Ubermensch: The Crime & Punishment of Leopold & Loeb: Selected Text & Bibliography
46 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2007
Date Written: April 24, 2007
At the time of his death, the works of German philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) were not widely-read and he himself had slipped into a catatonic state, being put on display by his family as somewhat of a freak. 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 though, his nihilist and relativism schools of thought were popular topics of intellectual discussion in Europe and the United States.
Developed throughout his six books, concluding with "God is dead" in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche's philosophy can be over-generalized to include 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 thus able to attain the level of "Superman" or Ubermensch.
In 1924, in Chicago, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold were two, brilliant teen-agers intent on demonstrating their Nietzschean superiority over the masses. After some small property crimes, they 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.
Within ten days however, both were in custody naming the other as the originator of the plan. Franks was murdered, but his foot was seen sticking out of a culvert visible to a passing rail-road man. And, near the body was a pair of eye-glasses with a specialty frame that led directly to Nathan Leopold. Thus the stage was set for Clarence Darrow's marathon argument to spare their lives based on testimony from "alienists" as practitioners of the fledgling field of forensic psychology/psychiatry were then known.
Keywords: Leopold, Loeb, Leopold & Loeb, Darrow, Clarence Darrow, Ubermensch, Bobby Franks, capital punishment, murder, kidnapping, insanity, mental disease, alienists, forensic psychology, forensic psychiatry
JEL Classification: K10, K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation