A Godfather Too: Nazism as a Nietzschean "Experiment"

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A Godfather Too: Nazism as a Nietzschean "Experiment"

Postby admin » Thu Mar 22, 2018 2:56 am

A Godfather Too: Nazism as a Nietzschean "Experiment"
by Kurt Rudolf Fischer
From "Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism? On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy," edited by Jacob Golomb and Robert S. Witrich
© 2002 by Princeton University Press



It is important to keep in mind that the "real Nietzsche" was not the historically effective Nietzsche. My interest turns to the Nietzsche we knew before Giorgio Colli and Mazzimo Montinari prepared their critical edition. [1]The historically effective texts allowed Nazi as well as anti- Nazi readings from a Nazi standpoint as well as from an anti-Nazi standpoint! Thus from two opposite ideological points of view two opposite results were possible, and indeed existed.

In approached the problem of Nietzsche's relation to fascism, I find it necessary first to raise the question of the meaning of "fascism." There have been at least two uses of this expression: a narrower use that refers especially, and sometimes exclusively, to the movement, party, and worldview initiated by Benito Mussolini. Mussolini indeed referred explicitly to Nietzsche in a well-known speech of May 21, 1934. And there is a second use of the expression, which points to a wider meaning - mainly employed by the Left - which not only includes but especially refers to the Hitler movement. I am familiar with this use of the expression since my adolescence in Austria and Czechoslovakia. At that time, among others, the Austrian Christlich Soziale Partei (and later the Vaterlandische Front) as well as many radical Right movements were considered to be fascist in this wider sense of the term. [2]

It may be of interest to remark on the similarities and differences of the two main fascist movements, the German and the Italian. [3] The difference between them can hardly be overstressed. It stands out in the genocidal racism of German National Socialism that we do not find in the Italian variety of fascism, nor in Austrian or Spanish fascism. The second difference between these fascisms is perhaps of lesser significance: the difference between the unlimited power of the Fuhrer, and the power of the Duce that was limited by the king of Italy. Some of these differences can also be explained by the objective contrast in conditions under which the two nations found themselves, and under which they actually existed. The Italians, a Mediterranean people, had only 50, 000 Jews in their territory; and these Jews moreover did not have to serve as scapegoats for defeat in World War I because Italy was one of the victorious powers. But there were also significant similarities, and Hitler knew about them. He admired the Duce for his merciless brutality toward his political enemies. A most important point of similarity was that both the German and the Italian fascist parties tried and succeeded in attracting workers even while fighting the trade unions, the communists, and the socialists. Both detested parliamentary democracy and desired a strong state. Both worried about the condition of Western culture, which they wished to save by the use of propaganda and terror. One is also reminded that Mussolini began his career as a socialist journalist, and that Hitler admired Social Democratic techniques of organization and their propaganda. Both Hitler and Mussolini aimed at expansion of their territory - the former wanted more Lebensraum in the East, while the latter wished to expand in the Mediterranean area and the Danube basin. Moreover, although both Nazi Germany and fascist Italy were deadly enemies of communism and of the Soviet Union -- there are strong similarities between the Third Reich and Stalinist Russia. But that similarity is not relevant to the topic of this chapter: Both the genuine and the forged Nietzsche were opposed to communism and socialism.

I am concerned here with Nietzsche and National Socialism, and thus with one particular branch of fascism in the wider sense of the term. At the same time, I believe that the historically effective Nietzsche can be read from two opposite perspectives with two opposite results, both as a proponent and as an opponent of National Socialism. In this endeavor, I think that I am close to Nietzsche's own methodological view as expressed in the Genealogy of Morals:

There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective "knowing"; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our "concept" of this thing, our "objectivity, " be. [5]

The "real" Nietzsche was not too different from the contaminated and forged Nietzsche, had no historical effect, and played no role in the pro- or anti-Nazi interpretations of the respective camps. A pivotal role in those readings was played by Nietzsche's concept of the will to power. Nietzsche was first read as a radical egoist, then as someone concerned with a thorough critique of the bourgeois mind, and later still as a philosopher, through the efforts of his sister Elisabeth. She produced an edition of his posthumous writings - irresponsibly, to be sure - under the title Der Wille zur Macht. In addition, it is she who was responsible for an adulteration of Nietzsche's letters. Still later there were controversies over whether Nietzsche had or did not have a system. It was surmised that his illness prevented him from developing one. And there were speculations as to how to remedy the contradiction that seemed to prevail between Nietzsche's two main ideas of will to power and "eternal recurrence." It was Alfred Baumler who played down the conflict between them and degraded, so to speak, the doctrine of eternal recurrence into merely being Nietzsche's private religion. To Heidegger, on the other hand, the conflict between the two ideas seemed to be necessary, and was to be expected.

