The Superman is the masterpiece and cornerstone of Nietzsche’s philosophy; he is at once the culmination of the principle of eternal overcoming, of the will to power, and the supreme goal for humanity.
Following the death of God, the only hope for mankind, lost and without ideals, is the incarnation of an immanent divinity, of the divine on earth, the Übermensch, man’s new accessible goal.
Nietzsche considers that the death of God was necessary in order to create the Superman, for the latter represents, in his eyes, the new mode of divinity. The Superman is thus the incarnation of Nietzsche’s coming god whom, as we have seen, is an immanent, pantheistic god. Therefore, to speak of Nietzsche’s coming god is ineluctably to speak of his human manifestation, the Superman. We cannot separate, in Nietzsche’s philosophy, the concepts of the divine and the Superman, for, according to his monistic vision of the world and of divinity, they are inseparable and of the same nature: the Superman is a God-Man, and thus a god in the making, a “coming god.”
As we have seen, the “death of God,” to Nietzsche, far from representing the destructive and absolute nihilism of an absolute materialist, is rather a profoundly spiritual event, announced by a true believer in human perfection; indeed, it is only by repudiating the existence of a transcendent god and the promise of perfection in the “beyond,” that the higher man could be resuscitated as lord and master of the earth, as a Superman, a God-Man who symbolises terrestrial perfection and the new and highest — but realisable — goal of mankind, for man cannot bear life without giving it a meaning; mankind cannot live without a goal, for “if an end is still lacking for humanity, is not what is still lacking humanity?” asks Nietzsche.
The new goal for mankind, the only hope to vanquish and transcend nihilism, is the divine man, the man who is a god, the god who is a man: “God died, now we desire that the Superman shall live… to you, higher men, this god was your greatest danger” affirms Nietzsche in his bible, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
By calling for the creation of a higher humanity, Nietzsche thus becomes the prophet of the Superman as the “meaning of the earth,” the projection of the will to power, a “humanly conceivable, humanly visible, humanly attainable” goal — which can and must realise itself through man’s creative will — and not an imaginary supposition: “God is a supposition…could you create a god? Could you conceive a god? — So be silent about all gods! But you could surely create the Superman… once you said ‘God’ when you gazed upon distant seas; but now I have taught you to say ‘Superman’… the beauty of the Superman came to me as a shadow. Ah, my brother! What are the gods to me now!”
As we have already demonstrated, eternal self-overcoming represents in Nietzsche’s eyes the noblest manifestation of the will to power; this creative process culminates in the creation of the Superman: “Ich lehre euch den Übermensch” (“I teach you the Superman”), writes Nietzsche in his Zarathustra, he who walks among men as among fragments of men, searching for the representative of the new humanity. “I write for a species of man that does not yet exist, for the ‘masters of the earth,’” he tells us in The Will to Power.
What Nietzsche means by “noontide and eternity” in his Zarathustra is the advent of the Übermensch who returns eternally to perfect humanity (the Superman incarnates the “noontide,” the apex of Nietzschean thought, for all eternity). Zarathustra proclaims: “Dead are all the gods: now we want the Superman to live! — let this be one day, at the great noontide, our ultimate will,” for, Nietzsche pursues: “That precisely is godliness, that there are gods but no God!”
To Nietzsche, the Superman must rule the earth, for he represents the future of the human race, a higher species of man: he is the purest, the strongest; he is perfection itself; he embodies the union between the Apollonian and the Dionysian principles and visions of the world.
The Superman is the synthetic man, the artist philosopher, the great legislator of the future, “the union of the creator, the lover, the seeker, in power… the great synthesis of the creator, the lover, the destroyer.” He is a Friedrich Nietzsche, the great reformist of humanity who “imposes his hand over the coming millennium” for he is “this predestined man who sets values for millennia.”
In The Will to Power, his last, unpublished work, Nietzsche predicts how the Superman shall speak: “I have for the first time united in myself the just, the hero, the poet, the savant, the soothsayer, the leader; I have extended my vault over the peoples, I have built columns over which a sky stands — strong enough to carry a sky.”
