Nietzsche: Master and Slaves

What if morality is just a fiction used by the herd of inferior human beings to hold back the few superior men? In this Sprouts special with Stephen Hicks, we examine Nietzsche’s explanation for how ethics develop and the consequences for master types living in a world that’s dominated by the morality of slaves.

“I read Nietzsche’s book about slave morality but It’s hard for me to explain it to everyone they think i am talking evil things but this video can help me a lot to explain things thanks sprouts”

Hafsa Batool
the full story
Nietzsche 3 full story

Nietzsche argued that there are two explanations for how morality develops.

Part of the story is bio-psychological — in terms of what morality resonates with what psychological type of person one is. The other part of the story is cultural, because   different moral codes develop under different survival circumstances, and so Nietzsche searches history for the survival circumstances that necessitated the development of slave morality.

In the West, Nietzsche finds the slave morality’s roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition–In a decisive set of events that occurred early in Jewish history–the enslavement of the jews in Egypt. The significant result of the Jews’ being enslaved for a long time was the development and internalization of a moral code suitable for surviving slavery.

Suppose that you are a slave: how do you survive? And if you have children who are born into slavery, what survival strategies will you teach them? In order to survive, a slave must obey the master. This does not come naturally. So the first lesson is: you must stifle your nature.

Suppose the master strikes you — the desire for revenge comes naturally — but you have to stifle it.

Suppose the master tells you to wait — being inactive does not come naturally — but you must suppress your desire for activity.

Suppose the master tells you to do something you do not want to do — you must override your desire to do what you want and obey.

Generalizing, you must train yourself to restrain your natural impulses and to internalize a humble, patient, obedient self. You know you must do this because slaves who do not end up dead.

Consequently, Nietzsche asserts, slave virtues have survival value: obedience, humility, forgiveness, and patience are good for slaves. And those are the traits slaves will drill into Their children if they want them to survive. Over time, the slave virtues become cultural values.

In every generation many people are sheep-like and do not especially mind being slaves. But others resent it, and here the story Nietzsche tells becomes darker.

The Origin of the bad conscience
The origin of bad conscience

In order to survive they must direct their natural strength and assertiveness against the expression of their own strength and assertiveness. This naturally leads them to resent the master strongly—but they also start to hate themselves for doing what the master says and for their own role in suppressing themselves.

Psychologically, hating oneself causes unbearable pressure inside: because the outward discharge of the instinct gets inhibited and turns backward against man himself. Hostility, cruelty, joy in destruction — all this turned against the possessors of such instincts: that is the origin of the ‘bad conscience’.

Hatred of the strong, self-hatred, and revenge fantasies to ease the pain become the lived psychological reality of such slaves. Make this psychological reality a matter of months and years, and the results will be ugly and poisonous.

More provocatively, Nietzsche argues that such slave individuals who feel the internal war most strongly become the social leaders of the slaves — that is to say, they become their priests. “It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous proportions.”

In their leadership role, it is the priests who most strongly advocate meekness, humility, and obedience —and who condemn the aggressive strength and pride of the masters. The priests are not in a position to use physical power against the masters. Instead the priests develop and use morality as their weapon of confrontation.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, slave morality becomes part of a revenge strategy. Its point is to enable the weaker to survive in a harsh world—but also to undermine the master type’s confidence in themselves and eventually bring down the masters so as to exact a spiritual revenge.

So: Strength, aggression, weakness, resentment. Is morality really about us getting along together in the world?

Or is it really a tool of power, a survival strategy, and a way for the losers to strike back against the successful? Those are the hard questions Nietzsche makes us live with.


what do you think?
Master vs Slaves what do you think

What are your thoughts on morality? Do you agree with Nietzsche? 

For more information, to reach Stephen Hicks’s full account of the German philosopher or to download this video without background music, check the descriptions below.


Dig Deeper!

Classroom Exercise

Do you feel like a master or a slave?

And do you think one is born as such or can one change their nature? Do Nietzsche’s arguments hold true, or at least somewhat true in the 21st century? 

Discuss in your class and let us know your favorite response!

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