I recently finished Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. In the past I read a lot about Nietzsche, his works, and the maxims he teaches, but never actually read any of his books. Some people even steered me away from Nietzsche because of his very anti-Christian writing.
My interest in Nietzsche was reignited when reading Jack Donovan’s blog posts. (Note: Jack Donovan has changed his site since, and many of the older blog posts are unavailable.) I follow Jack Donovan on Instagram. When Jack Donovan announced he was invited to speak at the 21 Convention about Nietzsche and masculinity, I decided it was well past time for me to pick up Nietzsche and read what he wrote.
I didn’t go into Nietzsche blindly. In searching for articles on Nietzsche I found two excellent write ups by Brett McKay on The Art of Manliness (“Say Yes to Life: An Accessible Primer on Nietzsche’s Big Ideas” and “A Primer on Friedrich Nietzsche: His Life and Philosophical Style“). While online sources and the forward to the book I purchased (Penguin Classics) gave excellent insight into Nietzsche and his writings, Brett McKay’s articles gave a perspective on Nietzsche and his views. And, while Nietzsche’s writing is very anti-Christian (and really, anti-religion), McKay is able to put Nietzsche’s teachings in a theist light. From McKay’s “Say Yes to Life: An Accessible Primer on Nietzsche’s Bid Ideas”:
If you’re a theist, Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the death of God serves as a spiritual gut check, forcing you to ask yourself, “Do I really live my life as if there is a God? If I really believed without a doubt that the claims of my faith are true, how would my daily behavior, how I spend my time, and my life goals change?” He also causes you to reflect on whether you’re enjoying this earthly existence, in all its wonder, or simply pining for the next world; do you see life as something to be enjoyed, or simply endured?
I went into “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” with good background information, and a Christian perspective. Some may say I went in with the wrong perspective – oh well.
While reading “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” I highlighted passages that have meaning to me, and took notes. Herein are my thoughts and interpretation of the book.
A Few Notes
In the Penguin Classic version of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” what is normally read as “overman” is “Superman”, and “the Last Man” is called “the Ultimate Man”. Not sure on why there’s a difference of translation, but there it is.
My notes and opinions are written with an understanding of history. I say things like “today” and “this group”, with the understanding that such events and groups have been around for as long as humanity has existed. I am sure in ancient Athens, and ancient Rome there were men and women who sought to improve themselves, those that just sort of drifted through life as if in a dream, and those that were destructive of their communities due to their jealousy of others’ success. Though the times and technologies change, people change very little.
Finally, reading any of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work, one has to understand he had a chip on his shoulder, and he’s kind of an asshole. His father and grandfather were Lutheran ministers, and his rejection of the Christian faith most likely caused friction between him and his family. He was never able to court a woman, and the one woman he did fully fall in love with rejected him. Nietzsche even tried to join the Prussian military, but washed out when he injured himself mounting a horse. Though a great mind, and in my opinion correct on many issues, Nietzsche’s bitterness can be seen in his writing.
Behold, I shall show you the Ultimate Man.
“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” thus asks the Ultimate Man and blinks.
The earth has become small, and upon it hops the Ultimate Man, who makes everything small. his race is as inexterminable as the flea; the Ultimate Man lives longest.
“We have discovered happiness,” say the Ultimate Men and blink.
They have left the places where living was hard: for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs oneself against him: for one needs warmth.
Sickness and mistrust count as sins with them: one should go about warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or over men!
A little poison now and then: that produces pleasant dreams. And a lot of poison at last, for a pleasant death.
They still work, for work is entertainment. But they take care the entertainment does not exhaust them.
Nobody grows rich or poor anymore: both are too much of a burden. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both are too much of a burden.
No herdsman an done herd. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse.
“Formerly all the world was mad,” say the most acute of them and blink.
They are clever and know everything that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery. They still quarrel, but they soon make up – otherwise indigestion would result.
They have their little pleasure for the day and their little pleasure for the night: but they respect health.
“We have discovered happiness,” say the Ultimate Men and blink.
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 46-47.
The “Ultimate Men” are perfect descriptions of much of our society today.
