One hundred years since the death of Friedrich Nietzsche: a review of his ideas and influence

World Socialist Web Site’s Nietzsche retrospective from 2000:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

(Thanks Nick Hate)

A very good set of essays, if unfair to Nietzsche’s work as a whole. The third part is the weakest. Steinberg obviously has an axe to grind with the post-structuralists et al. and that’s fine. But it’s perfectly reasonable to agree with some things a philosopher wrote and disagree with others. Nietzsche was clearly a reactionary, but does he offer nothing of worth?

Apologists for Nietzsche seek to distance him from the policy and activities of the Nazis. But is Nietzsche’s position here so remote from Adolph Hitler’s entreaty, in an internal NSDAP memo of 1922, for the: “most uncompromising and brutal determination to destroy and liquidate Marxism”? Adolph Hitler was certainly no philosopher, just as Nietzsche was not merely a political ideologue. But who can reasonably doubt that the former had little difficulty in seamlessly incorporating the latter’s thoroughly backward-looking programme of biological racism, hatred of socialism and the concept of social equality—together with his advocacy of militarism and war—into the eclectic baggage of ideas which constituted the programme of National Socialism?

Here Steinberg is correct: there’s no reason to put lipstick on a pig. Nietzsche held some reprehensible views and to pretend otherwise is either dishonest or naive.

I’m reminded of the conversation we had about H.P. Lovecraft’s racism: some racists get a pass, others don’t. I caught some flak about posting the complete text of Might is Right here, but I doubt I would have heard a peep if I’d posted the complete text of On the Genealogy of Morals.

21 Comments

  1. Okay, I’ve read some Nietzsche and I’m not sure what reprehensible views you’re referring to.

    Even before he published his philosophical tracts, Nietzsche was considered a full-blown academic genius in every sense of the world. He was promoted up the academic food-chain very quickly because of his ability to digest vast amounts of classical works, and then intuitively extrapolate conclusions that would be proved years later through more rigorous, but monotonous methods.

    It is very difficult to know what someone like Nietzsche truly thought, because a lot what he writes is very critical, but is also written to provoke rather than to state as fact.

    I don’t know what reprehensible views you refer to. Please be specific with quotes and descriptions.

    A lot of people think Nietzche was anti-semitic. He broke with Wagner over the latter’s antisemitism. Nietzsche’s sister and brother in-law were virulent anti-semites, and they interpreted his work to be anti-semite.

    When I read “The Anti-Christ,” it seemed very critical of Christianity, the religion, but not of Christ, the man/god/God. There was criticism of Judaism, but more for straying from its ancient roots. He confessed admiration of the ancient Hebrew religion. He was also critical of priesthoods and ecclesiastical hierarchies. He disliked how they insinuated themselves into everything.

    I think Nietzche disliked aspects of modern civilization because he believed it made masses of people weak. There’s some merit to that position, obviously.

    This writer states that Nietzche was an anti-left militarist, but doesn’t cite specific text. I would like to know to what he is referring to. You mention On the Genealogy of Morals, but where in there specifically.

    And yes, I’m one of the people who stuck up for Lovecraft, albeit on slightly different grounds. What are we supposed to do? Not read and enjoy Lovecraft because he expressed racist views? Are we supposed to retroactively sneer at Lovecraft for being a racist? Frank Herbert and Harlan Ellison expressed homophobic views in their writing, although I know that Herbert eventually evolved out of them. Not every genius triumphs over every negative aspect of their social programming all of the time. Our generation in America was fortunate enough to be born during a period where people actually make a conscious effort to not even think racist thoughts to avoid propagating racism.

    The theory of biological racism was considered cutting edge science over a hundred years ago. And science was a relatively new discipline, and therefore easier to pervert for political ends.

    Plenty of racists don’t get called out as racist because they never bother to write anything, or because their views are acceptably racist, or because they are prejudiced against a politically despised race.

    Anyone who ascribes to race theory, which has no scientific merit, is a racist. So, the benign people who consider themselves members of say, the Italian race because both of their parents are Italian, are racists who propagate racism, although they are not necessarily bigoted.

    The phenomenon of bigotry is negative byproduct of cultural diversity. You cannot completely eliminate it without getting rid of the latter. Sure, you can preach tolerance and acceptance, but dissenters will always find something that repulses them in other people’s traditions and cultural practices. I don’t think it coincidental that ultra-orthodox conservatives often express what appear to be bigoted views. To love a tradition enough to learn all the minutia and to practice them often means hating and renouncing others. But if these people did not exist, then there might not be traditions and cultural practices to preserve because everything would get diluted over time.

