Übermensch

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What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Übermensch is a word which has been translated as Overman, Overhuman, Beyond-man, Above-Human, Superman, and Super-human. It refers to concepts originating in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, most prominently in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as a goal for humans to strive towards, as creators of new values, and as a solution to the problems of the "death of God" (or the death of belief in God as a motive force), those of "herd mentalities", and those of nihilism. There have been extreme differences in interpretations of what Nietzsche meant by the term, many of which have had attributes extremely contrary to those he clearly enunciated, especially many of those promoted in the late 19th century, and in the era of Nazi Germany.

Quotes[edit]

Alphabetized by author or source.

As man emerged out of the animal, so out of man the superman emerges. ~ Sri Aurobindo
They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it, with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking. ~ G. K. Chesterton
  • It never occurred to him to be spiritually won over to the enemy. Many moderns, inured to a weak worship of intellect and force, might have wavered in their allegiance under this oppression of a great personality. They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it, with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking. He might have been called something above man, with his large plans, which were too obvious to be detected, with his large face, which was too frank to be understood. But this was a kind of modern meanness to which Syme could not sink even in his extreme morbidity. Like any man, he was coward enough to fear great force; but he was not quite coward enough to admire it.
  • The following is an attempt to systematize alike the data of mysticism and the results of comparative religion.
    The skeptic will applaud our labours, for that the very catholicity of the symbols denies them any objective validity, since, in so many contradictions, something must be false; while the mystic will rejoice equally that the self-same catholicity all-embracing proves that very validity, since after all something must be true.
    Fortunately we have learnt to combine these ideas, not in the mutual toleration of sub-contraries, but in the affirmation of contraries, that transcending of the laws of intellect which is madness in the ordinary man, genius in the Overman who hath arrived to strike off more fetters from our understanding.
The real superhuman, man or woman, is the person who's rid himself of all prejudices, neuroses, and psychoses, who realizes his full potential as a human being, who acts naturally on the basis of gentleness, compassion, and love, who thinks for himself and refuses to follow the herd. That's the genuine dyed-in-the-wool superman. ~ Philip José Farmer
  • I do believe that man is a rope between animal and superman. But the superman I'm thinking of isn't Nietzsche's. The real superhuman, man or woman, is the person who's rid himself of all prejudices, neuroses, and psychoses, who realizes his full potential as a human being, who acts naturally on the basis of gentleness, compassion, and love, who thinks for himself and refuses to follow the herd. That's the genuine dyed-in-the-wool superman.
  • Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of time. I must continue to bear testimony to truth even if I am forsaken by all. Mine may today be a voice in the wilderness, but it will be heard when all other voices are silenced, if it is the voice of Truth.
  • To be able to fall down in such a way that in the same second it looks as if one were standing and walking, to transform the leap of life into a walk, absolutely to express the sublime in the pedestrian – that only the knight of faith can do – this is the one and only prodigy.
I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
I will make company with creators, with harvesters, with rejoicers: I will show them the rainbow and the stairway to the Superman.
Alas, there are so many things between heaven and earth of which only the poets have dreamed. And especially above the heavens: for all gods are poets' parables, poets' prevarications.
There, where the state ceaseth — pray look thither, my brethren! Do ye not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman?
  • I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?… All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape... The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth... Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra's Prologue, part 3 - 4
    • Variant translations:
    • I teach you beyond Man. Man is something that shall be surpassed. What have you done to surpass him?
    • What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.
  • A light has dawned for me: I need companions, living ones, not dead companions and corpses which I carry with me wherever I wish. But I need living companions who follow me because they want to follow themselves — and who want to go where I want to go.
    A light has dawned for me: Zarathustra shall not speak to the people but to companions! Zarathustra shall not be herdsman and dog to the herd! To lure many away from the herd — that is why I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me: the herdsmen shall call Zarathustra a robber. I will not be herdsmen or gravedigger. I will not speak again to the people: I have spoken to a dead man for the last time.
    I will make company with creators, with harvesters, with rejoicers: I will show them the rainbow and the stairway to the Superman.
  • Alas, there are so many things between heaven and earth of which only the poets have dreamed. And especially above the heavens: for all gods are poets' parables, poets' prevarications. Verily, it always lifts us higher — specifically, to the realm of the clouds: upon these we place our motley bastards and call them gods and overmen. For they are just light enough for these chairs — all these gods and overmen. Ah, how weary I am of all the imperfection which must at all costs become event! Ah, how weary I am of poets!
  • O my brothers, I dedicate and direct you to a new nobility: you shall become procreators and cultivators and sowers of the future — verily, not to a nobility that you might buy like shopkeepers and with shopkeepers' gold: for whatever has its price has little value. Not whence you came shall henceforth constitute your honor, but whither you are going! Your will and your foot which has a will to go over and beyond yourselves — that shall constitute your new honor.
  • O my brothers, your nobility should not look backward but ahead! Exiles shall you be from all father- and forefather-lands! Your children's land shall you love: this love shall be your new nobility — the undiscovered land in the most distant sea. For that I bid your sails search and search. In your children you shall make up for being the children of your fathers: thus shall you redeem all that is past. This new tablet I place over you.
  • Open still remaineth the earth for great souls. Empty are still many sites for lone ones and twain ones, around which floateth the odour of tranquil seas.
