I feel I must preface this with an "I was younger when I wrote this..." line. Not my best work, but I still stand by it in the main.
A Commentary on Zarathustra’s Prologue in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Part I: Our Crisis
Zarathustra is a man who has spent much time in the mountains, contemplating the meaning of life and where society will go, for it is important to realize that he was once a part of society but withdrew, presumably because he found something distasteful about it, something that didn't sit well with him. He has two pets, an eagle and a snake - the eagle represents nobility and strength, and the snake represents wisdom or craftiness. The eagle is respected, because it is the exemplar of virtue or strength, something we can look to because it looks beautiful; how majestic is flight! The eagle is in the sky, and always looked up to quite literally. However, the snake, or wisdom, is something that we tend to hold in disdain, quite literally looked down on... wisdom is something we can't trust and maybe even beneath us. Do not forget that it was a snake that ruined us in Eden! We are naturally afraid of snakes, just as we are naturally afraid of wisdom, and especially those that are, or at least seem, wise... we are constantly afraid they will rob us, cheat us, or outsmart us. Rather than becoming wise, however, we tend to reject it and fear it, ultimately forsaking it. I am compelled to hold back the interpretation of Zoroaster in this, which the earnest student can take up on his/her own time.
"When Zarathustra had spoken these words he beheld the people again and was silent. "There they stand," he said to his heart; "there they laugh. They do not understand me; I am not the mouth for these ears. Must one smash their ears before they learn to listen with their eyes? Must one clatter like kettledrums and preachers of repentance? Or do they believe only the stammerer?
Into the text at hand: The narrator is not Zarathustra, but some third party that is telling us a tale - relating a story by means of complex aphorism. This is significant for it both tells us that the narrator, because he is not Zarathustra, has a different motive from Zarathustra in relating this story, and it also gives us seemingly objective facts - for if it is anything else, we won't accept it! Zarathustra has just spoken words; these words were in praising of the overman, a man that despises himself and longs to be better than he is. He spent the last two chapters describing the overman and his quest for self-betterment, a quest that no one in the town, which Zarathustra has come back to since his time in the mountains, cares for. This becomes more apparent later when the multitude not only rejects the overman, but yearns to be like the last man. The overman is despicable to them, for they are concerned with comfort, not despising themselves. Zarathustra has come back, much like the Socratic figure that comes back to the cave from which he escaped, only to be laughed at and ridiculed by those still charmed by its shadows. The first response of the people was to ignore, then to laugh at and call insane, and then to become angry at and kill.
They are not receptive to Zarathustra. For some reason, they do not trust their eyes, they only trust their ears1. He asks why they will not listen to him in a very strange way. He speaks to himself because the crowd doesn't understand him. Why doesn't the crowd understand him? He speaks the same language; but for some reason, they fail to see the problem at hand as Zarathustra does. Nietzsche calls our attention to their eyes so that we, hopefully, can see (by reading, for how else can one hear with their eyes?) that there is a very serious problem - that we are losing our soul's richness - we are in danger of not being able to give birth to a dancing star, or, put less poetically, we are incapable of being or doing anything great or worthy of wonder or admiration. One need only think of what a star conjures in the imagination of any curious child; the questions of the infinite unknown but possibly knowable, the imagination it would take to theorize about it, etc. These seem to be what we are in danger of losing, possibly forever. After seeing that they will not read, or hear with their eyes, he wonders whether they would listen to loud things, possibly a fright to jolt them into taking the problem at hand seriously, but it is qualified by "preachers of repentance." It is worth noting that Calvinism, a very "fire and brimstone" flavor of Christianity scared most of its hearers into obedience,2 much more so than preaching of Christ's love, since, as Machiavelli points out, fear is more likely to attain obedience than love.3 This preacher of repentance brings back issues of that fire and brimstone kind of speech that scares humanity into shape, and that is exactly what he intends to do. He will use that kind of speech, the loud, frightening speech of future torment if changes are not made. But, why is the stammerer so seductive to them? Is it because the stammerer doesn't know what he's talking about to their ears and minds? Is it because the stammerer is imperfect, and being imperfect - so obviously imperfect - he fits in and is "listened" to? But he doesn't say "listened" - he says believed. What could this mean? The stammerer says nothing; he speaks in bursts with silences and repeats what he says. Is it that repetition breeds belief? Perhaps this is the case. Repetition seems to make ideas more solid, and the stammerer says the same thing over and over, so a stammerer both reinforces and reminds what is already thought to be known, accepted, and believed. This would account for why the stammerer is so seductive – which might also help explain why churches of tired religions repeat the same broken messages over and over again.