But let me return to the different perspectives with respect to Nietzsche as a "godfather" of fascism. The following assertions have become commonplace over the years:

(1) Anti-Nazis have claimed Nietzsche as part of a distinctive German intellectual tradition responsible for Nazism and two world wars. This viewpoint was expressed in the books by the liberal-minded William McGovern and the Marxist George Lukacs. [6]

(2) Nazis, too, claimed Nietzsche as their forerunner, notably the previously mentioned Alfred Baumler. Baumler, incidentally, was notas has been assumed by Hollingdale - merely an agent of the Nazis. He was a real, convinced and committed Nazi. Nor was he an "ersatz scholar, " or, as Kaufmann put it, a "philosophical nobody." [7] In this context it suffices to point out the Baumler occupied a chair of philosophy at Dresden before the Nazis came to power and that he wrote a book that, in the words of the historian of German philosophy Lewis White Beck, "provides all the needed background for study of Kant's Third Critique." [8] This was no mean accomplishment in philosophical scholarship! Baumler's work counts as an important contribution to the history of aesthetics and as an indispensable aid in the study of Kant's aesthetics. Although there is no reason to believe that he manipulated Nietzsche's texts, Kaufmann is, however, right in pointing out that posthumously published notes have been used in Baumler's interpretation. Baumler's special claim, that the real Nietzsche can be found above all in his Nachlass, may be controversial but is certainly not absurd. In any case, the real Nietzsche is also in the Nachlass, properly or improperly edited.

(3) There were also Nazi scholars who also denied a connection between Nazism and Nietzsche. Christoph Steding, for instance, in his monumental work of 1938, entitled Das Reich und die Krankheit der europaischen Kultur, made no attempt a la Baumler to reinterpret Nietzsche's animosity to Bismarck's Reich. [9] He rather perceived in that animosity, and in Nietzsche's preoccupation with intellectual or cultural rather than with political and military history, a dangerous tendency inimical to the establishment of any state. Even though Hitler and the Nazis were less concerned with the state as such than with a Weltanschauung that was to be actualized in a political community of Aryan- German racial origin and national stock, they did reject the Nietzschean concern with states of mind and feelings - the insistent preoccupation with higher culture and inwardness.

(4) Walter Kaufmann and some other anti-Nazi intellectuals have therefore denied that there is any connection between Nietzsche and the Nazis. [10] Their view has prevailed in the educated public, certainly in the United States, where many who followed Kaufmann's example neglected to notice Nietzsche's passion and ferocity, or turned to those aspects of his work in which the question of fascism plays no role at all.

Nietzsche has in fact been de-Nazified. Of course, if we see - as retrospectively we must - in the physical destruction of the Jews and in the aggressive urge to obtain Lebensraum in the East the essential features of Hitler and Nazism, then there is no connection with Nietzsche. He desired neither the one nor the other. II But more is involved here than simple misinterpretation or willful falsification. Nietzsche was not that unrelated to Hitler and Nazism, contrary to what the Kaufmann school has implied.

The situation is not dissimilar to defining the relationship between Nietzsche and twentieth-century philosophical trends such as existentialism or logical positivism. If Nietzsche is claimed as a most important and influential thinker, from that perspective he may appear as the precursor of much that we find in the twentieth century - including modernistic trends in art, literature, philosophy, and psychology, as well as ideologies such as fascism or Nazism. From this viewpoint Nazism can be understood as a phenomenon of post-Nietzschean culture, more specifically as a Nietzschean "experiment." [12] In Nietzsche's posthumously published notes we find the exclamation "Wir machen einen Versuch mit der Wahrheit! Vielleicht geht die Menschheit daran zugrunde! Wohlan!"

