Nietzsche 2 and the Baha'i Writings 

                                        by Ian Kluge

4: Master and Slave Morality

 The issue of Nietzsche’s “aristocratic radicalism” brings us to one of the most challenging, controversial and thought-provoking subjects in Nietzsche’s philosophy – master and slave morality as presented in On the Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil. This is one of the places where reconciling the Bahá’í Writings and Nietzsche is not really convincing. As we shall demonstrate, at most there is a possible parallelism at work.


 In outline, Nietzsche’s theory is simple enough. There exist two kinds of morality, i.e. on one hand, the morality of the ruling aristocrats, nobility and masters, and, on the other hand, the morality of the slaves i.e. the subservient classes of people. Nietzsche’s description of the masters is provocatively unpleasant to most readers: they are hard, proud, intolerant of weakness, self-confident, challenge-seeking, war-like, active and energetic, strong, bluntly truthful about themselves and the world, and focused on what is right. In direct– and contemptuous contrast – slave morality values the useful i.e. the comfortable and advantageous over the right; it values weakness, kindness and compassion, humility, patience, equality of all things as well denigrating earthly life in favor of a heavenly life after death. According to Nietzsche, these two moralities clash – although one of them, i.e. slave morality, is the victor in the modern world. Nietzsche links this historical downfall with the rise of the priestly class in Judaism and Christianity which he identifies with slave morality. However, it is essential to remember that to one degree or another, the struggle between the two kinds of morality continues within us today.[1]


 Nietzsche’s views on this subject are summarised in the following passage from On the Genealogy of Morals:

   All the world's efforts against the "aristocrats," the "mighty," the "masters," the                "holders of power," are negligible by comparison with what has been
               accomplished against those classes by the Jews — the Jews, that priestly nation which     eventually realised that the one method of effecting satisfaction on its enemies and         tyrants was by means of a radical transvaluation of values, which was at the same time        an act of the cleverest revenge. Yet the method was only appropriate to a nation of                priests, to a nation of the most jealously nursed priestly revengefulness. It was the Jews       who, in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good = aristocratic = beautiful = happy     = loved by the gods), dared with a terrifying logic to suggest the contrary equation, and         indeed to maintain with the teeth of the most profound hatred (the hatred of            weakness) this contrary equation, namely, "the wretched are alone the good; the poor,       the weak, the lowly, are alone the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the                loathsome, are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them       alone is salvation — but you, on the other hand, you aristocrats, you men of power,    you are to all eternity the evil, the horrible, the covetous, the insatiate, the godless; eternally also shall you be the unblessed, the cursed, the damned!"[2]

Before proceeding, we hasten to add that this passage is not an anti-Semitic outburst – Nietzsche openly despised anti-semitism especially in his sister and brother-in-law; rather, it is an observation of a historical turn of events. The historical event that most clearly shows the success of this slave revolt is the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 CE by which Christianity and its slave morality became the only authorized religion in the Roman Empire. The passage from On the Genealogy of Morals describes the conflict between the master morality – the morality of the aristocrats as discussed in the previous section[3] – and the slave morality as well as the transvaluation of values by which slave morality came to dominate the master morality and, thereby, the world. It also touches on resentiment, a bitter, grudging type of jealousy that motivated the Jewish priestly caste to overthrow the noble morals of the aristocrats. This priestly morality is basically a perversion of the will to power – a will to weakness and helplessness that in Nietzche’s view causes people to diminish their true selves.

 It should be briefly noted that as Max Nordau already pointed out in 1895, from a historical perspective, Nietzsche’s theory and history is nonsense.[4] The Jews did not initiate this “transvaluation of values” for the simple reason that Hinduism and Buddhism – which pre-date Judaism by centuries and millennia – had not only preached a “slave morality” but identified it with the noble classes.[5] Nor does Nietzsche’s “master morality” reflect the feudal concept of fidelity in which lords and those beneath them were bound in reciprocal contractual obligations. Nietzsche’s master-slave morality theory is, at best, a philosophical myth like Plato’s Republic or Rousseau’s The Social Contract i.e. a theoretical model by which to analyze and evaluate other social systems. Why Nietzsche tries to pass it off as a historical narrative is a question that need detain us here.

