“To create new values—that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself for new creation—that is within the power of the lion….a sacred ‘No’ even to duty.” – Nietzsche
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between happiness and personal authenticity. A happy life is our own life.
I explore Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of the free spirit to get a better understanding of what is required to live authentically. For Nietzsche, the free spirit is a sort of steppingstone on the path of one’s development that leads to the possibility of self-creation, self-exploration, and personal authenticity.
This exploration will be completed in three parts. Today, in Part 3, we look at Nietzsche’s conception of the Übermensch and personal authenticity.
(If you missed them, please check out Part 1 – The Bound Spirit, here, and Part 2 – The Free Spirit, here.)
The bound spirit and the free spirit
The bound spirit is bound in the sense that he is unable to realize himself, to fully express himself, because he is restricted by the norms and values of society.
He does not create his own perspective that is unique to him and would make possible his full development, but tries instead to make himself fit whatever perspective dominates. This causes internal turmoil, struggle, and suffering. His fetters make him unable to engage in any real self-exploration and therefore inhibit any (positive) personal development or growth.
For Nietzsche, the cultivation of an open-mind and the willingness to try out new perspectives is an essential part of personal development and growth.
The individual who becomes free becomes, in a sense, the author of his own life. He is freed from the constraints of conformity and is able to truly engage in a process of self-exploration and self-discovery.
(See my article, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation)
If the individual is able to remain free and resist the desire to return to the norm, to the comfort of conformity, he can begin the process of creating himself. This self-creation will (ideally) make possible the realization of his full potential and full self-expression. (For more, please see my article, The Individual Versus the Collective, here.)
The Authentic Individual
“Creation—that is the great redemption from suffering, and life’s growing light. But that the creator may be, suffering is needed and much change. Indeed, there must be much bitter dying in your life, you creators. Thus are you advocates and justifiers of all impermanence.”– Nietzsche
The free spirit can be thought of as a stage in one’s development when self-creation and personal authenticity become real possibilities. As Nietzsche saw it, you must clear away the old to make way for the new. All creation requires destruction.
We must destroy our old selves, so to say, to truly rebuild ourselves and fashion ourselves in a way that is unique to us. In the process of rebuilding ourselves from the ground up we learn who we really are. This process of self-creation and self-overcoming is essential to living authentically.
“Indeed, there must be much bitter dying in your life, you creators.”Nietzsche
The free spirit says ‘No’ to the rule, to conformity, and in doing so begins thinking for himself. Nietzsche thought that once we free ourselves, it becomes possible for us to determine our own self-worth and value rather than relying on outside/external conditions to determine them for us.
(Please see my related article, The Death of God – Nietzsche and Nihilism.)
Nietzsche argued that in each of us there exists a multitude of conflicting drives and impulses, all of which want, as it were, to be actualized and expressed. While we might commonly refer to some of these drives or instincts as “good” and others as “bad” or “evil,” in the end each one is a part of who we are.
If we don’t find ways to express our drives outwardly, if we are unable to express ourselves in the world, then this energy is turned inwards. Nietzsche called this internalization – the cause of “bad conscience” – which makes the individual acutely aware of his lack of power, his impotence, and unchecked it gives birth to ressentiment.
The freedom of the free spirit is the first step in freeing ourselves from the internal conflict and struggle (e.g., self-doubt, jealousy, guilt, etc.) that we normally face when we are unable to actualize or express all our drives, when our full self-expression is inhibited.
Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch (or Overman or the authentic individual) represents a higher-type, and is one who finds and is capable of finding ways to express and actualize all his drives. Through such full self-expression, the overman is one who can live authentically.
“One thing is needful.—To ‘give style’ to one’s character—a great and rare art!…those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye.”– Nietzsche
Creating and cultivating oneself—giving style to one’s character—does not mean simply acting on every instinct and drive one might have. If that were the case, Nietzsche’s view would result in disunity and thus in a lack of style.
As I see it, Nietzsche’s notion of giving “style” to one’s character means finding ways to express all of one’s drives and instincts, either directly or indirectly, so that none are internalized. Doing so requires an acute awareness of oneself, of one’s strengths and weaknesses, so one can find ways to express and actualize drives in accordance with the authentic individual one is.
(For more information, see my articles on Giving Style to One’s Character, here, and The Most Important Question, here.)
In other words, the authentic individual or Übermensch is one who can transform or redirect certain drives and instincts so that otherwise inexpressible drives can be actualized and one’s power can be realized.
The authentic individual therefore expresses his creative powers in his cultivation of a unified self. The process of self-cultivation and creation requires him to take responsibility for himself and his actions.
(To learn more, see my article, Freedom & Responsibility, here.)
The authentic individual knows who he is and does not deny any part of himself – He is the author of his own life.
“If we are bound to have weaknesses…then I would wish that everyone had at any rate sufficient artistic power to set off his weaknesses against his virtues and through his weaknesses make us desire his virtues.” – Nietzsche
Nietzsche highlights the importance of striving to express, rather than deny, our natures. Humans are not uniform rational agents but unique individuals, and as such each one of us must find ways to express our full set of instincts and drives—to become who we truly are.
If Nietzsche is not suggesting that we live alone—social organization offers many (obvious) benefits—then his view implies a need to live differently and in a way that cultivates our individuality.
(See my related article, Understanding Our Relationship To Suffering)
Authenticity and Affirmation
The authentic individual, in Nietzsche’s view, is one who can affirm life because he affirms himself. This means he knows who he is and takes full responsibility for himself and for the person he becomes.
As one who can affirm and accept himself, the authentic individual is one who can affirm and accept the moment.
“I want to learn more and more how to see what is necessary in things as what is beautiful in them – thus I will be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love from now on!…some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!” – Nietzsche
“Amor fati” means love of one’s fate. When Nietzsche envisions an authentic individual, he imagines an individual who loves himself, affirms life, and who can love his fate.
“Amor fati” suggests living in such a way that we can accept the entirety of our past because it was necessary for us to be who we are now. It suggests a comfort with oneself and a deep understanding of oneself. More importantly, such affirmation is clearly connected to happiness.
One says “Yes!” to life because one lives in such a way that full self-expression is possible. One can be happy, because one is truly living one’s own life—taking full responsibility, full ownership for every part of oneself and for the person one becomes.
A close connection exists between happiness and personal authenticity because a happy life must be our own life. The authentic individual, Nietzsche argues, truly lives his own life and affirms himself.
“some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!”Nietzsche
If you are interested in these topics and wish to explore Nietzsche’s philosophy further, I recommend starting with two of Nietzsche works, namely: (1) Human, all too Human and (2) The Gay [or Joyous] Science.
Please leave a comment if you have questions.
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Want to discover more? Please check out these related articles and posts: What is Strength of Will? – Nietzsche on Honesty and Authenticity, What We can Learn Living Underground, Thinking for Yourself – Checking in with Camus, The Existential Lifestyle – How to Incorporate Existentialism into Your Life, The Eternal Recurrence, To Exist Beyond Good & Evil, Authenticity & the Outsider, The Habit of Thinking, and Developing a Positive Mindset.
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