Ascending ‘from ape to angel’

Fr. Dwight Longenecker on Nietzsche’s idea of the übermensch, or superman:

Like Narcissus, the “supermen” gaze on the beauty of themselves. Narcissistic navel gazers, they become obsessed with their greatness, their superior intelligence and glorious destiny.

We should make no mistake, the person who believes in the theory of the superman really believes that he is of the elite. The Nietzschean narcissist, like a masturbatory adolescent, is in love with himself and no other. …

Modern America is filled with individuals who behave like Raskolnikov, John Tanner, Leopold and Loeb and Hitchcock’s dastardly duo. We are a nation of narcissists. Like Raskolnikov we murder millions through abortion for high sounding, utilitarian, but ultimately selfish reasons. Like John Tanner we march under revolutionary banners proclaiming a brave new world that revolves around our self-centered ideologies. Like Leopold and Loeb we are prepared to sacrifice others on the altar of our own self adulation.

Nietzsche considered his übermensch to be above the law. Like most madmen, he viewed reality in reverse. Instead of the superman being above the law he is below the law. Because he regards himself as superior he is inferior. When a man behaves as a narcissist he does not raise himself above common humanity, but lowers himself to the level of the instinctively self interested beast. He is therefore not more than human, but less than human. The Nietzshean Narcissist cuts himself off from society, from family, friends and from love. The only thing that breaks this cycle of self adoration is self sacrificial love, but self sacrificial love is the factor the one thing the narcissist cannot understand and of which he is incapable.

Nietzsche despised the Christian virtues of humility, service and self sacrifice as weakness. What he failed to understand is that the true exercise of these virtues requires superhuman strength. Rather than lowering man, self sacrificial love is the one thing that raises him from ape to angel.

We place our hope in Christ’s promises, and not in the sheer will of human persons to break every bond and law of the political community for the sake of dubious ends. The challenge of personal virtue is one and the same as the challenge of public rule, or political self-government. In the Politics, Aristotle writes:

“For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with the arms of intelligence and with moral qualities which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, and the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.”

Similarly, Socrates warns in the Republic that despite appearance it is the tyrant who finds himself least free. The tyrannical man is the one most enslaved to his passions and vices.

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