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The concept of the Will to Power in Friedrich Nietzche’s Philosophy (Alan Taylor)

Will to Power

Undoubtedly, one of the most significant, profound, and disturbing of Nietzsche’s contributions to Western thinking is his concept of the will to power. For Nietzsche virtually every becoming, indeed everything that “lives,” is a manifestation of this indomitable will. He says:

A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength–life itself is will to power. BGE 13

For Nietzsche the will to power holds an absolute value. Acceptance of the will to power in all its sublime manifestations, both beautiful and ugly, is at the core of Nietzsche’s modus vivendi. It’s easy, however, for us to accept the aspects of the will to power that have been coded as “positive” by our cultural value systems. Perhaps it is for this reason that Nietzsche goes out of his way, in passage after passage, to emphasize the will to power’s more “unpleasant” features–so that we can hear what he has to say, that all life is a product of the will to power, which is explained by Nietzsche, more often than not, as a will to dominate, to rule, control, and force one’s will upon others.

Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest, exploitation. BGE 258

Further:

“Exploitation” does not belong to a corrupt or imperfect and primitive society; it belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will of life. BGE 258

Some more:

Life operates essentially, that is in its basic functions, through injury, assault, exploitation, destruction and simply cannot be thought of at all without this character. GM 2:11

While such statements are likely to offend the moral sensibilities of even the most amoral audience, it’s important to note that Nietzsche understands these activities to be “beyond good and evil.” “Good” and “evil,” he says, are moral interpretations applied secondarily to phenomena that simply are. These ugly things, he says, are life, and to say “no” to them, is to say “no” to life itself.

It has been argued that Nietzsche is a social Darwinist. This interpretation is not far from accurate in the sense that Nietzsche values the “beast” in humanity. However, it should be noted that the “survival of the fittest” is not a Nietzschean law. On the contrary, he argues that in his own time the strong and the noble were losing the battle for survival against the weak, who manifest another, more sinister, and opposite will … the will to nothingness, or the will to nihilism. Through a re-valuation of “noble” values, the weak (specifically the socialists–the inheritors and proponents of the Christian/slave morality) have created a world in which the strong and noble are seen to be “evil,” whereas from Nietzsche’s perspective these “evil” qualities are valuable in themselves, in that they serve the “enhancement” of the species as a whole:

Hardness, forcefulness, slavery, danger in the alley and the heart, life in hiding, stoicism, the art of experiment and devilry of every kind, that everything evil, terrible, tyrannical in man, everything in him that is kin to beasts of prey and serpents, serves the enhancement of the species “man” as much as its opposite does. Indeed, we do not even say enough when we say only that much. BGE 44

Evidently, Nietzsche believes that these “evil” acts serve the betterment of the species even more that acts of altruism, kindness, and love–about all of which Nietzsche is generally suspicious. For Nietzsche the “truth” of the matter is that in its essence, life wants to dominate; it matters not what. It does not want to be controlled, channeled, contained, or negated as, he argues, the slave morality and its proponents would have it. His description of the origin of what he calls the “higher cultures” illustrates this point:

Truth is hard. Let us admit to ourselves, without trying to be considerate, how every higher culture on earth has so far begun. Human beings whose nature was still natural, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey who were still in possession of unbroken strength of will and lust for power, hurled themselves upon weaker, more civilized, more peaceful races, perhaps traders or cattle raisers, or upon mellow old cultures whose last vitality was even then flaring up in splendid fireworks of spirit and corruption. In the beginning the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their predominance did not lie mainly in physical strength but in strength of the soul–they were more whole human beings (which also means, at every level, “more whole beasts”). BGE 257

Interestingly enough, physical strength, here, is not the principal attribute that Nietzsche values. Rather, it is “strength of the soul,” the kind of strength that comes from a lack of guilt about one’s being, a wholehearted embrace of life in all its fecundity and wantonness, a will to dominate (as opposed to the force necessary to dominate), and a will to action that Nietzsche values. Life unrestrained by a life-negating slave morality is the key for Nietzsche. That which is life-affirming is “noble” for Nietzsche, and the society that is most capable of affirmation is that which embraces a rigid social hierarchy, namely, the aristocracy.

 
Alan Taylor
the University of Texas at Arlington, 1996

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