"They have something of which they are proud. What do they call that which makes them proud? Education they call it; it distinguishes them from goatherds. That is why they do not like to hear the word 'contempt' applied to them. Let me address their pride. Let me speak to them of what is most contemptible: but that is the last man."
Zarathustra then decides to appeal to their pride. He notes, accurately, that they have something of which they are proud, and that is education. However, this is not true education, since Zarathustra, still talking to himself, says that “they call it” education. This hints to the reader that this education is somehow defective. However, they believe this education edifies them and makes them in some strong way, superior to those without this education. Here is an allegory for rural versus urban life. The Urban folk, those who are “educated” are somehow deluding themselves into thinking that they know the truth about things, forsaking in most ways that matter spirituality and family – in a word: tradition. The Rural fold, or goatherds, represent those in the country that are not aware of the “education” that the urbans receive, but are tied down to tradition and highly linked with their family and their family’s way of life. The “educated” hold the rural uneducated in contempt for their lack of knowledge and blind adherence to silly metaphysics like religion and justice, but Zarathustra implies that they (the urbane) should be contemptible. Zarathustra, we must remember, rejected city life to pursue wisdom and knowledge in solitude, and he represents enlightenment, so there is no reason to believe that the education that is received in this city is equal to, much less superior to the rural way of life. Zarathustra decides to appeal to their vanity – to flatter them. As Machiavelli points out, flattery is a very good way to seduce an audience, especially a powerful audience, like a prince, or a mob.4 But Zarathustra’s appeal to their vanity is stated as an appeal to pride. Given the context of the multitude’s dislike of being held contemptible, especially by outsiders or rurals (of which Zarathustra is now both), Zarathustra will try to use their vanity to make them find their ultimate destination despicable and contemptible. By calling their destination contemptible, he is calling them contemptible in an attempt to make them turn around.5 He then speaks of what is most contemptible: the last man.
Something must be said about their education: Their education is analogous to modern science, and its ubiquitous pomp of progress. But, is it progress? The condescension of Zarathustra toward their education, or their take on science, demands that we examine this problem. Science as progress is sleight of hand at least, and at worst, sick and twisted: science’s notion of progress involves curing illnesses, living easier lives (hence the domesticated animals spoken about later), etc., but what isn’t mentioned nearly as often when people speak of progress is the infinitely more destructive side of modern science; it is a tool that can now be used to wipe out entire civilizations, a small house, or anything in between with the push of a button! While it has worked toward curing disease, it has also worked toward making worse and incurable disease. While it has worked to expand “culture,” it is far more capable of destroying it. Rather than progress toward anything (since modern science is incapable of progressing toward something, but instead moves outward in an amorphous blob, not knowing where it goes and quickly forgets from whence it came – experiments can’t have a desired end, since true objectivity dictates that we must be neutral and only record what is observed from the experiments; hypotheses are equated now to guesses, sometimes very educated and well thought out guesses, but science is incapable of – and apparently quite the opposite of – making judgments), it is like a hole, increasing by having things taken away in its laughable but “solid” foundations of falsification rather than proof. We can’t know what caused the change, but we can think we know what didn’t cause it. How far we’ve come. I digress.
And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: "The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond man, and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to whir!
