Nietzsche: The Modern State and The Last Man

In his magnum opus, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche comments upon the insidious nature of modern political communities, “The State is where slow universal suicide is called Life.” In this video, we will explore Nietzsche’s criticism of the modern State and of the State’s ultimate goal – the creation of the Last Man.

The Social Contract theory is a highly accepted explanation of the origin of societies. Many of the most respected political philosophers – such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Immanuel Kant – agree with the theory. It states that groups of people form societies by surrendering certain freedoms to the authority of a common government in exchange for protection of their remaining freedoms. In the words of Thomas Hobbes, “Desire of ease, sensual delight, and fear of death and wounds dispose men to obey a common power.”

It is important to note the motivations enumerated by Hobbes. Nietzsche believes that these motivations – the desire for pleasure, comfort, and security; and the fear of injury and death – are the characteristics of the Last Man. According to Nietzsche, the goal of the modern State is to change the whole of mankind into this Last Man. “It is the purpose of all culture simply to breed a tame and civilized animal, a domestic pet.”

The Last Man is the antithesis of the Ubermensch. The Last Man has no great aspiration. He merely seeks to earn a living, to be comfortable, and to be content. “We see nothing today which wants to be greater. We suspect that things are constantly still going down, down into something more comfortable, more mediocre, more apathetic. One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome. No shepherd and one herd! Every one wants the same; everyone is equal.”

The modern man of the West is frighteningly similar to Nietzsche’s Last Man. In the movie Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, describes the mediocrity that Western cultures have imposed on their citizens. “I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering – an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [things] we don’t need.”

Fortunately, Nietzsche believes that humanity has not yet devolved entirely into the Last Man. “One must have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.” In order to conquer the seductive charms of pleasure, comfort, and security, man must embrace the chaos within himself. Tyler Durden offers the following advice: “Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.”

Naturally, many people of the West will offer resistance against this advice. They will not quit their job because they fear becoming homeless. They fear the pain of hunger; they fear sleeping in the cold; they fear injury and death at the hands of others. They desire the comfort and ease that a paycheck provides, despite the mediocrity and lack of fulfillment that their job provides. They believe that conformity is the only option. They lack the imagination, courage, and ambition to think of new, more exalted forms of life. These are the Hollow Men, the Stuffed Men about whom T.S. Eliot wrote. These are the Last Men.

To conclude, Nietzsche accuses modern societies of promoting the development of the Last Man. The struggle of Modern Man is to overcome all those seductive instincts of the Last Man – the instincts for pleasure, comfort, security, and mediocrity. It is a difficult struggle, but one that is worthwhile. I will leave you with the words of the English Poet John Milton: “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”

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31 thoughts on “Nietzsche: The Modern State and The Last Man

    • What’s the point in striving for the ubermensc? All he’s doing is painting what we want in negative terms and painting what we don’t want in positive terms. I mean if the last man is the fulfilment of all our needs what’s the ubermensch if antithesis but the non-fulfilment of our needs

      • The Overman represents transcendence and growth (both personal and cultural). The Last Man is just that: Last. He’s the end. There’s nowhere to go but down for him. The Last Man doesn’t fulfill my needs.

      • Tbh I said it because it is the stereotypical image one has when one contemplates Nietzsche’s progress towards the ubermensch. Actually that’s shit

      • sorry pressed enter prematurely: actually that’s shit. It’s just Nietzsche’s description of how we are the ubermensch to the monkey so if you continue the pattern they’ll be an ubermensch to the ubermensch and unless the ubermensch is a last man than there’ll be an uber mensch to the previous ubermensch and so on – – – – which is the epitome of the sisyphusian struggle

      • That’s called progress my friend, so much the better I say. But I think you’re missing the point somewhat; the Ubermensch is a goal, not a destination. Mankind could probably never become Overman, but the fact that we strive to means that we pursue progress and growth. Otherwise life becomes stagnant. You say that you’d rather be a slob (jokingly I’m sure), but what purpose does your sloth serve? Does it bring you pleasure? Does it better you or others to pursue the life of “a slob”? If not, why continue?

      • Well I’m not a slob in the stereotypical sense. I’m using slob to mean a person who acts because things interest or pleasure him. I’d call myself a slob despite the time I spend reading and thinking on philosophical issues because such activities are what pleasure me the most. I don’t do them to better myself – though that has occurred as a collateral effect. Anyway I’m off subject.

        I don’t get your distinction between goal and destination. Maybe you are saying that a goal is a way of being whereas a destination is a situation within which to be.

        I think that the way we are headed is displeasing. As technological advances make human activity redundant humanity loses it’s ability to appreciate beauty, explore the beautiful abstract realm of ideas. Well become tubes which intake nourishment and excrete excrement.