  2. Nietzsche was an extreme anti-Anti-Semite. Muthafuckas talking shit about shit they don’t know.
    Let the man speak for himself –
    http://c-pan.net/nietzsche-thejoyousmessage.html

  3. Snorky – there are several quotes in the essays I linked, particularly essay 2, demonstrating Nietzsche’s support for slavery, his opposition to democracy, and his praise of the Aryan master race. These are, in my view, reprehensible.

    That Nietzsche was less anti-semetic than Wagner is faint praise, but I believe it should count for something. He was less extreme than some of his contemporaries.

    “And yes, I’m one of the people who stuck up for Lovecraft, albeit on slightly different grounds. What are we supposed to do? Not read and enjoy Lovecraft because he expressed racist views?”

    You continue to miss the point. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read and enjoy Lovecraft. I think you should question why some authors and thinkers are condemned for their racism, while others racism is swept under the carpet or apologized for.

  4. Oh, and to respond to this part:

    “This writer states that Nietzche was an anti-left militarist, but doesn’t cite specific text. I would like to know to what he is referring to. You mention On the Genealogy of Morals, but where in there specifically.”

    The essay in question cites many anti-left quotations by Nietzsche, such as this one:

    “Whom do I hate most among the rabble of today? The socialist rabble, the chandala apostles, who undermine the instinct, the pleasure, the worker’s sense of satisfaction with his small existence—who make him envious, who teach him revenge. The source of wrong is never unequal rights but the claim of ‘equal’ rights.” – From The Antichrist.

    Here is a quotation from The Gay Science regarding war (not included in the essay, but he specifically mentions TGS as containing praise of the virtues of to war):

    “I welcome all signs that a more virile, warlike age is about to begin, which will restore honor to courage above all! For this age shall prepare the way for one yet higher, and it shall gather the strength that this higher age will require some day—the age that will carry heroism into the search for knowledge and that will wage wars for the sake of ideas and their consequences.”

    The essay has specific quotes from Genealogy of Morals espousing Aryan supremacist views, including:

    “Who can say whether modern democracy, even more modern anarchism and especially that inclination for the ‘commune’, for the most primitive form of society, which is now shared by all the socialists of Europe, does not signify in the main a tremendous counterattack —and that the conqueror and master race, the Aryan, is not succumbing physiologically, too?”

  5. Anyone who equates Nietzsche with Hitler knows nothing about Nietzsche. The writer of the essays is an idiot.

    To pigeonhole Nietzsche into a label- an existential anarcho aristo immoralist.
    He despise the fascist, racist, bigoted, ignorant, cowardly, servile.

    “””
    I am only one voice in a chorus of millions of voices, one thought amidst thousands of thousands clamoring ponderously to be heard above me, a heart of flesh in a universe of flying comets and meteors . . .
    I called myself the enemy of all churches and priests
    remember it to my honor
    I have cried out against the democratic trend of my time to jell up humanity into one vast shrinking Chandala
    would you have me keep silent about something so scandalous?
    I love Man.

    Over what unpath’d roads was I to travel with long distance to nowhere with my passport written in vanishing ink and sealed with the blood of a patriarch who lived a whole lifetime on black olives.

    Amongst men will my sun set; in dying will I give them my choicest gift!
    From the sun did I learn this, when it goes down, the exuberant one: gold doth it then pour into the sea, out of inexhaustible riches, so that the poorest fisherman rows with golden oars! For this did I once see, and did not tire of weeping in beholding it .

    A wicked archer I’ve become – the ends of my bow kiss;
    Only the strongest bends his bow like this
    The world now laughs, rent are the drapes of fright
    The wedding is at hand of dark and light –

    Sing me a new song: the world is transfigured and all the heavens rejoice.

    “””

  6. “Anyone who equates Nietzsche with Hitler knows nothing about Nietzsche.”

    Did you even read the article?

    I just re-read your original comment and realized you wrote anti-anti – two antis, or in other words he was NOT an antisemite. Then you link to a page with a lengthy racist rant by Nietzche. You are confused.

  7. Bill Whitcomb

    June 5, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Mulling over the unusually persistent Lovecraft/Nietzsche comparison, I’d say it’s not so much that some writers get a free pass, but that some are more central to the debate. I think the separation is that nobody quotes Lovecraft’s racial remarks as justification for anything…except maybe not liking Lovecraft. Sure, there are a lot of mentions of swarthy and unclean foreigner in HPLs fiction, but as noted, that’s of a piece with his fear of everything Other. His real racial remarks are primarily stupid things he said in private correspondence, which he deeply regretted late in his life. Were his earlier attitudes hateful and stupid? Sure, but not very significant. Nietzche, however, rightly or wrongly has been used far more seriously for evil ends.

  8. KF: I commend your asking the difficult questions, and offering criticism based on merit rather than good guy / bad guy badges.

    Bill Whitcomb’s ‘central to the debate’ comment is also important, well done.

  9. People use the Bible, the Koran, Darwin, and other books of political or social theory to commit atrocities. People who commit atrocities also like to look at themselves in the mirror and believe what they do to be righteous. It’s a survival mechanism. Therefore, they look for any flowery printed justification for their actions as a beard for their base impulses.

    The Portable Nietzsche

    “And there is much here that is shocking: bathos, sentences that invite quotation out of context in support of hideous causes . . . blasphemies.

    “. . . no other German writer of equal stature has been so thoroughly opposed to all proto-nazism-which Nietzsche encountered in Wagner’s ideological tracts, in his sister’s husband, Bernard Forster, and in various publications of his time. If some Nazi writers cited him . . . it was at the price of incredible misquotation and exegetical acrobatics”

    -Walter Kaufmann – Princeton University

    The link that someone cited earlier as proof only shows that Nietzsche was no fan of Christianity. He wrote a book called the The Anti-Christ where he rips the Christians a new one. It would be fair to describe Nietzsche as anti-Christian, although I think “anti” is an oversimplification better suited for people who hate blindly for base, instinctive reasons.

    Nietzsche repeatedly expresses admiration for the Jewish people, although he is critical of them too, he is critical of everything. Nietzsche lived an extremely lonely life and had few companions he could relate to. He was critical of the world he lived in.

    I don’t think you can seriously say that one or two provoking statements automatically means opposition of democracy, support for slavery, or support for Aryans. In any case, one can conceive of people who support so-called Aryan ideals without also supporting the extermination of other so-called races. I also think that someone who makes these claims did not actually bother to read all of his work, but only read a handful of quotes taken out of context.

    Was Jesus anti-semitic because he said the Jews were of their father, the Devil? People always whip out the Jesus quote to justify their anti-semitism, but couldn’t we just say that Jesus was trying to provoke the Jews into questioning their practices with inflammatory rhetoric?

    Incidentally, Nietzsche is often most critical of “Jews” vis-a-vis their founding of Christianity.

  10. Nietzsche’s “praise” of Jews is precisely the sort of stuff that fuels antisemitism. To suggest otherwise suggests a lack of understanding of antisemitism.

    “I don’t think you can seriously say that one or two provoking statements automatically means opposition of democracy, support for slavery, or support for Aryans.”

    Nietzsche was unambiguous about his opposition to democracy and socialism and his support of slavery and war. If you would like to provide counter evidence, please do.

    If it is true that he opposed democracy and socialism, called Aryans “the master race,” supported slavery and war, and considered Jews to be a powerful race of people – is it any wonder that Hitler and others would be attracted to his work (regardless of what he would have thought of them)?

  11. Klint, could you please provide the blocks of Nietzsche text that prove:

    his opposition to democracy and socialism;

    his support of slavery and war;

    his anti-semitism;

    his Nazism.

  12. Snorky: I’ve already posted quotes demonstrating his opposition to democracy and socialism and his support for war.

    From World Socialist article, re: slavery:

    “In this age of suffrage universel, i.e., when everyone may sit in judgement on everyone and everything, I feel impelled to re-establish order of rank …. Though it is true that the Greeks perished through slavery, it is even more certain that we shall perish from no longer having slavery…. What a comfort it is to think upon the serf of the Middle Ages, with the vigorous and delicate legal and moral relations that united him with his lord, in the narrowness so rich with sense of his limited existence” (notes to The Will to Power 1888). And in the same vein: “Slavery must not be abolished; it is necessity. We only need to see to it that the men emerge for whom one will work.”[4]

    The block of text in V’s link under the header “Bitter Brew” is ample evidence of his antisemitism.

    I never called him a Nazi. I’m not sure there’s any point in beating the point home over and over since you don’t want to listen, but here it is, one more time: Nietzsche might not have been a Nazi, but it’s hardly surprising, given some his less than savory views, that Nazis would be attracted to his work.

