This is a quick look at Nietzsche’s idea of the Ubermensch, also known as the Overman, and Superman. Also, what is what he called the Last Man?
The idea of the ‘overman’ was a concept that Nietzsche developed later in life, and it was one of the main ideas in his book ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. This is my interpretation and thoughts on this aspect of Nietzsche’s work.
Nietzsche predicted that after the death of God, the western world would fall into nihilism, and a population full of the Last Man would dominate and flourish. Those who strived for something more would be subject to attack and ridicule. They would try and pull down anybody who embodies higher aspirations, to raise themselves up above the herd.
To counter this, Nietzche came up with the idea of the Overman. If God is dead, humans would have to become gods themselves, and create their own values, and their own sense of morality.
What is the Ubermensch/Overman?
The Overman is a person that aspires to become greater than he is. It’s a person that separates themselves from the common beliefs and expectations of society, including religion. It’s a person that is free to evolve without shackles. In their quest for greatness and truth, they are willing to sacrifice comfort, contentment, and even their own safety. They must be willing to live dangerously. The Overman is also someone that is not afraid of the darker aspects of themselves. They don’t deny these aspects, but rather they strive to overcome them. The aspirations of the Overman goes beyond himself and his own life, to live for the bettering of mankind.
Misinterpretation of the Overman
When Nietzsche died in 1900, his sister, Elisabeth, took some of Nietzsche’s notes, and, with the help of editors, published the book ‘The Will to Power’. The problem was, Elisabeth was a supporter of the German Nazi party. She turned the idea of the Ubermensch/Overman to mean a superior race. It was reported that Hitler visited Elisabeth, who showed him selected and misinterpreted aspects of Nietzsche’s writings. This twisted and distorted version of Nietzsche’s philosophy was a major influence on Hitler’s thinking.
Nietzsche was actually very much against anti-Semitism, he was also largely against nationalism. So, he would likely have been horrified to learn of how his philosophy was being distorted and used.
The Last Man
The Last Man is someone that is focused on seeking comfort, security, and impulsive pleasures. They have no aspiration to better themselves or mankind, but simply to live as easy a life as possible. They cannot see past their own life.
They try to convince themselves that they are happy due to their luxuries and pleasures. However, they are empty; they have no meaning in life. This individual is the result of nihilism.
The Last Man is often envious of those who aspire for more. They will confuse their envy with morality, and the seeking of equality “the vengeful disguised as judges”. They will use the weapon of ridicule to attack those who rise above the majority. Instead of seeking a higher goal, they wish to bring others down. Narcissism is a common character trait with the Last Man. They are the nihilistic, the shallow, superficial, and the delusional.
Nietzche’s Ideas in Modern Society
The Last Man is flourishing in our current day. Some evidence of this is how mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression are on the rise. We are also living in an age of narcissism. Some of this narcissism can be attributed to the technological revolution, such as social media. There are more ways than ever to virtue signal and appear good to others. People post things on social media to appear a certain way, and to seek validation from others that are just as shallow as they are.
It seems to me that he was right about the direction that society would go in, which is basically on a downward trajectory. It seems that fewer and fewer people are trying to attempt anything great, and are willing to take risks.
Mediocrity is the norm. Education, competence, and success are targeted and demonized by many. This is a sign of the degeneration of man.