Indeed, if one sees modernist culture as beginning with Nietzsche, then one is entitled to write - as R. J. Hollingdale did - that the twentieth century was born in the 1880s. [13] And if one sees in Hitler and Nazism a Nietzschean experiment - as Alfred Baumler did - one may write half a century later, in the 1930s, that the twentieth century was only just beginning.14 In finding features of Nazism in Nietzsche, one is not claiming that Nietzsche was an incomplete Nazi. No more so, in any case, than one could claim him as an incomplete existentialist or logical positivist because some of his ideas might constitute the metaphilosophy (as it were) of existentialism, logical positivism, or even psychoanalysis. Similarly one may concede that Nietzsche is a godfather or forerunner of Nazism as he is of so much else in this century without having to maintain that he would have been a Nazi, had he lived in the Third rather than in the Second Reich. That he would have been a Nazi had he lived in the Third Reich has been argued by Baumler. [15] But that Nietzsche would have been a Nazi is no more likely than the claim that he would have been a logical positivist, an analytical philosopher, or a psychoanalyst had he been instructed in the appropriate methods and techniques. In Nietzsche's time none of the paths traced back to his influence had yet been taken. If the historical logic of his thought led him into nihilism - as has been maintained - such an interpretation is quite compatible with the many thought experiments that he carried out and that led in so many unforeseeable directions.

Under these circumstances, it seems proper and useful to reassert the connection between Nietzsche and Nazism in order to gain a more comprehensive view of the recent history of the human mind. A godfather need not be someone from whom only one path leads to that phenomenon of which he is said to be an originator. It is sufficient that he presents such a possibility. As Crane Brinton once put it, "Nietzsche was half a Nazi and half an anti-Nazi." [16] The intricateness of the relationship between Nietzsche and Nazism was also acknowledged many years ago, in George H. Sabine's old standard work, A History of Political Theory. [17] What Gerhard Masur called "the insoluble contradictions which Nietzsche presents to the reader, " rather than the "two Nietzsches" (Crane Brinton oversimplified the matter), were ultimately responsible for "why he was claimed by power-drunk totalitarians and good Europeans alike." [18]

Nietzsche can in fact be seen as a precursor or indeed a godfather in various ways. The following familiar consideration is proposed: If God is dead and if there are no accepted values, all possibilities are open and must consequently be explored whether as an antidote to, or as an attack on, nihilism. We may and indeed we must experiment! Experimenting is not confined nor is it confining. As Walter Kaufmann himself has pointed out, Nietzsche's experimentalism includes not only thought experiments or scientific experiments but has an "'existential' quality; it is an experimenting that involves testing an answer by trying to live according to it." [19] This experimenting may take the form of an existential heroism that is to last for centuries and unambiguously points to action.

In The Gay Science, in an aphorism entitled "Something for the industrious, " Nietzsche recommends all kinds of new historical investigations for the "study of moral matters, " histories "of love, of avarice, of envy, of conscience, of pious respect for tradition, or of cruelty." Then, after recommending investigations "of the moral effects of different foods" and of many other matters, he concludes,

If all these jobs were done, the most insidious question of all would emerge into the foreground: whether science can further goals of action after it has proved that it can take such goals away and annihilate them; and then experimentation would be in order that would allow any kind of heroism to find satisfaction - centuries of experimentation that might eclipse all the great projects and sacrifices of history to date. So far, science has not yet built its cyclopic buildings, but the time for that, too, will come. [20]

Nietzsche specifically connected experimenting with attacks on democracy, liberalism, and the "herd animal morality." "The democratic movement is the heir of the Christian movement, " he writes in Beyond Good and Evil, leading to a "diminution of man, making him mediocre and lowering his value" (BGE, 202, 203). [21] In aphorism 477 from Human, All Too Human, entitled "War indispensable, " it is asserted that the contemporary Europeans stand in need of the biggest and most terrible wars in order not to lose civilization through its own vehicles and products. Aphorism 208 of Beyond Good and Evil reads, "The time for petty politics is over: the very next century will bring the fight for the dominion of the earth - the compulsion to large-scale politics." [22] The Nazi experiment is now permissible. In previous times, Nietzsche points out in aphorism 501 of The Dawn entitled "Mortal Souls, " when we had faith in the immortality of the soul, our salvation depended upon our soul's short life on this earth. But now "we may take on tasks the grandeur of which would have appeared to former times as insanity and as a gamble with heaven and hell." [23] And in Ecce homo, in the first section of "Why I Write Such Good Books, " it becomes clear that a kind of Nazi-style brutality is at least suggested, and definitely not excluded:

