Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, is as the full title would have it, a prelude to a philosophy of the future. In it, Nietzsche tells us of a future reality which he believed was coming soon. A future where free-spirited philosophers[1] would break through an age-old prejudice and go beyond good and evil. Naturally, the breaking of such ancient chains will seem quite radical to the faint of heart who lack the strength to stand against them. In this paper, I will attempt to examine the question of why or how one might motivate oneself to go along with Nietzsche’s philosophy and go beyond good and evil, hence the title of the paper. In order to aid in getting such a discussion started, I will introduce Machiavelli and consider how he justified a somewhat similar and controversial doctrine, then I will contrast this justification with what Nietzsche has to offer. Lastly, I will consider whether Nietzsche seems convincing with what he proposes as the goal of going beyond good and evil.

The Italian diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, in his masterwork The Prince, challenged the conventional view of the legitimacy of political power and authority. Instead of assuming the moral action to be the best use of power in order to maintain stability and prosperity in the state, he puts forth the idea that the weal of the state often calls for its ruler to defy and act against moral conduct. Therefore, the best course of action for the ruler is neither necessarily the morally good act, nor the morally evil act. That, if you wish to rule in the best manner possible, you must possess a “flexible disposition”[2] towards good and evil and commit entirely to neither one. One must be willing, when it is necessary, to go against good morals, lie, deceive, and then “colour one’s actions”[3] in order to merely appear faithful. This must be done for the state’s stability and prosperity. In this we see Machiavelli lessening the importance of morality and essentially saying that if you wish to succeed in governing, you must learn to make use of both good and evil to your advantage. You must shun morality in order to succeed.

Nietzsche’s philosophy contained in Beyond Good and Evil is certainly different from Machiavelli’s project. Both shared in diminishing the importance of morality in one’s actions, but Nietzsche goes apparently further. He sees the history of philosophy as being tainted by a great prejudice, a prejudice which assumes the existence of good and evil. This prejudice arises out of what Nietzsche calls the will to truth. This will divides and cuts life into neat little categories. It commands us to avoid certain desires because they are evil and tells us to seek after something else because it is good. The exact definitions for good and evil which one, acting in will to truth, comes up with develop from the suppression or “tranquilization”[4] of the other competing inner drives. The will to truth, along with its self-denying principles of good and evil, arises out of the cessation of the war that one is. The war that one is being the restless struggle between one’s many drives.[5] The war between the drives is fine by Nietzsche’s standards, he advocates it and says that “a real mastery and subtlety in waging war against oneself” should be “cultivated”[6]. However, the problem with the will to truth is that it seeks to put a stop to the competition of the drives. Thus, whichever drive happens to be the strongest or happens to be the champion at this point in time, by the will to truth, is declared to be the eternal, or to use Nietzsche’s term “unconditional”, champion. What this drive said was good is good forever, whatever this drive said was evil becomes evil forever and there is no more movement from this. The will to truth freezes a person, suppresses the opposing drives of the champion drive, and forms an imperative that the person must not deviate from the principles of life and action as set forth by the champion drive. The will to truth, and the morality it creates, is “opposed to laisser aller”[7]. It will not allow “a bit of tyranny”[8] among opposing drives, it will suppress them, and in so doing, suppress and sacrifice the individual. The will to truth, then, becomes the master over the person, and the person is not the master over and above will to truth and morality.

Furthermore, and what is worse for Nietzsche, is that these principles set by the will to truth make themselves “unconditional”[9]. They make themselves unconditional in that they begin to be applied to all people in the form of religious doctrines and beliefs or societal standards from which a person must not break unless he or she should face great peril. This creates a herd morality where the masses are rounded up and individual human growth, the free range of one’s own inner drives, is stifled. When others submit to this great tyranny, they sacrifice themselves and their own opportunity to truly live and to cultivate their own drives. Instead of living their own life, making their own decisions, they give in and, in Nietzsche’s way of speaking, with the greatest cowardice and weakness of will submit to another. This herd morality is formed, not only from Christianity which Nietzsche so vehemently detests, but it is formed out of morality in general. Any set of principles which are placed on a pedestal, any morality which categorizes certain human actions as evil or good and any morality that commands that an act ought not to be done due to the fact that it is evil, can produce a herd morality which stifles the individual.

It is at this point, Nietzsche would say, when life stops. He does not hold that a person should ever bring one’s inner drives to a stop. One should not live dogmatically or along some cut and dried line of actions, some considered good and others evil. One should not hang up one specific moral code to rule over oneself for all time as if it were some eternally objective truth. For to do so would mean to stop living or repress a part of oneself (namely, the other drives). It may be said of anything which is truly living, that it “seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power[10]. The opposite of the will to truth, which Nietzsche views as a tyrannical and self-denying, is the will to power. In it is found the escape from herd morality. Whereas the will to truth sought to limit a person along dogmatic lines of good and evil, the will to power goes beyond good and evil. It does not allow itself, if the will is strong, to be limited in any way by moral considerations or conscience. To go beyond good and evil, in will to power, is to no longer allow oneself to be stopped from doing an action because it is “evil”, and it is no longer allowing oneself to be forced to do something which is considered “good”.

