In Thus spake Zarathustra (in German, Also sprach Zarathustra), the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche explains the steps through which man can become an Übermensch (homo superior or overman):

  • By his will to power, manifested destructively in the rejection of, and rebellion against, old ideals and moral codes;
  • By his will to power, manifested creatively in overcoming nihilism and re-evaluating old ideals or creating new ones.

The will to destruction:

Nietzsche's motivation for the claim 'God is dead' is the destruction of the Christian conscience, i.e., a God-centered way of thinking, and the fateful will to break out. His symbols for this are flame and thunder. Only by breaking out of the idealistic norms one can become Übermensch. The initial point of destruction is the church, which is, according to Nietzsche, the exact opposite of what Jesus preached. The reason for this is a process initiated by the apostle Paul, which caused a transfiguration of Jesus' teachings to a remedy-punishment doctrine.

Furthermore, pointing towards a nihilistic beyond are religions that hold a "next life" to be more important than this one, asceticism, and especially the teachings of Plato. Such nihilism places the belief in God in opposition to reality. While this does not disprove God's existence, it does mark the belief in God as running counter to Nietzsche's valuing of reality and life therein.

Re-evaluating or destroying old ideals:

Once man has undergone the process of denying God ('Omnis determinatio est negatio'), he begins a journey towards becoming Übermensch. The humans are alone and, contrary to absolving themselves of responsibility through the postulation of a deity, they must create their own, new, moral ideals.

In establishing new ideals, man now does not rank them according to transcendental aspects ("Where from" and "What for") because this would again aim towards beyond.

Instead, there are no absolute ideals any more but only an interpretation of them in which moral ideals are the most important ones.

Overcoming nihilism:

The most difficult step according to Nietzsche is basing one's entire life into this world. Placing belief or faith in anything transcendental is nihilistic and would lead to the failure of man's attempt to become Übermensch. The idea of God is a quiet temptation. In overcoming nihilism, man undergoes three phases:

  1. The immoralist phase: he dares the jump away from the Christian dogmas to a space without God but wonders how life without Him can be possible. He 'balances over an empty space'.
  2. The free thinker phase: man is already fully aware of his freedoms and knows how to use them. He knows 'I am free when I am with myself'.
  3. The Übermensch: lives according to the principles of his Will to Power which ends in complete independence.

Common misconceptions - Misidentification with Nazis:

The most common misconception about the Übermensch is that it is equivalent to the ideals of Nazism, and that it is related or equal to the concept of Herrenvolk. The concept of racial supremacy or antisemitism is absent in Nietzsche. It is widely believed that Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, contributed greatly to this misconception by deliberately misrepresenting his work, and the Nazis themselves reinterpreted and incorporated hodgepodge elements of many philosophical and religious texts, including Nietzsche's.

Misleading loan-translation:

The translation of Übermensch as "superman" may compound the misconception. Über can have a variety of meanings, as in Überwindung (overcoming), überstehen/durchstehen (come through/get over), übersetzen (translate/take across). Some scholars therefore prefer the translation as Overman, since the point of the Übermensch is that man needs to overcome himself.

Popular elaboration of the concept:

The term has loosed its bounds and left the philosophic roundtable to go out into the general public. The inescapable reference is the American comic book character Superman. Care must be taken when one comes across the word in literary usage. The British novelist Bulwer-Lytton is said to have created the first superman who is not evil; by this it was meant that his character was surpassing the ordinary man like the Übermensch, not with impossible physical powers. More recently, Kim Newman's short story Übermensch deliberately combined the two words with an alternative history in which Superman was brought up in Germany and eventually imprisoned as a Nazi.

Confusion with Scientific Ideologies:

Nietzsche's writings are spiritual and philosophical in character, and do not state that the central ideas are biological, psychological, sociological, or sociobiological. His ideas have no firm connection to the idea that any given biological race is or would necessarily be superior and thus they are not racist in themselves.