Understanding Nietzsche’s categorizations of Master and Slave morality is a cumbersome endeavor. Nietzsche’s literary inclination towards an aphoristic styling makes his work and thought anything but clear cut and straight forward. His philosophy is marked by nuance, subtlety, and complexity. While it would be easy to look upon Nietzsche, the self-described ‘immoralist’, and his concepts of Master and Slave morality unfavorably, this may be more indicative of a mis-interpretative reading of his work. In this regard, it is not so much that Nietzsche is im-moral so much as he is, what Kathryn Pyne Addelson describes as a “moral revolutionary” (303).
Here, one must recognize that Nietzsche’s aim or goal in describing the moralities of master and slave is not rooted in socio-political or socio-economic classes but, rather the orientation of one’s subjective pyscological inwardness or internality. As such, Nietzsche, himself, suggests that master and slave moralities can exist “in the same man, within one soul” (289). Here, we must ask what the master is a master of and what the slave is a slave to. For Nietzsche, a master cannot be solely defined by his mastery over the slave as this would empower the slave with more definitive authority than the master. This would in all actuality make the master a slave to the slave for attaining his self-identity. As such, a master need not be the lord of a slave and a slave need not be chained to a master. A Master is a master of himself, a master of his destiny, a master of his coarse, a master of his values, a master of hist values. A Slave, on the other hand, is a slave to his values and a slave to his morals. Masters “are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (Oaklander, 85). Masters are ‘value-creative’ (Nietzsche, 115). A master’s efforts are bent towards self-transcendence, self-conquering, and self-determination (Hayman, 35). Thus, the master’s ‘will to power’ is not marked by oppression or exploitation, as “the state in which we hurt others…is a sign that we are still lacking power” (Nietzsche, 108). The master’s will to power is ” a will to perfection, a striving for distinction” (Oaklander, 82).
Whereas master morality directs its attention and focus inwardly, slave morality inverts the will to power through its focus upon externality, that is, the slave directs his view “outward instead of back to oneself” (Nietzsche, 117). In other words, rather than focusing upon empowering himself the slave focuses only upon dis-empowering the master. Slave morality is an “imaginary revenge…fuelled by the ressentiment of those of who are incapable of taking action” (Hayman, 41). Slave morality is “a resentment of excellence, achievement, individuality, and power” (Oaklander, 86). Here, one could reasonably suggest that when Nietzsche criticizes traits such as sympathy, kindness, and the desire for the common good, it is not the characteristics in and of themselves he rejects but, rather the slave’s usage of them as a means to negate the value-creating actions of moral revolutionaries. In other words, the slave’s expressed idealization and idolization of sympathy, kindness, and the common good is disingenuine and inauthentic. It is not real sympathy, real kindness, or real concern for the common good. It is a passive-aggressive expression of deception and manipulation, as it is only intended to vilify those who achieved the strength of will to strive for personal excellence.
One could propose that the master’s morality is genuinely sympathic and genuinely concerned with the common good. Addelson writes to this effect saying that “It is not the aim of the moral revolutionary to become the ‘sovereign individual’ when this brings with it the isolation of uniqueness” (303). Instead, Addelson goes on to say, the moral revolutionary “must begin to create himself as the ‘first of his kind'” (303). Thus, Addelson concludes that “it is part of his task as a revolutionary of the people to help them to overcome themselves, to help each create himself as a new kind of individual” (303).
Obviously, feminist critiques of Nietzsche and his concepts of master and slave morality abound. The primary criticism being that those traits that Nietzsche declares to be indicative of slave morality are often those qualities that are most closely associated with femininity, in which case it would seem or appear as though, according to Nietzsche’s categorizations, women, by their very ‘nature’ and by the mere facticity of their gender, would be considered a weak, inferior, and subservient class of ‘slave’s simply by default. However, this, too, is more representative of a misreading and a misunderstanding of Nietzsche’s project. As Addelson points out, Niezsche is no moral reformer aiming only to revise the present structures of ethicality but, instead is found boldly to be a moral revolutionary that seeks to overturn, overthrow, and ultimately revolutionize the entire system of morality itself, creating space to ‘create’ values (293). In this regard, according to Addelson, one could say that part of what Nietzsche intends to overthrow in his moral revolution is the very sociological structures that have ideologically assigned slavish characteristics to women in the first place (294). In many ways, then, because Nietzsche’s focus remains entirely upon the individual’s subjective ability to create and devise their own set revolutionary morals, Nietzsche’s master morality is, in effect, gender neutral. It is asexual. It knows no gender. It is present to all those who are capable and determined enough to become moral revolutionaries, conquering themselves, creating their own values, living in accordance with them, and helping others to do the same.
Addelson, Kathryn Pyne. “Nietzsche and Moral Change.” In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 293-305. Print.
Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 107-109. Print.
—. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 115-116. Print.
—. From On the Genealogy of Morals. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 117-121. Print.
—. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 281-293. Print.
Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Print.