    Open still remaineth a free life for great souls. Verily, he who possesseth little is so much the less possessed: blessed be moderate poverty!
    There, where the state ceaseth — there only commenceth the man who is not superfluous: there commenceth the song of the necessary ones, the single and irreplaceable melody.
    There, where the state ceaseth — pray look thither, my brethren! Do ye not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman? — Thus spake Zarathustra.
Man has developed the peculiar concept that he is not an animal at all … He demarcates himself in all possible ways from the bad animal and points, in proof of his "being better," to culture and civilization which distinguish him from the animal. … The theory of the German Übermensch has this origin. ~ Wilhelm Reich
  • MAN IS FUNDAMENTALLY AN ANIMAL. Animals, as distinct from man, are not machine-like, not sadistic; their societies, within the same species, are incomparably more peaceful than those of man. The basic question, then is: What has made the animal, man, degenerate into a machine?
    When I say "animal," I do not mean anything bad, cruel or "base"; I am stating a biological fact. Man has developed the peculiar concept that he is not an animal at all, but, well — man; a creature which long since has shed that which is "bad," which is "animal." He demarcates himself in all possible ways from the bad animal and points, in proof of his "being better," to culture and civilization which distinguish him from the animal. He shows, in his whole behavior, his "theories of values," his moral philosophies, his "monkey trials" and such, that he does not want to be reminded of the fact that basically he is an animal, an animal, furthermore, which has much more in common with the "animal" than with that being which he asserts to be and dreams of being. The theory of the German Übermensch has this origin. Man shows by his maliciousness, his inability to live in peace with his kind, his wars, that what distinguishes him from the other animals is only his unbounded sadism and the mechanical trinity of the authoritarian concept of life, mechanistic science and the machine. If one looks at the results of civilization as they present themselves over long periods of time, one finds that these contentions of man are not only erroneous; more than that, they seem to be made expressly for the purpose of making man forget that he is an animal.
    • Wilhelm Reich, critiquing prominent early 20th century ideas of Übermensch in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933), Ch. 10 : Work Democracy, Section 3 : Work Democracy versus Politics. The Natural Social Forces for the Mastery of the Emotional Plague
To a man, horses and dogs and cats are mere species, outside the moral world. Well, to the Superman, men and women are a mere species too, also outside the moral world.
  • THE DEVIL. Ay, Rembrandt. There a something unnatural about these fellows. Do not listen to their gospel, Senor Commander: it is dangerous. Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human. To a man, horses and dogs and cats are mere species, outside the moral world. Well, to the Superman, men and women are a mere species too, also outside the moral world. This Don Juan was kind to women and courteous to men as your daughter here was kind to her pet cats and dogs; but such kindness is a denial of the exclusively human character of the soul.
    THE STATUE. And who the deuce is the Superman?
    THE DEVIL. Oh, the latest fashion among the Life Force fanatics. Did you not meet in Heaven, among the new arrivals, that German Polish madman — what was his name? Nietzsche?
    THE STATUE. Never heard of him.
    THE DEVIL. Well, he came here first, before he recovered his wits. I had some hopes of him; but he was a confirmed Life Force worshipper. It was he who raked up the Superman, who is as old as Prometheus; and the 20th century will run after this newest of the old crazes when it gets tired of the world, the flesh, and your humble servant.
    THE STATUE. Superman is a good cry; and a good cry is half the battle. I should like to see this Nietzsche.
    THE DEVIL. Unfortunately he met Wagner here, and had a quarrel with him.
  • ANA. ...Tell me where can I find the Superman?
    THE DEVIL. He is not yet created, Senora.
    THE STATUE. And never will be, probably…
    ANA. Not yet created! Then my work is not yet done. [Crossing herself devoutly] I believe in the Life to Come. [Crying to the universe] A father — a father for the Superman!
The majority of pseudo-enlightened people seriously look into the theory of the Übermensch, and acknowledge its author to be a great philosopher, a descendant of Descartes, Leibniz and Kant. And all this has come about because the majority of pseudo-enlightened men of today object to any reminder of virtue, or to its chief premise: self-renunciation and love-virtues that restrain and condemn the animal side of their life. ~ Leo Tolstoy
  • The art of our upper classes has educated people in this ideal of the over-man, — which is in reality the old ideal of Nero, Stenka Razin, Genghis Khan, Robert Macaire or Napoleon and all their accomplices, assistants, and adulators — and it supports this ideal with all its might.
    It is this supplanting of the ideal of what is right by the ideal of what is beautiful, i.e. of what is pleasant, that is the fourth consequence, and a terrible one, of the perversion of art in our society. It is fearful to think of what would befall humanity were such art to spread among the masses of the people. And it already begins to spread.
  • The whole world knows that virtue consists in the subjugation of one´s passions, or in self-renunciation. It is not just the Christian world, against whom Nietzsche howls, that knows this, but it is an eternal supreme law towards which all humanity has developed, including Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the ancient Persian religion. And suddenly a man appears who declares that he is convinced that self-renunciation, meekness, submissiveness and love are all vices that destroy humanity (he has in mind Christianity, ignoring all the others religions).
    One can understand why such a declaration baffled people at first. But after giving it a little thought and failing to find any proof of the strange propositions, any rational person ought to throw the books aside and wonder if there is any kind of rubbish that would not find a publisher today. But this has not happened with Nietzsche's books. The majority of pseudo-enlightened people seriously look into the theory of the Übermensch, and acknowledge its author to be a great philosopher, a descendant of Descartes, Leibniz and Kant. And all this has come about because the majority of pseudo-enlightened men of today object to any reminder of virtue, or to its chief premise: self-renunciation and love-virtues that restrain and condemn the animal side of their life. They gladly welcome a doctrine, however incoherently and disjointedly expressed, of egotism and cruelty, sanctioning the idea of personal happiness and superiority over the lives of others, by which they live.
    • Leo Tolstoy, strongly repudiating the term and many of the harsher corruptions of it, which he perceived as correct interpretations of Nietzsche's ideas, in What is Religion, of What does its Essence Consist?, Ch. 11 (1902)

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