 Leaving aside these historical problem, the Bahá’í Writings and Nietzsche’s views on master and slave morality are incompatible on at least one fundamental issue, viz. the Writings identify what Nietzsche calls “slave morality” with the ethical teachings of the Manifestations of God and the “master morality” with the proud and corrupt rulers and leaders of the world to whom Bahá'u'lláh wrote admonitory epistles. In other words, the Bahá’í Writings favor what Nietzsche calls “slave morality”: the morality of the weak, the oppressed, the humble, the compassionate, and the long-suffering as well as the values of dedication to God, unselfishness and service to others. Conversely, the Manifestations have sought to overcome the unself-critical, unreflective self-satisfaction of our animal natures that marks the cruelty and ruthlessness of beasts – and Nietzsche’s master class. The Writings suggest that had Nietzsche’s slave revolt and transvaluation of values been a real historical event, it would have been a positive step forward in the moral and spiritual evolution of humankind. The Manifestations Who taught this ‘slave morality’ knew that humanity could not advance towards unity if it were divided between two conflicting moralities.


 Moreover, unlike Nietzsche, the Manifestations obviously understood the superiority of the ‘slave’ morals insofar as they maintained the ethics of self-overcoming which “distinguishes the moral [person] from the nonmoral [person].”[6] Kaufmann adds that “self-criticsm, i.e. man’s critical reflection on his own intentions and actions – is the core of morality.”[7] A description of master morality shows it to be painfully smug and self-satisfied even about inflicting violence and, therefore, is highly unlikely to lead to the kind of self-critical awareness required for self-overcoming. Ironically, Nietzsche’s own standard of self-overcoming means that the aristocracy fails Nietzsche’s test for being moral.  In sharp contrast, the slave morality with its intense awareness of its own weakness and other deficiencies is far more likely to be open to the process of self-overcoming and, thereby, according to Nietzsche’s own standards, becomes more fit to rule.


 This leads to a crucial question: ‘Does the master-slave morality distinction really fit into Nietzsche’s ethical schema which is based on self-overcoming? Or is it a digression of sorts, a departure that is not fully integrated or necessarily connected to his philosophy and, therefore, does not fit logically and easily into his metaphysics, ontology and ethics? From the standpoint of self-overcoming this certainly seems to be the case. Even the reply that the masters had to practice self-overcoming to attain their position does not suffice since, as we have previously shown, that is not their nature. They are not at all like the exemplary Zarathustra whose development never stops.


 In our view, at this point we encounter a forked road in Nietzsche’s ethics. On one hand, we have the “aristocratic radicalism” or master-slave morality, with its use of violence and the will to power as domination, and on the other we have the ethics based on the self-overcoming, sublimation and the will to power as self-actualization. These two views are not truly reconcilable even though they originate in one source: the will to power. They are two different directions in which the teaching of the will to power can be developed. Each is tenable when regarded by itself but neither is genuinely reconcilable with the other.

 Walter Kaufmann tries to avoid this dilemma by suggesting that Nietzsche “would like us to conform to neither [master nor slave morality] and become autonomous,[8] i.e. grow beyond both. However, it is difficult to see how being “autonomous” prevents us from having to make choices that either agree more with master or with slave morality or with having to deal with consequences that lead to one side or the other. Two great novels, Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment and Conrad Aiken’s King Coffin show how attempts to rise beyond these alternatives inevitably fail. Ironically, Kaufmann undermines his own position when he asserts that “the will to power is the core of Nietzsche’s thought, but inseparable from his idea of sublimation.”[9] If sublimation and self-overcoming are irrevocably connected, then the theory of the will to power tends strongly in favor of slave morality which is more naturally allied with sublimation and self-overcoming and using the will to power for self-transformation instead of force and domination. As we have already noted above, master morality is only weakly connected to sublimation and self-overcoming. Indeed, even Nietzsche’s position on this division is ambiguous. On one hand there is Zarathustra, the exemplar of what humankind should become, i.e. a bridge to the Superman, who engages in constant self-overcoming, who preaches to the “last men” in hopes of awakening the adventure of self-overcoming, who uses no more than the power of words to attain his goals and who has no real interest in dominating others by force.  Yet, on the other hand, we have the “master” and “master-morality” justified by a ruthless vision of life:  

What is life? — Life — that is: continually shedding something that wants to die. Life — that is; being cruel and inexorable against everything about us that is growing old and weak — and not only about us. Life — that is, then: being without reverence
for those who are dying, who are wretched, who are ancient? Constantly being a murderer? — And yet old Moses said: "Thou shalt not kill."[10]

The mocking tone of “old Moses” – far more obvious in German than in English – makes clear his contempt for the attributes of slaved morality. Nietzsche’s ambiguity is further emphasized by statements like the following: “with this mastery over himself he [the master] is necessarily also given the mastery over circumstances, over nature, over all creatures with shorter wills, less reliable characters. [ ]”[11] Nietzsche tries to join self-overcoming to the concept of domination but his many descriptions of the ruthlessness of the masters undermines his effort. The smug, self-satisfaction, confidence and intense egoism of the masters is simply not conducive to self-overcoming.


