Zarathustra, or the book for all, and a book for none, has been it at the center of the highly provocative pantheon of Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings on the self and on the destiny of one’s higher existence, and as such, an integral work in understanding the Nietzschean project as a whole. Through the thick allegory and inverted referential patterns of Zarathustra lie a question many scholars wish to, and to some, ought not bring up; whether there is a possible political philosophy, or political ramifications, to the message of self-overcoming in Zarathustra. Partially out of a concern for the misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s writings on politics, and partially out of a potentially myopic, cosmopolitan and left-leaning academia that simply have no room for any anti-egalitarian thinking, this question of a potential political order to Zarathustra has been left largely wanting. However, there are the exceptions of a few scholars (Lawrence Lampert being one of them) who bravely attempt to find political insights in Zarathustra. Therefore, in a exegesis of Zarathustra, using the favorable insights of Lampert, with contrasting opinions of Greg Whitlock, examining such issues as Zarathustra’s anti-modernism, individualism, and anti-egalitarian insights, there can be seen a political dimension to Zarathustra. Not in the traditional sense of a political philosophy, but rather a message of an existential politics, and a spiritual hierarchy of humanity.
Part 1: Zarathustra confronts the modern world.
The reason why there is such a veil of difficulty, or even denial, that there is a political philosophy to Zarathustra, is due to the fact that it is a latent set of ideas, a residual political belief that is in the background of the greater affirmation of the self in Zarathustra’s philosophy. It is rather a byproduct of having a view to the higher types, being on the ascending spiritual line etc..
This is not a direct address or prescription of political statesmanship1. To be subsumed in the apparatus of the state would be counterproductive and ineffectual on the path to overcoming; right from chapter one, the modern world is a powerful intoxicant, a corrupter and betrayer of those who wish to overcome humanity. From the prologue (section.3), Zarathustra proclaims that Man is a thing that must be overcome, and “a polluted stream is man, one must be a sea to be able to receive a polluted stream without becoming unclean”2. That the current state of humanity is rife with contentment, and (as we will see in later sections) a poverty-stricken spirit that prevents them from any ability or harnessing of the will to power to overcome. However Zarathustra does not merely wish to impose a new order of domination, or a project of subjugation. Rather it is out of the love for mankind, his “going under” into the valley of Man that compels Him to carry the message of self-overcoming3, and as a result, a new outlook which has lasting political and spiritual implications. Lampert enunciates the main themes of this passage neatly. There is a degree of danger for a higher type such as Zarathustra going under, traversing through the valley towards the mass of plebian humanity; One of them being the need to democratize and render the idea of the Overman egalitarian. However Zarathustra urges humanity to prepare the way for the Overman, that it is not a matter of creating a band or a people of the Overman, but rather it is an evolutionary process, it is a matter of the evolution of humanity itself4. Therefore Zarathustra wishes to usher in the greatness of humanity, all that is of the higher type and spiritual will to power, a transformation of being itself. However in this we find a persistent political theme that drives Zarathustra to confront the modern world: the values (primarily egalitarianism) of the mass or the collective are just as dangerous to the love of the earth and the project of self overcoming as the metaphysics of old, and work hand in hand with what he deems the “despisers” of the body.
It is clear that any notion of the other worldly, or of a higher metaphysical order, soils the love of the earth, makes the masses, and the so-called wise especially, despise the bodily, and engage in a religious form of asceticism and delusion to Zarathustra5. Therefore no transformative worldview can be based on such assertions. This is a dangerous denial of the creative spirit as well, but even in the wake of the old traditional metaphysical order slowly being dissolved of its power, there is for Zarathustra a modern danger of a complete slip into nihilism and valueless chaos, and this is to him the ushering in of the last man; in the prologue (section 4) Zarathustra proclaims the precarious state of mankind, that we are suspended on a rope above abysmal reality, with our backs towards the machinations of the past, our beast-like state, and the path ahead towards the coming reality of the Overman. It is also stated that mankind is a “bridge and not an end”, that working towards the Overman requires a courageous spirit, an inner necessity, and a love of one’s own self-created virtue6. This is a careful choice of work on Nietzsche’s part. Humanity is in the process of becoming, we are a way station, a bridge or watershed towards future greatness, and humanity therefore is not an end in itself, not the static soul-infused entity worthy of the utmost pity and reverence the metaphysicians proclaim, and certainly not the “end in itself” of the moralists such as Kant since humanity is an incomplete entity (if there ever is such a thing as completion). In fact, as Whitlock asserts, the greatest thing to be admired in humanity is not the static entity of the person, but rather this very fact of becoming, of being a bridge towards the Overman. Thus it is an inversion of moral philosophy and Christian metaphysics. But this also brings us to the polar opposite of the Overman, the last man; the man of little spirit. They are incapable of growing into something higher then themselves, they know nothing of virtue or love, but only know contentment, and suffer from a thoroughly infectious herd-mentality7.
