Ressentiment & Nietzsche’s Slave Morality | What Is Slave Morality?

Nietzsche was adamant that morality is inseparable from the society which values it. In his estimation, morality forms culture. Rather than the more easily understood vice versa, in Nietzsche’s eyes morality is the foundation of tradition, the foundation of customs.

For me, and only until recently, Nietzsche existed entirely in the periphery. I could recognise the surface of his work and appreciate his terrifically thick moustache from afar. I knew Nietzsche best for his most well-known phrases like ‘God is dead’, ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ and of course in addition, all of the clichè Jordan Peterson inferences.

It wasn’t until preparation for my interview with Stephen Hicks that I dipped my toe beyond the peripheral surface and really discovered the seductive and radical ideas of Nietzschean philosophy.

Culture Is Rooted By Its Morality

This idea extrapolated outwards implies that culture is actually reared upon a shared morality. Nietzsche makes the reductive argument that morality lays at the bedrock of culture, and therefore much of a culture’s traditions, products, people, customs, and even language are actually influenced by the subtle differences of morality between the cultures.

This point is bolstered when you consider, from differing perspectives, the clash of cultural attitudes towards morality. The Chinese one-child policy for instance, has a different moral weighting attributed to it in China than it does to the USA and Latin America (different cultures entirely). There is an objective evil administered here, but through a moral lens, a different interpretation. The same could be said for the way women are treated in different cultures across the world. A culture is rooted in its morality. This point, whether it was Nietzsche’s or not, is a wonderful elucidation for understanding different people.

Religion & Slave Morality

Contrary to popular opinion, Nietzsche does not actually claim that slave morality comes from Christianity, rather, he claims that religion is the ultimate manifestation of slave morality, a dynamic that was created in the master-slave relationship of Ancient Egypt.

One of, Nietzsche’s many criticisms of religion is that it is in fact ‘slave morality at scale‘ (my words, not his) and although it is the bedrock for Western culture it is not the optimum set of morals that we have at our disposal.

Nietzsche’s central finding is that morality defines culture.

Follow my line of reasoning here…

  • > Nietzsche concludes that religion (Christianity) is the ultimate manifestation of slave morality.
  • > Religion (Christianity) is the bedrock of Western culture.
  • > Culture is defined by its morality.
  • > Western culture is sickened by slave morality in mass.
  • > The West doesn’t reward the values of the übermensch or encourage the individual’s will to power.
  • > Western culture is doomed to servile, stifled mediocrity.

Quite the pessimistic worldview Nietzsch.

The Master-Slave Morality | Nietzsche

For Nietzsche, this exploration of morality lives on a knifes edge divide between the Master and Slave.

Before Christianity, civilisation existed within the dichotomy of, on one hand, powerful master societies, and on the other, the sets of slaves under them. These two groups of society needed to keep a separate code of morals for survival.

The Master’s valued nobility, courage, beauty, difficulty, pain, risk, independence and virtues similar as a code to live by. Meanwhile and alongside the Master dynamic existed the Slaves who embodied the complete opposite. The Slaves set of morals values included comfort, utility, obedience, safety, meekness, servitude and all that opposed to the Master morality.

Why did this duality of moralities evolve as such? It was in order to live. A slave who values nobility and independence will not make a good slave and quickly be removed from the gene pool. Whereas a slave who values meekness and obedience will survive and pass along his moral worldview to his children. A master who is meek, weak and unassertive will not thrive in the highly competitive master culture, he will be removed from the gene pool. Whereas the dominant, risk-taking master will become elevated in turn.

There is an evolutionary argument to Nietzsche’s reasoning here. Survival traits live on, the rest don’t. It perplexes me how the ‘new age alt-right‘ simultaneously worship at both the Nietzsche and God-fearing alter. The irony couldn’t be striking them more forcefully in the face. They romanticise Nietzsche’s will to power but discount just how pathetic he would have thought they all are.

Obeying the eternal Father does not an übermensch make. Worshipping at the feet of a person you have never met sounds pretty slave-ish to me.

How Slave Morality Corrupted The Masses

Slave morality only values that which is good for the whole community, and not just the few who were strong. Nietzsche believed the masses to be weak while only a few to be strong. Therefore, it was the masses who corrupted the strong with their slave morality by convincing the masters that slave morals were actually virtues. This is where Christianity comes in. The values of this religion are servile and spawned from the very slaves the master’s used to control. There is no force stronger than belief.