The Superman, exact antithesis to modernity’s “last man,” represents the zenith of the aristocratic vision of the world, incarnating values that are totally different from those of ordinary humans, from the common and the mediocre. This radically elitist concept of the Superman only applies to beings of exception; it is even a species “that is yet unborn,” as Nietzsche says; indeed, self-overcoming, and consequently the creation of the Superman, is a goal reserved to the rare higher and creative spirits, and remains an impossible dream for common mortals who, according to Nietzsche, have no inherent value. Nietzsche indeed distinguishes between the “superfluous,” the “many too many” and the very few “solitaries,” the natural aristocrats.
Thus, it is only by dedicating itself to the creation of a higher type that humanity could one day give a meaning to life, the goal being “not mankind but the Superman.” The Superman is thus the only, highest goal that mankind could attain and create, the living incarnation and culmination of the will to power.
Self-overcoming includes self-mastery; man must be the master and not the slave of his passions, the latter being merely a means to attain greatness, not an end in themselves. But self-overcoming, for Nietzsche, transcends mere self-mastery to mean the spiritual overcoming of man’s “human, all-too-human” condition, that is, the creation of “something beyond man”: the Superman, the man who resembles — and is equal to — the gods. The Superman is thus much more than the man who has overcome his passions; he is the man who has transcended his human nature and has become “something more than man.” The creation of the Superman is thus a quasi-impossible mission reserved for the very rare higher beings, for it implies self-mastery and a Spartan or stoic hardness towards oneself as well as towards others: “Praise to what makes hard!” says Nietzsche, adding: “I do not praise the land where butter and honey — flow!” But most importantly, self-overcoming requires a readiness and a willingness — even a strong desire — to suffer and to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the sacred cause of the creation of a higher humanity, and herein lies the real test of greatness for Nietzsche:
I love those… who sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth may one day belong to the Superman… I love him who wants to create beyond himself, and thus perishes… O creators! You must now momentarily live in the world! You would nearly perish — and then you will bless this labyrinth where you were lost. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to create, but only to decline. You must have your dawns and your twilights. You must have your pains and bear them for a while. You who shall return eternally, you yourselves must become an eternal cycle.
It is only by “declining” that man creates above and beyond himself. Those who make history are the superior and distinguished characters with lofty ideals, those who are ready to sacrifice themselves for these noble ideals. What Nietzsche means by “self-overcoming” thus goes well beyond self-mastery; this spiritual and creative process implies — and culminates in — the creation of the Superman as the “meaning of the earth.”
In contrast to God, the Superman is a goal that one can conceive, attain, create. Thus Nietzsche concludes that “maybe man will not stop rising the day he ceases to flow into God.” The Nietzschean Superman is thus the manifestation of God on earth, of the new mode of divinity, of the “coming” God, in conformity with the Nietzschean monistic and holistic vision of God as immanent in the world, in nature, in life, and thus accessible to man, even manifested in man; in other words, the Superman is the God-Man, the man who has invented God, the man who, like Prometheus, has become a god. The following passage illustrates the Nietzschean conception of the God-Man:
Did Prometheus first have to imagine having stolen light and pay for it before he could finally discover that he had created light by desiring light, and that not only man but also god was the work of his own hands and had been clay in his hands? All mere images of the sculptor — no less than delusion, theft, the Caucasus, the vulture, and the whole tragic Prometheia of those who know?
Thus, to Nietzsche, it is man who creates God; the religious sentiment consists in creating gods: “The only positive form of religious sentiment has turned in me into love of my ideal, it has become creative: only godmen.” It is the act of creation itself, the creative will that is divine, for, as Nietzsche asks himself: “If gods existed, how could I endure not to be a god? Therefore, there are no gods.” He continues: “What would there be to create if gods — existed?” The Superman is thus the man who has reinvented himself as a human god, the man who has become a god, thanks to his creative will; therein lies his superiority to God, a superiority that Nietzsche does not fail to underscore in Zarathustra: “The beauty of the Superman came to me as a shadow. O my brothers, what are the gods to me now?”
The Nietzschean conception of the Superman is an elevation, it enables man to reach divine aesthetic states, it elevates man to god, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian conception of man as fallen from his divinity because of the original sin, which remains a curse that haunts and plagues man throughout his existence. The concept of Superman represents the union between the body and the spirit, it is neither transcendental nor materialistic; rather, it is transcendence (the overcoming of man) in immanence (the God-Man, a reachable goal).