At this point, a question arises: ‘Can the Bahá’í Writings be brought into greater alignment with Nietzsche’s master-slave morality? In our view, there is no direct correspondence between the Writings and Nietzsche on this matter so no agreements or convergences are evident. However, we find some elements of a parallelism of ideas, i.e. we can find ideas that are different in content but fulfill some of the same functions. In the Bahá’í view the concept of domination must be replaced with the concept of service, i.e. the ‘leaders’ or aristocrats serve humankind. They are ‘masters’ in the art of promoting spiritual evolution. Thus, both the Writings and Nietzsche have a concept of rank i.e. ways of distinguishing ourselves by special attributes and/or actions but these work in antithetical ways. One obvious difference is that for Nietzsche there is a relationship of enmity and forceful domination between the masters and those whom they rule. In the Bahá’í Writings the ‘leaders’ neither rule nor dominate nor regard others as foes nor are they part of a permanent class. They lead by force of good example and exemplary behavior, by obedience to Bahá'u'lláh’s revelation, by constant striving to develop their “spiritual susceptibilities”[12] and in service to others. Indeed, in the Bahá’í view the concept of domination must be replaced with the concept of service, i.e. the ‘leaders’ serve humankind. They are ‘masters’ in the art of promoting spiritual evolution. Unlike Nietzsche’s masters, his exemplary hero Zarathustra could agree with much of the following: 
 'O people! Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.' At most it is this, that some souls are ignorant,  they must be educated; some are sick, they must be healed; some are still of tender age, they must be helped to attain maturity, and the utmost  kindness must be shown to them. This is the conduct of the people of Baha.[13]  


At the beginning of his journey down the mountain, Zarathustra, he tells the old man in the forest, “I love mankind”[14] and answers the old man’s objections by saying, “I am bringing mankind a gift.”[15] He comes down from the mountain heights to educate, to heal, to mature and to show his insights with a sincere heart and kindness. In effect, he comes down to serve in agreement with the words of Bahá'u'lláh that “The people are ignorant, and they stand in need of those who will expound the truth.”[16] If there is an ‘aristocracy’ in the Bahá’í Writings, it is an ‘aristocracy’ of service –certainly not an aristocracy of power, domination and harshness.


The idea of rank points to an agonistic aspect to the Writings – which they share with Nietzsche insofar as they both endorse competition – rivalry to outdo one another – in the quest for serving humanity, i.e. spiritual competition that involves struggle and conquest not just of ourselves but also external, worldly challenges; steadfastly facing the tests of teaching; and setting noble examples and thereby exercising leadership and even influencing governance.


Happy the soul that shall forget his own good, and like the chosen ones of God, vie with his fellows in service to the good of all; until, strengthened by the blessings and perpetual confirmations of God, he shall be empowered to raise this mighty nation up to    its ancient pinnacles of glory, and restore this withered land to sweet new life.[17]


This, too, – except for the reference to God – is an exhortation that Zarathustra could endorse since he also forgets his own good and comes down into the world to bring a new way of living. Here is another example of how the Writings encourage spiritual competition in regards to service: "Vie ye with each other in the service of God and of His Cause. This is indeed what profiteth you in this world, and in that which is to come."[18] The Universal House of Justice writes, “He [Shoghi Effendi] frequently quoted Bahá'u'lláh's admonition “Vie ye with each other in the service of God and His Cause” and openly encouraged a competitive spirit in its noblest form.”[19] Such competition not only includes struggle, i.e. self-conquest and the spiritual conquest of worldly obstructions, the challenges of teaching the Cause, and exercising leadership by good examples but also includes the fact that some should seek to out-do or out-perform our fellow believers to “profit[ ] [us] in this world and in that which is to come.”


