Tyranny of the Heart — A Nietzschean reflection on isolation

If we are to believe Friedrich Nietzche’s reasoning in Beyond Good and Evil, a position of personal isolation can only be maintained for a short while…

Every choice human being strives instinctively for a citadel and a secrecy where he is saved from the crowd, the many, the great majority — where he may forget “men who are the rule,” being their exception — excepting only the one case in which he is pushed straight to such men by a still stronger instinct, as a seeker after knowledge in the great and exceptional sense.

Every choice human being? Who chooses a choice human being? Who makes this great election?

I elect myself. And you — yourself.

We elect ourselves, and build walls around us until we are encased in a “citadel and a secrecy where [we] are saved from the crowd.” We sit there alone, shivering in our fortresses, kept alive by the certainty that we are the exception to the men who stand outside our gates.

This isolation gives rise to the totalitarianism of the self. The belief that we are the unique exception to the rule. The belief that in our brilliance we have a final solution to the problems of humanity.

Nietzsche prophesied the devastation that Nazi and communist regimes would wreak decades in advance of their rise.

Why did we not hear him? What warning would we have heeded?

We did not hear Nietzsche because we saw these evils as outside ourselves. We saw evil in the hearts of our enemies, but not in our own hearts. It is the evil in the individual that leads to tyranny.

Nietzsche not only prophesied the evils of totalitarianism, he presented us with the cure. And, just like the disease is one of an individual’s heart, so is the solution: to be “pushed straight to such men by a still stronger instinct, as a seeker after knowledge in the great and exceptional sense.” In our humble embrace of “men who are the rule,” we cure the tyranny of the heart.


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