What Is the Message of Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil to the Current Society?
Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1886 masterpiece, Beyond Good and Evil, provides a powerful assertion of individual morality that has potent implications for the modern world of the 21st century. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche rejects moral dogmatism, the assumption that there is a single moral truth and only one code by which to live that truth. Such beliefs, Nietzsche suggests, stifle the human spirit and lead only to prejudice, mistrust, and oppression. True morality, for Nietzsche, is the one that the individual discovers for him or herself, through a painstaking process of experimentation, questioning, and error. Only by suffering to discover one’s own values, one’s unique individual truth, can one ever truly achieve morality.
Beyond Good and Evil is the robust articulation of Nietzsche’s mature philosophy and at it heart is a cry for moral freedom. In Chapter 1, Nietzsche writes, “The eagerness and subtlety, I should even say craftiness, with which the problem of ‘the real and the apparent world’ is dealt with at present throughout Europe, furnishes food for thought and attention” (para. 10). Here, Nietzsche suggests that philosophers, scientists, and so-called “modern men” as a whole presume to possess an understanding, an empirical knowledge, that they truly do not.
This is perhaps one of the most significant attributes of Nietzsche’s philosophy for the 21st century because it vehemently supports a multicultural perspective. Eisenberg (2016) argues that Nietzsche’s true motivation “is not the devaluation of values, but the revaluation of values” (p. 111). Within this context, then, Nietzsche seems to leave ample space for the absorption of cultures outside of the Anglo-European, for the respect of persons to be, believe, and behave as they see fit.
The ability to cultivate an individualistic morality is, according Nietzsche, to become a “Superman,” one who has transcended orthodoxy, prejudice, judgment, and persecution in cultivating his/her own sense of right and wrong or good and evil. Stone (2015) argues that the appellation of Nietzsche’s “Superman” is an unfortunate mistranslation and that the term “Overman” would more accurately reflect the author’s intention. Stone writes, “Nietzsche championed ‘the individual’ who was not caught up in the throes of thoughtless tradition by slavishly following the crowd—the majority. Overman was to think independently in pursuing truth apart from the establishment and tradition” (p. 419).
Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1886 treatise, Beyond Good and Evil, is a robust, challenging, and enlightening call-to-action for the 21st century. In it, Nietzsche rejects dogmatism and the presumptions that “truth” is singular and knowable. The task of the human being is to discover truth and morality for him/herself, to experiment, to explore, and to suffer in the process of arriving at what is true and good for oneself alone. In the process, oppression fades and respect for diversity grows—and we become who we can, should, and must be; we become the ones who have risen above. We become Supermen (and women).
Eisenberg, D. A. (2016). One Jew more or less—What does it matter?: Nietzsche on the Jewish question. Shofar, 34(2), 108-127.
Nietzsche, F. (1886). Beyond Good and Evil. Retrieved from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/nietzsche/1886/beyond-good-evil/
Stone, M. H. (2015). Friedrich Nietzsche and Alfred Adler. Journal of Individual Psychology, 71(4), 415-425.