Book Review of Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, Part I of III.
What should Man do with his life?
Satan whispers in his ear, ‘Whatever you like.’
The Stoics insist, ‘True happiness is found in virtue!’ Jesus moans, ‘There is no path to heaven but through faith in me!’ The utilitarians whine, ‘Make the world a better place!’ The Socialists wheeze, ‘Destroy capitalism and racism and patriarchy!’
But there is Satan, in the back of Man’s mind, still whispering his seductive refrain: ‘Do whatever you want. Why not?’
A hermit named Zarathustra spends many years high in the mountains with only animals as companions. One day he reaches enlightenment and climbs down the hill to inform mankind of what he has discovered.
He reaches the people and he teaches them:
God is dead.
All the old virtues and moralities are false and are slavery.
The higher man must choose and follow his own virtues.
It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the germ of his highest hope.
Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy Yea unto life: ITS OWN will, willeth now the spirit; HIS OWN world winneth the world’s outcast.
This virtue may be for an individual or may even form a collective aspiration for mankind:
A thousand goals there have been hitherto, for a thousand peoples have there been. Only the fetter for the thousand necks is still lacking; there is lacking the one goal. As yet humanity hath not a goal.
But pray tell me, my brethren, if the goal of humanity be still lacking, is there not also still lacking – humanity itself?
Thus spake Zarathustra.
But where can we locate our own, self-discovered virtues and goals?
Give heed, my brethren, to every hour when your spirit would speak in similes: there is the origin of your virtue . . .
When your heart overfloweth broad and full like the river, a blessing and a danger to the low-landers: there is the origin of your virtue.
When ye are exalted above praise and blame, and your will would command all things, as a loving one’s will: there is the origin of your virtue.
When ye despise pleasant things, and the effeminate couch, and cannot couch far enough from the effeminate: there is the origin of your virtue.
Creating – that is the great salvation from suffering, and life’s alleviation. But for the creator to appear, suffering itself is needed, and much transformation . . .
Away from God and Gods did this will allure me; what would there be to create if there were – Gods!
But it’s not all hard yakka.
Since humanity came into being, man hath enjoyed himself too little: that alone, my brethren, is our original sin!
And don’t go too far.
Be not virtuous beyond your powers! And seek nothing from yourselves opposed to probability! . . .
He whose fathers were inclined for women, and for strong wine and flesh of wildboar swine; what would it be if he demanded chastity of himself?
And don’t expect everything to go according to plan.
The higher its type, always the seldomer doth a thing succeed. Ye higher men here, have ye not all – been failures?
Be of good cheer; what doth it matter? How much is still possible! Learn to laugh at yourselves, as ye ought to laugh!
What wonder even that ye have failed and only half-succeeded, ye half-shattered ones! Doth not man’s FUTURE strive and struggle in you?
Evolution is not finished. Man is moving towards something higher as we cast off our old superstitions and become free:
Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman – a rope over an abyss.
What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame.
The Superman (Ubermench), will be the descendant of the higher men who can escape all false religions and morals, and freely choose their own virtues.
DEAD ARE ALL THE GODS: NOW DO WE DESIRE THE SUPERMAN TO LIVE. – Let this be our final will at the great noontide!-
Thus spake Zarathustra.
Written in the style of the Bible, the Koran and other sacred texts, Nietzsche commandeers Zarathustra (Zoroaster), the original prophet of the monotheist religions, and uses him as his mouthpiece to reject archaic thinking and to usher in a new, superior way of being.
Thus Spake Zarathustra is the ultimate repudiation of religion. Instead of trying to disprove God, Nietzsche simply observes that he is no longer there. Replaced in our minds by science, logic, and philosophy, he has become unnecessary as a means to explain the unexplainable. We can do without him. Hence, he has died. We have killed him.
There is something deeply exciting in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, something Nietzsche approached in early works but did not quite attain. He rescues his atheist readers from nihilism by illuminating an alternative path.
Some may choose to be great warriors and courageously battle worthy enemies.
Some may pursue a life of poetry or art.
Some may be scientists, discovering and pushing back the boundaries of the known universe.
It doesn’t matter, except to you.
By relieving us of religious and moral slavery, Nietzsche follows the lead of Prometheus and Satan in liberating mankind from our old, primitive state of servitude, stupidity and futile suffering.
In diagrammatic form, our suggested progress might look like this:
Single-celled life < multi-cellular life < intelligent life i.e. chimpanzees < highly intelligent life i.e. early, superstitious humans < superior men free of religion and false morality < the Superman < ???
Modern readers wonder if the Superman might also be reached by enhancing our abilities with our technology, or by merging with it, or by genetically engineering ourselves to become more than what we are.
It is wonderful to think that Man might not be a dead end; that our descendants may be so advanced that they could replace our dead gods, either though their enhanced learning and philosophy or by other means.
In later works like The Antichrist Nietzsche blames the Christian god for the weakness of the west and the collapse of the Roman empire. He rejects the idea that there was ever anything useful in Christianity, instead claiming that all the progress we made happened despite God, not because of our belief in him. Now we should discard him like we did penny farthings, floppy disks and the heads of tyrants.
God is dead. It is time for Man to discover who he is, and what he could become.