In the last man motif Zarathustra finds all manner of expression and identity of the modern world that he is struggling against. The subject of the last man is subsumed in an impenetrable aura of the collective which makes them totally unaware of their precarious state, unable to harness the vital struggle and tension needed for self-overcoming. Zarathustra enters the motley cow, a metaphor for the state of the last man, living in diversity, where all “colors” or values are blended as one homogeneous mass8. As Lampert points out, the universal domination of the last man in the modern world is a threat that equals the one posed by the metaphysical tradition. They have taken pride in a debased existence, where rational self-interested (Lockean) calculation has paved the way for contentment and shallow pleasure seeking, devoid of any pursuit of higher goals. The last man also lives in a flattened world, were an egalitarian sameness to life takes precedent; equality prevails among them, of spirit and of income. The happiness they have invented is of their very same character, thus they seek happiness in the herd, in the neighbour, and live through their therapeutic equality. The last men and their uniformity is the state of decay and degeneration Zarathustra seeks to avoid, to which they respond to any new creator of values and progress as a destroyer9.
Lampert calls it the view of Marx’s future humanity from an anti-Marxist standpoint10. The egalitarian and placid state of mankind, along with any ideology that guides humanity towards a static state of being, a “utopia” or a final revolution and perfection of Man is not in line with the coming of the Overman. The fundamental predicate of the last men and the modern world is a perpetual state of un-freedom. Zarathustra proclaims to the youth in crisis (book 1. Section 8) that we want to be free, the higher types of people, but have grown weary from searching, and have lost the ability to search for freedom. And furthermore, the noble wish for new virtues, and stand in the way of the “good” who wish to do away with them11. This is important because here Zarathustra is going deeper then the ascending/descending, or higher/lower type distinction, and (as he states throughout the text) there is an opposition between the good and the just of modern society and the nobility, the acceding line of life. As Whitlock points out, the Overman ideal slowly being actualized is standing over Zarathustra with its artistic power, and its lightness of creative values. Thus values themselves are a personal and lighthearted affair, in stark contrast between the good and the just and their heavy sense of morality and justice informed by Christian metaphysics12. We can say even that the values of the Overman take on a particular vibrancy, a dynamism of becoming that is not subject to rigidified ideological programs, and thus any political conclusions of Zarathustra must be in becoming as well. For Zarathustra, the modern world operates on a subtle level of conformism, a move towards gradual serfdom, and slave morality that honors meekness, servility and contentment.
The political ideal that honors becoming and dynamism is present in some of the most explicitly political chapters of Zarathustra, on the flies at the marketplace and the new idol; the new idol (book 1, section 11) is the direct confrontation of the ideology held by modern society in its form of the state. Quote: “state? What is that?…now I shall speak to you about the death of peoples. State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Costly it tells lies too; and this lie crawls out of is mouth; ‘I, the state, am the people”13. The state is embraced by the masses that want safety and contentment; even some higher types are seduced by it. The state steals all things from the inventors of values, and is a mechanism for the superfluous, the lower types with a herd mentality that rise to prominence in a society built on equality. Even rich and poor alike gather together in the state, and the superfluous gain evanescent political power. Thus Zarathustra proclaims, “Where the state ends there begins the human being who is not superfluous”14.
To Zarathustra, modern forms of statism lead to a degeneration of ones individual character. The liberal state model has infected every aspect of life to the point of the superfluous masses identifying with its apparatus of power and control. As Whitlock points out, this normalization of state power and mixing of all classes together is foreign to the noble spirit: the higher types. Men of the people, the political and intellectual rulers of the masses rob the vitality and health of the strong and noble, and the state itself slowly pollutes the healthy spirits of the noble ones, thus Zarathustra advocates total separation from the current political ideologies and institutions in society15. The death of people is essentially the state cutting off the vital creative will and spirit of the nobility. This further cements the disdain for the modern world and its modern state by Zarathustra. Philosophic detachment from the modern world is not a simple asceticism, but rather is beautified, has become a creative act, and this theme of political separation is key in understanding the political disposition of Zarathustra. It is also important to distinguish this separation between noble and superfluous, as we see in the flies at the marketplace.