To the objection that this sounds too combative, we point out that there is an agonistic aspect in the Writings. For example, according to `Abdu'l-Bahá, greed in the quest for spiritual goods – like greed for victories in the spiritual service of humankind – is a virtue:

 The answer to this is that greed, which is to ask for something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used suitably. So if a man is greedy to acquire science and     knowledge, or to become compassionate, generous and just, it is most praiseworthy.[20]


In one of `Abdu'l-Bahá’s prayers we read: 

 O Thou incomparable God! O Thou Lord of the Kingdom! These souls are Thy heavenly army. Assist them and, with the cohorts of the Supreme Concourse, make them    victorious, so that each one of them may become like unto a regiment and conquer these    countries through the love of God and the illumination of divine teachings.[21]


We draw particular attention to the words “victorious” and “conquer” which entail out-doing others. In another prayer he says,

  Confirm me in Thy service, assist me with the cohorts of Thy angels, make me victorious in the promotion of   Thy Word and suffer me to speak out Thy wisdom amongst Thy creatures.[22]

Elsewhere, using a military analogy, `Abdu'l-Bahá says, “Likewise, when the regiment of an army and the  individuals of a cohort are united and related with ease, untold triumphs will be acquired.”[23]


 In the world-view presented in the Writings – and Thus Spake Zarathustra – the ‘masters’ apply the characteristics of Nietzsche’s master morality to themselves – they adopt the discipline, the willpower, the ruthlessness in achieving their goals for the Cause and use them to make themselves more capable workers for promotion of human development. They continue the never-ending process of self-overcoming by being cruel and relentless to themselves in overcoming their stubborn weaknesses and self-deceptions.


To conclude: the Bahá’í Writings and Nietzsche exhibit parallelism but not agreement in their concepts of masters/aristocrats and leadership. There is a concept of rank but it does not work in the same way. Nietzsche’s aristocrats dominate largely by force and live in a state of enmity with others. They are also part of a permanent class structure and are centered on themselves as highest form of human existence. Their actions are justified in and of themselves. This stands in sharp contrast to the Bahá’í understanding of ‘masterhood’ or leadership in terms of service to humankind with the purpose of helping all develop their highest “spiritual susceptibilities” both as individuals and as members of society. There is no permanent ruling class.

5: The Bahá’í Writings, Nietzsche and Aristotle

 The identification of key elements of Aristotelian metaphysics in both the Bahá’í Writings and Nietzsche makes it reasonable to conclude that the agreements, convergences and parallelisms between the two are not merely serendipitous coincidences but rather the outcome of working with the same philosophical concepts in analyzing and explaining reality. That Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá have affirmed the validity of certain Aristotelian concepts – especially in metaphysics and ontology – by using them extensively in the Writings has been made evident in “The Aristotelian Substratum of the Bahá’í Writings” as well as other studies.[24] Similarly, in the case of Nietzsche, numerous authors have detected Aristotle’s influence, among them Kaufmann, Richardson, Solomon, Hough, Silk and Stern, Emden and Williams.[25] Given that Nietzsche was a trained philologist specializing in Greek and Latin supports the belief that he was at least passingly familiar with Aristotle’s major principles.  


 Like the Bahá’í Writings, Nietzsche uses many of the conceptual tools employed by Aristotle in his analysis, understanding and explanation of reality. These concepts are actuality and potential; essence and attribute; change as the actualization of potentials; substance and form (hylomorphism); and soul or spirit. Nietzsche, of course, claimed to have rejected these concepts as part of a now irrelevant philosophical past, but numerous passages show that in fact, he consistently made use of them either explicitly or implicitly. 


 Aristotle’s ontology of potentials is the most accessible bridge connecting the Bahá’í Writings with Nietzsche. However, because the concept of potential has numerous logical implications, this connection is much stronger and more far-reaching than we might at first suspect. In its simplest terms, potentials are (a) the ability or power of a thing to initiate or stop change in oneself or others[26] or (b) the ability to change into or be changed into something else or be acted upon.[27]  In concrete terms, we cannot, as the old proverb says, make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear because a sow’s ear lacks the potential for such a change. We might make a purse from a sow’s ear – but not a silk purse. Little reflection is needed to discern that the ontology of potentials also implies such concepts as ‘actuality’ or what a thing is at a specific moment; ‘force’ or ‘power’ – or ‘will’ in Nietzsche’s language – to actualize a potential, i.e. cause change within oneself or in others; an ‘essence’ or bundle of potentials which identifies a thing and also limits the kind of changes and results that can be achieved; and a ‘telos’ or goal, i.e. certain preferred directions or goals towards which things develop. Kittens never grow up to be horses, maple trees never turn into lobsters and we cannot sow iron filings and harvest sunflowers. Consequently, we discover that an essence is a collection of potentials that distinguish a particular kind and / or individual from other kinds and/or individuals but these potentials also limit what a thing can become and by such limiting effectively selects or sets a goal or telos.[28]       