I say much, not all. There are men and women out there that work to constantly improve themselves. The Ultimate Men are not those people.
Today it’s better to live in constant comfort than to deal with a little discomfort. We walk from climate controlled building, to climate controlled car, back into a climate controlled building. I see more and more people – young people in their 20s and 30s – with heavy coats on in 50 degree weather. People want to move to California and other places where living is easy and the weather is mild year round.
All cultures in history have had their poisons, but with little actual struggle we have time for more. Increased alcohol usage, increased hard drug usage, abuse of food (look at morbidly obese people and tell me food can’t be a drug), and excess of other pleasures continue to be rampant.
And people today, like the Ultimate Men, “blink”. They have their comfort and their entertainment, and life just passes them by. They claim their happy or they’re fulfilled, but really they are going through life the easiest, least conflict-prone way possible, yet unsatisfied. Without conflict they don’t grow or improve. Some people really are trying to just make it through life at times – we all are at certain points in our lives. But to just traipse through life on the auto-pilot that so many people seem to be set on isn’t life.
While I attribute much of this passage to the extremist left and the “hipster” generation, it can apply to people along the political spectrum.
Of The Flies in the Marketplace
…Because you are gentle and just-minded you say: “They are not to be blamed for their little existence.” But their little souls think: “All great existence is blameworthy!”
Even when you are gentle towards them, they still feel you despise them; and they return your kindness with secret unkindness…
…Your neighbors will always be poisonous flies; that about you which is great, that itself must make them more poisonous and ever more fly-like.
Flee, my friend, into your solitude, and to where the raw, rough breeze blows! It is not your fate to be a fly-swat.
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 80 and 81.
This chapter is what finally drove me to delete my Twitter account.
Twitter is, literally, the modern embodiment of the flies in the marketplace.
While Twitter had great potential, it’s become a crap flinging contest. In fact, much of social media has. People are able to insult from behind the protection of their computer, never having to face the people they attack. They can be as rude and swear as much as they want to others without fear of any consequence. It helps that sites like Twitter and Facebook have a list of those they target with the “wrong opinions”, and actively support those that attack that target list.
The Left also embodies the flies in the marketplace. Their screaming, hate filled zealots are poisonous flies verbally and physically attacking those that disagree with them. Any greatness is blameworthy. Even, and it seems especially, if someone started a business on their own and worked their way to the top they are “literally Hitler” – unless they toe the Party Line. How many times have people been attacked for their success because they were the wrong kind of person and/or had wrong-think?
Such individuals attack success because of jealousy. They don’t have what the rich (or, in the case of rich leftists, the richer) have. They were never able to be successful. Instead of lifting themselves up, they seek to drag the successful down. And society encourages this attitude. The media and social media fuels it – unless its their executives and their candidates and their celebrities.
Of the Friend
…If you want a friend, you must also be willing to wage war for him: and to wage war, you must be capable of being an enemy.
You should honor even the enemy in your friend. Can you go near to your friend without going over to him?
In your friend you should possess your best enemy. Your heart should feel closest to him when you oppose him.
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 82-83.
In order for humanity to reach the status of overman, Nietzsche believes we must overcome ourselves; we must constantly seek to improve ourselves. I agree with him. And one of the best ways to improve ourselves is surrounding ourselves with others who wish to improve themselves.
The best of friends will challenge and push you. They are the ones that yell at you to get that one more rep, to go a little faster, to knock out another round in that AMRAP. In martial arts they are the ones that are the best opponents, driving you to be more technical.
As Proverbs 27:17 states: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
I have had a few friends like this in my life, and I constantly search for others. I recommend you find friends of the same caliber.
Of the Adder’s Bite
…When, however, you have an enemy, do not requite him good for evil: for that would make him ashamed. But prove that he has done something good to you.
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 93.
Another statement about improving oneself. Even our enemies make us better. I have had quite a few people in my life, civilian and military, whom I absolutely despise. But looking back they were a large part of what helped me grow to be the man I am today.
Of Marriage and Children
…I would have your victory and your freedom long for a child. You should build living memorials to your victory and your liberation.
