[All quotes are from Arthur Danto’s general introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche; A more critical discussion can be found in the Nietzsche chapter of Michael Hardt’s Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy, based on Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy.]
Nietzsche has expressed the remark, “There is nothing universally compelling about morality,” in more outlandish terms, but the basic meaning (as Danto interprets) is that a morality (any particular one, e.g. Christianity, Islam, Capitalism, or even Social Liberalism) has no necessary universally-valid basis. (This is, of course, tied to Nietzsche’s relativistic epistemology, but also, and more importantly perhaps, to his ontology (and ethics) of force.) For Nietzsche, morality is but an imposition of form, an exercise of will on what he refers to as drives, appetites, passions (roughly, other wills, or, more precisely, other forces), the cluster of which (is what) constitutes us. Morality (any kind) but imposes a “spiritualization” (sublimation in psychoanalysis, discipline in Foucault) of passions, a spiritualization necessary for the socialization of the individual. (Here, to illustrate, perhaps we can make use of Clovis’s remark that, in order to govern the yet-to-be-formed French state, he must tame the rowdy and boisterous Franks). It “offer[s] a way of disciplining the passions and drives while permitting their discharge ‘as a condition of life and growth.’” In other words, morality (and it is but one; art, philosophy, etc. offer other spiritualizations) is itself a force that imposes itself (a will (to impose form)) on other forces (the passions) (for a particular purpose, Foucault would add, e.g. “for the good of society”). Morality, in Deleuzian terms, imposes a particular congealment/coagulation (territorialization + stratification) to the molecular passions that constitute our being (more precisely, our becoming).
This–the process of spiritualization or any particular morality–is not necessarily bad. In fact, for Nietzsche, “in some societies, moralities are creative, permitting a genuinely productive use of natural energy.” It is just that some moralities (the same goes for philosophies, sciences, etc.) “extirpate rather than [. . .] spiritualize [. . .] the passions” when these passions, albeit dangerous, are necessary. That is to say, some moralities “are repressive, forcing these drives underground, as it were, where the issue forth as crimes, or mental disorders, or are in some manner destructive to the individual or to society.” “The problem [thus] is essentially how to give the[se passions] form and purpose,” “to convert passion [Leidenshafften] into joys [Freudenschafften].” The ideal seems to be (and in this Nietzsche is more optimistic than Deleuze, or perhaps this is just the reading of Danto) for “the passions and drives of men [to] be disciplined and guided by reason, [for] our lives [to] be Apollinian and Dionysiac at once, in that balance of force and form which [. . .] had been recommended from the beginning of moral philosophy.”
Nietzsche argues that there are two fundamentally different types of morality: that of the master and of the slave. Both make use of the value categories good and bad/evil, but in different ways (in which their difference consists). The designations master and slave come from the anthropological personas of, on the one hand, the tribe leader who fight external wars and, on the other, the herd that he rules over, the average members who follow him and who, in peacetime, (since there’s no outlet for the amount of force that he possesses) are threatened by him. The master and the slave can be seen as the two polar types of forces in a given (social) field, and their moralities (especially in the case of the slave) the conceptions or mentalities that they develop as (as always in Nietzsche) ways to cope and survive, which consists in imposing (form, as shaped by) their will.
In Nietzsche’s interpretation, the master “feels [that] there is a genuine distinction of value between himself [. . .] and whoever [. . .] is different [. . .]; that he and his like are, in an absolute sense, superior to whoever does not resemble them in that in which their excellence consists.” “He sees the world divided into two distinct classes of being: the word ‘good’ is applied to one class because the members possess absolutely certain qualities; whereas the members of the other class, by virtue of either lacking these qualities or possessing them only to an inferior degree, are ‘bad.’” Good and bad are not prescriptive here, but merely descriptive: “he who is not good cannot be good, goodness being simply a matter of what one is, not what one might [. . .] become.”
Moreover, the master possesses a certain independence from the society/herd that he is thought to belong. They, “the good, are [described as] natural aristocrats, and it is the prerogative of aristocracy to impose its own values on the world.” In Nietzsche’s own words, the master “does not need to be justified. [. . .] He [himself] creates values.” “What is essential to the good and healthy aristocrat is that he does not see himself as a function [. . .] but rather as its meaning and highest justification . . . His fundamental belief is that society does not exist for society’s sake, but only as a support and scaffolding by means of which a select sort of beings might rise to a higher sort of task and a higher sort of existence.”