 Aristotle’s ontology of potentials – including teleology – is illustrated in Zarathustra’s command, “Become what you are!”[29] This command only makes sense if we actually have an essence that is made up of certain potentials unique to us as members of the human race and as human individuals. This command is meaningless without the implicit concept of a goal, or telos. We must also have the capacity or power or will to actualize our potentials, i.e. make them real or re-shape them in a new form. It makes no difference whether we understand this as man’s potential to become a Superman or to prepare the way for the Superman. In all cases we must actualize, i.e. give form to our hitherto unexpressed potentials. Furthermore, this command only makes sense if we have an essence that is stable, i.e. is continuous enough to be given instructions that can be meaningfully followed over a period of time, i.e. has continuity through change. In short, it must have identity or ‘being.’ For example, Zarathustra does not give this command to animals because they essentially lack the ability to comprehend what it means. Thus it appears that Nietzsche did, albeit implicitly, accept the concepts of potential, essence and goals since without them, a significant portion of his philosophy of self-transformation would lose its ontological foundations.


 Another appeal to essences – an implicit to potentials – is what Nietzsche says at the end of The Will to Power. He tacitly assumes the reality of essences – and by implication potentials – by saying, “This world is the will to power – and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power and nothing besides![30] This statement plainly asserts that in their essential natures, the world, all beings in it and all human beings are the will to power. However, the matter does not end here. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes:  

The world seen from within, the world defined and designated according to its "intelligible character" — it would simply be "Will to Power," and nothing else.[31]This claim, identifies the ‘inner’ essence of the world and its “intelligible character” as the will to power. The same Aristotelian ontology of potentials and essence is present in the following:

 The victorious concept of “force,” by means of which our physicists have created God and the world, still needs to be completed: an inner will must be ascribed to it, which I designate the “will to power,” i.e. an insatiable desire to manifest power, or as the employment and exercise of power as a creative drive, etc.[32] 


Nietzsche’s objections notwithstanding, this is essentialism, i.e. the view that all things have an inner nature which, in Nietzsche’s view is “will.” Consequently, we can always look ‘though’ the outward appearance of a thing and deduce the “intelligible character” of a particular thing while observing the will to power in one of its particular modes. We may see this will to power in a blade of grass or a crow or an elephant but in each case the essence and its behavior is the same – to become what they are. Nietzsche, of course, overtly denies essences, saying, for example, the question “what is that?’ is an imposing of meaning from some other viewpoint.  “Essence,” the “essential nature,” is something perspective . . . In short: the essence of a thing is only an opinion about the “thing” [33]


However, as we have seen above and shall see again, he tacitly re-introduces essences into his philosophy. [34] By means of scare-quotes and the belittling word “only,” he reduces the concept of essence to “only an opinion,” which is to say, a chimera, something that is not real. His reason is that all aspects of reality are in perpetual change and that any attempt to identify essences are arbitrary and wholly dependent on our perspectives. In short, essences deny change and are arbitrary fictions without an objective reality. However, as we shall demonstrate below, this is not logically the case.


 Nietzsche’s view that each individual thing is the will to power in a specific form entangles him in various other self-contradictions. One problem is that when a form exemplifies the will to power in a specific way, it does not manifest the entire will to power inherent in that thing. Other potentials are still available. In other words, the outward appearance does not exhaust what the thing ‘really’ or essentially is. That, after all, is the reason Zarathustra encourages the ordinary men and women to change, i.e. to manifest their hitherto unactualized potentials and to become bridges for the Superman. If their actual form exhausted all their potentials, Zarathustra’s appeal would make no sense because it cannot be realized. Similarly, all Nietzsche’s advocacy of self-overcoming – the basis of Nietzsche’s philosophy according to Kaufmann[35] – would be pointless. Even the eternal return is undermined because if Nietzsche’s views about essence are correct, how could we even change and improve our attitudes to the life we have lived? Finally, it should be noted, neither Zarathustra nor Nietzsche address their philosophies to animals, thereby implicitly recognizing an essential difference between them and humans even though overtly Nietzsche tries to minimize this distance.


