The Master Morality

A few days ago I encountered a group of men who seemed to attack anyone who appeared to be stronger, better looking, more vibrant, wealthier, or more intelligent than they. I never considered that such individuals actually existed; I guess I assumed that they theoretically existed, but could in no way exist in reality, and yet I discovered they do exist.

My outlook has always been to seek out and associate with individuals who are richer, more attractive, more powerful, and more intelligent than I. Why? Because it is impossible to improve if I only associate with those who are of like intelligence, success, wealth, et cetera. In short, I believe that a key to becoming what we wish to be is to surround ourselves with those that typify the traits we wish to embody.

The meme of inferiority has infected the minds of many men in our society. They lash out at any perceived strength and revel in their own shortcomings. “Why should I be strong?” they ask, “Am I not good enough like I am? It isn’t my fault I’m poor, weak, lonely!” Instead of rooting out the weeds in their lives they excuse their lack of success, their frail physiques, and their poor relationships by blaming others. The meme of inferiority is wedded to the meme of victimhood.

While we may accept the reality of this mindset, we must ask ourselves, what the root is so that we may rip it out. I believe that a system of morality that elevates feebleness and demonizes strength is to blame. The work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche provides a satisfactory framework to understand the nature of such systems of morality as well as their origination points.

A central theme of Nietzsche’s work is a strong criticism of weakness, particularly ethical schools that elevate weakness to the moral and spiritual ideal. Counterpoised to the “ideal” of weakness is Nietzsche’s ideal of strength and willpower. These two concepts form a binary of master-slave morality that the philosopher further develops in Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morality.

Nietzsche defined master morality as the morality of the strong-willed. For strong-willed men, the ‘good’ is the noble, strong, and powerful, while the ‘bad’ is the weak, cowardly, timid, and petty. In essence master morality is nobility. Master morality values open-mindedness, courage, truthfulness, trust, and an accurate sense of one’s self-worth. One who embraces master morality self-actualizes through the will to power.

Just as masters create systems of morality, slaves respond to them. (We are talking about a frame of mind, not social status.) The slave resents the master and sets up his own system of morality by devaluing the qualities the master respects. If the master values the strong, the brave, and the conquer, the slave values the weak, the timid, and the subservient.

Nietzsche’s main target of attack is Christianity which for him exemplifies slave morality. I do not necessarily agree with this attack on Christian mores. Yes, Christianity promotes compassion, altruism, and self-denial, but it also teaches men to be strong, resilient, just, and to fight against wrongdoing.

A critique or defense of Christian ethics is beyond the scope of this essay, however it is worth noting that Nietzsche’s slave morality is largely directed at this end. Even so, one may apply his critique of slave morality to other systems of morality such as the one embraced by so many Western men.

In his work Thus Spake Zarathrustra Nietzsche depicts the ideals of master morality and slave morality, albeit subtly. One chapter, On Those Who are Sublime, relates a parable in which the narrator, the prophet Zarathustra, encounters one of the “sublime,” “a solemn one, a penitent of the spirit.”

Zarathustra depicts the “sublime” man, one who embraces “slave morality”: His breast was upraised like a pious fraud; his clothing was torn and covered with thorns, yet no rose could be found; he did not laugh, but was gloomy;

“[a]s a tiger doth he ever stand, on the point of springing,” and yet never acts; his cheeks were hollow and pale from avoiding the light of the sun (i.e. the truth of his nature); “[c]ontempt is still in his eye, and loathing hideth in his mouth;” and his countenance was dark.

The narrator does not leave the depiction of the “sublime one,” without contrasting it to the “exalted one,” the master moralist that he desires the “sublime” to become. The exalted hero has subdued monsters, he has solved enigmas, but “he should also redeem his monsters and enigmas; into heavenly children should he transform them;” he is graceful and compassionate because he is strong, unlike the “sublime one” who is compassionate because he can only be weak. The exalted one can be cruel, but since he is strong he can be merciful too.

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra concludes his parable with a prophecy for the “sublime one”:

To stand with relaxed muscles and with unharnessed will: that is the hardest for all of you, ye sublime ones!

When power becometh gracious and descendeth into the visible—I call such condescension, beauty.

And from no one do I want beauty so much as from thee, thou powerful one: let thy goodness be thy last self-conquest.

All evil do I accredit to thee: therefore do I desire of thee the good.

Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings, who think themselves good because they have crippled paws!

The virtue of the pillar shalt thou strive after: more beautiful doth it ever become, and more graceful—but internally harder and more sustaining—the higher it riseth.

Yea, thou sublime one, one day shalt thou also be beautiful, and hold up the mirror to thine own beauty.

Then will thy soul thrill with divine desires; and there will be adoration even in thy vanity!

For this is the secret of the soul: when the hero hath abandoned it, then only approacheth it in dreams—the superhero.

Thus spake Zarathustra.

Nietzsche’s parable helps me contextualize my recent encounter with men that may be fittingly described as “sublime ones” or those that accept slave morality. I do not wish these individuals ill, but like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra I wish to emulate “virtue of the pillar” and invite the “sublime ones” to do the same.

