Nietzsche theorized that the fundamental drive of human beings (and even animals) was Will of Power. This was a central drive to dominate one’s environment, to excel in all ways possible and to be the best that you can be. He considered it stronger than the will to survive; it was a desire to express power and step beyond all others. To do this though required exploitation, which Nietzsche considered a fundamental part of life. In nature, animals use others to get ahead; it’s survival of the fittest. He said that it is in human nature as well, and to try to deny this is to go against our natural instincts.
Nietzsche said that there were two types of morality: master morality and slave morality. Master morality was held by those who followed the Will of Power–the leaders and those who fought to get ahead in life. Slave morality was held by the general populace, the “herd”, the mediocre. They believed in equality and cooperation and focused on the community rather than individual efforts. Though many people would think that the compassion of slave morality was the better choice, Nietzsche argued that such thinking would only stall humanity, keeping down those who sought to go above and beyond the commonplace and preventing any great advancements.
In this way, Nietzsche held contempt for the teachings of Christianity, which focused on slave morality and implied that master morality was wrong and bad. Christ’s teachings went against the nature of humanity, suggesting that we love our enemies when our instincts tell us we should hate our enemies and seek to overcome them. He found it appalling that nearly all of Europe would adhere to the morality of a small group of beggars and outcasts, rather than follow the examples of their leaders and entrepreneurs. He found their morality so backwards that he felt we needed to turn all of our values upside down and use our gifts and powers of creativity and ambition to fulfill our capacity as human beings. Instead of despising earthly things and our natural instincts, we should cherish them and use them to our advantage.
I initially had the knee-jerk reaction to disagree with Nietzsche’s beliefs, particularly about the harm and inferiority of slave morality. Perhaps it’s because this is what we have been taught all along, that everyone should enjoy equal rights and should be treated with compassion. The idea of pursuing selfish interests without concern for how your actions affect others just seems “wrong”. But, Nietzsche would argue that these are not our natural instincts, but rather the morality that has been indoctrinated in us. I can see where he is coming from in regards to how other animals function in nature, though because of our ability to reason, we may have moved beyond this way of functioning. We have the ability to make choices based on how they will affect others and to act in the interest of more than just ourselves.
Nietzsche’s humanistic views stand in sharp contrast to the church’s more spiritual teachings that lessened the importance of earthly fulfillment. In this way, I can see why Nietzsche felt so opposed to Christianity’s views of morality, which had such a profound impact on so much of the world. He felt that such ways of thinking were debilitating to humanity, forcing everyone to sink to the lowest common denominator. I do see how adhering to the standards of the majority, the common people, might hold others back. I experienced this in high school, having to endure a mid-level of instruction, when I had the capabilities and the desire to move beyond that. In much the same way, I cannot settle for a menial job, and aspire to use my creative abilities to accomplish something greater. Yet, I wonder if the common people have these same aspirations, yet lack the means to achieve them. If those with power stomp out their chances for achieving success, then how can that be considered “good”?
I think that both Nietzsche’s view and the Christian teachings demonstrate extremes, and we need to find a compromise between the two. We should not reject our self-interests and our nature to the point where we end up achieving nothing and taking no pleasure in the material world, yet we should not disregard the interests of our fellow man either and exploit them for our own sake. We should strive to become the best that we can be, yet we should also encourage others to do the same. Our success should not come at others’ expense.
However, we should not be obligated to ensure that everyone reaches their full potential. We can promote higher learning and higher aspirations, yet if others choose not to utilize the tools that they’ve been given, then we should not have the responsibility to build them up ourselves. In this way, those who take initiative into their own hands will not be held back by those who do not. Each person should rely upon their own power to achieve success, yet the opportunity for success should be available to them. Simply because one comes from a wealthy family doesn’t mean that they should be afforded better means for achieving greatness. In that sense, I think that we should all be granted equality, but it is up to each individual what they accomplish.