The will to power is a creative force, but it is not without some principles. It is not as Nietzsche says “laisser aller”[11]. For it is the inner drives of the person which will establish the principles of whatever the person creates. The person who will harness this will to power, the Übermensch, does not simply let go. This person is involved in an active creative process where the strongest of the inner drives triumphs over the weaker and makes itself manifest in the world. Furthermore, this is not a one and done process, it is a continual process of the Übermensch. The process takes the form of a “revaluation of values”[12]. The Übermensch is in a continual process where the concern is not whether an action is good or evil, but rather, how one chooses to value an action at a particular moment in time. To do this, to live as an Übermensch, is certainly not just a letting go. For the process of revaluation inevitably meets resistance from within the person in the form of what may be called conscience. The conscience rebels against the revaluation of values and says, “a line must be drawn somewhere”. There must be some line between what is forbidden and what is allowed, between good and evil, and the line must not be crossed. Yet the Übermensch must triumph over this tendency of the conscience to stifle the individual. This is Nietzsche’s Selbstüberwindung, self-overcoming. The conscience must be overcome, “steeled”[13] and strengthened to no longer be so weak as to allow the individual to be put into a box, limited by the sentiments of good and evil.

From all of this its not hard to see how Nietzsche differs from Machiavelli. Nietzsche strikes at the very heart, the very notion of good and evil and says that one should not be interested in guiding principles or morality. Machiavelli only advises that a successful ruler need not be a virtuous one, but only appear to be one.[14] One may think that such a ruler, who acts so deceitfully, would be doing something very distasteful and wrong. But in Machiavelli, there is an implicit justification for this in that it is done for the benefit of the state. In other words, that the base characteristics which the ruler adopts must be done in order to be successful in carrying out the government of the state. Hence, we can see Machiavelli placing success over morality, or at least, making success the standard for morality in a somewhat utilitarian manner (such that the success of the state is really in the best interest of all). So, for Machiavelli, he is able to justify his form of ruling by its supposed success.

But Nietzsche makes no mention of any idea that in going beyond good and evil one will find success at attaining one’s desires. He does not say “go beyond good and evil, because it is most efficient”. Rather, in society, it would be the ones who go beyond that would face the most ridicule simply because they refuse to just “fit in”[15]. To act beyond good and evil in society would surely get you into more trouble than, say, obeying laws. It is hard to imagine that there is a lure of success which would draw one to go beyond. Further, the very notion of “success” seems somewhat fraudulent to Nietzsche. For, to succeed to the fullest degree would mean to achieve some sort of tranquil state where nothing is suffered. To want to succeed in this way is to will the abolishment of suffering. But, on suffering, Nietzsche says “we would have it higher and worse than ever”[16]. It is suffering that causes us to change and continue striving forward. All that success would tell us is that we have accomplished our goals and need do no more, once we have succeeded our work would stop. As Nietzsche puts it “Well-being as you understand it – that is no goal, that seems to us an end”[17]. So, it is safe to say that Nietzsche is not putting forward any kind of self-help or keys to success philosophy.

The question must be asked, then, for what reason should one go beyond good and evil? On what grounds would a person choose to do embody all that Nietzsche has put forward and become, or at least try to become, an Übermensch? In Machiavelli’s case, the motivation is quite clear, to be a great ruler certain sacrifices in morality must be made. But we have no such motivation in Nietzsche. Some motivation would seem to be needed since what he is proposing is so wildly unconventional and extreme. I would not think that what Nietzsche says could be taken on lightly and on a mere whim, the person who did this would need to be dedicated and steadfast. And, of course, the need for dedication would not arise simply out of the fact that going beyond good and evil is “unconventional”, but as was stated above, the life of the Übermensch is a difficult one. One must be willing to break any convention, face ridicule from a “sober society”, be in constant tension and self-overcoming all his or her life long, face imprisonment and even death itself (for I do not think a society would allow for such a person to persist). All of this would make the leap beyond good and evil a difficult one to make, especially if the person in question had no motive for doing so.

Nietzsche’s response to this takes an existential nature. It is true, he does not promise or guarantee success in going beyond good and evil, that is not the motive. In his philosophy he is not offering a successful life, he is offering what he thinks to be life itself. Since Nietzsche defines life as the discharge of one’s strength, anything that does not involve this is not truly living[18]. You are only living when you are exerting yourself. Indeed, it may also be said that we only become conscious of the self, the fact that we not only exist but live, when we struggle against something, when we meet resistance. And with Nietzsche, this resistance can take the forms already mentioned (social norms and conscience). As soon as we give up the fight to resistance, we commit suicide, we give up living. This also why Nietzsche takes such an antagonistic stance against suicide, for it is the ultimate surrender of the will to power. Thus, the motivation of the Übermensch is an intense thirst for living. What should motivate a person to make the leap beyond good and evil should be the realization that to submit to resistance is to only exist, but to go beyond good and evil is to live. And it is crucial that a human being live and not only exist. Rocks exist, inert matter exists and submits to laws of nature, for it has no power to do otherwise, but humans (Übermenschen) go beyond this and live in the exertion of their power to do otherwise. The ones who submit, the herd, make themselves pitifully human and weak. It is the realization of this that will motivate one to go beyond good and evil.

