Genealogy of Morals

by: Friedrich Nietzsche

First Essay, Sections 10-12

Walter Kauffman argues forcefully against the claim that Nietzsche disparages slave morality in favor of the master morality of the "blonde beast," the barbarian, that maims and slaughters. While it seems clear that Nietzsche would prefer these barbarians to contemporary Europeans, his other writings suggest that his ideal is far from this master morality as well. That Nietzsche does not align himself with master morality is consistent with the claim that he does not align himself with any system of morals. In the later essays, we shall see how Nietzsche values the drive to refine oneself, to control oneself, and to affirm oneself. While master morality is better off for lacking ressentiment, it lacks the discipline and self-control necessary to fit Nietzsche's ideal. For instance, Nietzsche suggests that the man of ressentiment is cleverer than the noble man: either Nietzsche does not think the noble man is perfect, or he thinks that being clever is a weakness.

We might want to offer a brief criticism of Nietzsche's analysis. Perhaps he gives in a bit too much to his weakness for polemic, but the dichotomy between master morality and slave morality seems a bit simplistic. If slave morality is based on a ressentiment felt toward the masters, and now the whole world has succumbed to slave morality, who are the masters that we all resent? While masters and slaves make up a convenient opposing pair, it seems highly unlikely that the world is divided quite so cleanly, as if there were nothing between masters and slaves. We find Nietzsche being more careful in Beyond Good and Evil, section 200, where he characterizes both the dominant slave morality and the praiseworthy exceptions of the modern world as arising from a complex mixture of drives and values.