We cannot forget that Nietzsche meant this to be a commentary on modern liberal democracies and our ultimate destination. We are reminded of this by the narrator’s (Nietzsche’s) diction: “And thus Zarathustra spoke to the people.” “People”, in Greek, is demos, which is the root of democracy. The narrator is retelling what Zarathustra said, to the reader, presumably for a purpose, he could just as easily have said “crowd” or “the assembled” but he chose “people.” But what could that purpose be? For an answer to that, we shall have to look further into the text.
While Zarathustra promised he would show us the last man, he pauses again to show us the negative overman, that is to say, how the overman is in danger of never becoming. Apparently, man is in danger of losing something both the narrator and Zarathustra think are important – or, put more precisely, gaining something trivial to replace that which is truly important. Man has too many goals. Zarathustra urges us to set ourselves a goal, not two, not more, but only one. In the chapter before this one, he says that one is enough and two is too many.6 But he also says that this goal must be set by ourselves, which is to say we must look within ourselves to find out what this goal is. This goal is self-knowledge. Man must plant the seed of his highest hope; all of this is in the singular. This begins to set the stage for the gardening imagery he will employ later in this same paragraph and at other times. A garden naturally replenishes itself by reabsorbing the remains of what was planted. This seed of the desire for self-knowledge must be planted before the soil can no longer support it so that it can gain more richness to grow even taller. Here, we are reminded of Aristotle’s discussion of telos or maturity. An acorn’s (seed’s) maturity is an oak (tree). The better the soil, the higher it grows. Our soul’s soil is perhaps still rich enough, that is to say, we haven’t completely bought into this new education that grooms us to be last men, but we’re approaching it fast. The trees reach up to the sky away from their dirty roots and into the heavens – toward the gods! This tells the reader that the key to self-knowledge isn’t to be found in admiring the mundane, but reaching higher, beyond oneself, ever climbing toward perfection. The soil that enriches the souls of human beings is too pale, it can no longer sustain its offspring, and fertilizer, thanks to science, is now called manure. Zarathustra is concerned that we are in danger of becoming like domesticated animals. He fears that we will become de-clawed because we will no longer need to hunt or fight, and we will be able to move around indoors without tearing anything. We will be provided for by administrations or parents, and no longer take care of ourselves in any noticeable way. We will no longer have violent thoughts but instead grow fat from laziness and lethargy. Reintroduction back into the wild would kill us. Zarathustra then reminds us of two very powerful images using only one: the archer shooting his arrow. Paul in the New Testament and David in the Old compare sinning to “missing the mark.” “Sin” in Hebrew (khata) translates to “going astray”. Hamartia is the word in Greek, and it means “missing the mark” in the sense of failure or fault – not accident. Aristotle’s commentary on hamartia notwithstanding, the analogy here is still apt. One must aim and shoot, and one hopes not to miss the mark or go astray – much rides on this success. The authors of these effective analogies are exemplars of their faiths and traditions, and Zarathustra is hoping to strike a chord, if you’ll forgive the expression. The second image is out of Machiavelli; in chapter VI of The Prince Machiavelli describes how to make oneself better, that is, to have role models – but only the best role models – and to aim to outdo the role models so that if we fall short (miss the mark), we will at least have come close (Machiavelli’s words are a little different, but much funnier). But what does it mean to say that “the string of his bow will have forgotten how to whir!”? We can understand this better in the context of Zarathustra’s fear that we will begin to shoot our arrow of longing toward man, and not reach for that which is beyond, i.e. nobility and virtue. When you are trying to shoot toward yourself, there is no need to use the bow, much less the string, and it rots from disuse. Also, drawing back a bow requires effort – effort that might not reward… It is safer not to try. This also could mean that we may forget how to look beyond ourselves. The tension of the string is vital to the usefulness of the bow. A loose string does nothing and a string too tight will break the bow. Tension is the key – the soul of man must be a tension, a kind of strife or chaos for the bow to create the tension necessary to make the string whir. Not only are the highest role models required, but profound tension in one’s soul is also required for man to shoot the arrow of his longing beyond man. This analogy is almost too much to digest. Man must use the tension in himself, and this tension can be brought about by looking at what is despicable and beautiful in man as man, wishing to overcome the mere and aim for the superlative. One aims beyond oneself toward (and hopefully beyond) the greatest of men to use them as a guide toward better as better, not merely to be like them. This is what is sorely lacking in modern democratic society of artificial equality and lukewarm, disgusting sameness.