But, of course, it may be asked if this answer from Nietzsche is satisfactory. His defense seems to rest upon the distinction between mere existence, this being a static and dogmatic state which is hampered by the will to truth, and living, which is a state that does not suppress the drives of the will to power but cultivates their strongest expression. Either of these distinctions may be challenged. First, that living is as Nietzsche describes. He describes it as the exertion of will to power, a discharge of strength. He tries to assume that this discharge of strength does not include the will to truth (that which submits the individual), on the grounds that this is essentially the will to power denying itself. But, if everything can be traced back to the will to power, if will to power is all that there is in the world[19], would not the will to truth be an exertion of will to power even if it is against itself? Would not the self-immolation of the will to power, found in the will to truth, come from the will to power and thus be attributed as a manifestation of will to power? I find no grounds for Nietzsche to say that the exertion of will to power is only an exertion when it does not exert against itself. For even in exerting against itself, it is still the one exerting. In this case, I do not see how Nietzsche could affirm that a will to power against itself, in will to truth, is undesirable. And that unhindered will to power is desirable. He says that living in will to truth, or as I have termed it with “merely existing”, is undesirable because it is self-denying and self-less. It says “No” to life and hedges around it. But, seeing that it is all the act of the will to power, I do not see how the self-restraint of the will to power is possible[20]. For every manifestation of it is its own positive act. Even the act of restraining or denying itself is an act of itself. So both forms, will to truth and unhindered will to power, come from the will to power’s action, and I do not see how Nietzsche can justify one over the other, especially when his philosophy stands opposed to universal claims of good and evil. Without this, there would seem to be no reason why he should convince us of his view, but ironically I sense that may be his point.

Nietzsche may be able to save his position, however, by clarifying what exactly the will to truth is, or by changing what he believes it to be. Instead of thinking about the existence of the will to truth in a positive manner, that is, as flowing outward from the will to power. Nietzsche could, much like Augustine concerning the existence of evil, say that the will to truth has a negative existence. In other words, the will to truth is not a manifestation of the will to power, but a privation of will to power. The will to truth then becomes an instance where the will to power is lacking in the individual. Thus, the will to truth would not be an exertion of the will to power against itself, it would be a lack of exertion period. Under this schema, to live beyond good and evil would have to be life in its truest sense, for the will to truth would not be an exertion of the will to power. This I do think would help Nietzsche get around the objections that I posed in my best faith. However, it is unclear whether these would actually be Nietzsche’s opinions or simply my representation (or misrepresentation) of his spirit and philosophical trajectory.

To conclude, I obviously do not claim to have exhausted Nietzsche’s grand and wildly thought-provoking philosophy. I have not meant to strike Nietzsche down or attempt to prove that he is wrong in some crucial way. I have merely tried to raise questions about his philosophy such that a greater understanding may be achieved of its depths and dimensions. As I said earlier, the significance of asking for the grounds by which such a leap beyond good and evil may be made is established by the fact that the leap is so severe and radical. I think that, provided my interpretation of Nietzsche holds true, his response proves quite helpful in going at least toward answering the question. What Nietzsche has to say on the matter may make us think whether or not we, who live as the herd, truly live and act as humans endowed with a power which can take us beyond the limitation of good and evil, to the full and limitless expression of one’s power and strength.

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Vintage Books, 1966), 53.

[2] Machiavelli Niccolò, George Bull, and Anthony Grafton, The Prince (London, England: Penguin Books, 2006), 57.

[3] Ibid,.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Vintage Books, 1966), 112.

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Vintage Books, 1966), 111.

[6] Ibid, 112.

[7] Ibid, 100.

[8] Ibid,.

[9] Ibid, 109.

[10] Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Vintage Books, 1966), 21.

[11] Ibid, 100.

[12] Ibid, 117.

[13] Ibid,.

[14] Machiavelli Niccolò, George Bull, and Anthony Grafton, The Prince (London, England: Penguin Books, 2006), 57. “A prince, therefore, need not necessarily have all the good qualities I mentioned above, but he should certainly appear to have them.”

[15] Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Vintage Books, 1966), 113. “Hence just these drives are branded and slandered the most”

[16] Ibid, 153.

[17] Ibid,.

[18]Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Vintage Books, 1966), “A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength” (emphasis added).

[19] Ibid, 48. “The world viewed from inside, the world defined and determined according to its ‘intelligible character’ – it would be ‘will to power’ and nothing else.”

[20] This I say for the same reason why a person cannot help but make a choice on how to act, for even in choosing not to choose, that remains a choice for which the person is responsible or is the cause of.

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