ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALS BY FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
What It’s About: Hidden beneath the bombastic prose, the angry rhetoric, the shameless blasphemy and a mustache the size of a small child’s leg, Nietzsche wrote with a cold and stark logic. On The Genealogy of Morals, perhaps his shortest and most influential work, was starkest of all. In three essays totaling around 100 pages, he lays out the following:
- In any population, you are going to have a group of people who are more talented/gifted/intelligent than average. Let’s call them The Strong. You are also going to have a group of people who are less talented/gifted/intelligent than average. Let’s call them The Weak.
- The Strong will naturally accrue the power in society for no other reason than they are more capable and talented than the others.
- Because The Strong won their greater power and influence through outsmarting or outperforming others, they will come to adopt ethical beliefs that justify their position: that might makes right, that they are entitled to their privileged position, that they earned what is theirs. Nietzsche calls this “Master Morality.”
- Because The Weak lost their power and influence by being outsmarted and outperformed, they will come to adopt ethical beliefs that justify their position: that people deserve aid and charity, that one should give away one’s possessions to the less fortunate, that you should live for others and not yourself. Nietzsche calls this “Slave Morality.”
- Master/Slave Moralities have been in a kind of tension in every society for all of recorded history. Many political/social conflicts are side effects of the struggle between Master and Slave Moralities.
- Nietzsche believed that the ideas of guilt, punishment and a “bad conscience” are all culturally constructed and used by The Weak to chip away at the dominance and power of The Strong. He also believed that Slave Morality is just as capable of corrupting and oppressing a society as Master Morality. He used Christianity as his primary example of this.
- Nietzsche believed that Slave Morality stifled man’s greatest characteristics: creativity, innovation, ambition, and even happiness itself.
Above all, there is no exception to this rule: that the idea of political superiority always resolves itself into the idea of psychological superiority.
Without cruelty, there is no festival.
Bonus Points For: Claiming that the weak people had to invent God so that they could believe their suffering actually meant something. Nietzsche was a pretty hardcore dude.
If This Book Could Be Summarized in An Image, That Image Would Be: BDSM porn involving a guy with a really, really bushy mustache… and syphilis.
Read This Book If:
- You’re the kind of sicko like me who finds obtuse 19th century German philosophy to be excellent beach reading.
- You won’t be offended if some angry German dude rhetorically punches Jesus Christ in the vagina and calls your God a sissy over and over again.
- You like mustaches.