"I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
"Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.
Luckily for the multitude, they still have elements of wildness in them… they can still give birth to this dancing star – but Zarathustra suggests that giving birth to a dancing star is desirable. What is a dancing star? It is seductive, far away, and bright, always taking our attention in the darkness of night when nothing else is there, aiding us and guiding us – but it is something that we gave birth to, something that came from within our own souls! It is the goal by which we set our lives. It is worth noting that here, Zarathustra gives them something important: hope.
But right after giving us this hope, he laments! He reminds us that we are approaching a time when our soil/soul will be so dead that it can no longer produce this value. Again, he laments, and begins his discussion of the last man.
Zarathustra promised to show us the last man – we must see the last man through speech, just as the audience must, and not hear it with our ears.
Part II: The Last Man
The last man, as Zarathustra believes, is the most despicable, and he will now give us positive reasons why, rather than relating the last man as the opposite of the desirable and noble overman.
" 'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the last man, and he blinks.
The last man asks what love, creation, longing, and a star are. We can either presume that we have arrived late into the conversation the last man is having, or we can presume that the last man, figuratively, has been called down to speak by Zarathustra and is speaking through Zarathustra and responding to Zarathustra’s attack, if not in fact, then at least in speech. These questions are asked in quiet condescension by the last man to Zarathustra’s speech, compelling the reader to believe that the last man, the product of modern liberal democracy’s direction, either doesn’t know what they are or is above them; perhaps both. The blinking here signifies disbelief, almost akin to disdain at such foolish and nonsensical things. Love isn’t related to the soul… in fact, there is no such thing as love – it is a biochemical reaction that is easily explained and the mystery is plucked out of it. It’s really as simple as that for that last man. Creation? No, there is no such thing as creation – matter can’t be created, and everything is made of matter… it’s all about changed states… there is no creation or destruction! Longing? What would the last man want or need with such a concept? They have everything they want – for they say they have invented happiness. The most interesting question, though, is “What is a star?” The star is something that symbolizes outward looking, or striving toward some high goal, or a guide amidst darkness and nothingness. If the last man doesn’t know what a star is, he is not looking beyond himself, he has no compass by which to steer himself, and his life is not animated by wonder (to experience the wonder, just look outside at the stars on any given night and imagine what they must be like, or ask a child to do the same and mark the reactions). The lack of wonder is probably the most frightening diagnosis, because philosophy can only begin in wonder – it is a precondition, along with leisure, that must be satisfied for philosophy to take place at all. Wonder (aporia) is an impasse, or “a knocking away of supports” that starts the mind working toward any inquiry into how things are, human or otherwise. The last man does not wonder, probably not so much because he has everything figured out, but more because the things that aren’t figured out aren’t very important to him. The last man asks this and cannot believe such primitives still exist… he cannot imagine people could still buy into this. It is worth considering, though, what branches of philosophy, which is real education, are attached to his questions: love reminds us of the greatest literature – of poetry. Creation is theology, the quest for that divinity which is beyond man and the foundation and meaning of his origins. Longing is philosophy itself – the longing to be something more than what you are, the longing to know, the self-knowledge that comes with noticing and rightly understanding the longings within the human soul.7 Astronomy, the intermediary between divinity and humanity, the study of the celestial… all of this is unknown to the last man because it does not figure into comfort and safety.
"The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest.