The word "overman, " as the designation of a type of supreme achievement, as opposed to "modern" men, to "good" men, to Christians and [to] other nihilists-a word that in the mouth of a Zarathustra, the annihilator of morality, becomes a very pensive word - has been understood almost everywhere with the utmost innocence in the sense of those very values whose opposite Zarathustra was meant to represent-that is, as an "idealistic" type of a higher kind of man, half "saint, " half "genius." Those to whom I said in confidence that they should sooner look even for a Cesare Borgia than for a Parsifal, did not believe their own ears. [24]

Walter Kaufmann's readings of Nietzsche are invariably "gentle." [25] Two examples must suffice to show the inadequacy of such a practice. (1) When interpreting Nietzsche's "what is falling, that one should also push!" he comments, "Nietzsche is not speaking of 'mercy' killings of the crippled and insane, but of all the values that have become hollow, all needs out of which the faith has gone." [26] Yet there is nothing in the text to suggest that Nietzsche is not, or is not also, thinking of mercy killings. (2) Nietzsche's "all truths are for me soaked in blood" is cited after Kaufmann has remarked that "science and life are no longer wholly separate, science and philosophy are a way of life." [27] But if philosophy, according to Nietzsche, is to become a way of life - an interpretation that is surely correct - then life, and lived experience too, will become philosophy. The conceptualizations of philosophy will be absorbed by, and unified with, life, with the living body.

Nietzsche prepared a consciousness that excluded nothing that anyone might think, feel, or do, including unimaginable atrocities carried out on a gigantic order. Nor is a reading of Nietzsche as a godfather or precursor of Nazism confined to interpretations of academic scholars who have been particularly perverse or corrupt. Many a common man, many a common Nazi of Weimar Germany, must have said to himself what one of them proclaimed openly: "In Nietzsche I discovered a bit of my primal self." [28] There are more identities and similarities of content in the writings of Nietzsche and in the writings, speeches, conversations, and particularly in the actions of Hitler and the Nazis. Many of these definite parallels have been cataloged by E. Sand voss in Hitler and Nietzsche. [29] Such a catalog may not make ietzsche an accessory but it does make him a kind of precursor to at least some of the ideas of Nazism - perhaps even a sponsor or a part-time godfather.



This essay is partly based on a previous publication, "Nazism as a Nietzschean 'Experiment'" in: Nietzsche-Studien. Internationales Jahrbuch fur die Nietzsche-Forschung, ed. by Mazzimo Montinari, Wolfgang Muller-Lauter, and Heinz Wenzel, Vol. 6 (Berlin: New York: de Gruyter, 1977), 116-22. All of Nietzsche's texts cited in this paper are translations by Walter Kaufmann.

1. See Mazzimo Montinari, Nietzsche lesen (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1982), "Die neue kritische Gesamtausgabe von Nietzsches Werken" (10- 21), previously published as "Nietzsche" in Literatur Magazin 12 (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt 1980). All quotations will be from Giorgio Colli and Mazzimo Montinari, eds., Friedrich Nietzsche, Kritische Studienausgabe, Verleg, abbreviated KSA.

2. See F. L. Carsten, Fascist Movements in Austria - From Schonerer to Hitler, Sage Studies in 20th Century History, 7 (London: Sage Publications, 1977).

3. See Kurt Gossweiler, "Italienischer und deutscher Faschismus - Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschiede, " in Antifaschismus vol. 31 of Distel Hefte, ed. Frank Deppe, Georg Fiilberth and Rainer Rilling (Heilbronn: Distel Verlag 1996).

4. The similarities between German National Socialism and Russian Bolshevism were explored in Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York and San Diego: Harvest Press, 1979).

5. Third essay, section 12. KSA 5:365.

6. See William Montgomery McGovern, From Luther to Hitler (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941); and Georg Lukacs, The Destruction of Reason (London: Merlin Press, 1980), esp. the chapter on Nietzsche.

7. See Walter Kaufmann's "Editor's Introduction" to Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), xiii.

8. Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996), 538.

9. Christoph Steding, Das Reich und die Krankheit der europaischen Kultur (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt 1938).

10. See Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist amd Antichrist, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974).