But before we go there, let’s trace Nietzsche’s thread all the way back to the beginning of his idea.

It dates back well before Christianity. Think of Egypt where the dynamic of society was clear cut and the relationship between powerful masters and subservient slaves was not contested. The slaves of Egypt were Jews, and while the masters have long since perished the Jews have survived. So Nietzsche asks what were the traits and how did the slaves survive while the masters didn’t? What sort of behaviours keep you alive and what sort of behaviours get you killed?

Well if you are a slave the qualities that keep you alive are obedience, acceptance, forgiveness and so forth. With this set of values, you are more likely to adopt this book of morality as opposed to the masters which would quickly get you killed. The virtue of taking revenge, being powerful, aggressive, brave, and risk-taking. These are not behaviours that will make it likely for you to spread your genes.

This all manifests especially more forcefully if you have children. What are you going to teach your slave children is the right manner to act in the world if you wanted them to grow and not be killed?

Slave morality is a suppression of natural desires (does that remind you of anything?). Nietzsche claimed our morality comes from the real-world experience of power struggles rather than by some God. Slave morality becomes a practical tool of survival. Thus slave virtues will cross generations as cultural values.

The Jews Are Again The Scapegoat

Nietzsche concludes that in this early decisive time in human history slave values became cultural values for the Jewish people. Time passes with generations and people forget where their cultural moral code came from or they simply do not inquire. Over time the slaves start to resent their masters and also resent themselves for being slaves and not possessing the bravery or power to become a master.

I had a point of contention with this last point because on it’s surface because I think it assumes to much. To believe and accept this point, one has to say what they think is our ‘natural’ and ‘instinctual’ motives, morality, etc. School is still out on this one I think.

“Those fearful bulwarks with which the political organization protected itself against the old instincts of freedom – punishments belong among these bulwarks – brought about that all those instincts of wild, free, prowling man turned backward against man himself. Hostility, cruelty, joy in persecuting, in attacking, in change, in destruction – all this turned against the possessors of such instincts: that is the origin of “bad conscience.”The man who, from lack of external enemies and resistances and forcibly confined to the oppressive narrowness and punctiliousness of custom, impatiently lacerated, persecuted, gnawed at, assaulted, and maltreated himself; this animal that rubbed itself raw against the bars of its cage as one tried to “tame’ it; this deprived creature, racked with homesickness for the wild, who had to turn himself into an adventure, a torture chamber, an uncertain and dangerous wilderness – this fool, this yearning and desperate prisoner became the inventor of the “bad conscience” but thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered, man’s suffering of man, of himself – the result of a forcible sundering from his animal past, as it were a leap and plunge into new surroundings and conditions of existence, a declaration of war against the old instincts upon which his strength, joy and terribleness has rested hitherto”

Nietzsche – The Genealogy Of Morality

And as such slave morality persists as a surviving theme.

Enter The Religiosos

Religion comes along not much later and provides the flock, the slaves, a chance to turn their morality against the masters.

They embody the slave morality into religious virtues and so trick the masters into becoming servile to god and so as consequence, slaves themselves. Religion is one giant revenge myth with constant and persistent servitude to god.

The priests – just as an aside – Nietzsche thought to be the most wicked and evil of all. These were the human spokespeople of god, but since god was not around, the priests were actually the person you would listen to and obey. The rich and powerful were convinced to spend their money and influence on helping the poor and heal the sick. The master morality would have historically condemned the sick to death, for weakness is not a tolerable virtue. But religion has subverted their instinctual feelings about servitude, and therefore their efforts are spent in service rather than in pursuit.

They become the lion who lays down with the lamb – to then not eat it for lunch.

A Decompression On Slave Morality

Nietzsche plainly sees that the masters are higher men. You have those who do and then you have those who follow. It is simply the difference between the exceptional and the mediocre.

And so, what this slave morality does is switch the value system that rewards the exceptional as the highest virtue to one that excuses the flock who follow for not being exceptional.

Slave morality is a survival code and also a play of revenge against the strong. Nietzsche levels the battle between the moralities of Rome V Judea. The roman military combined with Greek philosophy Nietzsche sees as the high point of existence. The Judea Christian values are synonymous with slave morality virtues, and so Nietzsche claims the battle for morality rests between these two schools of thought.

The military rule and philosophised morality of B.C against the democratic everyman and lowest common denominator of A.D. The difference is the ‘discovery’ of the old testament and as such the explosion of adoption, the world’s modern religions.

Nietzsche Despises Religion

There is no better quote I know of that encapsulates just how much Nietzsche both loathed modernity and worshipped the ancients than the following.

“The chief slave has planted his flag right in the centre of the greatest moral achievement the world has ever seen”

Nietzsche referring to the Pope (slave) sitting at the heart of what once was the Roman Empire (master).

Nietzsche levels the slave morality of Judeo Christian values a threat to humanity. This morality damns assertiveness, ego, risk-taking, and independence which make human development and greatness possible. All this meanwhile, while celebrating smallness, meekness and falling on your knees in shame, all qualities that stunt human greatness and do not make a great fight to become the übermensch.

There is a fantastic irony to the modern alt-right. They have adopted a master morality while still worshipping God as slaves. Its moronic tribe worship exclusively taking place on the internet… slave-ish.

We must strive beyond good and evil.

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5 thoughts on “Nietzsche’s Slave Morality Explained

  1. Interesting post — I would add a few observations.

    First, if you read comments from the “deplorable” types, some of whom may identify as alt-right, what you’ll find is hardcore “slave morality” in Nietzsche’s parlance. Their main operating premise is hatred of “the elite.” As an experiment, I went on a “deplorables” site and started posting Karl Marx-style comments (which personally I oppose), but with the word “elite” instead of “bourgeoisie” and “working class” instead of “proletariate.” The comments were generally not opposed and often were well-received. The left is the same; they just use terms today like “the rich” and “the poor,” making the rich the bad guys and blaming them for the alleged struggles of the poor. I think all of these views are deeply misguided and contribute to failure in life by criticizing achievement in order to boost the ego, rather than seeking achievement.

    Second, I think Nietzsche is wrong about what is going on. What is really happening here is group dynamics. In general, people play a social game where they try to gain status within a social group. But the problem is that real achievement is hard. So instead of defining status as achievement, people define status as whomever bears the most accoutrements and ornaments of the group — like biker types wearing leather, tattooing themselves, growing grungy beards, speaking in a certain style, and so forth (or similar behaviors with emos, goths, the LGBT crowd, inner city culture, etc.). Status is achieved by bearing the totems of the in-group instead of the out-group, and not by achievement. So they keep amplifying those characteristics more and more to try to out-gain each other on status in order to boost the ego and win the unwinnable social game.

    Because they define status within the in-group DOWNWARD (i.e., the “slave morality”), and because anyone who strives to move UPWARD (i.e., the “master morality”) therefore bears the characteristics of the out-group, they revile those who pursue real achievement — the masters, the elite, the rich, the bourgeoisie, etc. This then becomes a universal pattern throught social groups in modern civilization and explains the prevalence of totalitarian movements across the political spectrum — all with the so-called “slave morality” based on altruistic self-sacrifice. It further explains why in reality there is very little difference between the left and right beyond cultural-tribal identifiers (American flags versus rainbow flags, pickup trucks/motorcycles versus Priuses and Subarus, etc.). Most people are generally too dumb to think about policies in terms of evidentiary analysis; instead, politics today is a sporting match of one team versus another. If you speak to these sorts of people, you’ll find at a granual level broad agreement, albeit with substantial impracticality, about what they want, or more accurately, whom they hate — since these people see politics not in terms of “what” but in terms of “whom.”

    Third, I think Nietzsche did not really include evolutionary analysis in his worldview. That is more of a modern extrapolation based on the constant “evolution, evolution, evolution” drumbeat of modern biology. So all of the discussion about gene pools and so forth is not really from Nietzsche in my view. It’s not about passing genes through the gene pool, but rather about passing cultural behaviors and attitudes to others that extend across generations.

    So basically I think Nietzsche was onto something, but I think group dynamics explains the divergence in cultural attitudes and practices, and not Nietzsche’s oversimplified historical analysis.

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