Toward the slave, the master’s attitude is but contempt. “He is content to see any number of such individuals sacrificed as that he, and others like him, might be.” “He does [this] not [. . .] because he is necessarily cruel, but [simply] because his perspective prevents him from thinking his behavior in the least reprehensible” or from recognizing as worthy enough (compared to him) the slave. The slaves, to the master, are “bad humans, [. . .] humans who do not come up to the mark,” although “there is nothing morally bad in being [. . .] bad [they are, after all, not called evil. . .]. It is just the way one is.” Nietzsche does not here distinguish between the quality (the adjective) and the person (the noun; the subject, after all, is but an illusionary placeholder by language) who possesses it. “The strong simply are acts of strength, not individuals who may or may not behave in a manner of strength. Because they are what they do, they have no option to do something else, for that would require to be something else. [. . .] Nor [. . .] can the weak be distinguished from the weakness: they are humility and patience, in the sense of identity and predication.”
[The Christian cross, classic representation of sacrifice, turned into jewelry]
The slave (rather than acting first and forming his own, independent system) reacts to this attitude of the master. Slave morality, in this way, is a compensation for how slaves are treated by master morality. In a sense, “the master could be anyone who gives unconditional values. The slave, concerned with utility and consequences, has no absolute values at all.” He is rather motivated by the master, whose values he inverts. Thus, in slave morality, “precisely the qualities which the masters prize are called evil by their inferiors. [. . .] It is the bad–the lame, the halt, the blind, the meek, the poor in spirit–[that the slave thinks are] really good.” In Nietzsche’s own words, the slave “is skeptical toward, and mistrusts, whatever is honored as ‘good.’ [. . .] Those qualities are underlined and spotlighted which serve to ease the existence of the sufferer: pity, the kindly helping hand, a warm heart, patience, diligence, humility, friendship–these now are honored–for they are the useful traits and almost the only means for enduring the crush of existence.” “In effect, the slaves are ‘good’ (in their sense) because they cannot, as inferiors, be ‘evil’–not because they would not be if they could. They want the evil masters to come around, mend their ways, and be like the others. [. . . The slave’s] use of ‘good’ is [thus] prescriptive: it says how everyone ought to be.”
Slave morality is thus motivated by something external. In Nietzsche’s own words, “slave morality begins by saying ‘no’ to an outside and an other, to a ‘nonself.’ This ‘no’ is its creative act . . . Slave morality requires for its origin a world external and opposed to itself, it needs [. . .] external stimuli in order for it to act: its action is through and through reaction.” What results from this are “men who are constantly looking outward, each adjusting himself to the next person, who, it happens, is also looking for guidance himself as to what he should do. The slave, in this regard, is effectively demanding that each be like each, externally adjusted one to another. His morality is the morality of the group to which he belongs,” herd morality.
It is then these two character-types–the master and the slave–that we find in the world, amidst the contest of wills, the struggle of forces, the exercise of power. The two personality-types cannot be anymore different. In contrast to the master, who “cannot separate action from happiness,” happiness for the slave is “obsessed with poisonous, malevolent feelings.” Correlatively, “when the powerful person hates, he may discharge his hatred through direct action, and get it out of his system. The weak, however, cannot do this. They must contain their hatred, which acts as a psychological toxin, poisoning the spirit.” This leads the slave to resentment.
Despite (and reinforced by) forming his system of morality, the slave (still) feels resentment: “he resents the master’s strength as well as his own relative impotency.” According to Nietzsche’s estimation, the slave must recognize that he is bad, “yet he is not able to accept the idea that he is to be treated any differently from anyone else, however high or low; or that he is to be treated as a means to the master’s purposes or pleasures. As a human being, he feels that he has been treated with insufficient dignity, or with none.” The slave thus (subtly, secretively, after bottling up the hatred deep inside)–using religion, their most common tool–takes revenge on the master. Nietzsche claims that this has historically consisted “in getting the master to accept the value table of the slave himself, and to evaluate himself from the slave’s perspective” (hence the world’s dominant religions). Thus, the slaves manage to transform the master into the ascetic.