  13. To try to explain the antisemitism part a bit more:

    If I wrote a book about how awesome black men are because “they are strong, big, kill without feeling bad about it, rape women whenever they feel like it, and have enormous penises” I would be called a racist, even if I kept insisting “I’m not racist! I’m *complementing* them!” And no one would be surprised if David Duke used my work as justification for anti-black sentiments, even if I despised him.

  14. “If I wrote a book about how awesome black men are because “they are strong, big, kill without feeling bad about it, rape women whenever they feel like it, and have enormous penises” I would be called a racist, even if I kept insisting “I’m not racist! I’m *complementing* them!””

    Maybe it would have been better if you’d said how awesome Christian crackers are and have been because they kill Muslims in the name of their bloodthirsty deity. In other words, it’s OK for a Jew to make fun of Jewishness, but unless you’re black, your pretend writing suggests you might have some racist streaks in your own pysche. In my own words, yeah, I do detest Christianity for killing in the name of God and it ought to have showed in my pretend sentence.

    Anyways, didn’t Nietzsche have a Jew for a best friend? Maybe Nietzsche, like myself, hated religions in general – including Judaism, and wasn’t so much after the DNA aspect of the Jew.

  15. Nietzsche’s Jewish best friend in his 20s was Paul Ree.

    Klint – your analogy is so totally over the top it is appalling. You are deeply misinformed about Nietzsche.

    It is like the PC 90s around here where anybody gets called whatever “-ist” is in vogue. Somebody 100+ years ago who spoke of Jews more positively than 99% of his countrymen, becomes a “reprehensible” anti-semite, because he correctly describes how the entire Western, Xtian “slave-morality” has its root the memetic shift that occurred during the Babylonian Captivity.

    Although I’m sure some will manage to write this off – here is Nietzsche’s opinion of his sister’s marriage to an anti-semite:

    “One of the greatest stupidities you have committed – for yourself and for me! Your association with an anti-Semitic chief expresses a foreignness to my whole way of life, which fills me ever again with ire or melancholy . . . It is a matter of honor to me to be absolutely clean and unequivocal regarding anti-Semitism, namely opposed, as I am in my writings . . . Above all, it arouses mistrust against my character, as if I publicly condemned something that I favored secretly . . .”

    Further quotes:
    “I do not like the “New Testament” that should be plain – people of that sort regurgitating their most private affairs, their stupidities, sorrows, and petty worries, as if the Heart of Being were obliged to concern itself with them; they never grow tired of involving God himself in even the pettiest troubles they have got themselves into. The Old Testament – that is something else again: all honor to the Old Testament! I find in it great human beings, a heroic landscape, and something of the very rarest quality in the world, the incomparable naïveté of the strong heart; what is more, I find a people. ”

    “The Jews are beyond any doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions (even better than under favorable conditions).”

  16. “The Jews are beyond any doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions (even better than under favorable conditions).”

    V – That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You would do well to better inform yourself of the basis for antisemitism. If you don’t understand why the passage above is racist, and how it could have fueled antisemetic thought, then there’s no further I can take this debate.

    Then again, you’ve clearly chosen to disagree with the essay at hand before you even read it and do no even understand the basic argument being made. Neither the author of the essay nor myself ever said Nietzsche was a racist, and virtually every point you and Snorky has made was addressed in the original text.

    The claim made in the essay is simple: that one should not be surprised that Nazis were influenced by Nietzsche. My claim is that Nietzsche held some views that I do not agree with, and some that are reprehensible (upon further consideration, I think his criticism of democracy is not in and of itself “reprensible”). I did not say that Nietzsche was himself a reprehinsible man, or that his body of work, on the whole, was reprehinsible.

    Interesting that the defenders of Nietzsche in this debate mostly resort to distorting or misinterpretting the very arguments being made about Nietzsche. If your reading comprehension of criticism of Nietzsche is an indication of your understanding of Nietzsche’s work itself, I’m afraid that I can’t trust your judgement on the latter.

  17. @ Klint

    I have not read all of Nietzsche’s works, I have read some of them, but not all.

    I think he liked to criticize sacred cows because he was dissatisfied with the system, as many geniuses are. I think he liked to shock and provoke people.

    I don’t think it unreasonable to conclude that he may have supported ideas modern people would consider repugnant.

    I suppose I knee-jerked to the term “racist” because of it being applied as a “being” term. It would have been better to have said Nietzsche held racist views, or some of his writing indicated a tendency towards racism.

