Have you ever stopped and asked yourself where your beliefs come from and how they were started? I have. And as I analyzed it, I was surprised with what I came up with.
Let me explain.
My love Affair with Nietzsche
Until recently, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) was my all-time favorite philosopher, writer, thinker, and everything else I can’t of. He was born in Germany.
His greatest contribution was uncovering what motivated rare individuals who broke the chains of tradition and drove toward great accomplishments. He is known for coining the phrase “Will To Power”.
And by far, his greatest accomplishment was taking a clear position on how and why great men achieve great results.
According to Nietzsche the masses are shaped and led by the greatness of the few. It’s not so much what great men achieve, it’s how and why they achieve it.
(I use the word “men” advisedly. I can’t tell his true sentiments about women, other than he thought they complicated his life.)
Great men execute beyond the rules of common culture. They look not on the ethics of an issue, but on the destruction of an old way of thinking and create something new, novel, and bold.
Nietzsche talks of two qualities in these individuals: the shear will of personality (charisma) and a unique talent endlessly worked at unto near perfection. These two qualities found in just a few people change the course of history. They lead the rest of humanity out of routine, boredom, and cultural imprisonment. They challenge the hold nihilism (acute negativity about the meaning of life), nothingness, and mere survival have on the human condition.
They arouse our souls, and open our eyes to the possibility of experiencing something new and meaningful.
Nietzsche is all about individual greatness that feeds the masses so that their purpose for living might be aroused. According to Nietzsche, an example of this kind of individual was the nineteenth century German composer Richard Wagner. Considered the founder of modern day opera, it was Wagner who not only composed the music, but coordinated the visual arts and the “stagecraft” (acting) to unite the audience, allowing them to experience a collective passion of common spirit. It is Wagner who created the importance of the modern day pageants. Pageants, according to Wagner, if done exceptionally well, work at helping the audience’s emotions soar, until they become united as one around a common cause.
Think of the college football pageantry and the unity of spirit you feel when your team collides in war without death with the opposing team. The crowd screams and goes into delirium as the quarterback throws a touchdown pass in the last thirty seconds to go out in front of the opponent by three points. The band plays, the cannons boom, the cheerleaders dance, and the fans jump recklessly, hugging each other without first knowing one another. This is modern day pageantry at its best. We have Wagner to thank for these modern day moments of ecstasy.
However, these passions have a dark side. Think also of the rallies of the Third Reich under Hitler, uniting otherwise rational people to become one in creating nationalistic, racial sentiments of Aryan superiority that ended with the deaths of fifty million people during World War 2.
Wagner touched the raw underbelly of human emotions that cause people to willingly become spellbound. Wagner did it, and Nietzsche described it as few have ever done more successfully.
Nietzsche’s contribution was in creating dramas and stories around those few individuals who tapped the primal forces within their souls and shaped them for delivery to the masses. From there it was hoped that those same masses could grab hold and be given something meaningful to guide their thinking and outlook on life.
Nietzsche was dedicated to making sure the reader understood it was these giant personalities who made the world worth living in. He was interested in the raw individualism of the few extraordinary people who marshal the strength to create new life and meaning for the “herd”.
I have always been tied to the efforts of the aspiring individual. That’s why Nietzsche has been so appealing to me.
For well over thirty years I have traveled to cities around the world continuously challenging companies and corporations to change their strategies and culture in order to win. I’m a hired gun who comes in to clean up a town and rides back out after the job is done.
I loath standardization. If we live, we do so to overcome obstacles, to set high goals, to achieve at a maximum level of effort. We become strong by willing ourselves to make whatever sacrifices are required to break through common wisdom and ideas that arise to keep society in order.
I’ve written hundreds of articles, and close to half a dozen books, and close to one thousand radio commentaries, and hundreds upon hundreds of speaking and planning sessions about taking your destiny into your own hands, of not depending on anyone else to determine your future but yourself.
This approach has fit in very well with Nietzsche’s writings. To me fears and vulnerabilities must be refined by the fire of conviction and creativity, which like metal must be hardened, so that when thrust may penetrate deeply into the dormant minds of the masses.
I resonate with Nietzsche. As far as I am concerned, I ask no favors. I deal with life on my own terms and want nothing to stand between me and the cliff. I save myself by my own grit, intelligence, and will. From there I perform my work without excuse, insecurity or equivocation.
The average guy cannot possibly imagine what the dedicated individual goes through to create something meaningful.
This attitude goes along with Nietzsche’s concept of the übermensch (German) or “over man” or “superman” (English).
I am so in sync with Nietzsche’s writings that I could have written them myself.
My “However” Moment
However, if I were to leave things this way, I would leave reservations that have started to creep into my thinking about Nietzsche’s writings.
As I have become more and more comfortable with Nietzsche, I have come across some of his ideas that I feel uneasy about. For example, in my mind he comes close to rejecting American democracy and the codification of individual rights and protections. This to him was letting the inferior have a hand up on the superior. To Nietzsche societies should be built around the smartest and greatest among us, not the weakest.
For a while, I could endure ideas along this line, because I identified so strongly with Nietzsche’s concepts of raw, brilliant individualism.
But, the time came when I had to start getting off that train.
After a time, I concluded that taken to an extreme Nietzsche’s reasoning leads to an easy adoption of Fascism. In fascist states, like Germany and Italy leading up to and including World War 2, the masses were told to shut up, obey, and follow while the elites governed by force, discipline and what they perceived as superior intelligence. To the degree that my own ideas lead in that direction I concluded I was ready to alter them. This is not where I want my life’s work to end up. I believe Nietzsche might have concluded this as well. But he didn’t, or at least not clearly enough for me to see it.
Superman and übermensch taken to extreme can lead just as easily to the excesses of Hitler and Mussolini as they can to Wagner and Shakespeare.
Instead, for me, the core idea of democracy has come to mean the release of all men, just not a few supermen, into freedom.
Every man, woman and child should be guaranteed the opportunity to experience unadulterated freedom, in order to make of himself or herself what they wish or want for themselves. How far they go with this freedom and what they accomplish is beside the point. It is freedom that is the point.
The question for me now becomes, should the safety and progress in the world be left up to the few or to the many? If you say to the few, then you can lean on Nietzsche to justify your reasoning. But if you choose the many, you have to dig deep into the origins and importance of the meaning of freedom to accomplish this.
Democracy is rooted in the profound soil of the guarantee of freedom for all people, just not for a few super people. Each and every human has the natural right to taste freedom without condition or restraint. This right is not created for the strongest among us, but for all of us. To me, freedom is deeper than Nietzsche’s will to power. Ultimately, more will be produced as the many voice their will. The weakest among us will become hardened and ready for battle when it is their freedom they are fighting for. Freedom is a self-evident truth recognized instinctively.
Nietzsche was good for me, but democracy and freedom are better. It is a close call, but universal freedom is a stronger value than the power of superman.
So, what’s the moral of this story? Always challenge what you believe to be right. Don’t be afraid to change your philosophy if your reasoning and experience dictate that change is necessary.