Supermen, or super bad?
The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche ( 1844- 1900) was something of an obsession for Nathan Leopold, and one aspect of his work intrigued him more than the rest. This was Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘ superman’, or ‘ übermensch’. This was a man who was superior to others, and thus justified the existence of humanity; the ordinary man signified only the halfway point between animals and the übermensch.
The superman was above the law because he was no ordinary man; he could do what he wanted because he was not subject to the moral codes of ordinary people, and instead created his own values and beliefs. This concept was, to Leopold, a justification for murder. As a superman, he should not be constrained by morality; committing murder was acceptable because it gave him pleasure, and that was what was important.
Leopold further justified the murder of Bobby Franks because he saw it as furthering scientific endeavour. “The killing was just an experiment, a sacrifice to science,” he explained to police. “A thirst for knowledge is commendable, no matter what pain or injury it may inflict upon others. A boy is justified in pulling the wings from a fly if by so doing he learns that without wings the fly is helpless.”
Leopold had created his own, warped, version of the superman. So too, around the same time, did Adolf Hitler. Hitler adopted the concept of the übermensch after being introduced to it by Nietzsche’s anti- Semitic sister, and saw it as a potent symbol of a master race. Leopold committed murder believing himself justified as a superman; so too did Hitler, on a larger, even more perverse scale. Ironically, Nietzsche – who disagreed with anti- Semitism – saw the superman’s strength in his ability to overcome the urge to tyranny, rather than in giving in to it.
A German philosopher’s views were adopted, and manipulated, by both Leopold and Hitler to justify their crimes