You should build beyond yourself. But first you must be built yourself, square-built in body and soul.
You should propagate yourself not only forward, but upward! May the garden of marriage help you to do it!
You should create a higher body, a first motion, a self-propelling wheel – you should create a creator.
Marriage: that I call the will of two to create the one who is more than those who created it. Reverence before one another, as before the willers of such a will – that I call marriage.
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 95.
I don’t know about you, but I love having children. My kids are awesome. It is so cool to watch them grow, learn, and mature. My daughter is shooting through first grade getting excellent grades on math and spelling! And my three year old son is already catching up to the four year olds at his pre-school. It is such a privilege to be a father.
Don’t get me wrong – they can be little turds, too, and drive me up the wall.
Overall, it is a great joy to be a father.
While Nietzsche was never a father himself (and never married) clearly he understood the joy of having children – even if the intent was to create the “overman”. And his challenge for having children resonates with me.
First, Nietzsche says we can’t just build beyond ourselves, we have to build ourselves. We must be “square-built in body and soul”. As a father I have to be a shining example to my children, and to do that I have to constantly improve myself. Through improving myself and passing my values onto my children, hopefully they will be mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally better than I am. Yes! Better than I am. I don’t want them to be as good as I am. First, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. Second, if they only become as good as me, they will never grow to their full potential.
This also flies in the face of what seems to be a consensus these days: don’t have children. From being socially irresponsible to being bad for the environment, it seems we are told time and again not to procreate. In fact, abortions that ensure that the procreation process is stopped in its tracks are held in higher regard than having children, unfortunately.
There are those that are not able to conceive, and there are those that having children is truly not for them. If they are an aunt or uncle or cousin they can still help raise the children of their family by being mentors, by helping improve the next generation of their family.
But if people just don’t want to procreate due to some progressive ideal: fine. Get fixed. Don’t pass on your genetic legacy and have the joy of being a parent. Me and mine will.
Of Voluntary Death
…I shall show you the consummating death, which shall be a spur and a promise to the living.
The man consummating his life dies his death triumphantly, surrounded by men filled with hope and making solemn vows.
Thus one should learn to die; and there should be no festival at which such a dying man does not consecrate the oaths of the living!
To die thus is the best death; but the second best is: to die in battle and to squander a great soul.
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 97.
Another challenge to improve oneself: leave a legacy. To die well, and that others may take your life and death as a challenge to live their lives greatly. Being successful in business and/or in combat. Maybe it’s starting a business you can pass on to your children, or being a MMA fighter that has a long, successful career.
At the end of my life I want to be able to say I lived it well, and I want my children, grandchildren, and friends to say the same about me.
Of Great Events
…”And believe me, friend Infernal-racket! The greatest events – they are not our noisiest but our smallest hours…
…”And just confess! Little was ever found to have happened when your noise and smoke dispersed. What did it matter that a town had been mummified and a statue lay in the mud!
And I say this to the overthrowers of statues: To throw salt into the sea and statues into the mud are perhaps the greatest of follies.
The statue lay in the mud of your contempt: but this precisely is its law, that its life and living beauty grow again out of contempt!…
…Like you, the state is a hypocrite dog; like you, it likes to speak with smoke and bellowing – to make believe, like you, that it speaks out of the belly of things.
For the state wants to be absolutely the most important beast on earth; and it is believed to be so, too!”
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 153-154.
Lately it seems that there are people screaming about how offended they are. Groups of people riot and burn down their own cities. They pull down statues because of how offended they feel.
Yet, nothing has happened. Nothing has changed. The history they seek to expunge still occurred. The politicians they despise are still in power. The rich are still rich. The problems these people faced before their outbursts still exist, whether its poverty, crime, or shootings.
I don’t follow the news a lot anymore – as they are part of the hypocrite dog in this chapter – but when I do and I see the “peaceful protestors” crying about the perceived injustice that has been committed against them I just shake my head.
The Stillest Hour
…”Of what consequence is their mockery? You are one who has unlearned how to obey: now you shall command!
