By David K. Johnson, Ph.D., King’s College
Many believe that humanity eventually evolving into a superior species of Übermensch or ‘supermen’—is exactly what Friedrich Nietzsche predicted. However, this interpretation of Nietzsche is incorrect. Nietzsche never actually fully describes what the Übermensch—the Overman or the Superman—is like. However, we can acquire some understanding by recounting the journey one would take to get there.
God Is Dead
One can actually already see part of this thought in the series Star Wars and Nietzsche’s work, Beyond Good and Evil. The journey begins by realizing that God is the creation of man (not the other way around), and that God is dead—that the concept of God is no longer useful for answering questions about good and evil or the meaning of life.
The next step is to reject the nihilism that this realization threatens—and instead realize that one can create and live by their own values. One can reject the Judeo/Christian slave morality (which revered the oppressed)—and instead embrace the master morality, which praises achievement, power, and freedom.
This is a transcript from the video series Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Perhaps, Nietzsche’s best example of someone who did this was Napoleon Bonaparte—who clearly rejected conventional morality, lived according to his own rules, and whose actions continue to affect the fate of Europe even today. The effect of the Übermensch on society should be felt for generations; in the mountain range of humanity, according to Nietzsche, such individuals stand out like mountain peaks.
What kept Napoleon from achieving Übermensch status, however, was not losing the battle of Waterloo. It was, like Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars series, his failure to properly direct his will to power. Not only did he not redirect it to the betterment of humanity—like say, Bill Gates—but he did not use it to master himself—to overcome his base desires and reveal his true self.
Learn more about original Star Wars trilogy.
The Eternal Recurrence
Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of the Übermensch is that he or she fully embraces the eternal recurrence—the idea that all of history will repeat, over and over again, and thus one will live their life over and over again.
To be precise, neither Nietzsche nor the Übermensch necessarily thinks that the universe actually does repeat itself. But, Nietzsche argues, one can evaluate the worth of one’s life—its meaningfulness and, ultimately, whether we are living it as our true self—by asking ourselves how we would react to learning that it does repeat itself.
If we react in horror, then one is clearly living the wrong kind of life—one that is meaningless—and we should change our ways. But if we would react with joy, then we are doing things right—we are living the best kind of life, one that is meaningful and in line with the desires of our true self. This clearly was not true of Napoleon.
A New Ideal Species
Understandably, the Übermensch would not be the first of a new ideal species that humanity might one day become. The Übermensch would neither be the result of evolution (whether it be by natural selection or alien intervention) nor would the Übermensch be genetically superior.
Nevertheless, interestingly, the Übermensch might be able to rid the world of its nuclear arsenals. He or she would just not be able to do so by a sheer act of will. It would take gaining power and influence in the world, and then using them to convince or coerce all nations to eliminate their nuclear stockpiles.
Learn more about political oppression and individual defiance.
A Species of Supermen
Nietzsche did not think humanity was headed toward becoming a species of supermen. This is an erroneous idea that, apparently, many critics and even philosophers have embraced. A fact that becomes increasingly clear as we deeply explore the whole concept of the Übermensch.
Nietzsche does not ever mean or foresee humanity becoming a superior species. It is just a metaphor for one individual becoming an Übermensch in the real world, a fact unequivocally underlined by Nietzsche.
Common Questions about Übermensch
The journey to becoming Übermensch begins by realizing that God is the creation of man (not the other way around), and that God is dead—that the concept of God is no longer useful for answering questions about good and evil or the meaning of life.
What kept Napoleon from achieving Übermensch status was, like Emperor Palpatine, in the Star Wars series, his failure to properly direct his will to power. Not only did he not redirect it to the betterment of humanity—like say, Bill Gates—but he did not use it to master himself.
One of the defining characteristics of the Übermensch is that he or she fully embraces the eternal recurrence—the idea that all of history will repeat, over and over again, and thus one will live their life over and over again.