The Reuben: A Nietzschean Analysis

Preceding the last decade of his life — when brilliance gave way to madness — German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche wrote some of the most challenging and controversial philosophy of the 19th century.

In the years following his death, Nietzsche’s work influenced a range of admirers, from the Doors front man Jim Morrison to Adolf Hitler. Though, for the record, Nietzsche thought anti-Semitism was bunk.

Even today, the mention of his name is enough to cause indigestion in some and exaltation in others.

Among his philosophical projects, Nietzsche denounced what he termed “slave morality.” According to him, slave morality was borne of a resentment in the lower class, aimed at aristocrats in societies like ancient Rome. The strategy of the slave moralists was to make a virtue out of their oppressed condition; traditional values like power and strength were deemed evil, and weakness, meekness and compromise were embraced.

In his book On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche characterized slave morality as the sentiment that, “the wretched alone are the good; the poor, impotent, lowly alone are good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious, alone blessed by God.”

For him, the problem with these beliefs is that they not only make people comfortable with mediocrity, mediocrity itself becomes the goal.

A more productive ambition is “the will to power,” in which a person spurns the morality of the herd to create her own values. Such an individual rejects mediocrity to pursue secular self-knowledge and strength — the ultimate (and possibly unattainable) goal being to transcend the human condition and become a superman (sic).

For Nietzsche, it was these strivers that justified the existence of humanity.

Which brings me to the Reuben sandwich.

Regardless of your feelings for either Nietzsche’s ideas or the aforementioned lunch order, I propose that we adopt the Reuben as the official sandwich of Nietzschean philosophy.

A definitional interlude: there are variations on the Reuben; the one I am referring to contains these essential ingredients: rye bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.

Whether the Reuben would have appealed to Nietzsche’s taste buds is a matter of speculation, but he would have appreciated the audacity of the thing. Each ingredient is a rejection of middling impulse that Nietzsche abhorred; at five crucial points the Reuben ignores the tendency to be mildly inoffensive.

One: It is built on strong, tangy rye instead of bland white bread.

Two: It is stuffed with pungent, salt-cured corned beef instead of bland sliced turkey.

Three: There is a layer of sharp Swiss cheese, not run-of-the-mill, Midwestern cheddar.

Four: The Reuben features jazzy sauerkraut, not predictable lettuce.

And five: it’s got biting Dijon mustard (either as a layer or for dipping) instead of, I dunno, French’s?

Since Nietzsche passed away in 1900 no other philosopher has been so notoriously misinterpreted — Leopold and Loeb, anyone? But like the sandwich that shares his spirit, he’s a mile more interesting than average.

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