Zarathustra, throughout the work, uses the theme of the market to show the folly of modern life and modern humanity. The superfluous, the little significant, and weak in spirit, essentially cling to whom they perceive to be wise, noble, and strong (but in reality create the most buzzing noise, hence the flies that swarm at the market). The stuffy air is filled with charlatans who promise to fill the empty masses, who posses little to no creativity or inner virtue, with what they so desperately crave. The so-called “great men” are gutless cowards who prey on the weak of mind, create noise and boast loudly about their virtue, when in fact they are showman creating a spectacle16. The modern world is run on spectacle, and Zarathustra sees that solitude is ended in the marketplace. The virtues and self-created values of the noble ones are essentially parroted and turned into commodities to be sold off by the popular great/wise men. This is the main distinction in the books between an ideal or belief which compels and challenges one in the most profoundest of ways, and hence is a path that cannot be followed by the common herd of people (which is the gift-giving idea of the coming Overman and the eternal return to Zarathustra) and what is a cheap and easily consumable set of ideas or virtues that have little to no consequences in ones life. Zarathustra’s political philosophy cannot succumb to popular sentiment or a state-model of power, and cannot rely on the variety of mixed ideas, peoples and classes that we find in the marketplace.
Up until now we have explored a negative political philosophy ascribed to Zarathustra, but here we have enough hints to proceed further into what a productive and authentic political philosophy would look like to Him.
Part 2: anti-egalitarian individualism and the new nobility.
In Zarathustra there is a challenge to all that has come before philosophically. Not only does Zarathustra confront the western metaphysical tradition and orthodoxy from Plato onward, but also the political orthodoxy inspired by Plato as Lampert points out. The critique must extend to the political comportment of the noble ones, the free spirits who long for self-overcoming. In the commentary to the new idol, Lampert points out this distinction Zarathustra makes between the people and the state, that Zarathustra wishes to overturn the western tradition of social contract philosophy (starting from Plato and Aristotle) that equates the masses within a state or nation. This mass-identity of the people in a state apparatus is a new imperative to the noble given by Zarathustra, and any modicum of authenticity had (as we have seen in part 1) can only be in the act of the renunciation of the state, no less then a new political vision, where the loyalty to subjectivity one has is not found in the state as it is in Plato’s Kallipolis or Aristotle’s social animal theory17. Lampert delivers us a way of looking at Zarathustra’s political philosophy; he is telling his followers to not only loathe the collectivism of socialism and communism, but conservatism and nationalism as well. It is to fly from modern political obligations and ideology, and fly from the so-called great flies at the marketplace. It is not the expression of Politeia, or polis of any kind, but an Apoliteia, a creative act of exposing the underlying threat that connects modern ideologies together at their core: collectivism, submission and identification with political institutions that breed detachment from spiritual health and alienation of the free spirit.
Thus Zarathustra preaches a philosophy of individualism and anti-egalitarian abstaining from modern political life. No better then the tarantulas to illustrate this new way of looking at politics, one that cuts through current ideological distinctions; no deep commitments can be held for the state or for the citizenry for that matter due to the black spewing tarantula Zarathustra called the will to equality, which is in contrast to the will to power (however it is the same thing in a different, lower form.) To Zarathustra there is no moral universalism or great egalitarian progression in history, for these delusions will only restrict and contort the higher types and their noble creative spirits from truly flourishing. Zarathustra goes on to warn the nobles of those who are ‘good and just” and who constantly preach about their need for justice. Stay clear of the moralizers and any ideology that fetishizes equality and collectivism, for it is really a mask hiding their own frail forms of will to power. They need to bring everyone down to their level; the equality they seek is a perverse and weak-willed equality that punishes those who wish to rise above the common mass of humanity18. It is a cleaver scheme of the descending types, such as that found in the tools of discourse and argument Socrates gave to the plebian herds against the strong nobility. For Lampert this is pointing towards the spiritual warfare of the noble against the superfluous masses19. This also ties into the overcoming of the spirit of revenge, as fetishized equality is really an expression of revenge by those who perceive themselves as being disfavored by the natural spiritual order of rank20. Thus expressing a politics of difference and multiplicity, rather than the politics of unity and universal sameness that has been the main preoccupation of political philosophy since Locke and Kant.
The fall into relativism, nihilism and passivity of the last man is a breeding ground for the flies at the market to become the future tyrants, and the same machinations of theocratic rule by religious tradition will find a new form in future secular tyrannies if the abysmal loss of meaning is not overcome. Lampert says so in the section on the famous wise men, which are the representatives of the herd, but through their sophistry express a latent will to power. The intellectual or upper classes, the few teachers that are really motivated by power and glory that claim to speak for the masses are the ones who foment revolutions, Hence why Zarathustra set out to shame them, and detach wisdom from power21.
Zarathustra’s politics must find a way out of this modern phenomenon of nihilism and widespread apathy; therefore he turns to the idea of the new nobility. There is in the modern world a precarious state in the wake of loosing meaning in religious dogma. The whole of Zarathustra’s project is to deliver humanity to the coming of the Overman, and with it a new people. The nightmare of revenge, the long dark night of nihilism will be overcome in the future potentiality of the spiritual aristocracy. The self-overcoming new spirits that will deliver mankind from the horrors of the past and the shameful state of contemporary existence22. But as Lampert points out, this is threatened at every turn by the two opposites of democracy and tyranny; democracy and socialism is the rule by the lowest common denominator, and thus hinder the conditions of a coming new nobility of spirit that will not be constrained by the descending line of life. The modem tyrants who fill the void left by theocratic rule are not the masters or nobility of spirit, but rather “shrewd monsters” who distort the perception of the past by the people, making them think the logical outcome of the progression of history is him, while the new nobility Zarathustra proclaims, is needed to rise up and guide the rabble and the despotic to “write on new tablets of values”23. The dangers of both democracy and tyranny are negated in the ideal of the new nobility. Here Zarathustra actualizes for the first time a coherent political program in the text, and one which expands politics from its position in western thought that values the social contract and a strictly defined set of policies within a nation, to a people, not merely a moment but an existential and even an aesthetic disposition. A position that values self-overcoming and the struggle for greater heights of self-overcoming, for this is a politics of becoming, not a static utopian disposition or a tyrannical order over the many by the one Overman.
It is clear in the text, the new nobility is not a nostalgic project for the rule of kings, or an autonomous sovereign aristocracy, but rather, as Whitlock warns us, an aristocracy of the spirit, beyond what we would even know of as a meritocracy, for they are the ones who are able to have the vigor and higher disposition to achieve the level of the Overman and bravely live within an acceptance of the Eternal return of the same. Therefore the matter of linages of kings or despotic rule, of being dominated by one class or race or culture is not the message of Zarathustra’s political philosophy; for these are truncated archaic ideas and failures present throughout history that this new nobility will redeem, and must be overcome just as the Dogma’s Nietzsche derides must be overcome, for they clearly breed the same sort of contemporary monsters Zarathustra faces24. The new nobility will also express a plurality of values, and will be the watershed for the Overman nobles to affirm life and their own self-created values. It is not the melting of all political power into one entity or institution, even democracy will degrade into a form of tyrannical control by the lower classes. This is why it is necessary for Zarathustra to place the question of political rule into a more productive and existential form that is a future nobility of the spirit. The previous sections before the old and new tablets Lampert points out, such as the sections on friends and the spirit of gravity, once again pointed Zarathustra to the question of ruling. There is no political monotheism precisely because of the individualist impulse in Zarathustra that affirms the plurality of values among the nobility in the future, and why Zarathustra sees the new nobility being educators, rather than despotic rulers25.
Zarathustra is in a unique political situation with the goal of redeeming the suffering caused by past failed political ideologies. Whitlock is right to assert that he is not giving a misinterpreted justification for all sorts of radical left wing and right wing ideologies, from communist anarchism, to Fascism and Nazism26. However it is evident that Zarathustra has some sympathy for a more vibrant spiritual monarchism or possibly a tactile anarchism, given that humanity will have progressed beyond the need or autocratic political rule in the coming of the future Overman nobility. Hence the strange and cryptic manner that Zarathustra writes about in terms of political philosophy (compared to the more formal political treatises in the European Enlightenment, such as those by Kant and Rousseau). Even in Book 1, in “a thousand and one goals” Zarathustra proclaims the individual is a recent invention, and it is up to the task of the individual to carry the new tablet of overcoming to the people, that mankind is not simply an esteemer of old values, but is in esteeming of new ones as well27. Take for instance the classic political philosophy of Rousseau and the social contract. There is no static nature that civilized society conforms to (or a natural pity for that matter) or a notion of the general will that will retain individual freedom and guide humanity to a future state of prosperity at the same time meet Zarathustra28. Any new political dimension for Zarathustra must be judged by the criteria of the new nobility ideal and the radical creative (and aesthetic) individualism of the future free spirits. Rousseau is the main a moralist and equality monger Zarathustra wishes to dethrone. He states implicitly that placing social order on any exterior will or metaphysical otherworldly predicate is rendered meaningless in the act of trans-valuation, and the creation of new values. Wedding the stress for a political philosophy built on the individual laying the groundwork for the new nobility is the ideal to come into actualization.