 Nietzsche is also involved with difficulties regarding his use of the phrases “inner will,”[36] “the world seen from within”[37] and “intelligible character”[38]  because they point to a distinction between appearance and reality – something which Nietzsche vehemently denies and even derides. Nietzsche himself says, “The ‘apparent’ world is the only real one: the ‘real world’ has only been lyingly addd . . .”[39] The “intelligible character” of a thing is what can be deduced about its nature from its external attributes and behavior.  What is striking in these phrases is that they suggest an “inner” essence and the externalized or actualized attribute, i.e. the specific manifestations of the will to power in a particular thing. In other words, here, too, we observe the covert presence of Aristotle’s ontology with its potentials, essences and distinctions between the real and apparent. According to Hakes and Welshon:

Nietzsche’s favorite object of derision is the real/apparent world distinction, a distinction he claims is “the greatest error that has ever been committed, the essential fatality of error on earth.” (WP 584)[40]


However, as we have seen above, the problem is that much of Nietzsche’s philosophy itself depends on the appearance/reality distinction. If we are to ‘become what we are’ then obviously how we appear at the moment is not what we really are vis-à-vis our potentials. Our manifested identity is only the temporary appearance of the deeper reservoir of potentials which constitutes our essence. Indeed, this is even true of the will to power which actualizes itself over time, i.e. manifests its hidden potentials in the seemingly infinite forms of the phenomenal world. Consequently, the will to power has not only a hidden essence of potentials awaiting manifestation, but also an appearance in the physical world which does not exhaust the potentials latent in the will to power itself. At this point it is clear that if we remove the appearance/reality distinction from Nietzsche’s philosophy, it would lose the ontological basis of many of his signature teachings e.g. self-overcoming, Zarathustra’s ‘revelation’ and the will to power. Here, too, the tacit implications of Nietzsche’s theories contradict his apparent intent, and, thereby, connect with the Bahá’í Writings.


 We pause briefly to note that once again we face the problem of which Nietzsche to accept – the overt denier of essences and the appearance/reality distinction or the philosopher whose teachings implicitly depend on the concept of essences and the difference between appearance and reality? There is, of course, no way of making a ‘final’ choice because both elements are present so we shall continue to focus on what Nietzsche and the Writings share in common.


            To continue: the Bahá’í Writings harmonize with those aspects of Nietzsche that make use of – without overtly recognizing – the ontology of potentials, essence and the appearance/reality distinction.  As `Abdu'l-Bahá puts it, “the whole of the great tree is potentially latent and hidden in the little seed. When this seed is planted and cultivated, the tree is revealed.” [41] Bahá'u'lláh states,


            Consider, moreover, how the fruit, ere it is formed, lieth potentially within the tree.     Were the tree to be cut into pieces, no sign nor any part of the fruit, however small,             could be detected. When it appeareth, however, it manifesteth itself, as thou hast             observed, in its wondrous beauty and glorious perfection.[42]


Once again we observe the appearance/reality distinction: the appearance is the tree but the tree’s reservoir of potentials or essence remains hidden until actualized in the fruit. Of course, the Writings apply these ideas to the role of the Manifestations in human history:


            The holy Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of the animal,            or physical, nature of man, to purify him from his imperfections in order that his       heavenly and spiritual nature may become quickened, his divine qualities awakened, his             perfections visible, his potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of            humanity latent within him may come to life.[43]


In each of the highlighted phrases above, we find either explicitly or implicitly the difference between potential and essence as well as appearance and reality. Thus, the Writings connect directly with those significant portions of Nietzsche’s work that makes use of these distinctions. 


            Nietzsche is also in agreement with the Writings insofar as we should “become who [we] are” – indeed, one might well argue that enabling us to do so is the whole point of Bahá'u'lláh’s revelation. Unless we humans become what we really are, instead of living in ‘bad faith” with ourselves or in ‘false consciousness’ and, thereby, hindering personal and collective progress. This leads to the question, ‘Who really are we?’ and to that, the Bahá’í answer is clear:


            As for the spiritual perfections they are man's birthright and belong to him alone of all        creation. Man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he        truly happy. This spiritual longing and perception belongs to all men alike, and it is my       firm conviction that the Western people possess great spiritual aspiration.[44]


Because of our essentially spiritual nature, human beings have a spiritual destiny or vocation in this world (and beyond) and our true happiness is fulfilling this nature no matter how hard this may be. How could we be happy if we are, so to speak, living against ourselves by forgetting that our residence in nature, while a necessary part of our development, is only temporary? The task of being a Bahá’í is the task of becoming our spiritual selves.  


