German philosopher and an academic professor, Frederick Nietzsche, has served as an inspiration to a plethorha of people from the likes of public intellectuals such as Carl Jung, to brutal tyrants such as Hitler himself. Largely considered a nihilist, his statement on the ‘death of God’ is his more notoriously controversial subject (which is a discussion for another day), but his ideas on the method to live a fulfilling life and his critique of the ‘herd’ mentality is what has influenced the lives of his readers greatly.
The ‘herd’, which can be described as the society one lives in, is the easy way out, according to Nietzsche. The way of life where one is told what to believe, what to do, and where self-determination is largely absent is unfulfilling because in a seemingly meaningless world with no ‘greater purpose’, the only thing in our control is what we ourselves choose to do and to give up this agency – in the form of intellectual surrender – to the merciless hands of the herd would be the greatest tragedy. The concept of the Ubermensch is, consequently, one of freedom. Freedom not only from the ‘herd’ but also from the looming tragedy of nihilism.
An Ubermensch, therefore, is someone who is comfortable with making himself uncomfortable. A discomfort that arises from challenging values we were born into, then again challenging new values we may come to accept, is an integral aspect of achieving intellectual freedom. Such freedom would also lead to an individual becoming more ‘effective’ in the sense that they value power and independence rather than qualities like humility and kindness which simply tie the individual to the herd, according to Nietzsche.
In complete irony, this concept, or rather weak imitations of it, have historically developed herds of their own. Be it the idea of an Aryan German or a Top G, ideas of ‘self-empowerment’ and ‘rejection of modern values’ are often perpetuated as replications of the Ubermensch – a claim which seems foolish upon closer inspection. However, it can not be ignored that such doctrines do have some, although flawed, grounds to be accepted on such a large level.
Firstly, it is important to understand that the emergence of ideas like the Aryan is almost always reactionary to existing lifestyles that are considered ‘weak’. In response to urbanized life, the Aryan identity was cultivated around the idea of a hardworking, masculine man, who would lead the lost nation to glory. In recent times, a similar pattern can be seen with public figures like Andrew Tate running movements to ‘reclaim masculinity’ and reject values of modern society. Initially, this deviancy from modern society gives these movements the legitimacy that they are “moving away from the herd”. Consequently, the promotion of a self-empowering lifestyle with masculine traits that make a man ‘strong’ creates an abstract connection to the Ubermensch in the sense that such individuals have the ‘will to power’ (the desire to exercise power) which Nietzsche describes as the fundamental rationale for why we do, and should do, things.
Both of these connections, however, can be proven to be false by just a little stream of investigating. First off, the idea of being a ‘lone wolf’ by rejecting modern values is more cognitive dissonance than intellectual freedom since ‘puppy in a pack of dogs’ would be a more apt description of such a person. People that hold values like the ones described above are often not lone wolves since what led them to accept these values in the first place was close proximity to societal structures and norms that enforce those very values in the first place; they stayed in the herd they were previously a part of. Even the people who do adopt completely different value systems are still integrating themselves into another community that shares those value systems and again fall into a cycle of getting their beliefs affirmed, becoming part of a herd.
This is important to recognize because in recent times many individuals, especially young men who themselves are readers of Nietzsche, are convinced that they are at the peak of intellectual integrity and ascribing the acceptance of such values to the attainment of intellectual freedom which couldn’t be further from the truth. Figures like Andrew Tate endorse principles of self-determination while also running ‘educational programs’ where they teach young men the ideal way to live their life but intrinsically the followers of such figures are merely following another dogmatic system while being convinced that they are Supermen. It also can not be said that Andrew Tate or Hitler themselves were Supermen, despite the will to power being an obvious trait of their personality. This is because their ideologies have a common theme of the ‘slave morality’ wherein they blame other groups of people (jews, women) for their problems which clearly misaligns with the Nietzsche’s ideals of valuing power, nobility and independence rather than having a misguided view of ‘good and evil’.
It is important to highlight such obvious flaws in ideologies such as these because not only do they distort the philosophical legacy of powerful philosophers such as Nietzsche but also because Nietzsche’s philosophy can be as effective as it can be misunderstood. Therefore, such belief systems can be manipulated to give a false sense of integrity to flawed ideologies which may deceive impressionable, young individuals.