Human beings have been guided by many different forces throughout time. Different cultures have had a large collections of ways to assign value to society. In early Western culture, the Greeks strove for a goal of masculine ideals and rationality to shape the world around them. The core of this classical tradition was that there was a hidden ideal and form that men should strive for in this world. The Christian view, that followed, spoke to ideals of hard work and a better life awaited those who followed the tenets of the Christian faith. Again, this view holds that men should strive for an unknown paradise or ideal through their Earthly actions. Enlightened thinkers repackaged rational and scientific thinking as a the meaning of life. These thinkers also hoped to find an ultimate truth, that had long ago been described by Socrates. Rational thought lead to the idealism of Marx to create a world wide “communist utopia”, while Freud saw a collection of men that would never be happy unable to balance their “animal instinct” with “societal pressures”. Nietzsche comes along with a different approach to the seemingly eternal mindset of idealism or perfection in society. Nietzsche writes a short tome, Twilight of the Idols, where he strongly criticizes the western practice of idealism and its problematic nature in humanity. In his new world view, men of substance no longer should need the idols and ideals of the old to support them and through their own thought should come to stand and shape the world around them.
While it seems that Nietzsche in doing this is creating a new ideal through his description of the “uber-man” in some of his texts, careful reading would see this as untrue. Nietzsche speaks for the strength of every man to be able think critically about the stimulus around him and make a human choice that is best for him. In his Epigrams and Arrows section, Nietzsche admits that while a man may make a mistake in his choice that it should not be seen as a negative. Epigram 8 states “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” (6). While a person tries to make the best choice, inevitably a poor choice will be made and one should not be discouraged from this but instead learn and grow from it. Not by reaching for greatness and ideals do humans become better, but by being human and making mistakes. Nietzsche has resolved to not believe in an ideal, instead seeing human beings as having an infinite amount of progression that they are capable of. While this must force each person to realize they are at all times imperfect, each person also is granted the unique knowledge that he or she can grow in ways completely unimaginable to anyone else on the planet if he or she so chooses to. An ideal, unfortunately cannot achieve what person who does not have any ideals is capable of.
Readers vilify Nietzsche for the fact that Hitler used him as a source for such projects as the eradication of six millions Jew and the hopeful creation of an Aryan race, a careful reading of Nietzsche does not suggest either of these things. While Nietzsche does believe in the improvement of the human race, he does not believe in the destruction of others as the cause. Epigram 19 reads “How’s that? You’ve chosen virtue and the puffed up-chest, but at the same time you look askance at the advantages of those who have no scruples?-But when one embraces virtue, one renounces “advantages” … (7). This was posted on an anti-Semite’s front door challenging the man who has chosen virtue to rise above the “advantages” of others. The true heroic man in Nietzsche’s mind rises above the disadvantages and learns from their mistakes. The man rises above and leads not by putting other men down and blaming others for the problems surrounding the world but instead simply goes about solving the problems that are around them. While even effective and inventive men may have difficulty in solving some of the problems, the solutions to them will never be found in complaining about how unfair life is.
Nietzsche also does an excellent job at grounding human thought. Nietzsche targets Socrates as lifting human thought into the theoretical realm and sees this as extremely problematic. “[Socrates] discovered a new kind of contests, that in this contest he served as the first fencing master” (15). The fencing contest described by Nietzsche is a rhetoric fencing contest, where a man who used words and ideas well could make the works of someone who created or even attempted to build seem stupid. This power when misplaced or misused can cause the efforts of humanity to stall while each person bickers about the ineffectiveness and unimportance of those around them. Socrates made a practice of this in Athens, showing the rhetorically how foolish those around him were. Socrates wins many arguments by merely pointing out an incomplete knowledge in the men that he questions. Nietzsche accepts and expects this incompleteness but he believes that some men have the ability to rise above this and learn to chart a new course and that men like Socrates act simply as a stall of people becoming successful or at least improving. To Nietzsche the true strength of men is his ability to thoughtfully approach the world around him. Ideals and virtues will need to change and be constantly rethought for the time and place and will never be absolute.
Nietzsche writes on the importance of making thoughtful interactions to the world around them. “To learn to see - to accustom the eye to composure, to patience, to letting things come to it; to put off judgment, to learn to walk around all sides of the individual case and comprehend it from all sides” (48). Nietzsche goes on to say this seeing and patience is the important part to willing a change in the environment. All too often, men react to something, rush to make a decision on something that can not be solved or fixed by a gut reaction. Difficult questions about the direction of humanity and even the directions that an individual should chose to pursue should not be decided rashly and rushed into. “One rarely commits only one overhasty act. With the first one always does too much, For this very reason, one usually commits still another - and this time, one does too little” (9). Often a person will overcompensate to the previous situation in an effort to solve the problem rather than seeming to have a really thought out plan, that could solve a difficult dilemma. Overhasty acts coming from a plea that any action is better than none is ultimately untrue and can cause a person to get into an even more difficult situation. This again warns humanity against making quick “ideal” actions because in solving thoughtful problems dealing with people rarely is the situation ideal for one course of action.
Nietzsche imparts a new way for human beings to look at happiness: “a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal” (11). Interesting that Nietzsche does not want men to seek an unrealistic ideal but an actual set goal or an accomplishment. Happiness for human beings does not come from an absolute but in Earthly accomplishments. Each person should set out what they would like to achieve in a thoughtful way and go out and do it, the more specific, the better. Humanity can falter only for reaching for unreal ideals that it will never reach instead of goals that are reasonably solvable. Working to solve homelessness or unemployment can be done in many ways but “making heaven on Earth” will never occur, in Nietzsche’s mind. No matter if we become a happy communist collective in economic thought or if everyone manages to master our competing ego and id, in a psychological thought, humanity will do far better if each person pursues an achievable goal. The “great human beings” to Nietzsche are not the ones that possesses ideals that they seek to emulate but instead pursue goals. Those goals can be ways to improve things but they should be definite goals. The goal of Jesus Christ to teach people to love and respect their fellow men has infinite more value than the goal of a person to one day be saved and go to heaven by. Jesus had a goal, the latter simply an ideal. Jesus was able to change the world through an ideal, there are million of people who reached for the ideal of heaven. Nietzsche likely would not appreciate the Christian example but it demonstrates the difference between a man with goals and one with ideals.
Nietzsche tried to push forth an idea that men no longer needed the virtues or ideals they once relied on as sign posts or guides to how to behave. He reminds us that man as creature is not perfect, but it is his imperfection that gives strength and an infinite ability to grow, evolve and improve. Through careful analysis of situations and of events each person can react to events standing in front of them and overcome the “advantages” of other or the “disadvantages” of their situation to become truly great human beings. Unfortunately this often was not read carefully and people believed that he supported nothing more than the ruthless take over of a dominate people by another. Nietzsche believed in the accomplishment of one person did not mean the domination of another. As modern technological leaders Steve Jobs and Bill Gates proved their are often two very different ways to create a product or have a goal. Both men proved, if the goal was accomplished, the goals are not mutually exclusive of each other, but instead cause continued growth and innovation in the field. Neither product will ever be perfect but each will always get better and everyone should be happy about that.