Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)
At the time of his death, the works of Germany philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche (1844-1900) were not widely read, but steadily gained in popularity over the first two decades of the twentieth century. By 1939, his ideas had been distorted and misappropriated to justify the atrocities of the Third Reich in the guise of the "Master Race." In the 1920's, nihilism and relativism, inspired by his writings, were popular schools of thought among intellectuals in Europe and the United States.
Developed throughout his six books, concluding with the idea that "God is dead" in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche's philosophy can be over-generalized as proposing that the ideas that reason and morality are merely creations of human will otherwise without foundation, and that all truth is relative. When applied to personal conduct, these thoughts led to the belief that intellectual (and later, genetic) superiority released the bonds of conventional morality so that the intelligent man is beyond the laws of good and evil and is thus able to attain the level of "Superman" or Ubermensch.
In 1924, in Chicago, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold were two brilliant teenagers intent on demonstrating their Nietzschean superiority over the masses. After some small property crimes, it was thought that a "perfect" major crime, committed without emotion or detection, would prove their status as Ubermensch. The murder of 14 year old Bobby Franks would be their vehicle.
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