The Power of the Individual According to Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche can be a polarising figure. Describing his own writing as “philosophising with a hammer,” shows that he knew this too. He said this to describe his method of hitting ideas and idols to see how true they rang. It is also an apt way of describing the bluntness and forceful nature of his words and ideas. Regardless, within Nietzsche’s work there is a lot to learn and what better place than Beyond Good and Evil.


Every superior human being will instinctively aspire after a secret citadel where he is set free from the crowd… as a man of knowledge in the great and exceptional sense, he will be impelled by an even stronger instinct to make straight for this rule.

To be a success it is necessary to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Through individuality we can find freedom and knowledge. The freedom to go our own way and to not have to force ourselves to fit in with the wishes of the crowd. Individualism also lends it to the pursuit of knowledge. By setting ourselves apart from the crowd we are left on our own to discover our beliefs and ideas, we cannot simply adopt those of the crowd. While it is true that to develop opinions and ideas independently is harder, Nietzsche believed that it was the truest expression of self and the path for all those who wanted to better themselves.

In our youthful years we respect and despise without that art of nuance which constitutes the best thing we gain from life, and, as is only fair, we have to pay dearly for having assailed men and things with Yes and No in such a fashion.

Through this individual pursuit of knowledge we develop nuance. Nietzsche identifies the ability to find nuance in ideas and in life as a whole is the path to maturity and the surest demonstration of success as an individual. While being part of a crowd we are limited to only ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to indicate our beliefs. Crowds split the world in two: us versus them. The person who is able to step away from the crowd has the advantage of seeing all sides and develops nuance.

‘He shall be the greatest who can be the most solitary, the most concealed, the most divergent, the man beyond good and evil, the master of his virtues.

The true individual, in Nietzsche’s eyes, is the embodiment of greatness. They are someone who has split from the crowd. Someone who has developed nuance, being able to look beyond the binary nature of crowds. Look beyond good and evil. The individual has developed their own way of being, their own philosophy and ideas. This, for Nietzsche, is true greatness.

Women themselves always have their impersonal contempt — for ‘woman’.

However, by setting ourselves apart from the crowd we inevitably attract attention and there is nothing that the crowd hates more than divergence. The crowd is threatened by the individual as it challenges the accepted ideas and ideals of the crowd. So, the crowd must resist. This is the cost of individualism.

The herd-man in Europe today makes himself out to be the only permissible kind of man and glorifies the qualities through which he is tame, peaceable and useful to the herd as the real human virtues.

Nietzsche saw that the crowd and those who controlled the crowds had effectively tamed humanity. Collectivism ruled and the individual was only valued for what they could contribute to the group and for their obedience within the group. The promotion of these values was the success of the crowd as they had ensured that the “herd instinct of obedience has been inherited best.” A generation had been raised who were devoted to the crowd and this came with terrible consequences as the 20th Century played out.

Every new human being [as] an opportunity for a new possession.

The crowd is there to be exploited and for those so inclined, humanity has set itself up to be exploited. Nietzsche believed that crowds would always be exploited and would inevitably be at another’s mercy. Being within the crowd was merely being the possession of someone else. Owned by another’s thoughts and desires. This was no way to live. Only by pursuing the path of individuality can we hope to be in control of our own lives and thoughts. Only through individualism can we find true purpose in life. A purpose that is unique to us.

He who has seen deeply into the world knows what wisdom there is in the fact that men are superficial. It is their instinct for preservation which teaches them to be fickle.

Nietzsche understands the allure of the crowd and why people are drawn to it. Humans are herd creatures and there is safety within the group. The wolf-pack is, after all, far stronger than the lone wolf. With an interest in self-preservation, it is necessary for people to fit in with the crowd, even if this means that “for the sake of his reputation — [man] sacrificed himself.” For Nietzsche this was a part of human nature and the way that the majority would always trend.

However, he advocated for what he saw as a more noble way of being and one that all should aspire to. Although, he did not believe that the majority would be able to, or even be comfortable adopting individualism. Individualism goes against our most primitive instincts.

But individualism breeds progress. Individuals come up with ideas and challenge the status quo; this is how society advances. Businesses succeed as they stand out from competition and we celebrate athletes who do what no one else can. There is a tension between our admiration and draw to the individual and the safety that crowds afford us.

There isn’t necessarily a correct mode of being, ironically, that is down to the individual and their personality. Nietzsche saw the pursuit of individualism as the path to greatness and believed that “one should not go into churches if one wants to breathe pure air,” purity of thought was only found in solitude not in a congregation.

What do you think? Where does the balance lie? With the individual or the crowd?

All quotes are from Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche.

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