Do you know what it is all men most need? Him who commands great things.
To Perform great things is difficult: but more difficult is to command great things”…
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 168.
James Franco said it best in “The Interview”: “They hate us ’cause they ain’t us. Haters gonna hate, and ain’ters gonna ain’t.”
Great men lead. They don’t just manage. They lead. They provide vision to and inspire those under them. They earn the respect of others while getting them to do what they want them to do or what needs to get done. Their influence may seem more like suggestion, and many times those following feel as if they are doing so of their own accord.
Many times people criticize the true leader. Sometimes it’s founded. But many times it’s simply because they aren’t in that position, and they’re jealous of the authority and influence a true leader holds. Perhaps it’s because “that’s not the way they would have done it”.
If you are such a leader, don’t listen to those who mock you. (But don’t mistake true constructive criticism for mockery, either.)
…”He who has always been very indulgent with himself sickens at last through his own indulgence. All praise to what makes hard! I do not praise the land where butter and honey flow!”…
…”The highest must arise to its height from the deepest.”…
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 174 – 175.
Having everything easy makes one weak. We have to have true conflict and adversity in our lives to grow. And yes, that means failures, too. But from the lows of failures we have the opportunity to rise back up, better than we were.
Of the Virtue that Makes Small
…I go among this people and keep my eyes open: they have become smaller and are becoming ever smaller: and their doctrine of happiness and virtue is the cause.
For they are modest even in virtue – for they want ease. But only a modest virtue is compatible with ease…
…There is little manliness here: therefore their women make themselves manly. For only he who is sufficiently a man will – redeem the woman in woman…
…To them, virtue is what makes modest and tame: with it they make the wolf into a dog and a man himself into man’s best domestic animal…
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 189 – 190.
The media and society today seem to hate masculinity. Everything that is evil is because of the Patriarchy, and rape culture. And men have stooped over in order not to be this evil masculinity that is so hated. They allow themselves to be emasculated, and feminize themselves to be less threatening. So these “men” neither protect nor provide for them and theirs. They reproduce, but they aren’t there for their children. With so many male humans refusing to be men, it’s no wonder that women have had to try and stand up to take their place.
But our society needs strong, masculine men. Our families need men that are providers and protectors. Instead of men that are laissez faire on their faith, our families need men that are the priest within their homes. Where women are driven more by their emotions, we need men that are more driven by logic and what needs to be done. Both have their place, and both are there to balance one another in the family.
It’s up to us, in constantly improving ourselves, to ensure we are not the domesticated animal.
Be a wolf in a world of chihuahuas. Teach your children to be the same.
Of Passing By
…Why did you live so long in the swamp that you had to become a frog and toad yourself?…
…For all your frothing, you vain food, is revenge…
…Where one can no longer love, one should – pass by!
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 197 – 198.
In this chapter, Zarathustra comes upon a man who claims he follows Zarathustra’s teaching. But in living in the swamp and among its denizens too long this man has become one of them, and is a mockery of Zarathustra’s teachings over overcoming ourselves.
Many, if not all of us, have hung around people that drag us down. We may call them friends, but instead of lifting us up, they drag us down to their level. The saying goes, “You are who you associate with.” This is a maxim that has survived thousands of years of human existence.
Make sure that the people you are associating with on a regular basis, especially your friends, are helping you improve, and you are able to help improve them.
…Evil vapors repose beneath old rubble. One should not stir up the bog – One should live upon the mountains…
– Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Group, London, England. 2003. Pp. 205.
This ties in well to the previous passages from “Of Passing By”. Don’t stir up the swamp of those that tear and pull you down. Don’t stir up the swamp of social media. Be above it.
Overcoming oneself is a major mainstay of Nietzsche’s teaching in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. While there are many lessons in the book, self-improvement is the constant message all other lessons are tied back to.
I covered a lot in this first part of my take on “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. In my next blog post, we’ll cover my take on the rest of the book, starting with the chapter: Of the Spirit of Gravity.
What are your thoughts on “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”? What lessons have you taken away from the book? What do you agree and disagree with Nietzsche on?