A Summary of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals
I – Good vs Evil
Where do our morals come from? How did it all begin? Nietzsche claims that in primitive societies morality began with the most powerful people declaring their beliefs as truth. The masters, nobles, and god-like figures in power actually defined themselves as ‘good’ and the poor and weak as ‘bad’. Looking down on the poor for their dependence on the rich, nobles or those in power constantly reminded the weak of their position in society. They would also define their ‘will to power’ as good too. In this way, they could do whatever they wished while seeking power or while in power and still claim that they were better than those at the bottom rung of society.
The powerful define themselves as ‘real’ or truly ‘existing’. Their value emanates from within themselves and so, because the weak are dependent upon them, this means that the weak do not exist, or only exist because of the grace of the rich. This makes the poor an extension of those in power, which in turn, means that the powerful are more so, because of how many poor lay beneath them. The poor, who are seen as lesser beings, become pawns in the power play of the rich, to the point where they simply ‘aren’t’ according to those in power. As a result of this power struggle, the slave, herd, and weak get defined as ‘bad’.
The master’s power and his exploitation of his slaves, inspires a feeling of ‘resentment’ in them that becomes hateful and reactive towards the powerful in a passive-aggressive manner. The weak can’t be assertive because they don’t feel a sense of entitlement or that they deserve to be treated better. But this doesn’t mean that they are happy with their lot in life. Resentment is at the core of the entire existence of the weak, fueling all their thoughts and actions. Resentment is a force that is built on the idea of rejecting, resisting and opposing the powerful. The weak have no intrinsic power that comes from within. Rather their existence depends on opposing the wealthy. The minute the wealthy are gone, the weak find themselves in nihilism. It is the ‘external oppression’ that propels their power of resentment into actions. The weak don’t strengthen themselves to ‘act’, to ‘confront’, or to ‘gain power’ like the nobles, through demanding self-justice and equality, rather their entire revenge is centered on resentment and always stays within those parameters. Their pain doesn’t propel them to become strong; rather they stay within the weak and try to find a way within the sickness to reject the outsiders.
In a around-about-way, they attack the nobles by ‘re-evaluating’ morality. They decide to call the nobles ‘evil’, thus anything lacking nobility is consequently good. There is a vital difference in the moralities of these two sects. The master’s morality is based on positive-action, on power, on responsibility for themselves whereas slave’s morality is based on re-action, negativity, and pessimism to the nobleman. The nobles say yes to themselves whereas the slaves say no to the nobles. The slave sees the nobleman’s behaviors as intrinsic evil. He sees the powerful’s actions as intrinsically ‘evil’ and he glorifies himself by not doing what the noble does. In contrast, the nobles don’t believe there is intrinsic good or bad rather they do what serves them and they define their benefits with the will to power as good.
II Guilt, bad conscience and the like
Promises are based on responsibility, which are based on memory and calculability. Forgetfulness is a healthy state when it’s within our control to forget and remember. As masters who have the capability to forget and remember, they can allow themselves to forget the unnecessary and remember the important information. Memory is based within pain and suffering, through the pain the ideas become ingrained and remembered. We need to feel a sense of aggravation and infliction in order for the memory to have importance. However there is a difference between the master and the slave, for the master inflicts pain upon himself whereas the slave is punished by the master.
The guilt felt by the slave stems from his sense of debt towards those in power. The slave constantly needs to please and satisfy his master in order to save his livelihood. The ‘debt’ he has towards the master or someone other than himself is what creates the sense of guilt. The slave is always indebted to his master. The slave’s indebtedness and feeling of obligation to the master is what create their unease.
Since the slave has no means of relieving his debt, the master inflicts pain onto the slave as an act of personal pleasure. The act of sadism gives him a pleasurable and satisfactory feeling which is a sort of payment for the slave’s debt. The slave cannot exert his instinctual will to power due to his weakness. Thus anger and hatred are built up within him as resentment. The result of unfulfilled power becomes transformed into guilty energy used against oneself. Because the instinctual power is unable to dominate outwardly it becomes inverted and works against oneself. His aggression begins to work against himself. His anger and hatred are targeted on his ego. (This can be seen in depression and melancholia). The priest reinforces the rejection of the will to power and the will becomes repressed and internalized. The inverted-ness causes a congested state which causes sickness, guilt, conscience, and self-hate.