Nietzsche: “That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.”
Given that Nietzsche titled his book Beyond Good and Evil, we can assume a higher importance in his mind for what he connects to this phrase. But … love? Really? Nietzsche? Didn’t he espouse the obliteration of all values, despise the Jews and inspire Hitler’s holocaust campaign against humanity?
Surprising answer to all three parts: No. In fact, it was his sister who took charge of his estate and collected his papers after he died; she began spinning his reputation in a direction that agreed with her husband’s antisemitism. (Nietzsche actually condemns it in different published works.)
“Good and evil” in Nietzsche’s thought refers to morality. These are not things in the universe, but values ascribed or attached to things – or rather, to the actions of things (specifically people). While metaphysical realism holds the separate and absolute existence of good and evil (personified in gods and devils), a thorough-going constructivism regards them as values (not entities or supernatural forces) that humans project onto reality. It’s an important part of “world-building” whereby we construct a secure and meaningful habitation in which to live.
In order to get along together, we early on assigned value to certain kinds of social behavior – proper and deviant, right and wrong – and then invented superhuman realities (“good” and “evil”) to anchor them down with authority. Morality, then, is about how human behavior conforms to the standards of right and wrong, as these are customized in a given society (recall that mores are customs).
There’s no indication in Nietzsche’s writings that he preferred social chaos to civil order. His aspiration was for a humanity not tethered to moral standards of good and evil. For the rest of us tribe-bound, people-pleasing and self-interested egos, all this talk of “overcoming morality,” the “death of God,” and living “beyond good and evil” sounds a lot like mustering for a planetary free-for-all. Did he really believe that living without values would be a good thing? Therein lies the paradox.
No, it would not be “good,” for that just pulls us back into the problem. And what’s the problem? That we can’t live creatively and spontaneously so long as we are measuring our actions against the conventional standards of our tribe (however large). Wanting to do “good” is already qualifying human freedom by appealing (read: submitting) to the judgment of someone else – be it the social majority, a dictator, or the mythological god.
Imagine living with such present mindfulness, with such profound awareness of what’s really going on right now, and fully grounded in the “one life” of which you are a part, that your action flows spontaneously and unselfconsciously to the critical point of creative transformation. Thinking as the universe, you know immediately what is needed in the moment and, without pausing to consider what it will cost you or how you could benefit personally from the outcome, you are like a catalyst of transforming change – and simply make it happen. Who did that? Was it an ego, an extension of the tribe or an agent of another will?
No, it wasn’t an “I” (ego). It was The One – Life itself, the creative will that moves the evolutionary process. You weren’t “commanded,” taken over by a higher power or alien force. You (but not ego you) are the will-to-power, the moving energy of creative change. Your actions cannot be validated or disqualified by any standard of right and wrong, for you are a breaking wave of energy on the ocean of reality. You are, in that very moment, beyond good and evil.
This is love, according to Nietzsche the proto-Nazi nihilist. Ah, and I suppose that’s the point. All along we’ve been judging his vision by how it would work out for the rest of us. Not very well – at least, not as long as we’re hunkering down (or trapped and blinded) in the moral kingdom of good and evil.
Love, for Nietzsche, is not an affection, a feeling, an attachment or even a passion. It is doing the creative thing, not because it has to be done – it’s not an obligation, either – but because this is the moment. If we are alive, we must live now.
Step into the current and see where it takes you.