    Honestly, I don’t believe in “race” theory, I think it is pseudoscientific.

    That being said, one cannot deny that distinct groups exist with distinct cultural practices.

    The Jews are one such group; I self-identify as Jewish.

    I don’t find his views particularly anti-semitic; per se. According to his world-view, vitality and survival against the odds were virtues. He dwelled in the world and believed in the value of life, as opposed to the possibility of rewards in world that may not exist except as a means to mentally enslave people.

    In Judaism, the afterlife is described is ultimately unknowable. In Judaism, there is a lot of room for debate and disagreement, and there is the general sense that one always takes moral risks with one’s choices, and that there is no straight ticket to a reward.

    I think this pragmatic view gives Jews a cultural advantage in the “real” world; I also think the historic tendency for Jews to require literacy in Hebrew, which of course would then lead to the increased likelihood of literacy in a few more languages, also gave the Jews a cultural advantage vis-a-vis groups that did not believe in mass literacy.

    The Nazis hated the Jews in part because they were too much a model minority; they were too good at the game. Judaism is also very rule-obsessed, so there’s another cultural advantage. Jews excelled in all areas and seemed to hold disproportionate positions of visible power, which challenged the gentile view of their own superiority. It is natural for every group to think itself superior in some sense and others inferior, or else why be part of the group? Gentiles often believe themselves superior, as do Jews; real world failure challenges this sense of superiority.

    I don’t think Jewish cultural practices are inherently superior or inferior, but I think they gave advantages at key moments in history.

    Anyway, I don’t think the Jews have anything to be ashamed of; the world is a brutal place and many cultures have been exterminated for being unable or unwilling to do what it took to survive. That Jews survived thousands of years of persecution with a history and traditions more or less intact is nothing short of incredible and deserving of admiration, which I believe Nietzsche genuinely felt. Keep in mind, the Holocaust had not happened yet, it was still unthinkable; I don’t think he would have approved. The Nazis were inspired by Blavatsky, Christianity, Martin Luther, the United States, Napoleon, and many other influences; Nietzsche was just another dab of flavor.

  18. I happen to be Jewish myself and have spent a great deal of time reading Nietzsche and trying to figure out why some people believe he is antisemitic. His view of various nations on many occasions sounds tribalistic and he ascribes several qualities to the Jews that could be used to further an antisemitic agenda but here’s the catch; how is that his fault? I don’t doubt that he treaded on dangerous ground when he spoke about master and slave morality and the ubermensche; clearly his ideas can be used to try to justify all sorts of perverse applications. However, I always thought antisemitism was about motive and intent. Yes some antisemites say some things that if twisted could be interpeted as compliments but they always make clear that the apparent compliments really constitute proof of Jewish corruption or collusion. For instance, “those Jews really are crafty, a lot of them work at the bank; I bet if I change my name to Goldstein I could get a cushy job too.” Nietzsche clearly takes a different approach and for the life of me, a Jew very sensitive to antisemitism, I can’t even understand the charge.

  19. “In particular, Trotsky writes, Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Übermensch, is particularity well suited to justify the ideology of such persons as: ‘financial adventurers, stock market speculators and unscrupulous politicians and press manipulators.'”

    Right. Doesn’t sound like anyone I know who likes Nietzsche. And he isn’t generally revered by middle class people suffering from extreme amounts of ressentiment. Not at all. To suggest so makes you a fool and an imbecile.

  20. Totally bunk. To say that anyone who believes that Hitler and Nietzsche shared the same beliefs does not know Nietzsche is absurd. There are more similarities than there are opposites, but my question to you is why must you try to find their differences in the first place? Is there some deep psychological disturbance in the force? Next you will say there are no associations with Heidegger and Hitler! There is a close connection and the reason why Hitler’s men read Alzo Sprach Zaranthustra. Read Taha’s new book.

  21. People casting Nietzsche in an anti-semetic light are warping his works. I much prefer the way I warp his works. lol.

    Who warps your work does not mean that your work actually supports them. To go for an old idea, the devil can quote scripture to his ends.

    Basically, Nietzsche is using the jargon set of his day, which unfortunately includes the Race model. This idea is not inherently his and few people in his time period had the foresight to argue against it. It’s hardly reasonable to take that as a legitimate critique of his work. Yeah, the Race theory is a dangerous idea and largely debunked… now if we filter out that bit… what is he REALLY saying?

    Criticism of his anti-democratic statements… are more interesting.

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