The significance of the so-called “Übermensch” in the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche has been grossly overstated. Given his atheism and his flirtations with materialism, it isn’t altogether surprising that the concept made an appearance in his writing, but it is far from the pillar of Nietzschean thought that some modern pop-philosophers would have us believe. Far more important to Nietzsche was a rejection of Christianity on dubious “moral” grounds, the affirmation of the worldly will to life and power, and, of course, the metaphorical killing of God.
In the Nietzschean vocabulary, the Übermensch (rendered “Overman” in English) is a hypothetical goal of mankind, a material goal, reaching towards material human perfection, transcending generations and established with the knowledge (as Nietzsche posited it) that there is no divinity in the universe. The implicit nihilism of Nietzsche’s philosophy rears its ugly head in the Übermensch ideal, an ideal that acknowledges no God and no purpose beyond the purely physical. For Nietzsche, even spiritual ascendance was wrapped up in the physical.
But I’m not writing to discuss the finer points of Nietzschean philosophy. While the Übermensch ideal may be wrapped up in a materialism that any self-respecting traditionalist would find appalling but, the idea of an “Overman,” in a broader sense, is perhaps less unattractive. After all, hierarchy is the foundation of any sane and functioning society; and any hierarchy must have a man or men at its zenith. Surely, a man at the top of any hierarchy could be described as an overman, if not Nietzsche’s Overman.
And we see this interpretation of the overman idea in a surprising place, in the writings of a curious little Jew who emerged on the scene of American psychology in the tumult and rebellion of the 1960’s with a novel idea: that the subject of therapy should be treated as a full human being, with personal needs, rather than as (in his words) a “bag of symptoms.”
There’s a tinge of liberalism in that statement, and it’s important to remind ourselves of Maslow’s context: he is a Jewish psychologist—a red flag if ever there was one—whose work rode the rebellious waves of the ‘60s into a place of prominence before being ultimately discarded by the even more liberal psychologists of the ‘70s and ‘80s, who decided his humanism wasn’t in keeping with the rigorous scientific standard of gender studies and queer theory.
But despite the blood curse, Maslow earns his psychological credentials by being one of the first and most vocal opponents of Freudian psychology. And if you want to talk about Jews in psychology, the first and still-mightiest name in that distinguished field is Sigismund Schlomo Freud.
Freud was the godfather of modern psychology and the progenitor of every pathological label imaginable. For Freud, even the most minute of idiosyncrasies could be traced, with Rabbinic fastidiousness, to some unwholesome childhood sexual perversion. Pathologize everything, and everyone is a potential patient. Freud was an anti-Maslow; where Maslow looked past the symptoms to see the patient, Freud insisted on reducing everyone and everything in sight to Maslow’s deplored “bag of symptoms.”
Freud dominated interwar psychology and remained influential well into the 1940s and ‘50s. The spirit of the ‘60s forced as much social detritus as possible into the open, but the silver lining is that a few undeserved pre-War titans were knocked down by merry iconoclasts like Maslow, who did his part chipping away at the idols to Freud that had been erected in the psychology wings of American academia.
The crown jewel of Maslow’s humanistic psychology was laid out in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” as here:
“Human needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of prepotency. That is to say, the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need. Man is a perpetually wanting animal. Also no need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives. Lists of drives will get us nowhere for various theoretical and practical reasons...Classifications of motivations must be based upon goals rather than upon instigating drives or motivated behavior. Motivation theory should be human-centered rather than animal-centered.”
Man is more than animal. Maslow recognized the biological nature of some motivations but defended that other motivations were social or spiritual in nature. His theory that man satisfied his needs according to a hierarchy of differently-motivated goals has become known as “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”
The hierarchy begins with the Physiological needs, the needs for shelter, food, sleep, clothing, and homeostasis. Here, man is at his most animal, satisfying needs that are purely biological in nature.
Once these needs have been reliably satisfied, the hierarchy moves upward to the Safety needs, the needs of security. These include financial stability, stability in the home, and sustained good health. They are less biological than the preceding physiological needs, but they are not yet spiritual; they are universal among humans and describe only a desire to achieve stability and static peace, rather than higher meaning.
But if these needs for security are fulfilled, then man moves to the Love needs, the needs for social fulfillment. These include belonging, romantic involvement, and family, but they notably exclude the platonic social respect and esteem of peers. Maslow identifies that desire in the Esteem needs, which he claims are only realized if the love needs have been fulfilled. Apparently, Maslow thought that love and family were of more fundamental human importance than seeking the approval of society. Not the typical modus operandi of a subversive.
With the satisfaction of the love and esteem needs, man moved to the final motivational hurdle: the need for self-actualization. Self-actualization is Maslow’s answer to Nietzsche’s Übermensch. To my knowledge, the phrase “overman” does not appear anywhere in Maslow’s writing, but the idea is nonetheless present—that men, having fulfilled the basic needs for biological satisfaction and social approval, achieve a higher plane of understanding. Self-actualization is, in a sense, supreme confidence; it is assuredness in one’s station in life, and the value thereof.
Maslow’s self-actualized man is in many ways better than Nietzsche’s Overman. For starters, he actually exists; any man can, in theory, attain or at the very least approach self-actualization by satisfying the baser needs of human nature, whereas Nietzsche’s Overman was by design an unattainable ideal, a literal superhuman being that all generations of mankind would eternally strive for and fail to reach.
Moreover, Maslow’s self-actualized man possesses a spiritual dimension, in contrast to the purely physical Nietzschean Overman. The Nietzschean Overman was necessarily of the world, deriving his power and his station from his supposed physical superiority. The Maslowian Overman requires no physical confirmation of his superiority—other than the satisfaction of the physiological needs of hunger and homeostasis—and is instead concerned with achieving psychological and spiritual peace and confidence.
Maslow never intended it, but his hierarchy of needs forms one of the most eloquent defenses of the aristocracy on psychological grounds. Any frequent reader of this publication will understand the need for a king; on that subject, much has been written and little can be denied. But of the importance of the aristocracy, less is written and still, less is read.
Aristocracy is an ancient legal tradition; a ruling class of landed governors can be seen in every civilization from the earliest Sumerians to Europe of the seventeenth century. With advancements in technology, the authority of the king could be expanded, but his aristocracy was always present: advising his imperial highness, governing the local divisions of the land, and preparing to secure peace and stability if the king died without an heir.
With the expansion of wealth and the rising of the merchant class, the aristocrat was rendered weaker and weaker until he was finally executed by the Industrial Revolution.
But the social necessity of an aristocracy is contained right here, in Maslow’s hierarchy. Different men, with different stations in life, are held in thrall by their baser nature, and at differing degrees. Maslow, almost unintentionally, touches upon a simple truth of mankind: that men with different immediate necessities have different capacities for occupation, for thought, for rule.
The proletarian masses are still caught somewhere in between the physiological and safety needs; their labor is to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. The middle classes are concerned with forming families and providing for them, and with securing the approval of their groups of colleagues. These are not men with the spiritual achievement necessary for rule.
But to the bourgeoisie, Maslow’s hierarchy is most damning. These are the wealthy producers and industrialists of society, ranging in intellectual value from Vanderbilt to Zuckerberg but invariably characterized by fiendish devotion to the accumulation of money and prestige. Try as they might, the final tier of Maslow’s hierarchy eludes them; these liberal overlords of ours are consumed by the esteem needs. They crave the approval of society; they relentlessly accumulate money so that they may buy the esteem of their wealthy friends; they produce and consume and produce and consume, in a ceaseless and soulless materialist cycle, to fuel the machine of social capital.
They are baser than the classes ostensibly below them; while the proletariat is too absorbed with providing for the family to be bothered with cocktail parties and Twitter mewling, the bourgeoisie have outgrown the need to provide for their families but have yet to achieve the spiritual nirvana of a ruling class. They are trapped in Maslow’s limbo, with too much comfort to be happy but not enough to be fulfilled.
The aristocracy of old surpassed all of Maslow’s hierarchy and came closest to reaching its apex. Maslow recognizes that the lower needs of the hierarchy will always reappear intermittently, even to people who have ostensibly surpassed them; even aristocrats need to eat, and as the Marquis de Sade can attest, some of them give in to the baser indulgences of the lower desires.
But the ruling class must be one that, by and large, is liberated from the lower portions of Maslow’s hierarchy. They must be men with means, but not men of their means. If they are preoccupied with the needs for food and security, they will lack the long-term vision necessary for long-term rule. This is the sin of socialist regimes. But if they are consumed by the needs for approval and esteem, then they will likewise fail in preserving the spirit of culture and tradition, instead selling away whatever they can sell for profit—the crime of democracy.
A society ruled by the Maslowian Overman will tend in an upwardly-Maslowian direction. With the king and his aristocracy as axis mundi, the people will have an ideal towards which to strive. Ironically, this is what Nietzsche wanted all along with his Übermensch: a perfect human ideal that would serve to guide all generations toward perfection. But in rejecting the spiritual and the religious, Nietzsche made his ideal unattainable. Maslow, who never even intended for his ideal to become the core of any society, nonetheless made it an ideal that men could—and have—attained.
What our society has done is lopped off the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. Self-actualization, we are told, does not exist. You will never achieve supreme satisfaction in the spirit and soul. Keep consuming and keep searching for fame and approval. There’s nothing beyond the desire for enjoyment and esteem.
We are told this because we are ruled by people who have failed, at every turn, to reach the summit of Maslow’s hierarchy. They deny its existence because of their own pride and cowardice, and in so doing, they have denied us of good government.
If peace and stability are to be restored, and if we are to reclaim the social order of Tradition, we must be ruled by a class of men who are not preoccupied with the simpler, baser needs of subsistence and esteem. These men must be humble, they must be wealthy, they must be moral, and they must be confident. They must believe in the necessity of their rule, and they must derive no pleasure from it.
This is the necessity of the aristocracy. This is what the Republic has stolen from us.