The last man makes the earth small, that is to say, there are no longer, thanks to modern technology and a lack of place, any distances so vast that they cannot be reached within a day. The last man hops around from place to place with great ease in this modern world made small by monumental travel access… the last man makes everything small. The question remains if space will be small in the future – if we continue on our present course, who knows? The point is that the last man robs the wonder out of everything. The last man is everywhere, for they have populated the earth so much they are like flee-beetles – tiny insects (how prophetic and profound) that have no conception of place or purpose, other than to consume food and reproduce… that seems to be the last man’s drive. The race of the last man and the actual longevity of the last man, which will later be further discussed, is started here to show how they are no longer concerned with dying a meaningful death, but living – for as long as possible – a meaningless life.
" 'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth.
The last man has invented happiness, and they blink, again showing disbelief that anyone could find this way of life unhappy. Who doesn’t want to live longer? Who doesn’t want to see the world – as much as possible and experience everything? Again, this serves to rob the wonder out of everything. The last man has left the regions that are inhospitable, which is not to say they don’t occupy those spaces… they have merely found ways to make them more hospitable. Heaters make northern Canada bearable to those accustomed to moderate weather, and air conditioners make hot weather the same for those suited to cooler climates. Here, there is no longer a sense of the indomitable spirit overcoming harsh nature, but instead, modern science triumphing over nature to make souls weaker and nature less worrisome. The last man is still sociable (not necessarily social) in that he will spend time with neighbors to get what he needs (“for one needs warmth”), but this is a superficial society concerned more with individualism rather than a common good. Here, everyone looks out for number one, and others are tolerated for benefits they can give.
"Becoming sick and harboring suspicion are sinful to them; one proceeds carefully. A fool, whoever still stumbles over stones or human beings! A little poison now and then: that makes for agreeable dreams. And much poison in the end, for an agreeable death.
There is, for the last man, a stigma that comes with being sick. No one wants to be sick, for that damages the “quality” of life, and could wind up ending the quantity of life as well. But for the last men, it isn’t just undesirable to be sick – now it is sinful! It represents a total missing of the mark for the last man’s way of life. The last man wants to live a life as free from suffering as he can, which includes using anti-bacterial soap and drinking bottled water and eating organic fruit so that they will avoid sickness always. All in an attempt to live forever! Does this mean that suffering is good for the soul?8 Harboring suspicion, which is being intolerant, is now no longer tolerated anymore either: for this “society” to function with as little resistance as possible and with as little strife as possible, it requires that everyone adapt to everyone else’s way of life provided they still have the one virtue shared: live as long as you can without suffering in any way.9 Human beings are compared to stones – something to stumble over. Nothing, then, should interfere with the steady stride of progress. The comparison of stones to human beings both suggests that humans are now inanimate and sedentary, while also showing that they are something not to be noticed or stumbled over. We must skip over them in order to live a life free from suffering, lest we dash our foot upon a stone. This society demands that we be more anti-social. To form "relationships" would only increase the suffering. To escape from suffering, though, the last man uses poisons: some mild, some lethal. All of this is an attempt to further ease pain. A painful experience like childbirth is eased by epidurals and anesthetics. Depression is “cured” by uppers and problems are forgotten with appropriate “poisons.” If life becomes boring or unpleasant, some poison in the end to die painlessly is taken and all the problems of life are solved – all by drugs, prescribed or otherwise.
"One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.
"No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.
