Common Themes – The Fire Chief and the Superman

I was interested in “What Says The Fire Chief?” and thought it had overtones of Nietzsche’s superman. I have read comparisons of the superman with Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith but I can’t comment on that without more research.

The Fire Chief begins by saying, in promoting any cause, the one thing that is more dangerous than it’s enemies is well intentioned incompetent allies. The footnote in my Lowrie translation says “Evidently S. K. was embarrassed by his would-be defenders” but SK’s point might be generalized to any popular support for a cause. When called into “serious” activity, the fire chief takes control and any who obscruct his work are dismissed as “a company of twaddlers”. This is a un-democratic view but in modern military or nautical emergencies, one person commander is in usually most effective. The core idea seems to be the fire chief is capable of action that is independent of the twaddlers. “If he has a notion that it is they [the twaddlers] who are to help, and that he must strengthen himself by union with them, he eo ipso is not the right man.”

Kierkegaard applies this principle to “all matters of the mind, and so it is also in the religious field”. What exactly independent action would imply in this domain is not simple to deduce. It certainly implies that the “mind” fire chief is capable of disagreeing with the majority view. But presumably the fire chief still has a responsibility to extinguish fires (and similarly, the Knight of Faith obeys God).

This has some overlap with Nietzsche’s superman. Both seem to be beyond considering the sensitivities of bystanders. Both realize they are separate from the majority view on what action needs to be taken. The differences are perhaps subtle – for example the fire chief’s work is “serious” while the superman’s view of his role cannot easily be categorized. “Innocence is the child [the superman], and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self–rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea. (Zarathustra)”

Kierkegaard describes the fire chief is a public figure and probably was modeled after his own situation. The superman, in contrast, is rarely a public figure “around the inventors of new values, doth the world revolve; inaudibly it revolveth. (Zarathustra)” except perhaps becoming a public feature after death. Nietzsche probably did not consider himself to be a superman (although I would be interested if someone thinks so) but probably associated himself more with Zarathustra – the self appointed herald of the superman.

To mix metaphors, if there was a fire and the superman was first at hand, he would probably ask himself “of what value is fire to me? what value is extinguishing the fire to me?” before acting. The fire chief has a set relationship with fire – to extinguish. Even the twaddlers agree the fire should be extinguished. Of the superman, very little can be assumed in his fire fighting opinion.

“Are you one who looks on? Or one who lends a hand? Or one who looks away and walks off? Third question of conscience.” (Twilight)

Anti Citizen One