Heinlein’s group, composed of people who call themselves “New Men” or “homo novis”, is a sort of illuminati of supermen, who recruit and train covertly, manipulate world events, and conspire to increase their numbers and eventually rule the world.
What does Heinlein mean by supermen? Here is how he defines them:
“Supermen are superthinkers; anything else is a side issue. I’ll allow the possibility of super-somethings which might exterminate or dominate mankind other than by outsmarting him in his own racket-thought. But I deny that it is possible for a man to conceive in discrete terms what such a super-something would be or how this something would win out. New Man will beat out homo sap in homo sap’s own specialty-rational thought, the ability to recognize data, store them, integrate them, evaluate correctly the result, and arrive at a correct decision. That is how man got to be champion; the creature who can do it better is the coming champion. Sure, there are other survival factors, good health, good sense organs, fast reflexes, but they aren’t even comparable, as the long, rough history of mankind has proved over and over-Marat in his bath, Roosevelt in his wheelchair, Caesar with his epilepsy and his bad stomach. Nelson with one eye and one arm, blind Milton; when the chips are down it’s brain that wins, not the body’s tools.”
Note that the New Men aren’t a genetically engineered group of supermen like the Augments, but natural savants who band together and attempt to create a new species through selective breeding. An interesting notion, but surely more is possible in light of modern genetic science of the sort being researched by BGI Cognitive Genomics.
The New Men justify their activities this way:
“’Ask yourself.’ He swept a hand toward the oubliette. ‘Ten minutes ago you and I saved this planet, all our race. It’s the hour of the knife. Some one must be on guard if the race is to live; there is no one but us. To guard effectively we New Men must be organized, must never fumble any crisis like this-and must increase our numbers. We are few now, Joe; as the crises increase, we must increase to meet them. Eventually-and it’s a dead race with time-we must take over and make certain that baby never plays with matches.
He stopped and brooded. “I confess to that same affection for democracy, Joe. But it’s like yearning for the Santa Claus you believed in as a child. For a hundred and fifty years or so democracy, or something like it, could flourish safely. The issues were such as to be settled without disaster by the votes of common men, befogged and ignorant as they were. But now, if the race is simply to stay alive, political decisions depend on real knowledge of such things as nuclear physics, planetary ecology, genetic theory, even system mechanics. They aren’t up to it, Joe. With goodness and more will than they possess less than one in a thousand could stay awake over one page of nuclear physics; they can’t learn what they must know.”
Gilead brushed it aside. “It’s up to us to brief them. Their hearts are all right; tell them the score- they’ll come down with the right answers.”
“No, Joe. We’ve tried it; it does not work. As you say, most of them are good, the way a dog can be noble and good. Yet there are bad ones-Mrs. Keithley and company and more like her. Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men. The little man has no way to judge and the shoddy lies are packaged more attractively. There is no way to offer color to a colorblind man, nor is there any way for us to give the man of imperfect brain the canny skill to distinguish a lie from a truth.
“No, Joe. The gulf between us and them is narrow, but it is very deep. We cannot close it.”
The New Men must dominate the world because homo sapiens can’t be trusted with the power they now wield, due to the technologies its savants have developed. Only the savants are qualified to govern, because only they understand the technologies which confer power.
This is a reasonable argument, and it is certainly part of Omegan ideology. Technical domination of the planet is necessary to ensure that anti-Omegan forces can’t dominate us. But control of technology and superior rationality are not enough; we also seek supremacy of a more philosophical sort, in the sense of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. That is, Omegans are a spiritual as well as genetic vanguard, who are leading a revolution against the “slave moralism” that still dominates Christian and post-Christian civilization, and the dysgenic, dispiriting, enervating society it engenders. Omegans are not just a cabal of über-nerds, but “philosophers with hammers” who seek to overthrow the reign of the Last Man and bring about a new order.
Surely Heinlein had read and resonated with Nietzsche’s ideas; Gulf is just one of many of his works that betray a Nietzschean spirit. Unfortunately, it is a spirit that is all too lacking in our time, as militant slave moralists seem once again bent upon vilifying and crushing the spirit of evolution and greatness that Heinlein and Nietzsche celebrated. In this age, Omegans may have to operate in the shadows like the New Men, until the day our power has grown ineluctable, and the gulf between us and the Last Men has grown so deep that our kind can no longer be denied. But that day is not yet here, because as Zarathustra observed:
“Never yet hath there been a Superman. Naked have I seen both of them, the greatest man and the smallest man:—
All-too-similar are they still to each other. Verily, even the greatest found I—all-too-human!”