Throughout his work, 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of the process of “going-under” and “overcoming,” in a beautifully elaborate play-on-words that signified the death of the uglier sides of our individual selves so that we may become something resembling greatness in front of ourselves.
The self, for Nietzsche, is always an incomplete self, a work in progress, ever-shaping itself into the beautiful and elegant statue it may someday become; similarly, those who cannot or will not embark on this journey, should be met with the utmost of suspicion.
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
What Nietzsche is saying here is important. He’s saying that we must be capable of thinking and a deep self-reflection so that we may change our course and thoughts which guide that course, or else we’re nothing more than organic machines designed for and responding to an organic environment.
He’s saying that all of our instilled virtues and social codes are absolutely indefensible if they haven’t been questioned radically and with extreme skepticism by us, and then still agreed upon when analyzed through the critical lens of skeptical nihilism.
It is not until you’ve destroyed all of the values that you know, says roughly the philosophy of Nietzsche, that you can begin to build your own.
What else is important is to remember that in much of his work, Nietzsche was a vehement sexist. His process of overcoming and self-determination was one which wholly alienated women, considering women to be nothing more than roles for men, or, as he called it, “the recreation of the warrior,” as he proclaimed in his arguably most famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Nietzsche was very much a product of his time in this way, and even though he had smashed all of the idols that his philosophy set out to do, and he fought admirably to destroy the values that were instilled in him by others, in the end, one was left standing — women.
The Double Standard
Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one solution — it is called pregnancy. Man is for woman a means: the purpose is always the child. But what is woman for man? Two different things wanteth the true man: danger and diversion. Therefore wanteth he woman, as the most dangerous plaything. Man shall be trained for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior: all else is folly.
Nietzsche first reduced men to their natural roles as warriors, arguing for a breakdown of civilized society through a radical questioning of the values hitherto brought forth, and a return to naturalism that preempts us becoming the next humans through our overcoming— great, artistic, thinking, dancing, unshakeable, overflowing with love, capable, and alive, and valuing on our own terms — these are just some of the virtues that the great humans would be endowed with once they completed their transformation.
With women, Nietzsche reduced them to their roles as babymakers, support systems, and recreation, and left it at that. He reduced women to their roles in reference to men and then didn’t build a foundation for the next woman, basically spelling out women as nothing more than a “going-under,” and never an “overcoming,” but in reference the overcoming of man.
“Let the beam of a star shine in your love! Let your hope say: ‘May I bear the Superman!’…Lo! now hath the world become perfect!” — thus thinketh every woman when she obeyeth with all her love.
Obey, must the woman, and find a depth for her surface. Surface, is woman’s soul, a mobile, stormy film on shallow water.”
- The contradiction in Nietzsche’s philosophy is rather glaring…
The Great Woman
What would the great woman look like? In some of his writings, Nietzsche seems to imply that women are incapable of becoming such a great human, though the sources for these suggestions are scarce and usually one-liners.
The fact is, Nietzsche never got around to telling us what he thought Die Überfrau might be — but we have a guide, and that guide is what he thought the great human should be; if we were to tease out the traits that Nietzsche said would create the great man and applied them to women equally, we begin to see a very interesting picture of what Die Überfrau might look like.
There are moments when Nietzsche outright praised women as being greater than men, having more virtuous traits, and being generally more likeable, and then, he seemed to evolve over the years, shifting his views to one of praise and enthrallment, to a quiet and brewing contempt.
Nietzsche inadvertently relegated woman to a servant of men, painting the picture of the traditional Judeo-Christian familial dynamic that he so despised. He basically advocated Christianity and the run-of-the-mill relationship status without thinking twice about it. Though he did often advocate, especially in his notes found in Will to Power, a sort of orgiastic society whereby sex was power-relational and not conducted to ease some fragile ego and swelled-up, undeserved pride, his final published copies would tell the story of a weak and obedient woman as the most that women could and should aspire towards. But is this really complimentary of a powerful man? I think not.
Was Nietzsche simply unable to see, thanks to his very male perspective, combined with his complete and total lack of access to women with which to interact, the challenges that women might face in overcoming their cultural conditioning? Ironically, modern feminism seems to be doing just this, calling into question our deepest-held institutional values, making it something that Nietzsche himself, supposing that he were to maintain any sort of intellectual honesty, would adamently support. Perhaps he just couldn’t see it because it was so far removed from his life, the challenges that women faced after 2,000 years of institutionalized western culture, and thus he couldn’t even begin to utter a word about what the Superwoman might look like, and finally, a cenutry and a half later, we’re finally taking up the task.
I find it hard to believe that someone so adament about some futuristic superhumanity might not at all be able to conceptualize the world outside of the framework of the dynamic he was brought up with, but perhaps ole’ Nietzsche didn’t end up smashing all of the societal idols of the day, after all.
Could women simply not be constituted to ever become greatness? There is a possibility that Nietzsche thought this, and had he, then he was definitely very, very wrong…women can become greatness, as well, and they should.
© 2019; Joe Duncan. All Rights Reserved