Freedom and Slavery
G.E. Gorfu

Nietzsche found that all existing moral ideas might be divided into two broad classes, corresponding to the two broad varieties of human beings - the masters and the slaves. Every man is either a master or a slave, and the same is true of every race. Either it rules some other race or it is itself ruled by some other race. It is impossible to think of a man or of a people as being utterly isolated, and even were this last possible, it is obvious that the community would be divided into those who ruled and those who obeyed. The masters are strong and are capable of doing as they please; the slaves are weak and must obtain whatever rights they crave by deceiving, cajoling or collectively intimidating their masters.. (1)

The above is Louis Mencken's summarization of Nietzsche's idea of freedom and slavery, and is a correct rendition of what Nietzsche thought and expressed in his works. Clearly, Nietzsche has erred in holding these views. No one is absolutely "free" in the sense that one does not have anybody to answer to, and there is no one who is so low and totally enslaved, that one has no one below to subordinate in one fashion or other. By focusing only at the very top and bottom most, Nietzsche seems to have completely missed the entire concatenation of life, and the reality of the master/slave relationship existing in social organizations. As a philosophy, this is rather simplistic and untenable.

Pascal has expressed a better view of nature, where he views the relationship between all creatures as host and vermin, and observes that every creature, even the vermin has some minute vermin feeding upon it, ad-infinitum, and that even lice have lice.. etc. If one examines the natural process of the "food chain," it becomes abundantly clear how the giants in the ocean, the Blue whale, and the Sperm whale, feed upon the smallest of algae, crayfish, and on the milky smelt of other fish. Stable systems exist in some circular, wide based, interlocking chain rather than a perpendicular top to bottom structure, unlike an arrow, which cannot stand or sustain stability for any length of time.

Those who have studied prison systems tell us that in prison, a hierarchy quickly forms and leaders and followers emerge even under the very noses of correction officials. This is true in schools and classrooms too, where teachers would be wise to have a class president appointed or elected to keep some order, especially during their absences. But this is only half the story.

On the other side of the coin we have the Kings and Queens of England addressing the House of Lords as: "My Lords," showing that even kings and queens have someone they call "lord." This, of course, is the result of the 'Glorious or Bloodless Revolution,' when the Whigs and Tories united to invite a new monarchy from France to come and reign over them. "In 1689 William and Mary accepted the invitation of Parliament to rule as joint sovereigns. The Declaration of Rights and the Bill of Rights (1689) redefined the relationship between monarch and subjects." (2)

Ultimately, just like the food chain in nature, there has to be a circular system, interlocked from top to bottom and bottom to top, which can be sustained in perpetuity. It might be easy to see a lion or tiger hunt, kill, and feed on a gazelle, but just as equally important, hundreds of vermin are quietly, and invisibly, feeding on the tiger and lion. Seen from this, it becomes abundantly clear that there really is no slave and no master.

Nietzsche's view, where one is either a master or a slave though true, gives us only a half sided picture, and a very poor one at that. Especially the sentence: "The masters are strong and are capable of doing as they please; the slaves are weak and must obtain whatever rights they crave by deceiving, cajoling or collectively intimidating their masters.." is false, misleading, and outright deceptive. Masters cannot do as they please. They need to observe many boundaries they should not cross, except at their own peril. Historical facts contradict the validity of Nietzsche's assertion.

The Roman Legionnaire, an army almost exclusively made up of slaves and mercenaries, was not weak by any stretch of the imagination. Not only were the slaves strong in physical prowess, they were also strong psychically, while the sedentary life of the empire had in fact, turned most Romans into idle government officials and lazy bureaucrats, and a citizenry of fat drones that could do little but eat, drink, and party night after night, watching the cruel entertainments of gladiators, who fought to the death against each other and the wild beast, at the Coliseum arena.

The most spectacular gladiator of all was probably Spartacus, made famous by Kirk Douglas in the 60s movie Spartacus. Despite the 20th century Hollywood glamour portrayed by Douglas, Spartacus was actually a slave, who led the revolt of 73BC. (3) The last statement above which describes slaves as "..deceiving, cajoling, collectively intimidating..etc.," gives a totally skewed picture. These in fact, are tools, which the masters use daily to keep slaves shackled in chains, while slaves if given half a chance, are most likely to rebel, revolt, and break free. This has been the history of the world.

Most societies can be better understood when one realizes that the world may really be half slave and half free, but not in the way and manner Nietzsche said. Rather, everyone is master and slave all at the same time. Put in another way, no man is either fully slave or fully free, but is more like the soldier in the army, a link in a long chain, with many above and many below in the ranks. Think of it as a deck of cards spread in a circle on a glass table, where from the top we can see the backs of cards all of one color and a single pattern, while seen from below, the faces of cards are all of different suits. Furthermore as each card rides on top of the next card, it is simultaneously under the card just before it, and carries the weight of all those before.


(1) Louis Mencken. The Philosophy of Frederic Nietzsche. 1908

(2) G. M. Trevelyan. The English Revolution, 16881689 (1938); L. Pinkham. William III and the Respectable Revolution, (1954); J. Childs, The Army, James II, and the Glorious Revolution. (1981); S. E. Prall. The Bloodless Revolution, (1972)

(3) Welch, Kathryn. The Romans. Sydney, Australia: Lansdowne Publishing, 1997.



About G.E.Gorfu
G.E. Gorfu is an Ethiopian-born Poet, Author, Novelist, Philosopher, Educator and Vocational Trainer based in the United States. He is the author of 'Gorfu Contra Nietzsche.' His book is listed on and on Barnes and Noble (, a well as in Varsity Books. It can also be purchased directly from the publisher, Vantage Press, by calling 1-800-882-3273.