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Nietzsche’s slave morality

If you were told that you would have to live your life, this same life, over and over again. What would you change?

The idea of “eternal recurrence” is how Friedrich Nietzsche ( † 1900 ) would determine whether you are living the right life, your best life. Nietzsche assumed that if you’d live your life in the knowledge that you would be living this same life over and over again, you would really, really try to live your best life, right? A life in which you do everything you’ve always wanted to do. A life in which you assert yourself and your wants and wishes and desires and needs. Why then, is it that so many people live their lives in sacrifice of others or in obedience to other people’s ideologies – humble, meek and self-denying?

Western civilisation has got it all wrong, upside-down, Nietzsche claimed. The ethical values it promotes and rewards, go against our natural ethical values. And the culprit is Christianity.

Before Christianity settled in most of the Western world, good and bad were well defined concepts. Good were the people with a strong life-force, a strong will to exist (Schopenhauer), and a strong will to overcome any frustrations that may flow from that will to exist. Power, ambition, desire and courage were good. Bad were those that were weak-minded, humble and meek. Of course, good people were in the minority – they were at the top of society, the aristocracy – while the remaining majority were slithering around rather unceremoniously in the lower echelons of society. Until the revolt came. The lower classes staged a “slave revolt”.

The slave revolt was not a bloody one – there was no violence, no anger, only resentment. If you can’t win a game by playing by the rules, change the rules. The slaves wanted what the minority had, but were not able to get it by the current rules – the current value system of good and bad. So they changed the rules, by installing and promoting Christianity, with its new concepts of good and evil. Good were the people that were humble, meek, suffering, willing to sacrifice, willing to deny their own needs and wants. Evil were those that chased and promoted their own dreams, their own pride and self-realisation. Because of Christianity, the Napoleons of this world were evil ego-maniacs, while they would have been revered as heros in a pre-Christian value system.

Nietzsche wanted more Napoleons, which he referred to as Übermensch. He lambasted the current slave morality, which denies the most profound force of life in us. He argued for a new (or back to the old, pre-Christianity) morality, in which good is “…everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself” and bad is “… everything that is born from weakness”. In this new morality, happiness is defined as “… the feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome. Not contentedness but more power; not peace but war …”

So it seems then that for Nietzsche, the best possible life is a life driven by the self. To live a fully accomplished life, it is necessary to be guided by that raw power that instinctively resides in all of us – a power so often ignored, in favour of a perverted slave morality.


Hello, I'm Jeroen. I study philosophy at the Universities of Oxford and Stellenbosch. I use this website to gently wrap my head around the new concepts I learn, to practise my writing skills, and to occasionally vent an opinion. Here's one: I like hats. [+]