Nietzsche’s Concept of Superman Explained with Monty Python-Style Animation

Friedrich Nietzsche first introduced the concept of the Übermensch — often translated in English as “The Superman” — in his influential philosophical work, Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), writing:

I TEACH YOU THE SUPERMAN. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?

All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man?…

Lo, I teach you the Superman!

The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman SHALL BE the meaning of the earth!

I conjure you, my brethren, REMAIN TRUE TO THE EARTH, and believe not those who speak unto you of superearthly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not.

Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!

Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and therewith also those blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin, and to rate the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth!

As Eva Cybulska observes in an article on Philosophy Now, Nietzsche never quite spelled out what he meant by Übermensch/The Superman, leaving it to later interpreters to fill in the blanks. She notes: “RJ Hollingdale (in Nietzsche) saw in Übermensch a man who had organised the chaos within; [Walter] Kaufmann (Nietzsche) a symbol of a man that created his own values, and Carl Jung (Zarathustra’s Seminars) a new ‘God’. For Heidegger it represented humanity that surpassed itself, whilst for the Nazis it became an emblem of the master race.”

You can now add to the list of interpretations another by Alain de Botton’s School of Life. In a newly-released animated video, de Botton treats The Superman as the incarnation of human perfection. Embodying characteristics possessed by Goethe, Montaigne, Voltaire and Napoleon (people who came closest to achieving perfection in Nietzsche’s mind), the Übermenschen/Supermen will live by their own values (Pagan in nature); delight in their superiority and take pity on the weak; perhaps hurt people in the name of achieving great things; accept that suffering can be a necessary evil; use culture to raise the mentality of the society around them; and beyond.

Whether you see The Superman differently is another question. You can download Thus Spake Zarathustra from our Digital Nietzsche collection and come up with your own take.

And, tangentially, you can watch The Original 1940s Superman Cartoon Free Online.

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  • felonius screwtape says:

    this video is complete tripe. it is not at all what nietzsche means by the ubermensch. and he especially does not intend it so that you can feel good about life. adb is peddling nonsense that pretends to be philosophy, and because it’s gussied up with pretty animation and narrated by his soothing pleasant voice, everyone thinks it’s fab… except of course for anyone who knows anything about nietzsche. or philosophy.

  • Nadia says:

    There’s no link apparently, I couldn’t make it work. No button on the video.

  • PHOTUE says:

    Superman chính là sự vượt qua nhân loại như hiện trạng của nó trong ý nghĩa hoàn thiện. Diễn ngôn của Nít trong tinh thần đở đẻ của Xcrat có thể gây ra những ngộ nhận về siêu nhân, như một tình trạng phi nhân, vô đạo. Một số hiểu nhầm, một số lợi dụng ý tưởng của triết gia cho các tuyên dương sức mạnh, bạo lực. Người đọc không thể bỏ qua ba cuộc hóa thân của siêu nhân để nhìn ra quan điểm của Nít: cuộc hóa thân cuối cùng trở về trẻ thơ. Trong điểm này,Nít gặp lại Lão tử…

  • Thomas Cunningham says:

    Nietzsche only mentions the “ubermensch” in a few passages in one work, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. That book is an anomaly in the series of “aphoristic books” that began with “Human, All Too Human”, which present most of his ideas. He did not build on the concept in the books that followed “Zarathustra”, or even mention it again. This is another example of an idea being taken (and taken out of context) by readers who were motivated by the ir own ideas and concerns, not by what the writer actually said.

  • Derek C. F. Pegritz says:

    It’s OVERman, not “super”-man, damn it! The overman is he (or she) who OVERCOMES the all-zu-menschliche and becomes fully him/herself. In that sense, Nietzsche was the world’s first transhumanist, though, for him, transhumanism was not biological/technological augmentation but *psychological* augmentation: the shaping of the psyche according to the will such that the individual mind is an *instrument* of culture rather than a *result* of culture. The overman guides and uplifts so-called “common” humanity rather than shoehorns his intellect and personality into the mold created by “normality.”

  • Regular person says:

    This is interesting. Nietzsche says here that “All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves” – a reference to history.

    History, he says, was aiming at the creation of something beyond themselves, at a “Superman” which would surpasses that poor creature called “man.”

    We must not go against the tide of history but must push on to bring this Superman into existence.

    If you thought history had anything to do with man’s relation to a “superearthly” God you must drive this blasphemy from your mind.

    “Let your will say: The Superman SHALL BE the meaning of the earth!”

    Those who refer to the “superearthly” God are the “decaying” creatures who are “wearisome” to the new earthly people, and are being left behind by the evolutionary (implied) historical movement.

    The new religious blasphemy is to “rate the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth”, which we were already told means the new Superman himself.

    This is clearly a very religious ideology of the God rejecting man who regards himself as the old God’s replacement.

  • Regular person says:

    The new man is the creation of human history, that is to say, of man himself. Therefore, since man has become his own god, references to a superearthly Creator has become a kind of “blasphemy”. The new man will allow those “decaying” and “wearisome” propagandists of the old “superearthly” Creator to be ground to dust by the political movements in which the new god of “historical evolution” is being made manifest, when they can be swept up into the “dustbin of history.”

    History, too, will be in that dustbin, lest anyone try again to make references in it to that God it has become blasphemous to even mention.

    The new god, the true fulfillment of human history, simply cannot tolerate it! Since history has resulted in himself, it’s goal has been achieved. The use of history, therefore, other than to justify himself, has become obsolete, too.

  • Regular person says:

    The new man will be the instrument of culture rather than the product of culture. He is the creator of new values. However, what Nietzsche doesn’t tell you, is that he fully expects the herd to become products of the new culture, and not to buck against the system of the new gods.

    “Meet the new boss … Same as the old boss … “

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