            There is no question that the Baha’i Writings see all things endowed with an essence (as described by Aristotle as a reservoir of potentials) and, therefore, connect with the implicit recognition of essences in Nietzsche’s work. In The Kitab-i-Iqan Baha’u’llah tells us that  “the light of divine knowledge and heavenly grace hath illumined and inspired the essence of all created things, in such wise that in each and every thing [is] a door of knowledge.”[45] In Gleanings, Baha’u’llah states that “it becometh evident that all things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God within them. Each according to its capacity, indicateth, and is expressive of, the knowledge of God.”[46]  In this quotation, the essence or “inmost reality”[47] of a thing is defined by its capacity or potentiality to “testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God.”[48] The Writings specifically mention that each of the following has an essence: God[49]  the human soul[50]; humankind[51]; belief in Divine Unity[52]; justice[53] ; “all created things”[54]; beauty[55];  species of living things[56]; truth[57]; religion[58] ; “this new age”[59]; and the spirit.[60] On the basis of such a wide array of references to ‘essence’ it is, in my view, safe to say that the existence of essences is an important point of agreement between Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings. Indeed, these references to the essence are even more wide-spread once we realize that such phrases as “inmost reality”[61]; “the realities of”[62]; “reality of”[63]   ; “inner reality”[64]; and “inner realities”[65];  also refer to the essence of things. This connection is further emphasized by the parallel usage seen in the references to the “inmost essence.”[66]  


            It should be noted that the concept of ‘essence’ does not deny the relational nature of things and gift them with “an intrinsic non-relational character.”[67]


            For all beings are connected together like a chain; and reciprocal help, assistance and      interaction belonging to the properties of things are the causes of the existence,             development and growth of created beings.[68]


In general terms things, including their essences, are relational, i.e. they exist as part of a complex of relations. However, this does not preclude essences. The essence of a particular thing is made up of a certain set of relations – and not a different set of relations. The relations that make up a human being are not the same relations as those that make up a horseshoe crab with its blue blood. In short, there is no logical contradiction between relationality and essence.


            Aristotle’s ontology of potentials – and by extension the Bahá’í Writings’ and Nietzsche’s – implicitly embodies other Aristotelian concepts such as substance. For Aristotle, a substance is a thing that exists independently of other things, or, a thing that is not an attribute of something else and a thing that continues through change, i.e. a continuant. For example, a horse exists independently – it does not die if the farmer dies – and it is not a quality that something else has nor is it a different horse tomorrow than it is today. Some of its non-essential attributes may have changed but a slight graying of the mane or a thinner belly does not make it a different horse because there is an observable – or filmable – continuity from birth until today. We shall explain the false contradiction between being and becoming below. `Abdu'l-Bahá uses this definition of substance to prove the immortality of the soul: 


Some think that the body is the substance and exists by itself, and that the    spirit is accidental and depends upon the substance of the body, although, on the contrary, the rational soul is the substance, and the body depends upon it. If the accident—that is to say, the body—be destroyed, the substance, the spirit, remains[69]


Because the soul is a ‘substance’ in the Aristotelian sense, it exists independently of the body or, conversely, the body is an accidental attribute of the soul and needs the soul to actually be a body and live. Obviously, the soul-substance is a continuant and because it is not an attribute of the body, can exist without it.


            As expected we find that Nietzsche’s views on ‘substance’ ambiguous, i.e. overtly denying the validity of this concept and covertly using it. He writes,

                Insofar, however, as all metaphysics has had principally to do with substance and                freedom of will, one may designate it the science that treats of the fundamental errors      of mankind - but does so as though they were fundamental truths.[70]

The problem is obvious: without the Aristotelian concept of substance, Nietzsche’s problems encounter fatal obstacles. For example, Nietzsche describes the will to power as the essence of all things,[71] manifesting in everything in the phenomenal world  – and, thereby, the will to power that persists through all kinds and all changes is a continuant, i.e. a ‘substance’ in the Aristotelian sense. Nor is the will to power as such an attribute of anything else, nor does it depend on anything else for its existence. Therefore, one of Nietzsche’s key concepts is an example of what he explicitly denies. The same argument can be applied to Zarathustra and the Superman. Once again, we find that the implicit content of his work is in full agreement with the Bahá’í Writings while his explicit statements are not. 



[1] Michael Lacewing, “Nietzsche on Master and Slave Morality,”

[2] Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, (Samuel), First Essay, # 7. See also, Beyond Good and Evil, # 195.