        If that is the last man then of course I don’t want that. But if the overman is a man that struggles in the sense I struggle with philosophical ideas. That is if the struggle is enjoyable. Then yeah i want that.

        But if it’s a struggle of constant self-denial in service to an aim unattainable then i want to be a sedated shitting machine

      • ” I think that the way we are headed is displeasing. As technological advances make human activity redundant humanity loses it’s ability to appreciate beauty, explore the beautiful abstract realm of ideas.”

        Amen to that my friend. We’re agreed on that point at least. But this state of affairs is the result of “Last Man Mentality”. It’s the fact that we have bastardized the search for the Overman, for personal and cultural improvement, which has resulted in us taking our mighty species (and all the other species) down into a very literal abyss. You say that the search for improvement is futile, and that what matters is deriving pleasure. But surely you recognize that the pursuit of pleasure and amusement is what has brought us to the brink of the impending collapse? What if all men were concerned only with what amused them and not with what is worthwhile and useful?

        It seems to me that our main point of difference is that I hold growth, strength and transcendence to be the ultimate goal, whereas you say that’s all futile and you hold happiness and pleasure to be the aim.

        “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”- Ecclesiastes 1-14.

        Would that be a fair assessment?

      • Vanity doesn’t bother me – – – the only thing i care about is being able to freely pursue what drives me. The only problem i have with the last man situation is that not very many people share my passion so i’d end up with not many people to talk to

      • Very well, long may you pursue your interests.

        I’ve enjoyed this debate immensely I must say, though we seem no closer to agreeing on anything we’ve discussed. I’ll keep an eye on your work in case you present something else that interests me.

        For now I think we’ll leave it at that. Thank you for the discussion.

        “Vale, Amicus Meus.”

      • We are both innocent thinkers – – – what we were doing wasn’t trying to convince the other of our point of view – – – rather we were comparing our views and in so doing learning more about both our views (that is me learning more of my world-view and your world-view and you doing the same) what we engaged in here my friend is true philosophy!

      • And not that point-scoring nonsense plebs call thinking and discussing – – – as Nietzsche so wonderfully did (And I love the crazy fucker for this) was show that there is no objective standard by which I can point towards your perspective, compare it to mine and say it is shit. Perspectivism is a beautiful thing.

        You may find this interesting:

        https://christopherjack101.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/rejoice-for-points-are-pointless/

        It’s mine so be sure to tell me what a good boy I am for writing such beautiful profundity (I’m being ironic of course (well I’m not; I think I’m one clever son of a motherfucker but you get the humorous intent I’m sure))

      • Have you ever thought that maybe the ubermensch would be someone who thoughtlessly and effortlessly progresses. Just like a man thoughtlessly and effortlessly uses a hammer and the monkey stares on in dumb amazement – the present and last man will stare on in dumb amazement at the activities of the over-man. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” do you not think this is what he meant by the over-man.

        I talked a bit about it here:

        https://christopherjack101.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/raskolnikov-ubermensc-and-the-individual/

        Excuse the self-aggrandizement whoever sanctions these comments – they were both topic relevant – – – but if you wanna chuck it’s your blog (which is brilliant “please flattery get me what I want”) so chuck it if you wann

      • I have enjoyed reading your conversation. My thoughts are more aligned with Megas’ than with yours, but I think that you raise some interesting points.

    • The term “Last” refers to the ultimate goal – the ideal man – of the commons. If we consider the theory of evolution, the sequence roughly looks like this – Ape, Man, Last Man. The Last Man is the last stage of evolution.

      “The hopelessly mediocre and unpleasant man, has already learned to feel that he is the goal, the pinnacle, the meaning of history.”

  1. I give this my like as I believe it captures what Nietzsche intended beautifully; but I must say I disagree with Nietzsche on many levels. His was a jester’s attempt at building up values once he’d knocked them down.

  2. I have little sympathy for the image of the uberman as a beat-down artist, spreading chaos around him. I like John Kennedy and his moon shot. The Last Man is moved from mediocrity by a mighty purpose.

  3. “God is dead.”
    –Nietzsche
    “Nietzsche is dead.”
    –God

    This little joke, scribbled in a college restroom, was my introduction to Nietzsche.

    Then I fell in love with Richard Strauss’ tone poem, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”–whose theme is Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.

    I read Thus Spake Zarathustra, and was quite moved.

    Then I began Nietzsche’s The Will to Power–above my head to say the least! I still haven’t finished reading it, after a decade.

  4. It is a dangerous way of thinking to be the last man,In Mexico we have this goverment that is full of corruption, people get kidnapped and killed by criminal gangs,and most people act like the last man because our media,education sistem and society made them this way, in a few places people have taken arms against the criminal gangs y they have won,but latter the goverment tries to take their guns away but they do not take the guns from the criminals and the rest of the population are like the last man,do not take risks or challenge authority even when they are killing you

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