Personal development writer Natalie Morris grapples with the notion of ‘will to power’.
A semester into my first year at university, I unexpectedly decided to take on a major in Philosophy. Although I hardly ever make decisions with as little planning or pondering, once I considered it, it seemed like a surprisingly obvious choice. It wasn’t until my first seminar, essentially based on the premise that philosophy started out as (and still was, to a certain extent) a kind of ‘therapy for the mind’, that I began to understand why it all seemed so fundamental to me. And it wasn’t until my second seminar, on Friedrich Nietzsche, that I had the opportunity to put a philosopher’s thinking – meaning, of course, my still questionable and in any case subjective understanding of a philosopher’s thinking – into practice in my own life.
A central concept of Nietzsche’s thought is the famous ‘will to power’. In my own words, you could say that he believed the will to assert one’s power over the world was the driving instinct behind all things, and in particular human relationships and events. The interesting part for me is that there seems to be two kinds of ‘will to power’, two fundamental ways in which people assert the superiority of their point of view, their way of life – their essence. One is what the French philosopher Deleuze calls in his book on Nietzsche the ‘affirmative’, the other being the ‘negative’. Basically, to affirmatively assert your will to power would be to positively express and act on your own strength and uniqueness in this world. On the contrary, to negatively do so would be to undermine the power of others.
But where it gets really interesting for me is the notion that this negative will to power consists not only in opposing others’ instincts to thrive and so on, but also one’s own instincts. Indeed, when resentment grabs hold of the human soul (as it does to varying degrees for all of us), the result can be an internal battle with one’s own desires, thoughts and general way of being. Examples of this kind of thinking are prevalent in all the great religions it seems, Christianity being Nietzsche’s main adversary, as the notions of sin, guilt and humility dominated public morality in his time in a far more obvious way than they do now.