[3] Nietzsche, (Cowan) Beyond Good and Evil, IX, # 257, # 259.

[4] Max Nordau, Degneration. Trans. By George Mosse, p. 427. 

[5] Max Nordau, Degneration. Trans. By George Mosse, p. 427. 

[6] Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, p. 183.

[7] Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, p. 184.

[8] Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, Princeton University Press, 4th edition, 1974, p. 297.

[9] Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, p. 10.

[10] Nietzsche, The Gay Science, (Kaufmann) Book I, # 26, p. 100; emphasis added.

[11] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, II, 2.

[12] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 7.

[13] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 28.

[14] Nietzsche, (Hollingdale), Thus Spake Zarathustra, “Zarathustra’s Prologue” # 2, p. 40.

[15] Nietzsche, (Hollingdale), Thus Spake Zarathustra, “Zarathustra’s Prologue” # 2, p. 40.

[16] Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 170.

[17] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 115.

[18] Custodians, Ministry of the Custodians, p. 123; emphasis added.

[19] The Universal House of Justice, 1987 Jun 03, Compilation on Vying in Service; emphasis added.

[20] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 214.

[21] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 35.

[22] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Compilations, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 187.

[23] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá,, Vol. 3, p. 690.

[24] Ian Kluge, The Aristotelian Substratum of the Baha’i Writings, in Lights of Irfan, IV, 2003, p. 17 – 78. See also Baha’i Ontology: An Initial Reconnaissance, in Lights of Irfan, VI, 2005, p.121 – 160; and Baha’i Ontology, Part Two: Further Explorations, in Lights of Irfan VII, 2006, p. 163 – 200.

[25] Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist; John Richardson, Nietzsche’s System; Robert Solomon, in “Nietzsche as hominem: Perspectivism, Personality and Ressentiment” in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche; Sheridan Hough, Nietzsche's Noontide Friend: The Self as Metaphoric Double; M. Silk and J.P. Stern, Nietzsche on Tragedy; Christian Emden, Nietzsche on Language, Consciousness, and the Body; Robert Williams, Tragedy, Recognition, and the Death of God: Studies in Hegel and Nietzsche.

[26] Aristotle, Metaphysics, V,12, 1019a,b.

[27] Aristotle, Metaphysics, V,12, 1019a,b.

[28] Aristotle explicitly tells us that

[29] Teleological The subtitle of Ecce Homo is “How to become who you are.”

[30] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, (Kaufmann / Hollingdale), # 1067, p. 550

[31] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, (Zimmern) # 36,

[32] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, (Kaufmann / Hollingdale) # 619, p. 332 – 333; emphasis added

[33] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, (Kaufmann/ Hollingdale), # 556, p. 301 – 302.

[34] John Richardson, Nietzsche’s System, p. 4.

[35] Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, p. 183.

[36] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, (Kaufmann / Hollingdale) # 619, p. 332 – 333.

[37] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, (Zimmern) # 36,

[38] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, (Zimmern) # 36,

[39] Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (Hollingdale), in ‘Reason’ in Philosophy, # 2, p. 36.

[40] Steven Hales and Rex Welshon, Nietzsche’s Perspectivism, p. 60.

[41] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 69.

[42] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, LXXX, p. 155.

[43] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 465.

[44] Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 73; emphasis added.

[45] The Kitab-i-Iqan 29, 30, italics added; see also SAQ, 195.

[46] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XC, 177.

[47] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XC, 177.

[48] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XC, 177.

[49] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XCIII,187; The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 326.

[50] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh,, LXXXII, 160.

[51] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, LXXXIII, 164;

[52] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, LXXXIV,167.

[53] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, LXXXIV,167.

[54] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXXXIX, 302;

[55] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CLI, 321.

[56] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXXXVIII, 300; see also SAQ, 184.

[57] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh,  CLIII, 328.

[58] The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 344.

[59] The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 326.

[60] Selections from the Writings of`Abdu'l-Bahá,167.

[61] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh,, XXVII, 65.

[62] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XXVI, 63;The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 39.

[63] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XXVI, 64; see also PUP, 39.

[64] The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, 55.

[65] Selections from the Writings of`Abdu'l-Bahá,157.

[66] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. XV,36; Selections from the Writings of`Abdu'l-Bahá, 20.

[67] R Kevin Hill, Nietzsche: A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 105.

[68] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 178.

[69] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 239.

[70] Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, (Hollingdale), # 18.

[71] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, (Kaufmann / Hollingdale), # 1067, p. 550.