to be healthy, you need to cultivate all the forces at work in your psychology (or as many as you can), turning your garden into a teeming jungle, with a result that is profound, complex, powerful, and noble. It may be that no two individuals will turn out alike — one may become Goethe, another Napoleon, etc.

Then I wanted to go on to say “But this is no Disneyland jungle cruise. You may turn out to be a moral monster.” I also have in the back of my mind McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (since I’m reading it), in which there is a character named the judge who is one cruel and cool-headed son of a bitch. He is very learned, speaks eloquently, and thinks nothing of scalping a child. McCarthy makes him out to be like another species — hairless, extraordinarily strong, taller than everyone else, and set apart from everyone else. (Near the end he’s traveling around with a hairy imbecile, hunting another character down — so it reminds me of the ape and the superman chasing down the human, who is caught in the middle.)

So I looked through Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, looking for a telltale quote that made it clear that Nietzsche means terror.  (Isn’t there something about a race of supermen returning from war, raping, and pillaging as if from a lark?) But I couldn’t find one. All I could find were quotes attesting to the fact that he is no liberal, let alone a utilitarian, since he thinks truly terrible and terrifying experiences might forge a great individual. But that’s different from saying thatthe great individual would himself be terrible and terrifying.

I’m probably missing some obvious passages, but thought I’d toss this question out to see what anybody thinks: is it obvious that a Nzean superman might well be a moral monster (like the judge)?

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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11 Responses to Nietzsche and violence?

  1. Huenemann says:

    AHA! I found the passage I was thinking of. But it’s complicated. It’s in the first essay of Geneology of Morals, section 11. Nz is talking about how the noble men will appear to those who see the world through slavish morality. Obviously, they will appear as evil men. And when the noble men are, for a brief period, freed from all of society’s constraints, they will regress, in a sense, to the animal nature from which they spring:

    “…they go back to the innocent conscience of the beast of prey, as triumphant monsters who perhaps emerge from a disgusting procession of murder, arson, rape, and torture, exhilarated and undisturbed of soul, as if it were no more than a students’ prank…”

    Then he lists as examples the Vikings, Homeric heroes, Romans, etc. But clearly he doesn’t have the overman in mind here. It’s a somewhat specialized case: the ancients raised along healthier moral lines, and how they will act naturally, when society’s constraints are removed.


  2. Mike says:

    So, for the moment does it seem to you that the superman’s potential for violence is basically ignored by Nietzsche? To me it seems like something Nietzsche just isn’t concerned about, but I’ve hardly read exhaustively on the subject.

    If we really re-value (invert) the currently accepted moralities of violence don’t we end up condemning societal (law enforcement) and collective (wars) violence and elevating the individuals right to violence (e.g. Deadwood)? What’s funny is that the first part of that sounds like Jesus to me and the second more like Nietzsche.


  3. Huenemann says:

    Yes, for the moment, my thought is that Nz was so swept up in what his vision was doing for himself, personally, in getting through his own life, that he didn’t think all that deeply about what society would look like if his revolution were to prevail. Basically, he thought the overmen would be more or less like him, meaning that they wouldn’t have boorish manners, and would act with a breezy gentility, even if there were heavy wars going on inside the soul.

    That’s an interesting inversion: we discredit the right of society to harm individuals, and value the right of individuals to harm individuals!


  4. Vince54 says:

    After reading most of Nietzsche’s writings, I then read a short overview of Nietzsche by Michael Tanner (in “German Philosophers: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche”). I thought his insight into Nietzsche’s overman was helpful. It is Nz middle career where the overman appears. His three metamorphoses of the spirit reveal Nz’s hopes. The camel bears the load of platonist morality. The lion’s spirit stands against the Dragon of “Thou-shalt” and calls out “I will”. The lion is not Nietzsche’s hope, “the lion cannot create new values”. A new child in innocence and forgetfulness is needed to pursue its own will with “a holy Yea unto life”.

    So Michael Tanner’s suggestion is that the child as overman was Nz new project, but subsequent writings he could not discover what to write for the Child. His projects mostly turned to the Lion to tear apart the past. There was no positive optimizm that Nz could discover for the child. Nz suffered increasingly under his illness and his polemical writing. The polemics are invaluable, but the child languished as a hopeful project.