The last man, after amassing some tidy sum to live comfortably, still works, since work is a form of recreation. Imagine a billionaire that still works (Bill Gates): he doesn’t need more money, but there is something satisfying in working. Perhaps the last man doesn’t see that the nature of the struggle is appealing! How else could one explain why a man that has it made still works? Working, as the last man admits, is a form of entertainment. Sadly, this entertainment, while a struggle, is meant to divert the last man’s attention away from a very serious problem: He’s going to die. In his concern for his safety, he avoids too much entertainment lest he become aware of his own mortality. The last man becomes too concerned with his own safety to do anything, even in the name of diversion, that might endanger his health. He does not want to be reminded by fear that he will die. “One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion.” We no longer want to be so wealthy that we could buy or sell the world, but instead we want just enough to be comfortable. While Hobbes thought this prospect was good, Zarathustra and perhaps Nietzsche do not. Hobbes’ goal in such an idea was the safety of the body politic.10 In becoming so safe, however, it might be possible that a society, totally concerned with safety, forgets about glory or goes along with public opinion so that he is not different from the masses. To stand against the masses is anything but safe. We must, however, not forget about the other end of the last man’s assertion: being poor requires too much effort. What could this mean? We must remember that Socrates said that he was in ten thousand-fold poverty. The quest for wisdom might necessarily mean a life of poverty – however one chooses to read this, the question of poverty must be addressed. Let it suffice to say that poverty makes life very uncomfortable, and people are then driven to do abnormal things – they may steal, lie, or cheat, or they may do something to win glory… all of this has been bred out of the last man. Working also robs us of the necessary leisure time required for philosophic investigation. These activities are too dangerous, and the fear of death may rear its ugly head. Does one still want to rule? There is great pressure that comes with ruling, for heavy is the head that wears the crown, but the glory that comes with ruling has been forgotten by the last man. No one wants to rule or to obey: they want to be left alone to their own devices – to be a herd that moves with itself at its collective whim. Nothing is different – everyone – everything is the same. There are no longer any rocks (human beings that remain obstinate in their ways; recall earlier about tripping over rocks and human beings) that stand in the way of smooth movement. In the last man’s world, there are no longer any principles that remain firm. Morality is fluid and held down by nothing. Whatever society does, for the last man, is acceptable provided that no one harms them and do not act too differently, because to be different is to be considered insane. Recall the commercials for anti-depressants: it asks if you feel out of place… if you feel different. The answer, it says, is anti-depressants, because then you will feel like you fit in and are the same as everyone else. How prophetic Zarathustra and Nietzsche were. However, to add some humor to this, people actually check into madhouses/clinics because they do not feel as though they are fitting in – quite literally going into a madhouse voluntarily!
" 'Formerly, all the world was mad,' say the most refined, and they blink.
"One is clever and knows everything that has ever happened: so there is no end of derision. One still quarrels, but one is soon reconciled - else it might spoil the digestion.
"One has one's little pleasure for the day and one's little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.
" 'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink."
The most refined and most educated believe very strongly that all cultures and peoples before them were quite insane. They had the strangest and most outlandish ways of looking at the world, believing silly things about love being the union of two souls split apart before time… the last men know, via science, that this phenomenon is actually a series of biochemical reactions and desires for some modicum (not too much, for that would “crowd” them) of companionship at a whim. Somehow, believes the most refined of the last men, that these are two different ways of saying the same thing… one is just more scientific and accurate, easily provable. Imagine further the history of various societies throughout time and the concomitant issues we regard as crazy: the oppression of women, slavery, war, honor, reputation, subjugation, conquest, glory, minorities… Again, the last men blink at this, again to show how backward anyone thinking otherwise is. Do not many people today believe such things to be mad? They condemn snidely, almost mocking subtlety.
These refined last men believe they know everything that has ever happened. They have everything figured out – everything, that is, except the best way of life, or so Zarathustra would have us believe. However, there is still argument, albeit so tame it can’t be called argument, over what exactly happened… but they have it pretty well figured out to their satisfaction. There are tiny quarrels, but they don’t last long since doing so would foster suspicion and possibly jeopardize safety. Such conflicts would make one nervous and paranoid, spoiling all the natural pleasures that the last man can still enjoy with fear.11 How far do people really go to advance, defend, or attack a stance or opinion?
