Friday, May 3, 2019

Voegelin on Nietzsche’s Last Man

There is a resistance to transforming into the Nietzschean overman—this challenge will not be acceptable to most men. They would rather live as the antithesis to the overman, the Nietzschean Last Man. In his essay, "Nietzsche, the Crisis, and the War" (Journal of Politics, 1944), Eric Voegelin talks about the Last Man:

"The refusal of the challenge can assume various forms which, in part, are determined by the time position of the evading person. A first form has been characterized by Nietzsche himself in the symbol of the “Last Man.” Zarathustra preaches the gospel of the superman to the people, and the people are silent. He then tries to arouse them by an appeal to their pride and draws the picture of the most contemptible, of the Last Man, whom they will be unless they overcome their present state. The Last Man is the man without creative love, without creative imagination, without a desire for anything that is more than himself. “What is a star?” asks the last man, and he is satisfied with his little pleasures and the comforts of his existence. What he wants is: some warmth, some neighborliness, not too much work, protection against disease, a sufficient measure of drugs to create pleasant dreams (liquor, movies, radio), no poverty but not too much wealth. He wants to know what is going on and to thrash it out; all want the same and want to be equal; he who feels different goes voluntarily into the insane asylum; “formerly all the world was insane”—say the most subtle and leer; one has a pleasure for the day and a pleasure for the night— but with restraint, for the last man is concerned about health and wants a long life. “ ‘We have invented happiness’—say the last men and leer.” At this point of the speech the audience breaks out in enthusiasm: “Oh, give us this last man—make us these last men. You can have then your superman!” and they laughed. “But there is ice in their laughter,” adds Nietzsche, having diagnosed correctly the schizophrenic touch of the man who is last because he is lost spiritually."

The popularity of the Last Man leads to despiritualized existence or nihilism which is the a cause of brutality and war. “The evasion of the challenge through derision and through acceptance of the despiritualized existence is, however, a short-lived possibility. When the organizing power of the spirit becomes weak, the result is not a peaceably happy despiritualized society, but a chaos of instincts and values. Despiritualized happiness is the twin brother of despiritualized brutality; once the spiritual order of the soul is dissolved in happiness, it is only a question of time and circumstance when and from which quarter the attack on an order without dignity will begin.” 

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