60. Nietzsche’s error
I endorse Nietzsche’s passionate plea for an affirmation of life, in the flourishing of
the creative and intelligent force of the human being, and transcendence of
the self as the highest expression of the will to power. However, this path is blocked
by his overestimation of the self and his condemnation of morality.
In his Genealogy of morality Nietzsche reconstructed the morality of compassion, altruism and self-sacrifice as a revolt of the weak (‘slaves’) in their resentment against the strong (‘masters’). With the power of the majority, the slaves have appropriated morality, in an alliance with religion, in an exercise of their own will to power. Individual will to power of ‘the strong’ is curtailed by external forces of custom, law and punishment, and thus restrained it turns upon the self, to overwhelm it and to torture it in self-denial. The result is suffocation of the forces of self-realization. The shame that this brings about is diverted to a feeling of virtue in the claim that self-sacrifice is a sacrifice for the sake of a higher religious purpose.
Benevolence is particularly perverse when it turns into pity, which is demeaning to both the subject and the object of pity. It is often an expression of the will to power, in a revenge on the weak, in further degrading the weak, in elevating oneself above the object of pity, and imposing the demand of gratitude and obedience, and inviting applause. For the object of pity the feeling that he has a right to pity deflects attention from his weakness and efforts to overcome it. While in contrast with pity compassion may be genuine, with a concern for the dignity of its object, that still undermines the potential of the strong, detracts from the realization of his potential and negates life.
At a few places, Nietzsche recognizes that the self needs the opposition of others, friends and foes, to escape from illusions of the self (in Human all too human). He makes allowance for altruism between friends who may sufficiently know each other to achieve empathy. This is accompanied, however, by an equilibrium of power. He also allows for benevolence from the master to his slave, in a spontaneous overflow from the bounty of his supremacy. However, these points are swamped by an avalanche of diatribe against compassion, altruism and orientation towards the other. In the preface to his Genealogy of morality Nietzsche says that the ‘regard outside, instead of back to the self, is part of slave morality. …. The real, noble spirit seeks opposition only in order to say yes to himself even more gratefully, with more alacrity’.
The error in this is the following. As I have argued in preceding items of this blog, and will argue further in later items, for transcendence of the self the self needs the other to oppose it, to correct its prejudice and errors, and to extend its mental and spiritual scope. And for that to work one must become a master in empathy and compassion.