The criticism of Zarathustra’s political way of thinking fails to take into account the episteme, the timeframe from which modern scholars and so-called “wise men” of the day demonized Zarathustra. They lambaste him for his lack of egalitarian Universalist sentiment, and seeming fall into the opposite, which is fascism or elitism. This is not the case however; fascism and egalitarianism equally pollute the creative flow and self-overcoming of the spiritual nobles, and the image of greater moral outgrowth from equality is really a symptom of the greater disease of valuelessness and moral nihilism present in the age of the last man to Zarathustra. The contemporary modern world extrudes the latent spirit of revenge everywhere, and Zarathustra sees how current politicized solutions, such as greater state power or greater collectivism, are not the responses needed for the problem of the loss of meaning in western civilization, if humanity wishes to transcend the horrors of the past and the uncertainties of the future.
In conclusion, we have examined Zarathustra’s political philosophy via his attack on the modern world, the last man breed of nihilism and egalitarianism, and the political solutions of individualism and the new spiritual nobility. The higher types must transcend current political ideologies and attitudes, and thus Zarathustra places individualism as the only logical ideology or ideal which can produce the new path of future redemption in the new nobility/educators that has the capacity for creating new tablets of values and self overcoming.
1 Note: It is one clear distinction we must make before proceeding further. This is a spiritual will to power and self-overcoming present in certain higher types of people, a spiritualized order of rank rather than a genetic/racial/or political order of rank or caste. Zarathustra is not trying to formulate a politics around racial/ identity concerns, or even common political ones for that matter. His politics is of a new path, a path that honors the earth, but not the “earthly” (I.E. the excessively hedonistic or base desire) as the Christian scholastics would say, there must be a separation between the earthly/base appetitive hedonism, and what Zarathustra means by a way of being (including a political world view) that honors the earth, as evident in book 1, section 13 (on chastity).
2: Prologue, 125.
3Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 122-123, part 1, section 1-2.
4Lampert, Lawrence,. Nietzsche’s Teaching, An Interpretation Of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (New Haven and London: Yale University press, 1986): 20.
5Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 21-22.
6Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 127, prologue, section 4.
7Whitlock, Gregory. Returning To Sils-Maria: A Commentary To Nietzsche’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. Ed. Brown, Ric. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1990): 44-46.
8Whitlock, “Sils-Maria”, p. 46-47.
9Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 24-26.
10Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 25.
11Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”. Book 1, section 8. P. 155-156.
12Whitlock, “Sils- Maria”, p. 76-77.
13Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 160. Book 1, Section 11.
14Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 162-163. Book 1, Section 11.
15Whitlock, “Sils-Maria”, p. 81-83.
16Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 163-164, book 1, section 12.
17Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 54-55.
18Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 211-213, Book 2, Section. 7.
19Note: Lampert in the same section (p. 98) goes on to explain the connection between the old order of Christianity and the new secular postmodern order of egalitarianism; both produce the same collectivism and kinship in the masses to the hidden assumption of equality equaling moral progress. It is a speculation, albeit a well-founded one, that Christianity led to the very modern secular order that wishes to do away with its power and grip upon the minds of the masses in western societies. One form of religious universalism was transvalued, debased and dethroned from its paramount place in the mental landscape of the west, and thus the void was filled so to speak by its secular ideologically cosmopolitan remnant. In short, a secularization of the egalitarian sentiment and background assumption of contemporary European/western civilization, both of which Zarathustra wishes to overcome.
20Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 95-97.
21Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 100-101.
22Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 157.
23Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 314-315. Book 3, Section 12: 11.
24Whitlock, “Sils-Maria”, p. 218-219
25Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 207-208.
26Whitlock, “Sils-Maria”, p. 219.
27Nietzsche, “Zarathustra”, p. 171, Book 1, Section 15.
28Lampert, “Nietzsche’s Teaching”, p. 274.