Again, the last man tells the audience that they have fun at day and at night… but they are concerned with health. Their sex lives, for they still enjoy sex, are monitored by their concern for their health. They stay away from diseases and play only delicately with dangerous pleasures like hard drugs, liquor, etc. There is no risk, no exhilaration, no wonder or amazement. While they believe they are having fun, it is and must be cut short if there is ever the slightest concern for their health or comfort. Sleep, of course, also enters into this: sleep is like death in that one is unconscious of the world around them and cannot be an effective agent in changing anything. One is not living when one is asleep. However, there is some pleasure in sleep, since it is still existing with the option of waking up, but still being able to escape, albeit temporarily, problems and the worst pain (and pleasure) of all – thinking! Those that consider sleep a pleasure are trying to escape the responsibility and pains of reality and living. The last man is existing, but not living. Sleep helps distract from the fear of death. Sleep, however, cannot be enjoyed if there is fear of death – and fear or anxiety always hurts the pleasures of carefree sleep.12 Here is the miracle of modern liberal democracy – the invention of a perpetual kind of waking sleep that blinds people to reality, numbing it and helping those enjoying it to forget their fear of death and merely exist. This is the fun the last man enjoys! This is not fun at all… this is domestication, and the last man knows it now! He repeats that they have invented happiness, and he blinks, but this time, it isn’t in snide condescension, but now in disbelief of his own claims! Zarathustra’s summoning of the last man reveals that if the last man is what eventually awaits man, man will not find it so happy. If man embarks on this path, it is not certain that he can come back from it, since the soil of man’s soul is becoming less and less rich.
And here ended Zarathustra's first speech, which is also called "the Prologue"; for at this point he was interrupted by the clamor and delight of the crowd. "Give us this last man, O Zarathustra," they shouted. "Turn us into these last men! Then we shall make you a gift of the overman!" And all the people jubilated and clucked with their tongues.
These are the last man’s words and actions, and he is gone, not of his own will, but because Zarathustra was interrupted by the noise of the crowd desiring to become the last man.13 Zarathustra’s speech was lost on them – all they heard were the benefits that come with being comfortable and healthy. However, there is something strange that happens: the crowd desire to be the last man, but they say they will “make [Zarathustra] a gift of the overman.” Is it possible that the overman is the result of the last man? It is speculated that Nietzsche believed (or hoped) that once modern liberal democracies came to this fate of the last man, they would realize it was wretched and desire to become more like the overman.
But Zarathustra became sad and said to his heart: "They do not understand me: I am not the mouth for these ears. I seem to have lived too long in the mountains; I listened too much too brooks and trees: Now I talk to them as to goatherds. My soul is unmoved and bright as the mountains in the morning. But they think I am cold and I jeer and make dreadful jests. And now they look at me and laugh: and as they laugh they even hate me. There is ice in their laughter."
I will leave the final paragraph up to your interpretation.
Part III: The Solution
Whether or not the overman is the solution to this domestication is not clear. The opposite – being wild and violent were probably not Nietzsche’s desired results for people in civil society. It is an interesting notion, but not one that can be entertained if one wishes to pursue a contemplative life, since such a life is only possible in civil society – not in the warlike state of nature. What, then, is the solution? We must remember that Nietzsche was criticizing liberal democracy for where it was going and, in all fairness, where it already was.
I have made use of Walter Kaufmann's translation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. All references above are to it.
1. Cf. Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, specifically the story of Pausanias’ treason and the reluctance of the Spartans to accept it, because they wouldn’t trust their eyes. They refused to believe that he was a traitor until he admitted that he was a traitor. They would believe only their ears. 1.128-1.135, with particular attention to 1.133.1. This could (as it relates to the Spartans) be a warning of impending illiteracy. That is to say, people can read, but cannot deeply understand what they read.
4. Ibid. Chapter 18, page 70.
5. Repent” means “to turn around” or “to turn away from.”
8. Cf. pages 34-35 “On the Despisers of the Body” for an interesting discussion of this problem: “Soul” is only mentioned twice, and in the beginning; Zarathustra then switches from “soul” to “spirit.” The “self,” though, is perhaps an “awakened” sum of body and soul. But why does he make the distinction in the beginning?
9. Cf. pages 48-51, “On the New Idol”. This refers to the state, and reminds us of Hobbes.
10. Imagine the image of the Leviathan from Hobbes.
12. Ibid. 6.6-7
13. One cannot say for sure, but perhaps the last man would have remained there to ask Zarathustra how to come back to the overman.