What did Nietzsche mean by the word "spiritual", used to describe the higher man?
Following Nietzsche's proclamation of the 'death of God', anything smelling of 'other-worldly',
metaphysics like the soul, an afterlife, or a morality distinct from this worldly life is rejected. This world
is all there is. 'Spirituality' is to be understood in this context. In answering the question I will firstly
provide an overview of Nietzsche's account of how the civilised human being is created. Secondly, I
will describe what spiritual means in relation to the higher man.
No longer the Crown of Creation
Nietzsche characterises reality as ontologically constituted by power (macht). Directed claims of
power or Will to Power (wille zur macht) are manifested in instincts, drives and affects which are the
fabric of all living phenomena. These are subject to a stratified 'development' and 'ramification'. Not
being of divine, other-worldly origin but as part of nature, the human being is the product of such a
development and ramification of the more primitive manifestations of the will to power. Nietzsche
expounds how these instincts, drives and affects are developed to create the human subject in On
the Genealogy of Morals especially in the second essay.
Primitive human beings acted blindly, following the healthy, regulatory instincts [such as procreation
and nourishment] and the active 'forgetting' of physiological processes of the organs. Juxtaposed to
this active forgetfulness, an active memory is bred. This is achieved by mnemo-techniques —
utilisation pain through cruelty to create a memory based on pain. The prospect of pain inhibits the
actions of certain drives/actions whilst permitting others. Thereby, an interiority of the human is
created providing awareness of oneself, others and the world.
The facilitating of this awareness of oneself and ones actions enables the onset of the phenomenon
that is called 'willing'. Here, thinking causally, anticipation of future events, the understanding of ends
and means and the ability to calculate are inculcated into the human animal. Thereby, it becomes
regular, calculable, and capable of making and keeping promises. It becomes responsible.
In accordance with certain tables of values or narratives, these mnemo-techniques burn into human
beings the inhibition and repression of certain wild instincts and the expression of others. Upon this,
there follows values, moral systems, ways of acting/not acting that make the human animal into the
'civilised' human being. The narratives are definite perspectives and valuations arising from the
definite powers and institutions that enforce them. Powers, institutions such as the State, the
Christian Church and its offshoots in modernity inculcate definite perspectives, valuations of the
human instincts, drives and affects. Thus the creation of material into what we call the human being.
The Higher Man and Spirit
Drives are not only inhibited they are also spiritualised. As stated above, they are subject to stratified
development and ramification. Their primitive expression is redirected into a more sophisticated form.
The barbarian instincts of conquest can be spiritualised into the rarefied publications of the academic.
Violent instincts and drives can be spiritualised into the performance of Olympian competition and
games. Thus although sexual drives are condemned and their extirpation advocated by the Christian
Church, Nietzsche heralds the post-Christian 'spiritualization' of sexuality called 'love'.
The spiritualisation of drives can occur as part of the general 'socialisation' process of narratives.
Think for instance, of the primordial hunger of an infant for milk spiritualised into the aesthetic
appreciation of food by the adult restaurant critic. Or, drives can be overcome and spiritualised
individually by what Nietzsche variously calls the higher man, or the free man, or the Over man
(Uber-menschen). The latter has wrongly been monopolised in translation as the 'super man' —
allowing connotations of arrogant elitism and crypto-fascism.
Concerning the individual, the failure to withstand the demands of a strong drive is termed decadence
by Nietzsche. This is defined as the inability to resist the stimulus of a drive. Here, where one drive
acts as the tyrant to the exclusion of and disrupting the healthy economy of all other drives, it drags
its victim down with the weight of its folly. Think of addictions and obsessions of various sorts. The
opposite is the case with the Higher man.
The freedom and strength of an individual is measured by his/her ability to resist, regulate and
re-employ or spiritualise those strong drives. The higher man can incorporate his experiences and
thereby regulate his drives. To learn from all the experiences of life and affirm them characterises the
most spiritual human beings. Perhaps Nietzsche incorporated and overcome all his experiences, his
illness, his loneliness, his failed love affairs and spiritualised them into his philosophy?
Spirit, is translated from the German by Walter Kaufman as 'neither spirit alone nor intellect alone but
also mind, wit and espirit'. It is not a separate mind to the body but expressive of the body. It is the
reality of being one has, to understand the economy of one's drives and how they underpin what one
does. It permits among other things, to know how one becomes who one is. This understanding
allows the higher man of spirit to regulate his drives and actions. It also allows him/her to understand
how one acted or responded to events in the past, depended on the then constitution of the drives:
one could not have done any different.
In affirming on both accounts, one gives style to ones character. In affirming, even from the abyss,
one is affirming the whole universe and one's part in it. Enter the eternal recurrence.