Rank, Problems, Power

Reflecting on Nietzsche

"The terrible consequence of "equality"-finaIly, everyone believes he has a right to every problem. All order of rank has vanished." (Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §860.)

Rereading some Nietzsche I came across this powerful fragment. It conveys one of the more interesting aspects of his thought: that problems have to be earned. What does this mean? Problems just happen to us, nothing more to it, right? In this fragment Nietzsche associates a right to problems with the order of rank one has. The order of rank is established by the quantum of power that one is, that one lives, the degree to which one is an expression of affirmative power. That is, the order of rank is not determined by some transcendent principle that is separate from the expression of one's power. For example, if as a philosopher, one's rank is determined by the degree or title that one gets from a university, one's rank is not directly determined by the expression of one's power, but by the appointment of the label. One's rank is thus determined by transcendent criteria, criteria that aren't a direct expression of one's power. On the other hand; if one's rank is determined purely by the quality of the person's work, the degree to which the work expresses power, there is an immanent evaluation according to immanent criteria. This is the order of rank that Nietzsche envisions.

For Nietzsche, one's rank necessarily corresponds to specific problems. If one expresses great power, if one has a high order of rank, this corresponds to "great problems." And on the other hand, if one is an expression of weakness, if one is of low order of rank, one necessarily deals with "weak problems." What does this mean? Let me explain by way of an example; when one learns something new, be it a sport, a language, a new skill, art, or anything else. Becoming better at it means being exposed to more valuable problems. Let's take weightlifting as an example, when one first starts out, the problem that one faces is "how do I lift this weight of 100 pounds?" When one progresses in the sport, 100 pounds is no longer a problem, and the problem shifts to "how do I lift 200 pounds?" And thus, as the person becomes stronger, so too do his problems become stronger. One doesn't so much solve a problem, as that one moves on to the next one. One could say that the best weightlifter is the one that is able to face the biggest problems, and not the one that solves problems. The same goes for any other activity in which one wants to progress, take chess. When one is first learning to play the game, all one's attention is on 'beginner problems', like remembering what all the pieces mean and are able to do. When one progresses, one no longer thinks of this but is instead focused on (for example) what the opponent might be planning 6 or 7 moves from now.

One progresses in one's problems, and the strong are not those that don't have problems, but those that don't have to think about petty and weak problems, instead they are focused on the problems that correspond to their own level of development.

Likewise in thought or philosophy, it takes a strong nature to pose strong questions, and weak natures only pose weak questions. Or rather, weak natures are not able to pose any questions at all, and only think in terms of the questions posed by others before them. Someone just learning about a certain philosopher might be worried about the meaning of even the most basic concepts of this philosopher, this is his problem. An expert on the other hand has left these problems behind, and is now worried about the coherence of all the philosopher's concepts. And the true creative thinker isn't even worried about this anymore, but his problem is how he can go beyond the philosopher in question, how he can progress, how he can create better concepts and ask better questions.

As one says, asking the right questions already gives one half of the solution. Similarly one could say, positing the right problems already gives one half of the solution, and the right problems occur only to the strong.

Let us look at Nietzsche's sentence again:"The terrible consequence of "equality"-finaIly, everyone believes he has a right to every problem. All order of rank has vanished."

The disappearance of rank is the consequence of "equality," and this leads to everyone believing he has a right to every problem. I can only speculate on what Nietzsche exactly meant, but here is an aspect that is surely part of the answer. When one believes that everyone is equal, that there is no distinction between strong and weak individuals. One also believes that there is no distinction in problems between those of the strong and those of the weak, for these do not exist. Accordingly, all problems are open to everyone. We can imagine a young man just out of high school believing he has the same right as a seasoned military general to solve the problem of a certain war. Or we can imagine someone who hasn't read a philosopher thinking that he has the right to critique him. Someone who hasn't even comprehended the problems this great philosopher was grappling with, critiquing him on the basis of his own petty problems. One can imagine a depressed and mentally ill teenager taking up the problem of teaching others how to be happy, thinking he has the same right to do so as a healthy individual who spent his life learning how to help others. The possible examples are infinite.

What is certain, is that one shouldn't just strive to solve problems. One should also strive to become someone worthy of great problems.


Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power. Translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann.