The Nietzschean Imperative and the Free Spirit
“Become what you are!” is what I call “the Nietzschean imperative”, and it is — ironically — Nietzsche’s reformulation of the Christian imperative “Be thou therefore perfect even as thy Father in heaven”. It’s Nietzsche’s formula for self-overcoming on the way to “the free spirit”, which is Nietzsche’s ideal. The Nietzschean “overman” or “transhuman” is the same “free spirit”.
The contrast with this is, in some ways, Socrates. Socrates was an unfree spirit who apparently believed that human beings could only become free once they were dead, and so he welcomed his death as an escape from what he considered to be the prison of the body, the corruptions of the life of the flesh and the physical senses.
“Become what you are!” and the free spirit has nothing to do with libertinage or wantonness or self-indulgence, which is just an ego-bound interpretation of the meaning of “the free spirit”. It has nothing to do with that whatsoever. The free spirit is not a moral monster, as some have taken that to mean. Really, the shoe is on the other foot. The “moral monsters” are those who have preached a moral code which deforms and frustrates the fuller realisation of the human form and consciousness.
Becoming what you are is connected with the meaning of “the body is the temple of the living God”. So, the irony of Nietzsche is that he restores the entire meaning of history and time as the process of godman-making that was the earlier Christian imperative. “The kingdom of heaven is within you” and “the body is the temple of the living God” still shape Nietzsche’s anticipation of the transhuman as the fully realised “God consciousness” — the divinised consciousness, as it were.
Becoming what you are cannot be properly interpreted unless you also know what Nietzsche considered the true self — not “the self that says “I”, but the self which does “I”. Any kind of interpretation of Nietzsche that takes this as “self-aggrandisement” is completely misleading unless it is understood what the “Self” is for Nietzsche. It is not the ego-consciousness or ego-nature, but is the root and source of the ego identity. Nietzsche was not a fan of egoism nor a philosopher of self-aggrandisement.
“Fundamentally, we experience only ourselves” has been construed by some as proof of Nietzsche’s narcissism. But it is only a statement of a fundamental truth — that, as Seth also put it, “you create the reality you know” both individually and collectively. This is the basis of Nietzsche’s principle of amor fati — “it is so because I willed it thus”, or what we have been referring to as the principle of intent and the intentionality of consciousness itself. If we do, in fact, “create the reality you know”, then it follows that “fundamentally, we experience only ourselves” in projection, and therefore anything we experience is a reflection of that inner creativity of the inner self which the ego-nature should welcome as a teaching. This is not narcissism. Just the opposite, in fact. The confusion lies in mistaking this inner self, or what Nietzsche calls the Dionysian consciousness, for the ego-nature.
The free spirit is the creative spirit. The “master-slave” relationship is actually the relation of this inner self to the outer ego, and this inner self is equally what Meister Eckhart called “The Aristocrat” — the noble and true ennobling factor hid within the human form, and which is the real issue of “self-realisation” and of Nietzsche’s “transhuman” also, or which is also the Jungian integral “Self” as well. We are “slaves” only as long as we identify solely with the body or the ego-nature, routinely living out our lives in oblivious unconsciousness of the greater reality of our being. This is the image of the “zombie” or automaton.
The free spirit is awake, in other words. And this aspect of the free spirit is reflected in an enigmatic statement by William Blake also: “One Law for the Lion & Ox is oppression”, which concludes one of his “memorable fancies” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake’s statement is comparable to Nietzsche’s “Three Metamorphoses of the Spirit” — as camel, as lion, and finally as child. That is, of course, another of Nietzsche’s ironies — “unless ye become as little children” says Scripture.
The “law” refers to the moral law, not the secular law, or what we might also call “the dharma” or even “karmic law“. The Ox bears the yoke, and the camel bears the burden. The “lion” is the free spirit. “Yoke” is also the meaning of the term “yoga”, and as Jesus tells his disciples, his “yoke” is also light. The law will take you only so far after which you must begin to soar on your own wings — “open the doors or perception” as Blake puts it, or “unfold the wings of perception” as don Juan put it to Castaneda. This is the “free spirit”, and it was also the experience of neuroscientist Jill Bolte-Taylor which she recorded in her book My Stroke of Insight.
“The law is meant for man, not man for the law” Jesus tells his disciples after he comes across a man working on the Sabbath, and surprisingly blesses him “if you know what you do”. The Buddha also said much the same thing. The dharma is intended to serve as a raft to help you reach the farthest shore. Why would you carry that heavy raft on your back after reaching the farther shore? Why would you continue to bear the yoke if you metamorphose into the lion?
Law is valid only as long as it serves human beings to reach that farther shore. Otherwise it is repression and oppression. Law is for turning an ape into a fully realised human being. And if it does not serve to do that, it is false law. And that accounts for Blake’s rage against State and Religion.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings — Blake, The Proverbs of Hell
Of course, to understand what that means here, you have to compare it to the myth of Icarus.
The laws of any culture tell you what type of human being that culture wishes to produce and reproduce or, equivalently, those aspects of the human form that should be suppressed or oppressed. Each culture in that respect has its different human standard, which expresses its bias. That bias, which we call “development”, also produces an inherent instability precisely because it usually produces a caricature of a full human being by its exaggeration of one aspect of the fourfold human form which it calls the “norm”.
The purpose of law is to transform an ape into a human being. The problem is that no one understands what “human being” is. “The animal that keeps its promises” is how Nietzsche once described it, more or less. There’s a lot of truth in that. But virtually all cultures which specialise in producing one human type end by producing, instead, a caricature of a human being by over-exaggeration. This pertains also to what Gebser describes as a consciousness structure becoming “deficient”. And certainly you must have noticed that the hyper-partisanship of our current politics has produced caricatures also?
Jesus was the teacher of “the truth that sets free”. But is that how things have turned out really? The truth of the free spirit. Nietzsche thought not, and that Christianity would have to be demolished because it had come to produce caricatures. And yet his “revaluation of values” is an essential reconstitution of it.
Even the principle of “long-suffering” Nietzsche extolled. “What does not kill me makes me stronger” is simply a statement of faith. Human beings can endure anything — any hardship at all — and profit from it spiritually as long as they have a “why”. But without that “why” it is all meaningless, which is nihilism.