There is no virtue in weakness, no good in “crippled paws.” Instead I call upon the “sublime ones” to awaken from their slumber and become beautiful like the exalted hero and become masters in their own right. Practically speaking individuals beset with a mindset of self-loathing and victimhood must first recognize that they are truly in charge of their lives and do not profit from blaming others.

Once the shackles of inferiority and victimhood have been cast aside, how does a man transform himself into Zarathustra’s exalted hero? I believe the best prescription is to take up Zarathustra’s cry and say: “And from no one do I want beauty so much as from thee, thou powerful one…” In other words, the unfettered man that desires self-transformation must seek out models of success to emulate. The unfettered man cannot allow his ego to be wounded because someone else is more successful than he; this is the root of wickedness and decay.

There are at least three reasons why this advice is the most practical and efficient method of self-transformation:

Firstly, finding a model to pattern yourself after will cut your learning curve down by years. If I want to become a power lifter I could find a strength coach or someone online to learn from. How did he become so strong? What was his routine? What was his diet like? This insight applies to finance, creative writing, political work, or any other endeavor.

Secondly, finding a model or mentor will help you avoid pitfalls. Every single successful person has failed at least once or twice in his life. By associating with those that have achieved the same things you wish to achieve you can learn from their experience without having to go through those trials yourself.

Finally, mentors or role models can help you stay accountable and stick on your course to self-transformation. While it is best to personally engage with a mentor and talk to him on a regular basis, a man can stay accountable by continually comparing his progress to the timeline of the one he is modeling himself after. For example, one can study the life of a great man and ask himself, “What was this person doing when he was my age?” It may be difficult to compare yourself to Alexander the Great, but it will prompt you to take massive action.

In conclusion, I wanted to write this article to share with you my dismay that some men have such an impoverished psychology that they believe attacking those who are more successful than they will accomplish anything except reinforce their own feelings of lack, insecurity, and victimhood.
Break out of that cycle! Embrace the ground where you now stand but do not merely stay there but look to the heights and devise a way to scale them! Do not allow slave morality to stifle your success, but embrace master morality and seek the “virtue of the pillar.”

“The virtue of the pillar shalt thou strive after: more beautiful doth it ever become, and more graceful—but internally harder and more sustaining—the higher it riseth.”

Lance Kennedy is a military officer, attorney, seventh-generation Texan. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, a juris doctor from Southern Methodist University, and a master’s degree from Harvard University.
Lance Kennedy is a military officer, attorney, seventh-generation Texan. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, a juris doctor from Southern Methodist University, and a master’s degree from Harvard University.

5 thoughts on “The Master Morality

  1. “Crippled paws” are beauty too.:) My husband and I enjoy this site, we chuckled as he is an accomplished drummer who can do everything from military tattoo to rock drumming to jazz, Among the people he studied with, were drummers Casey Scheuerell and Andrew Cyrille, who both helped him figure out how to get the maximum out of his left hand and arm (which were disabled in a birth trauma) to be able to play professionally. This is a prime example of an act of Will! Also he’s dead sexy doing it 😉

    I like you pointed out this is about states of mind not actual social status. A lot of people on both sides misunderstand these ideas that way and think Nietzsche is either somehow bad or dangerous, or else if they were born into someone else’s power/wealth a cart blanche to act without consequence (“affluenza”, anyone?), and it’s neither.

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  2. Interesting article, Lance! I find myself about three-quarters in agreement, one-quarter in caution. The agreement is all on the premise and the conclusions. That is, there is a strong tendency to slave morality especially in this era- primarily because it’s so easy, and once established, so easy to try to force people into its mold or scare them as to the consequences of stepping outside of it. The usual philosophic sleight of hand- “We teach our version of compassion, you don’t like it, therefore you must be opposed to compassion.” And as a result of that, I do think that breaking free of that cycle is both very helpful and perhaps even necessary, considering the end point of the slave morality is essentially cultural extinction. And the action steps afterward are helpful too, especially in terms of finding more successful people to go with it. The need for mentorship and examples are real, and it requires a bit of strength to admit that you can use it. It’s law of attraction stuff, too- the more time you spend with successful, intelligent, and wealthy people, the more likely you are to become such as well.

    My concern lies in the middle of it. The ‘superhero’ mentioned might also be the ‘ubermensch’ of Nietzsche’s thought, and he was pretty explicit that such a man was to break free entirely from slave morality- this including compassion, all belief in any world but this one, and so forth. Nietzsche approved of strength above all else, and his will to power was not an abstract idea, but a very concrete one. The problem lies in the simple fact that such views are actually counter-productive to your goal. It’s hard for one ubermensch to spawn more. It’s hard to restrain power when you reject the underlying philosophic and spiritual reasons for so doing. Nietzsche approved of pre-Christian figures for his examples, but in close examination, they’re not exactly the best models for success.

    I guess the way I’d put it is that I agree with what you say, but with that caveat. Breaking free of slave mentalities and finding freedom for yourself is good. And associating with others of a similar mindset is also good. Being a lone superhero is hard work, and having superfriends (sorry, letting my geek side show there) is usually a good idea. But in and of itself, it’s just not quite enough, y’know? So there’s a bit of warning there, to be sure to always use one’s strength for good- or at least, non-self-destructive- purposes.

    All of that said, I do like the article, and I hope that more people will read it and find themselves a new path for themselves as a result of it. 🙂

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