Master & Slave Morality Part 2

Last week I wrote a post highlighting some of the nuances of Nietzsche’s idea of Master and Slave morality, you can read it here. This is a continuation of that discussion.

L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) writes that “Master morality begins with an affirmation, with what is good and what is worthwhile” (p. 85). Oaklander (1996) goes on to say that “The strong willed are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (p. 85). The strength expressed in Master morality is affirmative and ultimately creative, as a master is one who has the strength to be self-determinative, creating his own morals, values, and guidelines particular only to himself. Nietzsche (1996) makes this clear writing,

The noble type of man experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval; it judges, “what is harmful to me is harmful in itself”; it knows itself to be that which first accords to things; it is value-creating (p. 115).

A master displays and exercises his Will to Power through his ability create values and to live only in accordance with his own codes of morality. In this regard, a master is not only the master of himself; he is also the master of his morals.

Slave Morality, on the other hand, is weak because it lacks the capacity to create its own values and morals and has not the strength of will to be self-determined. L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) writes that “Slave morality,” contrarily, “begins in negation: a resentment of excellence, achievement, individuality, and power” (p. 86). Slave Morality is reactive, prohibitive, and wholly objective. Slave Morality stunts and impedes the growth and becoming of the individual. Slave Morality is oppressive in and of itself, in that it universally imposes itself upon all of humanity, forcing all of mankind into conformity and compliance with its dictates. The morality of the slave is completely external to him, coming from outside himself, it is absolutely authoritative. Slave Morality is top down, coming from above. In this regard, the slave is not so much a slave to a master but, is instead a slave to Morality, a slave to objective values.

Since the slave does not have the strength or power to master himself or his morals he expresses his Will to Power through the negation of power and the powerful. The slave cannot become powerful upon his own efforts and so instead seeks to garner power through dis-empowering the empowered, calling all the virtues of the powerful “evil” and naming those attributes associated to weakness “good”. Slave Morality says “if I cannot have power then no one can,” and thus, seeks to make ‘power’ itself utterly unethical. Slave Morality is then, a perversion of the Will to Power and offers only an illusory meekness and a false humility through its vilification of the empowered. Slave Morality is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, power mongering cloaked in sackcloth and ashes. Nietzsche (1996), himself, explains that

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values:…While every noble morality develops from triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye – this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself – is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile world; it needs physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all – its action is fundamentally reaction (p. 117).

Lacking the strength of will and determination to fully take responsibility for its own destiny, Slave Morality seeks to bring down those who have through an expression of ethical enmity. Thus, even when Slave Morality seeks to cunningly, deceptively, and coercively attain some sense of power, it does so externally rather than from within itself.

So it is that Nietzsche remains skeptical, suspicious, and critical of the Judeo-Christian grounding of traditional morality, which he sees as the fullest expression of Slave Morality. L. Nathan Oaklander (1996) proposes that “the chief proposition of common morality is that to be moral is to act in accordance with custom where ‘custom’ is the traditional way of behaving and evaluating” (p. 88). Oaklander (1996) continues saying that “Traditional morality forces the individual to give up the power or the freedom to depend upon oneself to determine one’s own actions” (p. 88). Nietzsche challenges the individual to be dependent on neither the demands of the divine nor the dictates of another but solely upon themselves.  Nietzsche beckons the individual to abandon traditional Morality and objective values, to be grounded not to tradition or custom but only to one’s self, to be strong, self-determined, empowered, independent, and utterly im-Moral.

Oaklander, L. N. (1996). Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Nietzsche, F. (1996). From Beyond good and evil. In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.115-116). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Nietzsche, F. (1996). From On the genealogy of morals. In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.117-121). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Published by duanetoops

Husband, father, fledgling Buddhist, struggling meditator, writer, and content creator. He has a BA in Religion, has taken the Precepts and Refuge vows in the TsaoTung Chan lineage, and is currently completing an MA in Humanities.

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