    If you have not seen the three Igmar Bergman films moving from faith to overman, I suggest you see them:

    Through a Glass Darkly (Is God a distant father or a monster)
    Winter Silence (Discovering that God is empty)
    The Silence (What now — thoughts on human personality with NoGod)

    In “Winter Silence” he does away with God. In “The Silence” reason and sensuality bicker about what to do as psychical man, but, like Nz, Ingmar leaves reason behind on her deathbed and uses a child as the future hope for man’s “soul”. However, the problem is the same … what is that hope? What is the child to do? The project of the overman wants to be hopeful, but despair and terror are inseparable stirred in with the hope.

    The only consolation of the child’s new mixed hope is that … it can hardly be any worse than the rational, religious, sensual systems that have ruled man in the past … or can it?

    Note: I don’t think you can find the movies in town. I had to rent them through Netflix. If you want I can request them again and we could arrange fo several movie nights for interested students. I’d be thrilled, because I love the imagery of Ingmar. (The just are not movies for my Bible study group.)


  5. Vince54 says:

    “THEY just are not movies for my Bible study group.”

    You might read my reviews of my favorite Ingmar Bergman films. My reviews were written for inquisitive Christians, but I think you can handle my religious comments without regret. 8^)


  6. petersonion says:

    People forget that Nietzsche emphasized two important aspects of the great man, or ubermensch, or whatever: 1) responsibility, and 2) a structured and meaningful participation in society (as opposed to anarchy and nihilism).

    For these reasons McCarthy’s Judge in Blood Meridian can not be a
    (at least final) product of a Nietzschean philosophy, for he is not productive.

    Look at the three metamorphoses of the spirit: 1) Camel (slave morality), 2) Lion (anarchist and nihilist, throwing off the “thou shalt”) and 3) Child (who learns to live creatively and productively without the aid of an external and eternal value system). Everything else is a stepping stone until the Child.

    Will the Child still be violent? Yes, but not mindlessly like an animal: Nietzsche was interested in acknowledging realities: I was looking at the large section on “history of warfare” at the bookstore today: warfare is a human reality. Society completely condemning it can only create sick instincts, Nietzsche said it had to be treated spiritually and productively, as ancient cultures used to treat it.

    An interesting study would be Native American approaches to war: in my opinion it is more Nietzschean than Greek and Roman approaches to war.


  7. Huenemann says:

    That’s an interesting point about war being treated spiritually and productively. That does seem to be Nz’s approach, and it’s related to his problem with liberalism: he thinks a peaceful, just society won’t have the violence and strife needed to produce great individuals, and he measures a society’s worth by the natures of the individuals produced by it.

    I think you are right that the “productive” aspect is the key for understanding Nz’s higher men. They take a very pragmatic approach — “by whatever means necessary” (as brother Malcolm would have it) to cultivate freedom and flourishing in the individual. If it takes a symphony, a war, a poem, a book, a fight, whatever.


  8. Vince54 says:

    Thank you for identifying “positive” Nietzschean thought on the development of the Child. But I don’t know what this means … “not mindlessly violent”. Nietzsche does not embrace rationalism (a la Ayn Rand) as Savior. (nor do I) He integrates psychical emotions a la Dostoevsky into the overman. What does this look like in the development of the Child?

    What guides “not mindless”?


  9. Huenemann says:

    Vince — this is a contentious issue among readers of Nz, but I think Nz did take himself to have a positive proposal. I think he thought that there is a genuine kind of health for an individual — basically, straightening out and cultivating the various drives that compose the self. There is no single recipe for all individuals, since we are composed of different drives. Nz’s attitude is that of a gardener, trying to bring out the richness in each individual.

    I think Zarathustra is Nz’s “Child.”

    I like the idea of having a Bergman film fest. I’ve seen some of his films, but not the ones you mention. I’ll probably put it (the fest) on hold, though, until I’m done with sabbatical! Meanwhile, I can add them to my Netflix list.


  10. Mike says:

    Maybe life will always have villains and if we’re going to have villains, they should at least be interesting. Better than people continuing to do evil so that good might result.

    The collective is much more frightening to me still than anything I’ve come across in Nietzsche.

    stupidity causes more pain than Evil could ever even hope for

    “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”

    and all that

    That’s not to say I’m ultimately with Nietzsche on all of this, I’m with Vonnegut — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    On that note, maybe someone should still write a thesis “on the necessity of accounting for the similarities between Cubist painters and the leaders of late 19th century Native American uprisings.”


  11. Jaeger says:

    What a coincidence! I’m currently reading Blood Meridian and researching Nietzsche’s views on violence.


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