11. See Yirmiyahu Yovel, Dark Riddle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), pt. 2: "Nietzsche and the People of Israel"; and his previously published "Nietzsche and the Jews: The Structure of an Ambivalence, " chap. 6 in Nietzsche and Jewish Culture, ed. Jacob Golomb (London: Routledge 1997), 117-34. It turns out that there was no real ambivalence but that one must distinguish in Nietzsche four different attitudes: toward (1) anti- Semitism, (2) biblical Judaism, (3) Second Temple "priestly" Judaism, and (4) Diaspora and contemporary Jews. Nietzsche attacks fiercely (1) and (3) and admires (2) because it was this-worldly and was built on self affirmation. To (4) he "assigns a major role to the Jews as Jews within his new Europe." To Nietzsche, the Jews were much closer to the Obermensch, and certainly not-as they were for the Nazis - Untermenschen.

12. This passage is best left in the original German. For a translation I propose, "Let us make [an experiment; or rather] experiments to attain [true] knowledge! Perhaps mankind will perish [in the course of these experiments]! All right!" The passage is in Friedrich Nietzsche, Gesammelte Werke, Musarionausgabe (Munich: Musarionverlag, 1920-29), 14:188, and in KSA, 11:88. It appears in the following context:

"Nichts ist wahr, alles ist erlaubt".
Zarathustra "ich nahm euch Alles, den Gott, die pflicht- nun must ihr die grosste Probe einer edlen Art geben.
Denn hier ist die Bahn den Ruchlosen offen - seht hin!
- das Ringen urn die Herrschaft, am Schluss die Heerde mehr Heerde und der Tyrann mehr Tyrann als je.
-kein Geheimbund! Die Folgen meiner Lehre mussen furchterlich wuthen: aber es sollen an ihr Unzahlige zu Grunde gehen
. - wir machen einen Versuch mit der Wahrheit! Vielleicht geht die Menschheit dran zu Grunde! Wohlan!

Another fragment, on p. 338 of KSA, vol. 11 is addressed "An die hoheren Menschen, " and contains the passages, "Plan: ich suche und rufe Menschen denen ich diesen Gedanken mitteilen darf, die nicht daran zu Grunde gehen." Kurt Dite has drawn my attention to the context in which the citation appears that serves as my main grounds for considering Nietzsche as a possible godfather of fascism. Dite's reference strengthens, I think, my case.

13. See R. J. Hollingdale, introduction to Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1st ed. (Baltimore: Penguin, 1961), 18; omitted in the new introduction (1969).

14. Alfred Baumler, Studien zur deutschen Geistesgeschichte (Berlin: Junker und Dannhaupt, 1937), 244: "Eben begann das 20. Jahrhundert-das 19. begann vor drei Generationen mit Goethe's Tod - das Jahrhundert, das sich im Angesicht Zarathustras entscheiden muss."

15. See particularly Baumler's Nietzsche der Philosoph und Politiker, 3rd. ed. (Leipzig: Reclam, 1937), and some of the studies included in the collection cited in the previous note.

16. See Crane Brinton's "The National Socialists' Use of Nietzsche, " The Journal of the History of Ideas (April 1940): 131-50; and his Nietzsche (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941). In 1965 that text was published as a Harper Torchbook paperback together with a new preface, epilogue, and bibliography. Deleted, and disowned in the preface, was the chapter on "Nietzsche in Western Thought."

17. George H. Sabine, A History of Political Thought, 4th ed., revised by Thomas Landon Thorson (Hinsdale, Ill.: Harcourt, 1973).

18. Gerhard Masur, Prophets of Yesterday (New York, 1961), 91.

19. Kaufmann, Nietzsche, 89.

20. GS, 7; KSA, 3:379.

21. KSA, 5:124-28.

22. KSA, 2:311.

23. KSA, 3:294.

24. KSA, 6:300.

25. For the use of "gentle, " see Brinton's Nietzsche, 184. See also William A. Preston, "Nietzsche and the Will to Power, " Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), 137: "[W]hat Kaufmann's Nietzsche lacked was that frenzied, Dionysian dimension that explodes politically as an ecstatic outburst of violence." That holds true for any "gentle" text on Nietzsche. This does not mean that one cannot learn a great deal about Nietzsche from the writings of "gentle" Nietzscheans. For a particularly excellent book of the "gentle" kind, see Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985).

26. Ibid., 109.

27. Ibid.

28. Theodor Abel's Why Hitler Came to Power: An Answer Based on the Original Life Stories of Six Hundred of His Followers (135) cited in J. P. Stern, The Fuhrer and the People (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1975), 193.

29. E. Sandvoss, Hitler and Nietzsche (Gottingen: Musterschmidt Verlag, 1969). See also his "Nietzsche's Verantwortung, " Studium Generale (1965), 18:150-54.
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